Planning a funeral might be one of the most difficult things you have to do in your lifetime. There can be a number of funeral arrangements to organize – from deciding on the type of memorial service to have, to contacting friends and family, filling out important paperwork and paying funeral costs – all while managing personal grief.
Whether you’re making your own wishes known to your loved ones, or preparing to memorialize someone you care about, here’s what you need to know about planning a funeral.
What You Can Do Ahead of Time
While it can be uncomfortable to talk about death, planning ahead can make sense. According to the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives (CINDEA), if you know a death is coming, it’s a good idea to research options and begin making arrangements ahead of time. If you are making your own arrangements, it’s never too early to research your preferences and share your wishes with loved ones.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finds that families often rush into buying a cemetery plot on short notice, without time to make the best decision. As a result, the FTC recommends buying a family plot ahead of time – even years ahead of time – or making your alternative wishes known, whether it’s cremation, or perhaps donating your remains to science.
These are some of the items you can begin arranging before a death:
Identify a burial plot and obtain it, if you wish to take that route.
Understand the legal requirements if you wish to have ashes scattered. The Cremation Association of North America points out that about one third of individuals who are cremated choose to have their ashes scattered, but there are restrictions on how and where human remains can be scattered.
Estimate costs based on whether there will be a burial, cremation, service, or other arrangements.
Learn the requirements for donating remains for research, and find out what paperwork needs to be done ahead of time.
Gather personal documents to ensure that all important information is readily available. It’s also a good time review wills and other estate planning documents to ensure they are up-to-date and accurate, and make any changes as needed.
Consult with a local funeral director who can help you understand everything that needs to be done. Even if you don’t plan a traditional funeral and burial, a compassionate and caring funeral director can help you understand paperwork and direct you to other service providers to meet your needs. Find a local funeral coordinator by getting recommendations from family and friends, a local community leader or religious leader, or a hospice.
After a Loved One’s Death
One week to 10 days after a death will most likely include making final funeral or memorial arrangements, obtaining final certificates needed for burial or cremation, and transport. This is also the best time to finalize and publish an obituary and notify friends and family.
After the funeral service takes place, you can begin to go through the process of settling the will and other estate documents. It’s important to understand that settling an estate can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a year, depending on the legal structure of your location, and the complexity of the estate.
What to Know About Costs
The National Funeral Directors Association reports that in 2014, the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,181. The median cost of a funeral with a viewing and cremation was $6,078.
A casket can also be a major cost. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average casket costs close to $2,000 – but there are some high-end caskets that cost as much as $10,000. Choosing a modest casket, remains donation, or a cremation can save money.
Life insurance may also help offset the cost of a funeral. If you haven’t been saving up for a funeral, find out if it’s possible to arrange a payment plan, or if the funeral services can be paid for after the receipt of the life insurance payout.
Another option is to pre-pay funeral expenses. It’s possible to prepare a contract with a funeral home for a funeral or cremation ahead of time – from arranging the casket, to handling the transportation of the deceased, to the embalming, to directing the funeral. Being able to pre-pay funeral costs can ease the financial burden, even if all you do is pre-pay for some of the services, such as a burial plot or casket. It’s important to carefully assess these costs, and make sure you understand the agreement.
Review the Will and Other Estate Documents
Understanding the disposition of an estate is important. An estate includes all of the assets (and liabilities) held by the deceased. This includes possessions, the money in various accounts (including investments and retirement assets), valuable collectibles, and real estate. If you or your loved one has a high net worth, especially if your net worth exceeds $1 million, you might need an estate lawyer to handle the final transactions. Depending on the location of the deceased’s residence and the details of the estate documents, it might also be necessary to hire a probate lawyer.
When a death is expected, it can be a good idea to work with an estate lawyer to review all relevant documents, particularly if there are a several accounts, properties, or issues with multiple heirs to manage. This isn’t always a comfortable conversation to have, but it is important, especially if you want the process to go as smoothly as possible.
Understanding the logistics of planning a funeral and being as prepared as you can be ahead of time can help you and your loved ones navigate this difficult process as smoothly as possible.