I planned my own funeral

When Mum said she had bought her plot and organised the service,I was happy everything would be just as she wanted, says Barbara Scully

MY mother shocked me. “I suppose I should tell you what I did last week,” she said casually from the passenger seat of my car as I negotiated city-centre traffic.

“Oh yeah,” I said, fully expecting to hear something mundane. “I have arranged my funeral,” she said. I clung to the steering wheel and fought to keep my eyes on the road and my voice calm.!

Noirin, my mother, is 77, and healthy aside from minor ailments. but she thought, at her age, it was sensible to do.

“It was a small article in the paper that got me thinking initially,” she said. “This piece said that our local council were charging in the region of €800 to open an existing grave. My adult children have enough financial burdens to worry about, without worrying about how to pay for my funeral. So, I decided to pay a visit to our family undertaker and check out what I could do, in advance, to lessen the burden financially.”

Noirin has previously arranged funerals for three people and is aware of the many decisions that have to be made in a short time.

“There is not really time to think,” she said “and you have no guidelines, beyond what you feel your loved one may have wanted. It’s usually never been discussed and when there are a number of adult children … dissension may arise. I didn’t even know if it was possible, but decided to find out.”

Noirin contacted her undertaker and he was helpful. “He went through all the options and we made some decisions. He then gave me a written estimate to check, I made some changes, and we have put the final details all in writing, ready to be acted upon when the time comes,” she said.

Most importantly for Noirin, she knows more or less what the bill will be and has put the money aside in a special account to which I have access.

She granted me enduring power of attorney over her affairs many years ago.

But making advance funeral arrangements is not necessarily a feature of the recession, says David Flanagan, of Flanagan’s funeral directors in Dublin.

“No, it’s not a new thing. When I joined the company in the 1970s, we had a file in the office marked the NDY or ‘not dead yet’ file. In the 1980s, things got a little more politically correct and we renamed the file AFA — ‘advance funeral arrangements’,” David says.

Advance arrangements make a difficult time much easier for the bereaved. “There is a huge sense of relief in knowing that a loved one’s wishes are being carried out to the letter, as they wanted,” David says.

This is a sentiment echoed by Finbarr O’Connor, of O’Connor Brothers funeral homes in Cork. “There has always been a small number of people who make advance arrangements.

“Doing so removes not only the financial burden from remaining family, but also the emotional burden of wondering what mum or dad would have liked,” Finbarr says.

Making arrangements in advance for your own funeral is an opportunity to think, not only about how you would like things done, but also to consider how best to spend your money.

The greatest cost associated with burial is the plot and, much like property, there’s an element of ‘location, location, location’ involved.

One of the more expensive plots in Ireland is near the grave of Michael Collins, in Glasnevin cemetery, and will cost approximately €40,000, or, if your political allegiances are in the opposite direction, you can spend approximately €20,000 to be in the vicinity of de Valera.

But that is the luxury end of the market.

In Dublin, the price of a single plot (which can accommodate three burials) averages €2,000, with plots in Cork City slightly cheaper, ranging from €1,275 to €1,450.

Plots in urban areas cannot be purchased in advance, but in rural areas of Cork, for example, where they can be bought in advance, it’s an extra €300 to €500.

If your family already has a plot, the cost of opening it for burial is not cheap, either, ranging from €400 to €1,200; although this amount is considerably cheaper if interring ashes.

Cremation is on the increase in Ireland, particularly in Dublin, where there are now three crematoria (Glasnevin, Mount Jerome and Newlands Cross).

The only other crematorium in the Republic is The Island, in Ringaskiddy, Cork. The cost of cremation varies according to what services are required, but are in the region of €500 to €750.

Of life’s rituals, your funeral should be one of the most personal. Most of us would like to think that, along with friends and family coming together, the funeral should reflect the person being buried. It is odd, then, that in most cases the family has to work fast with the help of a professional funeral director to make the burial arrangements in a short period of time.

Noirin has a detailed document, outlining not only the practical, but also the small things that are personally important to her, such as the readings and music she would like at her funeral mass. And although I know my own mother well, I would have definitely made a big mistake with the music.

But Noirin also had another reason for making advance arrangements.

“I now have the comfort of knowing that if I were in hospital, very ill and unlikely to get better, all this stuff is done. I wouldn’t have to struggle to make my wishes known from a hospital bed,” she said.

This is something that the Hospice Foundation has highlighted with its Think Ahead programme, which encourages people to gather their thoughts about their financial, legal and funeral arrangements.

They have produced a comprehensive form to aid in this process. It is available at pharmacies and Citizen’s Information Centres, or can be downloaded from their website, www.thinkahead.ie.

Although we pride ourselves in Ireland on how we do death, we don’t tend to deal with the issues until there is a death.

Having a conversation with a healthy, elderly parent about their death and funeral arrangements is surreal and can seem heartless, but it is the opposite.

Personally, I am delighted to know that when the day arrives, my brothers and I will only have to make one phone call to the funeral director, who knows exactly what is to be done. We also have the comfort of knowing that Noirin’s send-off will be exactly as she wanted it to be.

Time to make sure Thy will be done

ACCORDING to the Hospice Foundation’s Think Ahead initiative, only seven-in-10 Irish adults have made a will and just over half (53%) of those with children have one.

A will is a witnessed legal document which sets out in writing the deceased’s wishes for his or her possessions after death. For most of us, a will is a way to ensure that those we love will benefit from our estate when we die. Without one, the deceased’s estate is decided by the law of intestacy.

You can draw up a will yourself but there are various rules that must be adhered to in order for a will to be valid. The Citizen’s Information website at www.citizensinformation.ie has a very comprehensive section on Making a Will as does the Law Society, www.lawsociety.ie

FLAC — the Free Legal Advice Centres also produce a very straightforward leaflet entitled Wills and Intestacy which can be downloaded from www.flac.ie. FLAC advise that the services of a solicitor are engaged in order to ensure your will is valid and fulfils all the legal criteria.

As regards hiring a solicitor the advice is to shop around. Costs can vary from practice to practice but it is likely to cost you a couple of hundred euro at least.

Finally, along with making a will, it is advisable to also grant an ‘enduring power of attorney’ to someone you trust. An enduring power of attorney ‘endures’ even if you develop a cognitive impairment which can be an issue in the case of dementia.


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