We know, another "boring" article about funeral pre-planning. But we have some news for you: we are all going to die one day. And while no one can predict when that day will be, pre-planning gives you the power to decide what will happen to your body once you die, and allows your family to know that they are honoring your wishes. This is where funeral pre-planning can help, and why you should read this article.
Funeral pre-planning lets you take control of the unexpected and protects your family from difficult decisions and financial pressures when the time comes. There are however many misconceptions about funeral pre-planning, so it is important to learn what you can do to prepare and make informed decisions.
Funeral pre-planning becomes important when your loved ones are at their most vulnerable.
Benefits Of Funeral Pre-Planning
Funeral pre-planning becomes important when your loved ones are at their most vulnerable. This can leave them at the mercy of rapid-fire decisions that can be traumatic and certainly costly. Pre-planning is more than just putting money aside. It takes care of funeral arrangements in advance, and with that, a guarantee to deliver the funeral services you envision. Do you simply want direct cremation and have your ashes scattered in your favorite park? Making your arrangement now, while sound of mind, saves your relatives from making rushed decisions under duress that may lead to disputes and unnecessary stress. Instead of scrambling, a simple phone call can set off the motions of your pre-planned funeral arrangements. But where do you begin?
Funeral Options and Considerations
A funeral is not necessarily only a service. And funeral pre-planning does not necessarily mean you even need to have a memorial service (no soggy tuna sandwiches here, please). You can personalize your plan at any time with as much or as little detail as you choose. You can specify that you wish to have your body donated to science with no memorial service, or you can set out detailed wishes for a special ceremony and decide how the service is to be conducted, along with special readings, music to be played, your favorite flowers, or whatever else (Star Wars themed procession, anyone?).
There are, however, three main categories of choice:
What? Where? When? Who?
- Related events that accompany a funeral service are visitation (open casket or closed), a wake, a procession after the formal service, or a memorial service later at another location.
- A house of worship, a funeral home, a family home, or other location.
- Take into account religious doctrine, travel time for family and friends, and set hours for a visitation or wake, if you wish.
- Decide who, if anyone, is to conduct your service (a celebrant, a religious official, or family member). Make a list of people you want to attend (especially if they are unknown to your family), and who you’d like to deliver eulogies, if any.
Disposition of the remains
- Embalming or not
- Cremation and scattering of ashes or placement in a cremation niche
- Burial and Green Burial
- Resomation (also known as water cremation or bio cremation)
- Entombment in a mausoleum
- Donation to Science (Canada, U.S)
- Casket type (wood, metal, wicker, etc.)
- Burial Vault and Grave Liner
- Cremation urn
- Burial shroud
Other considerations are what information is included in your obituary notice, if you prefer to have a home funeral, and bereavement counselling for family. Yes, there are a lot of decisions to make when you are pre-planning a funeral. Imagine, however, how much easier it is for you to make these decisions now, rather than your grieving loved ones having to make choices after you’re gone.
Pre-Paying For Your Funeral
Pre-Paying Through a Funeral Home
Increasingly popular in both the United States and Canada, a trust account at a funeral home will include all your funeral arrangements. For this type of funeral plan, you will likely have two choices: either you set up a guaranteed contract with all the services paid for in advance, or a non-guaranteed option that will need to be augmented by your executor. A guaranteed contract is useful because a contract does not necessarily ensure that funds deposited today will cover all the costs associated with the funeral in the future. In some Canadian provinces, people are protected from rising inflation and will not owe extra money upon death, IF they have signed a guaranteed contract. This is an important detail to discuss while pre-planning.
Should I Pre-Pay for my Funeral?
Many people choose to pre-pay for funeral services with a funeral home directly. While this has its benefits, especially if your family has a previous relationship with a funeral provider, it can have some drawbacks. For example, pre-paying for funeral costs today does not guarantee that there will be no additional costs in the future. If the casket you paid $2,000 for today costs $3,000 in 10 years, you may have to cover the difference. If you pre-pay for a funeral service today, and die in 20 years, there is little to guarantee that the funeral home will still be in business or still has a good reputation. Lastly, unless it is specified in your contract, obtaining a full refund from a funeral provider may be difficult. The safeguards and guarantees around pre-paying, (such as what happens if that funeral home goes out of business), differs throughout the United States and provinces in Canada. In the U.S. for example, only New Jersey and New York make it mandatory for funeral homes to place your funds in a trust. As such, you need to ask important questions before putting any money down.
