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How One Author Stands as a Shining Example of Funeral Planning

“In June 2012, Meryl Streep gave one of her finest performances to a limited crowd. She hadn’t had much time to prepare, but it was a role that had been planned for her months, if not years, earlier. It’s just that the planner hadn’t thought to tell her.”


Ephron’s attention to detail, says Next Avenue in the article “What Nora Ephron Can Teach Us About Planning a Funeral,” was no surprise to her friends and family, although her death did come by surprise. The meticulous care in which she planned her memorial was true to character. She gave it a title: “A Gathering for Nora” and set it out in a folder labeled “Exit.” It was thoughtful, personal and helped her family and friends grieve more effectively. However, you don’t have to be a celebrated author to do this kind of planning. You can—and should—write down your wishes as part of your estate planning documents.

Most people don’t. A study conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association found that while nearly 75% of Americans know it’s important to have a plan that is communicated before death, only about 25% do so.

However, some plan a very personal exit. Designer Alexander McQueen’s memorial service at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral was as chic and au courant as any of his designs.

Funerals are typified by five “anchors”—significant symbols, a gathering community, ritual actions, cultural heritage and transition of the remains. Add another anchor: planning.

Here are three lessons from Norah Ephron:

Decide what you want. Address key questions like:

  1. Do you want to be buried or cremated? If cremated, where do you want your ashes to go?

  2. Do you want a funeral or memorial service? Graveside service or a chapel?

  3. What, if any, religious ceremony do you want?

  4. How do you want your family and friends to grieve your loss or to celebrate your life?

Prepare for the financial aspect of your funeral. Consider prepaying, so that loved ones won’t be scrambling to pay for the funeral, which average from $8,000 to $10,000 and up. One widely available option: a small insurance policy dedicated for the cost of the funeral or a Payable on Death (POD) account set aside for that same reason.

Don’t be afraid to plan your funeral. You can be as structured and specific as you want, and your loved ones will be relieved to not need to make any further decisions. Want to share a specific song or a prayer? Put it in your instructions. Ephron listed who she wanted to speak and for how long.

Planning your funeral in advance, along with having an estate plan prepared in advance, will let your family and loved ones know that you cared enough to prepare, so that they would be spared the heavy lifting that comes when there are no plans in place.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to work out the details for your funeral and make sure that it is part of your overall estate plan.

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