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End of life planning encouraged as state implements new deadlines

Man's dueling obituaries name wife in 1, girlfriend in other
Posted at 7:29 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 19:30:00-04

LANSING, Mich. — The state is now putting deadlines on how long families have to decide what to do with a loved one who dies.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is implementing those restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Families now have 48 hours to make a decision regarding how a body will be handled, and that clock starts ticking the moment their loved one dies.

This is why estate lawyers say it's a good idea to have a plan in place before you go to the hospital.

"This is putting quite the strain on our hospital morgue system and funeral homes," said Lynn Sutfin, MDHHS spokeswoman.

Morgues and funeral homes are nearly full.

In Michigan, 4,393 people have died from COVID-19 in just a matter of weeks.

That's why the MDHHS is putting deadlines in place for when families have to make decisions.

"To ensure bodies are continued to be handled in a safe and respectful manner," said Sutfin.

To make that happen, Sutfin said if a decision isn't reached, it will be left up to the funeral homes and county medical examiners to decide how to handle the body.

"To continue to move these things forward. They can choose to store it in one of the facilities that has been approved for storage, or they can make a decision to embalm," she said.

"You need to have a plan. Most people, myself included, we don't want to depend on the state's plan for us," said Casey Conklin, an estate attorney in Okemos.

Conklin said that's why it's a good idea to make sure you have a will.

"The pandemic didn't change how the planning is going to go. It just made it a little more urgent for people," said Conklin.

To help with the urgency, Conklin said you can make a simple will yourself.

It just needs to be handwritten by you with your signature and dated.

"That's if you're running a fever and coughing a lot and you want to get something written down before you go to the hospital, you can do that," he said.

Conklin said when you are planning, you need to think about your assets and your health.

"If you don't want special treatment or life-saving procedures, they know that ahead of time," Conklin said.

Conlkin recommended updating your will about every three years because life and laws can change during that time.

The new state deadlines apply to all deaths in Michigan, even those not related to COVID-19.

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