Planning a Funeral in Advance Can Ease a Family's Grief

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Though it's not a topic most of us want to think about, planning for what happens after your loved one's death and understanding your loved one's options can reduce the stress on grieving family members and caretakers. Making decisions now about what happens when they're gone can help assure those left behind that your loved one's wishes are being honored.

The death of a loved one is always stressful. Fortunately, preplanning is something your loved one can do now to help his or her family. Often, family members and friends are unsure of the answers and worry about making poor choices. Preplanning can help your loved one's family make better choices and significantly reduces the number of difficult decisions that traditionally confront loved ones at a time of loss.

Preplanning helps to answer questions like:

  • Did she want a traditional funeral with burial?
  • Didn't he say he wanted to be cremated?
  • Should we have the service at the funeral home or a church?
  • What funeral songs should be played?

Step 1: Decide on the Service

Deciding on the type of service your loved one wants is a great step towards feeling confident that their wishes will be fulfilled. Traditional services generally have a visitation at a funeral home and a funeral service. These services are most common, but options are changing. Funeral homes are responding to the demand for customized, complete services. Spend some time with your loved one deciding what type service he or she wants, if it should have religious elements, if it should be intimate or large and if there are any unique requests that can be accommodated.

Another important element to discuss is body disposition. Will your loved one have a burial or cremation? A cemetery plot should be purchased if your loved one is having an in-ground burial; a mausoleum crypt for above ground. If cremation is the choice, plan the disposition of the ashes. Will the ashes remain with someone, be stored or buried or scattered somewhere?

Step 2: Shop Around

Don't think that your loved one's local funeral home is your only option. Investigating different funeral homes is an important part of planning a funeral. After your loved one has decided what type of ceremony he or she wants, work with a funeral director and ask all the questions you and your loved one need.

It is appropriate to ask for a price listing. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than purchasing individual items or services. Remember, it's your loved one's funeral, have it done the way they want. The sky is the limit, so the funeral homes of today should be able to accommodate your love one's requests.

Step 3: Choose a Funeral Home

Choose a home that fits your loved one's budget and is willing to work with him or her on their requests. It is important that your loved one is comfortable with their decision, so choose the home that they trust most. Never feel uncomfortable asking questions; a good funeral director understands this process is not something people do everyday and should be able to assist your loved one and make them feel comfortable.

Many funeral homes are able to offer specialized services that help during this difficult time. Because funerals are an investment of time and money, ask about the transferability of your loved one's funeral plans. For example, the Dignity Memorial® National Transferability allows prearranged funerals to be fully transferable across their North American Network. So if life takes you to a different location, your loved one's plans will transfer.

Step 4: Understand Your Loved One's Funding Options

Know that your loved one does not need to prepay in order to preplan their funeral. Simply sharing a written record of their final wishes with family and friends relieves everyone of the burden of making difficult decisions regarding your loved one's final arrangements. If your loved one does choose to prefund their prearrangement, they can lock in today's prices for products and services that likely will be more expensive in the future. Work with a funeral professional to understand your state's particular laws and regulations that protect preneed funds, and select a funeral provider that provides its own guarantee of your loved one's funds' protection.

Regardless of whether or not your loved one funds his or her prearrangement, preplanning their funeral ensures that their services will be as they would have wanted and relieves loved ones of additional stress at a trying time.

Molly Gligor leads the Houston area network of Dignity Memorial® funeral, cremation and cemetery providers. As a licensed funeral director for the past 20 years, she has assisted thousands of families during difficult times, helping them celebrate the significance of lives that have been lived and preserving memories with dignity and honor.

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13 Comments

Thank you for opening this conversation! LONG before this was ok to do, my dad planned his own funeral, chose how his remains were to be handled and picked out the most ridiculous coffin he could (his last laugh).....then he paid for it all! I was saddened at first, thinking in my heart that no one should face that alone, least of all my shy dad, then I was at a loss between the time of death and the time of service...after all shouldn't the eldest child/only daughter being handling this? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH ALL THIS EMOTION & ENERGY during this anxiety ridden time? (step-monster never told us dad was in hospital and died then brought her boyfriend to dad's service--HIGH ANXIETY time) Then a few days later I was sobbing, so happy he loved my brothers and I enough to take care of all those final arrangements so we wouldn't have to. He knew his wife wasn't going to pay for a funeral and we would have been on the hook for the cost, he knew she wasn't going to share our written family history, any posessions or any of the million dollar insurance settlement, he knew everything about her and happened to die the day before he had appointment with attorney to rewrite will......So I say, and my brothers will agree that if you want to truly leave your children a happy memory, no matter if your family dynamics are - great or greatly flawed - plan and pay for (if you can) your own final wishes.......At the very least, please write or record somehow your detailed final wishes as each and every adult child will have a different opinion of "your wishes".
PS: you could be saving thousands of dollars by doing this!
We are fortunate in that none of our family has strayed too far from our ancestral roots. My dad's resting place is just down from my brother, and my grandparents and great grandparents are there too. There is an expectation in our little community about the way a funeral should be conducted and I find it comforting to follow that tradition. The reality today though is that families travel far from home, not just physically but in their beliefs and lifestyles. I think sometimes the oldest generation forgets that some of the things they take for granted such as the way they feel a funeral should be conducted are sometimes a mystery to the following generations. I know my nephews would not have a clue about our small town traditions, so as my generation dwindles I will make sure that they know where and how, and I already have insurance to cover the expense.
I do believe however, that a funeral is for the living, that the planning of the service is a step in the grieving process, and that arranging everything down to the flowers and music robs the family of this. Years ago families prepared the body and laid them out in their homes, a final service to their loved ones. If there is truly no one who would be willing to take on that task then I would rather they skip the funeral altogether than participate in a sham tribute that has no truth for them.
Investigating a Funeral and costs in advance is smart: however one should never reveal the amount or budget before hand, and perhaps more than one Funeral home, might provide pricing of services,
A FUNERAL TRUST NOT purchased at a Funeral home is portable ANYWHERE, in contrast to a prepaid plan at a Specific funeral home , in the event of life changes; it might not be easily 'moved'
In Wisconsin in 2012 it was discovered the Funeral directors prepaid investment 'trust' was short 20 million in future liabilities
A Funeral trust in GA is Medicaid Exempt up to $10,000, and the only cost is the funding, no cost for the trust, I issue them on a regular basis,, and will work with attorneys helping with the estate planning etc, to provide one, not increasing any legal cost,anf leaving all options 'open' for the final services location, the Funeral trust is insured, and any excess is paid to the estate, The Funeral Home is not the beneficiary, so it does not control the funding