My mom died recently, and her failure to put in writing her final arrangements resulted in a family conflict.

My mother did not like discussing death, and avoided the topic of her own death at all costs.   A few years ago, my mother asked that I prepare a durable power of attorney, and include powers to take care of her funeral.   In essence, my mother was designating her right of sepulcher to me.   As a Missouri resident, my mother could grant me her right of sepulcher through a durable power of attorney if those powers were specifically set out.   We had a discussion, albeit one she cut very short, wherein she expressed a desire to be cremated, and to have her cremains interred with her father.

A few years later, my mother became more reliant upon my sister, and instructed her to prepare another power of attorney.  My sister obtained a standard durable power of attorney form that granted her general powers to take care of financial decisions.    While my sister was aware of the durable power of attorney naming me as my mother’s attorney in fact, my sister did not advise me of the second power of attorney.

In the days that preceded my mother’s death, my sister advised that my mother had expressed different, and conflicting, preferences for the disposition of her cremains.    Concerned about the costs of an inurnment, my mother gave instructions to scatter her cremains across her parents’ graves or to scatter them on a pond on a cemetery near my sister’s home.    While my sister felt duty bound to follow one of these options, I recommended that we follow the original plan of interring the cremains in her father’s grave.

When my mother did eventually pass, my sister was torn between the various ‘instructions’ my mother had given regarding her cremains.   Coupled with the fact that my mother’s funeral arrangements had not been fully funded, my sister felt overwhelmed.   And, she also began to feel my involvement in the decision making was as an intrusion on her authority.   The process of putting my mother to rest was anything but healing.

The conflict with my sister could have been avoided if my mother had executed a designation of sepulcher coupled with a written plan of disposition.  While my mother had executed a durable power of attorney with a sepulcher designation, it was lost on my sister that ‘her’ own power of attorney form was only for general financial decisions.   Without the written plan of disposition, any discussion regarding the differences in our respective powers of attorneys would only have exasperated my sister’s emotions.