Planning a funeral
Ensuring your wishes are honored while saving money
October 5, 2010
You plan for the major purchases in your life, such as your vacations, a wedding, a car or a home. You want to make sure that you are getting what you want, at a price you can afford. Yet, many people do not make any plans for one of the most expensive purchases they will ever make - their funerals. Unless you plan in advance and shop around, you are likely to pay top dollar. The average funeral in the United States costs $6,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The true sum easily can reach $10,000 once a burial plot, flowers and other costs are included, AARP says.
No one likes to think about death, let alone plan for it. In many families, death is an extremely uncomfortable topic to discuss. Without a plan in place when a loved one dies, family members and friends face dozens of decisions about the funeral, all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional duress. What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral home should you use? Should you bury the body, cremate it or donate it to science? What are you legally required to buy? What other arrangements should you plan?
By talking to your family about your preferences for your funeral, you relieve your family of having to make important financial decisions during a period of great stress and grief. In addition, you ensure your desires are known and can be followed.
While families should make decisions about funeral arrangements in advance, they should not pay for them in advance. Over time, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. A person might change his mind about what he wants or move to another state. It is better to put money for a funeral aside in a special savings account, trust or life-insurance policy so that it is available when needed.
People who favor a traditional funeral and burial can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by taking a few simple steps.
Plan ahead. Talk about death with your spouse or your family members. Know what they want and write their choices down.
Know your rights. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) "Funeral Rule" requires that mortuaries present a price list of services before showing consumers products such as caskets. The rule makes it possible for you to choose only those services you want or need, to pay only for those you select and to compare prices among funeral homes.
Shop around. Some people overspend on a funeral or burial because they do not take the time to comparison shop. Many survivors don't shop around for deals because they consider bargain hunting an affront to the dead. Spending too much, however, is hardly a tribute.
It is a good idea to discuss any pre-arrangements with family members and reach an agreement on what will be done because survivors could choose to disregard a person's stated plans. Early discussions help avoid any decisions that go against a person's wishes, as well as decisions that are unacceptable to family members.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a nonprofit, educational organization that sells an end-of-life planning kit, "Before I Go: You Should Know." The International Cemetery and Funeral Association website offers information and advice under "Consumer Resources." The FTC offers publications that can help when planning a funeral: "Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services" and "Funerals: A Consumer Guide."
Talk to your loved ones about their wishes and tell them yours. Studies show that families who make funeral planning a normal part of life, report the conversation made a painful time easier to bear. Many people say they found great meaning and peace carrying out thoughtful funeral plans that honored their family members in an appropriate and affordable way.