If you’ve ever been involved with planning someone’s funeral, you might understand the difficulties with planning arrangements at the last moment. The words are more difficult to write for the eulogy or for the obituary, the flowers seem too obnoxious because too many were ordered, and the casket became far too expensive, because the family wanted the best.
But, what did the deceased want? If you don’t want to burden your family through these difficulties when you die, then you can pre-plan your funeral now as you determine your last wishes. You can put your preferences in writing and provide copies for family members, your attorney and to the funeral home. Don’t designate your preferences in your will, because that will may not be read until after the funeral. Also, don’t put the only copy of your preferences in a safety deposit box, as your family may need to make arrangements on a weekend or holiday, on days when that bank is closed. Also, upon death, these boxes are sealed and they are opened only to those whose name appears on the contract.
Other reasons to pre-plan (not necessarily prepay) your funeral include:
- To learn more about the funeral industry and to increase your knowledge about funeral planning terms and arrangements;
- To understand costs and implications of planning a funeral;
- To become aware of rules and laws regarding funerals and burials;
- To understand funeral and burial alternatives; and,
- To become a better consumer in planning a funeral
What do you want on your list of funeral arrangements? Perhaps the following list will help you get started, but your list can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Additionally, these topics are ongoing, as life changes alter what you want. Marriage, other deaths, the addition of children or moves to other states or countries will modify your final wishes. But, when you spend time on these topics with loved ones, you may learn more about yourself and your loved ones – a wish that you can enjoy while you’re still alive.
- Burial Plans: A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $6,000 to $8,000. These costs do not include ‘extras’ such as released balloons, doves, flowers and more. While your family may want some extras to commemorate you, you might decide to allow them to use those extras in a memorial service while you choose a less expensive burial plan. This topic will help you decide if you want to go the traditional route, or if you’d prefer an alternative burial, such as cremation.
- PrePayments: If you’ve decided upon your funeral option, do you want to prepay or do you want to use your insurance, bank account or trust account to pay upon your death? Keep in mind that through time, with prepayment, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. Further, in some areas with increased competition, prices may go down over time. Finally, as you age, you may decide to change your funeral plans. Depending upon your arrangements, that prepayment option may not be transferable.
- Funeral Arrangements: While funeral arrangements can be made along with burial plans, often people decide to seperate the burial from the funeral by asking for alternatives. For a traditional funeral service, the body is present. A traditional funeral service usually includes visitation and funeral followed by burial or entombment; a funeral service with cremation following the service; or graveside services. A nontraditional service includes anything that deviates from the traditional service, and may include a nonreligious ceremony, a memorial service or another type of celebration. A memorial service usually indicates the body is not present. Memorial services are common for those who want to practice a full-body donation to science.
- Dying Away from Home: When you decide upon your funeral and burial plans, make sure that all documents contain information about what might happen if you die away from home. In many cases, extra costs for shipping the body to a funeral home may occur. Funeral homes may provid “professional courtesies” to other funeral homes out of state, so families should contact the funeral home in the state where the funeral service will be held. If you have donated your body to a state research facility, they may not accept your body if you die out of that state.
- Seek Financial Assistance: In some states, individuals can set aside money for funeral/burial expenses, and some states may allow that fund to remain tax-free. Do some research in your state through funeral homes or attorneys to discover what you can save or set aside for your plans.
- Body Disposal Expenses: If you don’t know where you would like to be buried, now’s the time to make that decision. A traditional burial requires a full plot and you have more than one option for a headstone if desired. A cremation may require only a partial plot, depending upon the cemetery and local laws. The second option has become more desirable for couples who wish to cut costs on burial plots. Ashes also can be scattered. You can research various options, costs and legal boundaries with this option. Remember that cemetery expenses, just as burial and funeral expenses, will change over time.
- Write an Obituary: This is a great way to learn more about yourself, and a wonderful way to involve the family. Basically, an obituary is a very short biography, which includes who you are, what you do, when and where you died (you can leave this blank for now!), your relationships to closest family members, predeceased family members, and when and where your services will be held (another item that can be left blank). You may also want to include special wishes, such as donations to charity rather than flowers. Begin by looking at obituaries in the paper or online and picking a few that you like. Use them as templates to write your own story.
- Bequests: Who will be your beneficiaries, and how much will you leave? Sometimes this exercise can help you muster the will to work harder and save more so you can leave behind a legacy that everyone either loves or can fight over.
- Traditional Will: The traditional will outlines how and how much you want to leave behind to others, wishes for your property and naming guardian(s) for your minor children. Can you make a will without an attorney? The answer depends on your situation. If you’re like most people, you won’t need a lawyer, but check with state laws where you reside to be assured about your situation.
- Living Will: Living wills and a health care “power of attorney” forms allow you to express your preferences regarding your medical treatment, should you become unable to communicate your wishes due to illness or permanent unconsciousness. They also allow you to designate a person who can make end-of-life care decisions on your behalf. This topic should be discussed with family, so you don’t present any surprises when you’re unable to communicate. Some state laws may modify how you write this document, so be sure to check with those laws to make sure you abide by them otherwise, you might not get what you wish for.