Giving to the Right Charity at the Funeral: Using Your “DORA”

I attended the wake of my friend Michael on Monday. He was a funny, likable, handsome man of 29 years of age and died unexpectedly. Like so many other people, I will miss Michael’s good humor and positive attitude.

At the wake I noticed that his family had requested that any people who were so inclined could make a charitable donation to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Here was a young man who had no idea his passing was imminent, and his family had decided to ask for donations for a cause that was relevant to him, but he may never have voiced an opinion for or significantly donated to himself. And it suddenly hit me: I have never asked a client what charities she would want donations for at her own funeral…and I doubt most attorneys ask their clients what their choice of charities are outside of their legal documents.

Let me be clear: Several of my clients are charitably inclined, but those charitable expressions are limited to their wills, trusts or retirement plans and T.O.D. accounts. These bequests may not even be known to other family members, and usually don’t even make themselves apparent until many weeks after the person has passed away: Probate requires identifying and reviewing the decedent’s most recent will, retirement plans require knowing the beneficiary (which is usually determined after you receive and submit death certificates from the funeral home the day of the actual wake). And even clients who are leaving all of their estates to friends and family will still have charitable instructions available at their wake, though it is usually one that a family member or friend decides for them in the person’s absence after he or she passes away.

While you can have a conversation with a loved one during a moment of candor, such a moment probably did not occur for Michael and his family: His passing was completely unexpected. The best options are always in formal legal documents, and the most preferable option is to name your choice of charity in your Disposition of Remains ACT [“DORA”] directive, found here:

A DORA is a standard legal document that an estate planning attorney should make available to you when you begin working with him. It contains all of your immediate funeral and burial instructions. These documentsrun the gamut and can be as general as:

“I want a religious burial”,

Or as expressive and complete as:

“I want my remains cremated and my ashes released into the Long Island Sound from a sailboat on a warm spring day with the song ‘Vive La Vida’ playing in the background. I would greatly appreciate those who attend to make a charitable bequest to the Society of Animal Rights in remembrance of Daniel Timins.”

A funeral, however sad as it may be, represents the necessary closure human beings need to reflect on their loved one’s lives. By including all burial instructions in writing you can better ensure that your funeral represents the way you want to be remembered, gives  those  people in attendence the closure they need to move forward in your absence, and benefits a charity you believe in.

Q FOR U: What charities would you want to benefit at the time of your passing?

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