As you get older, you probably have learned the importance of estate planning. The ultimate disposition of all your worldly possessions is certainly worth planning out. But what about funeral planning? Have you taken any time to think about what your family will do after you’re gone?
You may think, “I won’t be there. It doesn’t matter to me. They can do whatever they want.” But in reality, that will leave your grieving relatives the burden of making difficult decisions at a time they can barely choose what to have for breakfast. They’ll also deal with worries about money, since funerals are expensive. The more of that planning you can take on now, the easier that difficult moment will be for everyone.
Funerals can range from extravagant graveside ceremonies with honor guards and bagpipers to quiet memorials at the funeral home for just the family. Does it matter to you which you have?
There are three main types of decisions you have to make: the kind of service you want, the final disposition of your remains, and, most importantly, who you want making the arrangements.
If you’re religious, you’ll probably want a ceremony in your house of worship. Will your survivors know and respect this if they’re not also believers? Likewise, if you’re not religious, you should specify if you don’t want your religious family giving you a church funeral.
With the service, you can be as broad or as fine-grained as you like, from “I want a standard funeral Mass at St. Gabe’s” to “I want Steve to do the eulogy and Alice to sing ‘On Eagles’ Wings’ at the end.” You may want to check with your funeral home or church to see if these possibilities are available. Places of worship will have their own rules about what can and can’t be included in the service.
The standard burial most people think of—in a coffin, in the ground, in a graveyard—can be very expensive. If that’s what you want, talk to your local funeral home director about what it might cost so you can plan for that expense.
Cremation is comparatively cheap, though if you want your remains interred in a graveyard, that has an additional cost. If you’ve always dreamed of having your ashes scattered in the ocean, make sure to write that down. It won’t cost your family anything if they do it themselves, but depending on where they live, it may be a challenge to get there!
Lastly, you can arrange to have your body donated to a medical school or teaching hospital. You can call ahead of time and ask what their usual process is. It shouldn’t rule out having a memorial of some kind for your family first.
If you’re an organ donor, all of these options remain open for the parts of your body that aren’t donated. Organ donors can have open-casket funerals.
Lastly, remember it isn’t legal for your family to just bury you in the backyard, so don’t ask! If you want a more natural burial, talk with your family about home funerals and green burials. There may be options available in your area, but you do have to be aware of local laws.
Who Makes the Plans
If you don’t have a plan in writing, your funeral will be planned by your next of kin. If your spouse survives you, they will do it. If not, next-of-kin status passes to your adult children, then your parents, then your siblings. This may result in someone making these decisions who you were estranged from in life.
So decide who you want making these difficult decisions for you, and put their name in writing. This is the person responsible for carrying out all of the plans you’ve made, communicating with funeral home personnel, and making any decisions you didn’t foresee. Make sure you discuss it with them before you decide.
To finalize this decision, you will need a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare document. You can draw one up with a lawyer or find a template online. After you’ve filled it out, you’ll need to have it notarized before it’s valid.
Your Funeral Planning Fund
Sometimes, after a tragic death, you see online fundraisers to pay for funeral expenses. Most funeral options aren’t cheap, and family members generally don’t have much time to shop around for a bargain. Do you want your grieving loved ones begging for donations instead of comforting each other? If not, you’d do well to plan for funeral expenses while you’re alive.
If you already have life insurance, that’s an easy way to know funeral expenses will be handled. Make sure your policy allows for an immediate disbursement for funeral costs. Alternatively, you can choose a prepaid funeral plan with your funeral home. Many of these are transferable if you later move.
Another option is simply to save money in a bank account. If you want to make sure the money will be accessible to your survivors after you die, but not before, you can put it in a payable-on-death bank account. This way the money goes straight to your designee when you die, without them having to wait for probate or for a life insurance payout.
How much should you save? That depends on the kind of funeral you plan to have. The median cost right now is $7,640, but a full burial with embalming and a vault will run a lot more. Cremation, on the other hand, can be under a thousand dollars if you don’t have a service. Consider which options will actually be a comfort to your family, and save enough to pay for those. Leave some extra for inflation, since you don’t know how long from now the money will be needed.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Plan Your Funeral
In America, it’s considered morbid to talk or think too much about death. But everyone will die at some point, and you can’t choose to put it off longer. The sooner you have a clear plan in writing, the better. Your family will appreciate having everything handled in advance, with nothing to argue about.
If you’re working on your estate plan or trying to save up for funeral expenses, a financial advisor can help. Contact us to match with an advisor who’s ready to assist you.