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

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The passing of a loved one is always stressful. Although death is something most of us would like to put off thinking about for as long as possible, planning for the inevitable can minimize the burden on grieving family members.

Often, family and friends are unsure of what a late loved one would have wanted their funeral or memorial service to be like and worry about making poor choices. Preplanning can help surviving loved ones make confident decisions regarding final arrangements and significantly reduce the number of difficulties that traditionally confront families following a loss.

Preplanning helps to answer questions like:

  • Did she want a traditional funeral and 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?

Following a few important steps can clarify these questions and others, giving surviving family members a clear picture of what is expected of them following a loved one’s passing. Furthermore, weighing these considerations, communicating these decisions directly with family and putting them into writing will provide peace of mind that these instructions will be followed.

Step 1: Decide on the Type of Service

Deciding on a type of service is probably one of the biggest helps that a person can give their family members. Traditional services generally have a visitation (also known as a viewing or a wake) at a funeral home and a funeral service at the funeral home, the graveside or a church. However, funeral traditions are changing and have given way to more intimate, customized memorials. Funeral homes are responding to the demand for an assortment of personalized services. Since more options are available now, there are many more details to consider. Should the service be large or small? Will it be religious in nature? Are there any unique requests?

Another important element to discuss is body disposition. While this decision is notoriously broken into two options, burial or cremation, it is more complex than that. In the case of a burial, remains can be interred in the ground at a cemetery plot or interred above ground in a mausoleum crypt. There are even more options available for those who choose cremation. The main decision here is deciding what will be done with the ashes (also known as cremains). Will a member (or members) of the family keep the remains? Will they be buried, interred in a niche, which is like a mausoleum used for storing ashes, or will they be scattered at a special location or event?

Step 2: Shop Around

Don't think that the local funeral home is the only option for burial products and services. Investigating different providers is an important part of the planning process. After the type of ceremony has been determined, it is crucial to do some research to compare providers, their products and services, overall customer satisfaction, and pricing. Speak directly with the funeral director at each funeral home about all questions and concerns, and don’t forget to request a pricing list for both individual items and services as well as package deals.

The home you choose should be able to accommodate all requests.

Step 3: Understand Funding Options

While there are some financial benefits of prepaying for a funeral service, such as locking in current prices for products and services that will likely be more expensive in the future, advance funding is not required to create the funeral plan itself. Simply sharing a written record detailing one’s final wishes with family takes all the guesswork out of acting on those plans and relieves a great deal of pressure on those responsible for doing so. Work with a funeral professional to understand funding options and your state's particular laws and regulations that govern preneed funds. If prepaying is a possibility, be sure to select a funeral provider that guarantees the security of funds paid in advance.

Step 4: Choose a Funeral Home

After completing your research, it is time to choose a provider that is trustworthy, attentive, accommodating and within budget. Comfort is an important factor in this decision as well. Never feel uncomfortable about asking questions. A good funeral director understands this is a delicate and unfamiliar process for many people and should be able to make the experience as simple and reassuring as possible.

Regardless of whether a funeral is prepaid, planning it in advance ensures that the services coincide with what a person wanted for their final arrangements and relieves surviving loved ones of additional stress at an already 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