What to Ask Before You Pre-Pay
If you choose a trust fund at a funeral service provider, ask them about the possibility to cancel or alter the terms of agreement in case you move to a new location or have changed your mind. Ask what happens if you choose to change details of your funeral plan. Additionally, many funeral homes will state that if the exact goods and services are not available at the time of the funeral, good and services of equal value will be provided in their stead. It is important that you agree on what constitutes "equal value" before you proceed. Finally, ask yourself about your current and future financial situation and which of the aforementioned options are best for you. Another question to ask the funeral home is, what happens if you were to die out of town? Some funeral homes may not cover the cost of the funeral unless you die in your registered State.
For a detailed overview of the pros and cons of pre-paying with a funeral provider, we recommend the Funeral Consumer Alliance.
Pre-Paying Outside the Funeral Home
Many people choose to purchase a life, funeral, or burial insurance policy. These can be set up independently through an insurance provider. Life insurance delivers a lump sum to your beneficiaries to do with as they want when you die, while funeral and burial insurance are funds specifically accumulated for funeral expenses. The difference between the two is that funeral insurance is paid directly to the funeral service provider, whereas the latter is paid out to a beneficiary. Another benefit of funeral insurance is the possibility of having your body repatriated in case of death overseas.
Another course of action is to set up a personal designated funeral savings account and leave it to your beneficiary or executor in trust. There, the approximate cost of a funeral today is placed to be collected later by a beneficiary. The money will accrue interest in the savings account to offset inflation by the time it is needed.
In the United States:
Life, funeral, and burial insurances are available options for those planning a funeral in advance in the United States. Similar to Canada, funeral insurance is directly paid out to a funeral home. Upon death, life and burial insurances are delivered to a beneficiary to do with as they see fit. You may also dedicate funds in a savings account for funeral costs, known as a “payable on death” (“POD”), or a Totten trust account. Money in such an account will grow with interest and will be released later to a named beneficiary (this account also allows you to bypass probate court entirely, but that is entirely another subject). Keep in mind that American citizens covered under Medicaid will need to ensure that their trust is irrevocable; should you experience a medical emergency, your funeral savings would not be considered an asset and drawn from, keeping your trust protected.
As funeral costs have risen faster than both the rate of inflation and savings rates, it's highly unlikely that money kept in a savings account or what is paid out from an insurance policy will be enough in the future. In all cases, it is important to keep in mind that a savings account or an insurance policy covers only funeral costs, not any additional fees that can be incurred by a memorial service (so save a little extra for that fancy catered vegan memorial dinner).
Funeral Pre-Planning Without Pre-Paying
You do not have to pre-pay for your funeral and may simply want your preferences for body disposition and your funeral documented. If you have a good outline of your wishes, you can still speak with a funeral director who will record them. Your selected funeral director can guide you and make note of the funeral parameters mentioned above.
Once you’ve arranged for a funeral pre-plan make sure that you give your family members a detailed list of your chosen plans.
In regards to pre-planning you have four options. (1) You can detail your wishes with a funeral home to be kept on file (at no cost, generally). We recommend shopping around for prices and to find a service provider that you feel good about. (2) You can detail your requests yourself, or with the help of a pre-planning website (like the one found here), and entrust it to someone. (3) You can (and should) create a will. And finally, (4) in the United States you can set up an advance directive. The latter is especially important in case of a medical emergency where you may not be able to make decisions yourself. While these avenues will not protect against rising funeral costs, your intentions will nonetheless be catalogued.
Once you’ve arranged for a funeral pre-plan make sure that you give your family members a detailed list of your chosen plans and talk to them about it. If you’ve contracted a funeral director, be sure to have a funeral arrangement package for your relatives that will tell them everything they need to do when the time comes. If you wish to have a home funeral, a good deal of advanced planning is required, along with close participation of family and friends (this article is a good place to start).
Funeral pre-planning relieves those you love from making tough decisions under difficult circumstances and empowers you to make decisions over your own body. Death is a difficult time, but an honest and open discussion is always a good idea. If you’ve chosen to pre-plan, most people will understand your efforts are a means to relieve their future financial and emotional burdens.
When You Die
When the time comes, a single phone call from your family to your funeral provider, or whomever you've entrusted with your end-of-life decisions, should put your plans into motion. While there are many contingencies to consider, funeral pre-planning can help relieve your family of many of the financial burdens that come with death. Detailed planning today means that your loved ones won’t have to stress or worry, for you have made provisions for your funeral well in advance.
This article was written and researched with the help of Roa Gawad: