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Funeral Planning 101: How to Plan and Pay for Your Final Farewell

There’s nothing easy about planning a funeral when you’re in the fog of grief. Families don’t have much time to process a loss before they have to pick out caskets and order flower arrangements. Considering these profoundly difficult circumstances, it’s not shocking to learn that many families overpay for funerals, driven by emotional overspending and a lack of price transparency. Pre-planning your funeral is the best way to honor your wishes and your budget, and avoid leaving your family scrambling to find a spare $10,000 after your death.

Funerals: Your Rights as a Consumer

The funeral industry is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC mandates funeral homes provide itemized price lists, allow consumers to purchase their own caskets, and make additional services like embalming optional. These protections let you comparison shop for funeral homes and services. Finding a funeral home that has lower prices and no high-pressure tactics could save thousands on final costs.

Paying for a Funeral

Even with smart shopping, a funeral is a large expense. If you experience an extended illness before death, your estate might not have the funds to pay for the funeral you want. Assets held in an estate also must go through probate, leaving families to pay funeral costs up front before being reimbursed. If your family doesn’t have large sums of cash on hand, you need a way to pay for the funeral without going through probate or taking on debt.

Payable-on-Death Accounts

Payable-on-death accounts provide a beneficiary immediate access to funds in the bank account upon your death. POD accounts are also known as Totten Trusts.

Life, Burial, and Funeral Insurance

Life insurance is a common way to pay for funerals, but if you’re not holding onto a whole life policy, consider a lower cost burial insurance policy. Burial insurance provides smaller payouts, typically $5,000 to $20,000, for the purpose of funding a funeral. If you go this route, choose a policy with enough coverage for your desired funeral arrangements and consider a little extra to pay other outstanding bills. Avoid pre-need funeral insurance, which pays the death benefit to a funeral home rather than to your beneficiaries.

Prepaid Funeral Plans

It’s widely agreed that prepaid funeral plans, in which you purchase a funeral package in advance from a funeral home, are a bad idea.

Saving Money on Funeral Costs

Funeral costs start around $7,000 and can rise rapidly depending on the type of send-off you want. However, there are several ways to save on funeral costs.

Cremation vs. Burial

A burial is the default option for many families, but cremation can lower costs by more than half. Cremation doesn’t have to mean missing out on the traditional funeral experience. Families can still schedule a viewing or wake before the cremation and have remains interred in a cemetery.

Types of Services

A traditional funeral includes a viewing or wake followed by a funeral service. However, many families are opting for memorial services for an informal alternative to traditional services.

No matter which type of service you choose, you’ll need to make decisions about many details.

  • Whether the service should be public or private.
  • Whether to hold open-casket or closed-casket services.
  • What type of clothing and mementos you’d like to be buried or cremated with.
  • Who should speak, read, or play at the service.
  • Who should serve as pallbearers.
  • Which pictures and mementos you want on display.

Caskets and Urns

Caskets and urns purchased directly from the funeral home are likely to cost more than if you buy elsewhere. Consider buying your casket or urn online instead. Funeral homes can’t deny you the ability to use an outside casket or charge more for supplying your own casket.

Once you’ve decided what type of funeral you want and how you’ll pay for it, share your wishes with your family. Talk about your hopes for your final months and days, the legal and financial aspects of your passing, and how you want your life celebrated. As difficult as it is to have this conversation, it’s the first step toward a final farewell that leaves everyone at peace.

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Written by: Lucille Rosetti 💚
lucy@thebereaved.orgThe Bereaved