Planning a funeral for a family member can be emotional, complicated and costly. Creating a funeral plan well in advance can minimize stress and confusion for surviving family members, ensure a late loved one’s preferences are respected, and help keep the memorial services within budget. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the tricky world of funeral preparations.
Tips for Making Funeral Arrangements
- Plan in advance, but think carefully about paying in advance.
Older adults are often advised to pre-plan their funerals to prevent their loved ones from having to deal with the process after they’ve died. While pre-planning is sound advice, paying in advance may not necessarily be the best option for everyone.
The traditional method involves pre-paying a specific funeral home for services to be rendered in the future, but there are other ways seniors can plan ahead to fund their funeral services. For example, a senior can set up a bank account to be “payable on death” to a trustworthy individual who will be responsible for carrying out their funeral. This type of account is free to set up at a bank, the senior retains ownership of this money and the named beneficiary doesn’t get access to the funds until the senior passes away. 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 closes. Additionally, prepaid funeral arrangements can’t always be transferred to a different funeral home. If there is a possibility that an elder will relocate in later years, prepaid funds could be lost if funeral services are decided to be held in a new location.
- Compare prices of products and services.
Funeral home 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 your loved one is ill, you may want to consider starting this process as soon as possible. You don’t want to be price shopping while mourning the loss of a parent or spouse.
- Bring a friend along to the funeral home.
Consider bringing a friend who was not close with the deceased to your consultation with the funeral home. Even if your loved one carefully specified their preferences, grief can make it difficult to avoid overspending on funeral goods and services out of feelings of loss and guilt. Embarking on this process with a more objective companion can help you make sound decisions regarding your loved one’s final arrangements by acting as a supportive and sensible sounding board.
- Choose personalization over funeral packages.
Many funeral homes offer package deals, which often include goods and services that you do n0t want or need. If you’re offered a package deal, make sure to ask the funeral home for an itemized list of everything that is included in the bundle. This will help you select the services that you want and make sure you aren’t paying for the services that you don’t.
- Make or buy your own casket.
Consumers are not limited to purchasing one of the caskets on display at the funeral home your loved one has chosen. Caskets are one of the more expensive elements of a funeral, but the law prohibits funeral homes from forcing shoppers to buy a casket directly from them. Therefore, you may choose to buy, rent or even 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.
- Set a budget.
Limiting funeral expenses doesn’t mean that you’re shortchanging your deceased family member. The things you cut out don’t have to affect the quality or beauty of the funeral. In fact, focusing on the factors that are most important to your loved one and your family may even enhance the memorial. 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, messages and memories that honor the deceased.
- Be wary of “protective” caskets.
Rubber gaskets and other gimmicks that claim to be able prevent decomposition or protect a body from the elements 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.
- Research burial benefits for veterans.
If your loved one is a veteran who received a discharge other than dishonorable from the military, then they may be eligible for burial in one of the 139 national cemeteries maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While the VA won’t make funeral arrangements or handle cremation for veterans, they can provide funeral goods, such as a grave, a memorial item (e.g. a headstone, grave marker, niche cover or medallion), a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate all free of charge. They also pledge to open, close and maintain veterans’ graves. You can visit the VA’s burial benefits webpage for more information on this and other burial benefits that veterans and some surviving family members may qualify for.
- Read up on laws governing the sales of funeral goods and services.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put forth a set of guidelines aptly named “The Funeral Rule” to protect consumers who are planning a funeral in advance and those who are making final arrangements at the time of need. 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)
- Obtain detailed price information on funeral goods and services over the phone
- Be presented with an itemized price list when they visit a funeral home
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming
You can learn more about the Funeral Rule on the FTC website.
Sources: Caskets—how to save on them (https://funerals.org/?consumers=caskets-how-to-save-on-them); VA burial benefits and memorial items (https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/); The FTC Funeral Rule (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule)