How To Preplan Your Funeral

If you’re thinking about planning a funeral and the person who will be laid to rest is yourself, congratulations. That may sound a bit strange, but you should know you are in the minority. You’re ahead of 75 percent of the population that has to plan funerals completely unprepared, probably full of emotions and possibly with the extra cash to spend on arrangements that become quite expensive.

Experts recommend pre-planning and you may want to think about pre-paying, too, although pre-paying comes with its own set of benefits and risks. But keep in mind that you can pre-plan without pre-paying. Experts agree that pre-planning is the best way to let your loved ones know what you want done and offer them peace of mind by removing the stress of having to make arrangements while they are grieving. Some even call pre-planning your funeral “a final act of love,” though it may be unpleasant to plan for, or even think about, our own deaths.

How to Pre-Plan

So you first thought may be: Planning my own funeral? That’s bizarre. No one wants to consider their own mortality, right? But stop and think about it: who knows what you would want better than you? Here are a few of the steps you should take to begin.

  1. Start the conversation. Contact funeral homes in your area and talk to a funeral director about the first steps. You probably will have to think about such options as do you want a full, traditional funeral? Do you consider cremation a viable option? Does your family already have a vault or a crypt?
  2. Write your plans down. Do you have a favorite song that you feel will stand the test of the time, that you would want played or sung for you no matter what? Include it in your plan. Have a favorite flower? Write it down. Would you rather spare people the expense of sitting in a somber funeral home and you want your service outside, weather permitting? Make sure you make a note of that. If there is anything that would be important to you, be sure that you include it. Don’t assume that you would have time to communicate those last details.
  3. Visit the final resting place. If you choose to have a burial, you may want to take a look at the plot. You may want to request that the plot is in the shade of a huge weeping willow or next to a peaceful pond. You may request that your headstone have some great quote or script. Then again, you could just want to be cremated and have your ashes scattered across the highway because you loved to drive. The point is that you make a choice about what you want — and make it an informed choice.
  4. Be reasonable. Depending on whether you are actually going to begin to pay on your funeral, you have to decide if it is fair to request the priciest casket, a horse and carriage, the dove released for every year of your life and the gold-gilded wreaths. Remember that the responsibility of executing your wishes — no matter how simple or extravagant – is with the ones who are left behind. It would be a great gift if you could think about a way to make it a little easier on them, as they will already be dealing with a terrible loss.
  5. Make copies of your wishes. Identify those closest to you whom you trust to carry out your final wishes. Give a copy to your attorney as well, the Federal Trade Commission advises.
  6. Consider revisions of your plans every few years. You can revise and update plans as your thoughts you change or you learn more about burial/entombment/interment processes that you didn’t know. For example, green funerals are becoming more popular. Options that are pretty out-of-the-box as compared to today’s standards — think about your remains being made into a reef to sit at the bottom of the sea or perhaps being blasted into outer space — could become more common and turn into something that catches your attention as time goes on.

If You Pre-Pay

Many people use the term “prepay” and “preplan” interchangeably, but the reality is that you can plan your funeral service without paying a cent. However, there are some benefits to paying on the service. The biggest benefit is probably that you could potentially lock in today’s prices on goods and services, which could be good news for your loved ones. Your family and friends will not only potentially not have to worry about planning your service; they also may not have to pay for the entire thing and any costs they do incur would be frozen at 2014 prices, instead of dealing with the inflation of rates 80 years from now.

Just as if you were pricing the options of someone else’s final service, you will want to reach out to multiple funeral homes to compare prices. A funeral home’s General Price List, which they are required by law to give you, can help you determine which facility you may want to go with.

Did you know that there is a Bill of Rights from that National Funeral Directors Association that details the guarantees that you are afforded as a consumer? Those rights state that a lawful and ethical funeral home will:

  1. Provide you a full and complete list of services offered and their rates prior to you selecting services.
  2. Provide a full written statement of your choices, at rate/price you chose, after you make your selection.
  3. Provide a preneed contract depicting your rights and obligations in plain language.
  4. Provide a guarantee to substitute goods/services of equal or greater value should your selections become unavailable at the time of need.
  5. Explain in the your contract where the geographical areas of the funeral home’s service are and how you would go about moving a preneed contract to another funeral home if necessary (for example, if you relocated or if death occurred outside the service area of the funeral home)
  6. Explain in your contract where and how much of the money you pay will be deposited until the funeral.
  7. Explain in the contract the person responsible for paying any taxes on income or interest created by preneed funds that have been invested.
  8. Tell you whether prices of goods and services are locked in, or guaranteed, by the funeral home — or what the funeral home will guarantee. If additional amounts are due at the funeral, the contract should stipulate who is responsible for paying them.
  9. Explain in the contract how and the circumstances required for you to cancel the contract and how much of your money will be refunded.

Always keep your family and your attorney informed of any contract you sign or agreement that you enter into, especially if they are the ones who will actually be liable for executing your plans. The Federal Trade Commission also warns if your family doesn’t know that you have prepaid the costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements — which is a pretty good point to note.

Drawbacks to Prepaying

There are some risks associated with prepaying for your funeral. The most obvious is that the funeral home where you may the arrangements may no longer be in business or they may change ownership, the Federal Trade Commission warns. This is why your preneed contract is so important.

Prices also may go up so that the funeral you thought you were paying on actually becomes more of a hardship for your loved ones. Again, this is where the need for the contract comes in. Make sure that it is spelled out, in plain language, what the funeral home is guaranteeing you for your money. Note that while you can prepay for certain expenses like the death certificate, cemetery, costs, etc., many funeral homes don’t want to include them because they have no control over these costs. So consider that you could be prepaying for a funeral where your loved ones are still responsible for those extra costs. But the Department of Health does mention that you may negotiate separately with the cemetery, crematory or monument dealer.

It’s always a good idea to know your state laws if you decide to prepay as well. New York Department of Health notes that the state “gives New Yorkers some of the strongest protection in the country,” but does not provide absolute protection.

As with any financial transaction, there are benefits and drawbacks to the way you decide to handle pre-paying for your own funeral. But know that at least thinking about what you want for your final arrangements, even informally, can give your loved ones the peace of mind that they know — without a doubt — that you would be pleased with your final goodbye.


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