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Death & Dying

Advance Funeral Arrangements

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

In addition to legal and financial arrangements, many adults make funeral preparations in advance.  While this might seem like a morbid task, such planning can spare your family from having to make difficult choices at a point in the future when they are also dealing with the pain and grief of your death.  Advance planning is also a way to spread out the cost and therefore reduce the financial burden that a funeral and burial can place on surviving family members.  Funeral and burial costs average thousands of dollars in many countries and can vary considerably based on specific preferences. Both the cost and the number of details involved in planning a funeral can seem very overwhelming to a grieving family.

elderly woman on computerAdvance planning tasks can include buying burial plots or space in a mausoleum, making plans about the type of service that is to be held, and discussions with family about your desires. Many states, terroritories and provinces have regulations that govern the work of funeral homes.  Some require that a consumer who contacts a funeral home must be given line item price lists in addition to information about available services such as caskets, ceremonies, personnel, transportation of the body, items present at the viewing or funeral, etc.

While embalming is generally a part of the burial process, those who choose an immediate burial without a ceremony with the body present, have the option to forego this procedure. Direct cremation (without a visitation or viewing) is also an option and typically costs a few hundred dollars.  Clearly, direct burial or cremation options are cheaper, but many families prefer to have viewings and/or ceremonies with the body present. 

It is commonly thought that a service or funeral is not possible if you choose cremation. However, a visitation with open casket and a full funeral can occur prior to cremation, just as when a person is being buried.  In other cases, cremation may occur immediately after death, and a memorial service (with ashes present) is held at a later date.  Both options are becoming increasingly popular.

While you can choose to prepay all expenses to a specific funeral home, financial advisors and other experts do not generally recommend this practice, as there is considerable risk in doing so.  Those that prepay must hope that the company will still be in business when they die.  Another option is to set up a fund for funeral and burial expenses, which is accessible by a beneficiary at the time of death.  This can take the form of a trust fund, a life insurance policy that is equal to the amount that will be needed, or a savings/certificate of deposit account.

Discussing your wishes can be difficult or uncomfortable, as family members will often not want to think about or discuss your eventual death. However, it is particularly important to have this discussion if you have strong beliefs about the type of funeral or burial that you prefer.  If a direct discussion is not possible, then you can consider writing a letter to be opened at the time of your death.  Such a letter is a less desirable option, however, particularly if you believe that your family members may be dismayed by or disagree with your choices.  Discussing funeral arrangements in person can allow you to explain your decisions and hopefully, gain agreement from your family.

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