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Surfing on Death's Door

August 17, 2000|MICHELLE MALTAIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To some, having an interest in death can be dark and morbid. To others, it can be enlightening.

By using the Internet, you can explore the grave--before and beyond. Among some of the practical applications, you can make preparations for yourself or, say, a parent, look up your ancestors, troll the obits or build a virtual shrine to your fish Bubbles.

If you're searching for a death notice, check out http://www.legacy.com. Legacy connects you with newspaper obituaries and lets you post a notice, which consists of basic funeral service information provided by funeral homes, for free. The site says the posting stays up for at least 60 days.

Several sites offer planning tools that, at the very least, get you thinking about what you would want if you should become terminally ill or die.

Among them, http://www.plan4ever.com has forms you can fill out with details about your last wishes--from where you want to be buried or your remains scattered to your favorite flower and musical selection.

The forms let you specify any arrangements you have made and with whom, and which of your organs, if any, you wish to donate. The site includes links to where you can create--for free--a living will, which you would need to have notarized offline to make it legal. For a processing fee, you can make a donation in the name of a loved one.

Another site, http://www.uslivingwillregistry.com, lets you print a form to register, for free, your living will. And if you get sick, the company will fax it to the hospital when it's requested; it's then kept as part of your confidential hospital chart.

There's also Final Thoughts

(http://www.finalthoughts.com), a West Hollywood company that provides a variety of free death-related services.

Another place to visit before making decisions about funeral arrangements is http://www.dca.ca.gov/cemetery, California's Department of Consumer Affairs. State laws on cemeteries and funerals are included, as is a complaint form you can download if you've had a bad experience during an already difficult time.

Because scam artists tend to prey on folks in their vulnerable and fragile moments, you can at least educate yourself. Check out http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs /services/funeral.htm for tips on how to avoid scams.

Pets are often part of the family--and they deserve their due. Several sites exist as tribute to pet devotion. You can create your own memorial at

http://www.mycemetery.com/my/petmenu.html.

Maybe climbing the family tree piques your interest. The grimly named Social Security Death Index has information through the end of April 2000 and contains more than 63.5 million records. You can track down information on your forebears at

http://www.ancestry.com/search/retype/vital/ssdi/main.htm.

If you're less into the research or planning end of things, how about a game of "Believe It or Not?" The stories of people who claim to have had brushes with death are at

http://neardeath.com.

Ever wonder what the rich and famous bequeath to their loved ones? Visit http://www.courttv.com/legaldocs/newsmakers/wills to see celebrity wills. And http://www.ca-probate.com/wills.htm includes the wills of the "fabulous" and the "for real."

And while your strolling the virtual graveyard, you can find famous headstones and mausoleums at http://www.beneathlosangeles.com.

Finally, the well-known Death Clock (http://www.deathclock.com) offers a prognostication regarding the presidential race--how long George W. Bush and Al Gore have until they expire--not politically, of course.

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Got a topic you'd like us to explore or avoid? E-mail click.here@latimes.com.

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