Celebrity Deaths

What can we learn from the recent celebrity deaths?

Recently we have had two very high profile celebrity deaths.  On April 21, 2016, Prince died unexpectedly at his Paisley Park Home in Chanhassen.  He had no pre-arranged funeral plans, and died without a will or any clear instructions on what to do with his estate.  To further complicate matters, there were questions on who his rightful heirs are, and who should take care of his finances and properties.  After months of confusion, the courts appointed Bremer Trust to handle Prince’s estate.  While I have confidence that Bremer Trust will handle his estate responsibly, there is no doubt that Prince’s wishes will not be fulfilled.  How could they be?  He left no instructions.

No public services were held for Prince.  This left his thousands of fans gathering outside his home, standing around, leaving balloons and flowers, and even taking to the streets with some hope that their grief would be recognized by sharing in it with others.   While his legacy is obvious, feelings of emptiness run rampant, as people slowly left.  As the days turned into weeks, fewer people came to gather, and eventually one day they just stopped.

Just over one month later, another well loved celebrity passed away on June 3, 2016 when Muhammad Ali succumbed to his extended battle with Parkinson’s disease.  Ali ‘s death was markedly different from Prince.  Ali had pre-planned his funeral.  He selected his own music, readings, pallbearers, funeral venue, and even the floral arrangements.  Ali’s memorial tributes were festive, as dignitaries and religious leaders of several faiths spoke of his legacy, his civil rights battle, and his larger than life personality.  Ali’s funeral procession weaved through the streets of Louisville, where he grew up.  Thousands of people lined the streets and attended his memorial before he was interred at Cave Hill Cemetery during a private graveside service.

Ali had set up a will and passed his estate on to his family after contributing to several charities through planned giving.  Because Ali had a plan, he was able to be guaranteed that his wishes were carried out, and his estate went to those that he cared about the most.  Muhammad Ali gave a great gift to his family.  By being prepared, he didn’t leave them with questions, he left them with answers.  At a very emotional time, they didn’t need to make decisions and guess what he would have wanted. Furthermore, Ali’s friends and fans were given the opportunity to pay their respects, and were given the chance to grieve and to heal.

So, what can we learn by the recent celebrity deaths?  I think we can learn a lot from these two deaths.  First, we all need to be prepared to die.  Prince was not old when he died.  We never know when our time will come.  It is always important to have a plan in place.  Pre-arrangements are free, and can be kept by both the family and the funeral establishment, so that everyone knows how to carry out your wishes.  Next, financial arrangements need to be made.  Whether it is a simple will, or an elaborate estate plan, we have some very knowledgeable, professional estate planners in the area.  Sometimes these plans can be free or very inexpensive.  And, in almost every situation, they pay for themselves in what you save in the end.   Then, we see that having a funeral or memorial service benefits the family and friends who we have left behind.  We hear many people say that they don’t want a service because they don’t want people to “make a fuss” over them.  People want the opportunity to say goodbye.  Funerals are for the living.  A service doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, or anything for that matter, to be just as meaningful and healing to those who are left behind.  Finally, every person is unique.  What is right for one person may be totally wrong for the next person.  Everyone needs an individual plan.  That is what our jobs are as funeral professionals.  We are here to help you, before, during, and after a death.  We are available to answer questions, and provide direction and support every step of the way.  If you or a loved one needs guidance, please ask one of our licensed staff.  Our directors are trained and licensed in technical skills, as well as in psychology, counseling, legal issues, and event planning.  If you have a question that we don’t know, or are not qualified to advise you in, we can refer you to someone who is.  For a free, no obligation appointment, please call us at one of our six locations or contact us here on our website.

Nathan Stephens