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Planning for a Death or Funeral

It has been said that in this life, it is expensive to be born and expensive to die. Planning for a baby is usually a time of excitement and joy and can be planned to a point. Dying on the other hand can not be planned, and the emotions that go along with it can easily cloud your judgment. To top it off, according to the Federal Trade Commission, funerals are among the most expensive purchases many consumers make, perhaps the third-largest lifetime purchase after a home and car. Death is unavoidable, but the high costs associated with it can be avoided or at least minimized with the proper guidance. While this is not a favorite topic to discuss, it should be addressed. That’s why we’ve gathered some tips and advice to help you better prepare for the unexpected.

Costs to Consider
It’s easy to think that once you die, that’s it. There’s nothing left to do, but for your family and loved ones there is much to do and decide. And most of the time those decisions have to be made under emotional stress and time constraints. Do yourself and your family and friends a favor by making those decisions now. The pressure will be off them, and you will get the proper send off you would have wanted. In addition, you will have the costs figured out and hopefully taken care of insuring less stress for your loved ones.

Interesting Fact: A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $6,000. Add flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards, limousines and any special touches, like programs for the service or musicians, and your total can run up to $15,000 or more.

Here is a list of items which will incur a cost and require a decision. Decide what you want and then check several funeral homes to compare costs:

  1. Simple disposition of the remains
    • Immediate burial
    • Immediate cremation (If the cremation process is extra, how much is it?)
    • Donation of the body to a medical school or hospital (Important Tip: This route will cost you nothing. Most places will pay for the transportation and the cremation which usually follows once the medical school or hospital is done with the body.)
  2. Traditional, full-service burial or cremation
    • Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff
    • Pickup of body
    • Embalming
    • Other preparation of body
    • Least expensive casket
    • Description of casket (if not least expensive), including model #
    • Outer burial container (vault)
    • Visitation/viewing – staff and facilities
    • Funeral or memorial service – staff and facilities
    • Graveside service – including staff and equipment
    • Hearse
    • Other vehicles
  3. Other Services
    • Forwarding body to another funeral home
    • Receiving body from another funeral home
  4. Cemetery/Mausoleum Costs
    • Cost of lot or crypt (if you or your family don’t already own one)
    • Perpetual care
    • Opening and closing the grave or crypt
    • Grave liner, if required
    • Marker/monument (including setup)

Alternative Methods
There are also alternative routes you can take when planning your funeral. It’s your choice to make, so why not go out in the style you lived! For example two increasingly popular methods of burial include: Burial at Sea and Green Burial.

With a burial at sea, you can be buried in a casket, sailcloth, urn or have your ashes scattered. All methods must meet certain laws and regulations. This method can tend to be very expensive depending on the choices you make.

Cool Fact: Some famous people who have been buried at sea include: Janis Joplin, L. Ron Hubbard, Dennis Wilson (The Beach Boys), Ingrid Bergman, Steve McQueen and Jerry Garcia.

With a green burial, the body is buried much sooner than a traditional burial and in a simple container with no embalming (meaning no use of chemicals). It is viewed as more environmentally friendly and takes place usually on special reserves. It also incurs much less cost. There is no viewing or visitation, but personalized funerals are also another way to honor the deceased.

Cool Fact: In the U.S., 32 acres of land have been set aside at the Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina for green burials. In the UK, there are over 200 green burial cemeteries.

Personalized funerals usually pay tribute with or without the body. Typically photos, art, music or other forms of sentiment are used to reflect and commemorate a loved one’s life. They can even be held at a favorite spot of the deceased. You can have a funeral on private property anywhere in the United States. In addition, home funerals are legal in all 50 states as long as state laws applying to funeral services are met.

Cool Fact: Celebrities live larger than life and most of them are honored in the same way when they are gone. For example, the costs associated with the extravagant funeral of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop” Michael Jackson have been reported to be as extraordinary as the man himself. No figures have been released to the public but the cost of the police services alone were estimated to be around $150,000. (Source: The Los Angeles Times)

The Funeral Rule
Let’s face it. There are bad people out there who are always looking for ways to swindle good people out of money or to take advantage of them in a weak moment. When a death occurs, many of us are at our most vulnerable, making us easy targets. This is why the government has developed a set of guidelines, known collectively as The Funeral Rule, to protect you and prevent fraudulent or unfair practices within the funeral industry.

