How to Assure Your Burial Wishes Will be Honored

The new reality of coronavirus has us all thinking about our lives and for some of my clients in my Elder Law practice, their death arrangements, as well. I have recently fielded a number of calls (we do wills, Continuing Power of Attorney and estate work), asking me about adding an addendum to wills, regarding funeral arrangements.

While this may be an appropriate place to give these directives in other countries, in Israel it really isn’t. Let me explain why. In Israel the will is usually read after the family has finished sitting Shiva. Since Shiva only starts after the person has been buried, if there were specific burial directions in the will, there is a good chance they will not have been honored – simply because many people do not share the contents of their will with others (or inheritors) prior to their passing away.

So, where does one make their funeral wishes known and guarantee that they will be honored?

I observed the events following the death of Rona Ramon in 2018 (the wife of deceased astronaut Ilan Ramon, after whom the Eilat Airport is named) whose wish was to be cremated. In Israel, cremation is not a generally accepted means of internment and a legal battle ensued. Without going into the details of that case, I realized that we have an excellent legal tool here in Israel to ensure that a person’s funeral directives are honored.

Now, one of the standard practices for our clients who want to be cremated, is to have this specific directive written into a Continuing Power of Attorney. This official document (which is like an advanced health directive as well as dealing with other areas) is registered in Israel with the Ministry of Justice and its contents including funeral arrangements are known to those appointed as the decision makers on behalf of our clients.

So, when I’m asked about adding addendums in the will for funeral arrangements, even if it’s not for cremation, I recommended that my clients detail their wishes in their Continuing Power of Attorney. Just to note, written into the actual will is a standard clause stating that funeral costs are deducted from the estate before the estate is distributed to the inheritors.

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