Chatfield attorney Matt Opat addresses a gathering at Chatfield Lutheran Church recently, where a funeral planning workshop was held.
Chatfield attorney Matt Opat addresses a gathering at Chatfield Lutheran Church recently, where a funeral planning workshop was held.

The death of a loved one can be a very stressful event. Not only is one emotionally devastated, but there are important decisions that are likely needing to be made. Being prepared, however, can alleviate that stress and responsibility for one's friends and family.

"We don't plan this event for ourselves - we plan it for the people who are left behind," said "Funeral Lady" Brenda Schultz, addressing a gathering of Chatfield area residents who came to a funeral planning workshop held at Chatfield Lutheran Church recently.

"If you say 'I don't care what happens after I die, I don't need all that, just put me in the ground,' you're not planning," Schultz continued. "It isn't about you - it's about them. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank my mother for planning her funeral."

Schultz, Chatfield attorney Matt Opat, Chatfield Lutheran Church pastor, the Rev. Mark Docken and Fillmore County Veterans' Services Officer Jason Marquardt presented the workshop to inform those who have preferences how to prepare their estates financially, their families emotionally, their funerals logistically, and if they are veterans, their service records so that they can receive benefits due them at the time of their passing.

Schultz, who has been in the funeral planning business for the past five years, noted, "It makes it easier on your family if you've prepared them for your funeral. I have conversations with my family all the time about this, partly because I'm in the business, but so that they know what to expect. I was planning on being cremated and having just a memorial service, but one of my kids was devastated at the thought and said she had to have a funeral with my body there, so I knew I was going to have to change that."

Schultz added that having one's funeral planned means that there's nothing forgotten, it prevents disagreements and there are no surprises. When one's wishes are in writing, it's personalized and saves money.

She elaborated on her last point, saying, "I went to the credit union a while ago, and the teller said, 'You wouldn't believe how many people I see taking out loans to pay for their parents' funerals.' Of course you want the best for your parents, but they don't want you taking out loans to bury them, so if you don't want your kids to take out loans, put it in writing, personalize your service, make it about who you were."

Opat provided legal information, such as when a will has to go to probate and why, and how planning financially for one's long-term care, funeral and burial can be affected by the decisions made.

He gave examples of why a will is a useful document for estate planning, beginning with common misconceptions. "One of them is 'I don't need a will because the kids won't fight over anything.' I guarantee that if they pulled each other's hair when they were younger, they're going to fight over things now, no matter how close they are," Opat said. "And then there's the 'masking tape' method, where people write names on masking tape on the bottom of things. That works if your kids want it to, but if you really want to make sure that they get what you and they want, don't buy them new things for Christmas. Give them the things you already have."

Marquardt shared the guidelines and qualifications for veterans' burial benefits, as Fillmore County will someday be home to a new veterans' cemetery where eligible veterans may be laid to rest. If their spouses desire, they, too, may share a plot there, with one catch - veterans are granted only one plot, so it's up to the couple to decide who gets to sleep on the top and bottom bunks.

He stated jokingly, "If I'm buried there, I know I'll want to be put on the top so that I can get up in a hurry if I need to."

Finally, Docken asked the gathered audience to consider writing a "faith preamble" to their wills, acknowledging their spiritual traditions and setting forth their beliefs for their children as a way to witness.

"From a faith perspective, death is a part of life, and we'd like you to plan the last chapter of your lives with hope," he concluded. "As part of that planning process, declare to your family and friends the legacy of your faith. Let them know your life experiences and prepare them in faith."