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A Guide to Preplanning Your Funeral

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It’s not something any of us particularly wants to think about, but it’s important for any older person to consider, as dying without a funeral plan can leave your family with a hefty bill.

The average funeral now costs $6,650, up 27% from a decade ago, according to data from the National Funeral Directors’ Association.  And that figure doesn’t include the burial plot, tombstone, actual burial and vault (the protective box the casket is put into), which can add up to $4,000 or more, says Ray Smith, vice president of StoneMor Partners, which owns cemeteries and funeral homes nationwide.  “Many funerals run well over $10,000,” according to the Federal Trade Commission’s site. “Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make.”

What’s more, funeral decisions — and the accompanying bills — are often left to children or the remaining family members.  And in times like these, “people are prone to emotional overspending,” says Smith.  They’ll buy that fancy casket or the VIP funeral package “because they think of it as a reflection of their feelings for the deceased,” the FTC site reveals.

So, to prevent your children from having to make these kinds of decisions, and then having to foot the potentially five-figure bill, it’s important to pre-plan, says Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group that helps consumers make funeral decisions.  Smith says most people should start thinking about pre-planning their funeral in their mid-50s.  Here’s how to do it:

Write down your funeral plans. Write down all the details, including the kind of service you want (religious, secular, etc.), where and how you want to be buried, whether you want a public viewing and the funeral home you’d like to use. Keep these directions in a safe place where your family can easily access them upon your death.  Click here to learn more about what you’ll need to think about when planning your funeral.

Pre-pay for as much as you can. If you don’t want your children to face a hefty bill, pre-pay for as much as you can, Smith says. “Many funeral homes will let you pre-pay for the funeral service and related items, and many cemeteries will let you pre-pay for the plots,” he says.  This way, your family will have little, if any, bill upon your death.  For more details about pre-paying, click here.

Bargain hunt. You should comparison shop now for everything from caskets to funeral homes to cemetery plots, experts say.  Sites like Funerals.org, FuneralDecisions.com and FuneralPriceFinder.com can compare prices across funeral homes in a given area, and you should call local cemeteries for price quotes or consider cremation (which usually costs $500 and up). You should also be aware of the FTC’s “Funeral Rule”, which requires funeral directors to give you an itemized list of prices and dictates that you don’t have to buy one of the “package” deals offered by funeral homes. This means that if you want to buy a casket or other extras elsewhere, you can.  (Wal-mart and Costco sell caskets, often for significantly cheaper than those at the funeral home.). Of course, you probably don’t want your casket sitting in your basement, so leave money for it, and any other extras that you haven’t pre-paid for, to the children or whoever will be footing the bill for your funeral.

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    • I don’t advise pre-paying either, but if you are planning on being cremated there are things you can pre-plan such as choosing and purchasing your cremation urn, deciding if you want it to be buried, put into a mauseleum, or have a family member keep it in their home. If you purchase a cremation urn in advance at least you get to choose one YOU will like. :)

    • Pre-planning is great, but pre-paying is not. The Fed. Trade Commission website does not recommend pre-paying, nor would Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, if asked. Put your pre-payment money into a Payable on Death savings account in an insured bank. While you will not earn enough interest to keep up with funeral cost inflation, your money will be secure and available to your family when they need it. Too many funeral directors use misleading contracts, don’t put the money into trust, or just outright steal it. It’s YOUR money. Keep it yourself. Pre-pay for a funeral only to qualify for Medicaid, if that time ever comes.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.

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