Bowie’s Last Request: Who decides where you are buried or cremated?


January 2016 was a rough month for many celebrity families as we lost a number of rock-stars and actors.  While the Tabloids ran all sorts of stories, one in particular has a good lesson everyone can learn about their own Estate Plan.
David “Bowie” Robert Jones passed on January 10th.  The New York Times reported he was laid to rest by cremation on January 12th in New Jersey.  Unfortunately, it took until January 29thfor his Will to be filed in Court.  Among the details was the fact that Mr. Bowie specifically asked that he be cremated in Bali according to a specific local tradition. 
David Bowie had a Will explaining his wishes, but they weren’t followed.  So what went wrong?
The problem here comes from a conflict between the expected and actual uses for Estate Planning documents.  While you are alive, each state has a document directing your healthcare wishes, sometimes called an Advance Health Care Directive, Healthcare Power of Attorney, or Living Will.  After you’ve passed on, this document stops being effective and the Will theoretically starts.  I say “theoretically,” because in the real world of Estate Administration things work at a different pace.  Many families don’t go looking for Wills until after the funeral.  It took over two weeks for David Bowie’s Will to be filed in court.  Unfortunately for him, his special wishes were not revealed until after they could have been used.
Thus, while the Will seems like the right document, the Healthcare Directive is the readily available one.  A good estate plan built for the real world will include the “disposition of remains” (i.e. burial or cremation and any special requests) in the Healthcare Directive.  If you have special wishes for burial or cremation, be sure that information is available on a document people already have access to long before the Will gets dug out of the safe.