For caregivers, planning a funeral for their family member can be emotional, complicated and costly. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the tricky world of funeral preparations.

Making Funeral Arrangements

  1. Plan, but don't pay, in advance: Older adults are often advised to pre-plan their funeral to prevent their loved ones from having to deal with the painful and complex process after they've died. But, while planning in advance is sound advice, paying in advance is usually not the best course of action. Instead of pre-paying a funeral home for services to be rendered in the future, a senior can set up a bank account to be "payable on death" to whomever is in charge of setting up their funeral. This way, the money remains in the hands of the family and is less likely to get lost or stolen if the funeral home goes bankrupt or goes out of business.
  2. Comparison shop: Depending on where you're planning on holding a funeral, prices can vary widely, even within a small geographic area. It pays to shop around and find the funeral home with the services you want at prices you can afford. If you're your loved one is ill you may want to consider starting this process as soon as possible. You don't want to be trying to compare casket prices while in the middle of mourning the loss of a parent or spouse.
  3. Bring a friend: If possible, when you're making plans for your loved one's funeral, you may want to bring a friend who was not close with the deceased. Your intimate connection with your loved one and your grief over their passing can make it difficult not to overspend on their funeral out of feelings of loss and guilt. Having a more objective companion can help you make sound decisions regarding your loved one's arrangements by providing you with a caring dose of pragmatism.
  4. Go personalized, not packaged: Many funeral homes offer a variety of package deals which often include services that you neither need, nor want. If you're offered a package deal, make sure to ask the funeral home for a detailed, itemized list of every service offered in that particular bundle. That way you can see and select the services that you want and forgo the services that you don't.
  5. Make, or buy your own casket: You are not limited to the caskets on display at the funeral home where your loved one's remains will be taken care of. Caskets are one of the more expensive elements of a funeral, but since the law prevents funeral homes from forcing you to buy a casket from them, you may choose to buy, rent, or make your own to save money and personalize a loved one's funeral. In addition to online casket wholesalers and outlets (like Costco and Walmart), there are also websites that sell kits and plans that allow handymen and do-it-yourselfers to make a personalized casket.
  6. Budget can be beautiful: Cutting down on funeral expenses doesn't mean that you're necessarily shortchanging your deceased family member. The things you cut out don't have to affect the quality or beauty of the funeral—in fact they may be able to enhance it. For example, some people may choose to bury a loved one in an inexpensive wooden casket—made out of pine or pressboard—so that family members can decorate it with designs and memories that honor the deceased.
  7. "Protective" caskets don't exist: Rubber gaskets and other gimmicks that claim to be able "prevent" or "protect" a body from decomposing are a myth. There is no product or service that can stop a body from decaying, so there's no sense in wasting time and money on anything that claims to do so.
  8. Keep veteran status in mind: If your loved one was a veteran who obtained an honorable discharge from the military, then they can be buried for free in one of the 131 national cemeteries maintained by the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA). According to their website, while the VA won't make funeral arrangements or conduct a cremation for a veteran, they can provide them with a grave, a headstone, a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate all free of charge. They also pledge to open, close and maintain your loved one's grave. You can visit the VA's burial benefits webpage for more information.
  9. The law is on your side: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put forth a set of guidelines, aptly named, "The Funeral Rule," to protect those who are trying to plan a funeral for a loved one. Some of the rule's mandates include upholding a person's right to:
    • Buy only the goods and services they want (as opposed to being forced to accept a package deal)
    • Get price information on funeral services over the phone
    • Be presented with an itemized price list when they visit a funeral home.

You can learn more about the Funeral Rule by going to the FTC's website.

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