Some of those rules set up by the Federal Trade Commission include:

  • You may shop around for a casket. A funeral home cannot require you to purchase one from them.
  • A funeral home must provide you with a general price list (GPL) and have the following  disclosures:
    • You may select only the goods and services you desire.
    • Embalming is not required by law except in certain special cases.
    • A “basic services fee” will be added to any item purchased.
    • “Alternative containers” are available for direct cremation.
    • A casket price list and a vault price list are also available.
  • A funeral home must give you an itemized statement that includes only those items you selected.
  • A funeral package statement must describe and include all goods and services. If you’re going to sign a contract, get a dollar amount in writing first.

In a nut shell, a funeral home needs to be upfront and honest with you. This is the best service they can give you during your time of need.

Fact or Fiction
In addition to The Funeral Rule, there are also a lot of myths out there in regards to funerals. We want to help you separate fact from fiction.

Embalming is required by law. In many states, it’s not required at all.
Embalming protects the public health. There are no public health purposes served by embalming.
It’s always necessary to view the body for “closure”. For many people, they would rather remember the person as they were before they passed away.
Sealed or protective caskets help preserve the body. The natural process of decomposing will take place no matter what casket you choose.
Cremated remains must be placed in an urn in a cemetery lot. You can scatter cremated remains. You are also allowed to keep them in the cardboard box that comes from the crematory.
It’s better to prepay for a funeral to lock-in prices. Prepaid funeral money is not well-protected against embezzlement, and you may not get it back or have it transferred if you were to move, die while traveling or just change your mind.

Planning a Loved One’s Funeral
All the information listed above can apply to planning your own funeral as well as planning a loved one’s. However as much as you don’t want to probably discuss your own final farewell, it’s even harder planning a funeral for a loved one. There are a few additional rules to live by when the funeral is not your own.

The most important rule to remember is it’s not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one. Avoid overemotional spending. If possible, hand over the decision-making to a trusted, objective third party who has fewer emotional ties but still has you and your family’s best interests at heart.

Be smart when you’re shopping. You can cut costs by limiting viewing time or by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of costly burial clothing.

Talk to your loved ones while they are alive. It’s not a fun dinner conversation but it’s also not fun trying to decide what they would have wanted after they have passed. To quote the popular musician, John Mayer, “Say what you need to say.” 

Important Tip: When a loved one passes away, get copies of the death certificate to make other legal arrangements easier. You’ll need to go to their financial institution and credit card companies to freeze accounts and assets until they can be dealt with at a later time.

Paying The Final Bill
There are several ways to pay for a loved one’s funeral or set up coverage for your own.
Look into funeral insurance, life insurance, a savings plan, policies provided by employers, social security benefits and living trust accounts.

A living trust account allows you to hold your assets while alive and then have them distributed after death. This allows the assets to be passed on to heirs without the expense of going through probate. Your funds are held in a revocable trust for a named beneficiary. At the time of death, the account balance will automatically pass to the living beneficiary (ies). Those funds can then be used to pay for some of the funeral expenses. In addition, you also want to make sure your other regular accounts are set up with the appropriate beneficiaries, so if something were to happen to you, the funds would be distributed to whoever you designate worthy. (All you have to do is fill out the “payable on death” section of your account application.) This may also help your loved ones pay for unexpected costs incurred from your death.

Shameless Plug: We can help you with a living trust account. We also offer Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance, which is a form of insurance covering death or specific types of injury as a result of an accident. In the event of accidental death, this insurance will pay benefits in addition to any life insurance held. Click here to learn more. Speaking of life insurance, we also offer it at a special member-discounted rate. Click here to learn more. And if you want to simply set up a savings account designated to pay for your final wishes, check out our U Name It Savings Program.

However you personally choose to go about handling your funeral expenses or choose to go period, be sure to include your provisions in your will to insure your family is aware of your pre-planning and there are no questions regarding your finances or final wishes. 

Smart Hookup: For answers on everything related to funeral planning, visit From proper funeral etiquette to grief recovery to funeral costs, you’ll find the advice you need to make the right choices for you and your loved ones.

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