Crowdfunding has made its way deep into the social consciousness. These online group fundraising efforts have successfully returned cult-classic TV shows back to the air, like Mystery Science Theater 3000, and helped smaller video game studios fund hits, like the follow up to the beloved game Psychonauts.
But crowdfunding not only affects entertainment ventures. More and more often, people are turning to crowdfunding to help with unexpected expenses like medical bills.
One of the fastest growing sectors of crowdfunding is funeral expenses. According to a recent article in The New York Times, “GoFundMe, one of the largest fund-raising sites, says that 13 percent of its campaigns created in 2017 were described as memorials, which include funerals and are one of the company’s fastest-growing categories. That follows on a 2015 study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, which reported that 17 percent of adults aged 20 to 39 had used the internet to solicit or donate money for funeral-related arrangements.
“There is little doubt consumers are interested in online funeral fund-raising. In April, GoFundMe acquired YouCaring.com, another popular charitable fund-raising site, which caters to the bereaved.”
However, the article illustrates some concerns with this type of funding. Funeral directors are asking relatives to sign documents that relieve businesses of fault if a campaign goes awry or funds are misused. There are also concerns that some funeral homes may upsell services to match the amount raised.
The real issue with crowdsourcing for these expenses is, unlike medical bills that can come from out of the blue, funeral expenses are not a total surprise. Yes, no one can predict when they are going to die, but they can be 100 percent certain that it is going to happen. With the proper planning, your family will not have to go through the painful challenge of figuring out how to pay for your funeral in the hours or days after you die.
“The largest pitfall, when it comes to funeral planning, is that the majority of people don’t do it,” said Jessica Showers, attorney at the Hammond Law Group, which practices only estate planning and elder law. “The loved ones left behind are mourning a loss and they feel an emotional need to make sure that their departed loved one gets the very best. I’ve had people sit in my office and tell me how they went into debt or took out money to pay for their parents’ funeral because they did not feel that what they could afford was worthy of their parents. But now they put themselves into financial straits trying to pay for those expenses. That’s probably the last thing that their parents would have wanted them to do.”
Other families are left without the liquid funds to pay for any final expenses at all, and funeral homes demand payment immediately. This kind of stress feels even worse right after you’ve lost a loved one.
The ultimate goal of estate planning – and this includes funeral preparations – is to have everything buttoned up so your children, relatives, and friends don’t have to worry about anything.
“There are a number of options for making sure your funeral is paid for in some way. Because getting access to bank accounts and life insurance proceeds, those things don’t happen until we have a death certificate, and in the majority of cases, we can’t get a death certificate for weeks after someone passes, long after the funeral. We see lots of situations where families have had to pay for funeral expenses out of pocket and then wait to get reimbursed from the estate,” said Showers.
“Options include a funeral trust, which is like an insurance plan that will pay for funeral costs directly out of that account. In other cases, people will do what’s known as a prepaid plan with a funeral home where they pay for the expense of the funeral as well as plan everything out. If you do this, you just need to make sure you know what happens to the plan if the funeral home goes out of business or is sold. There’s usually some sort of insurance or the funeral home has a process in place if that happens. Just be sure to understand what that is.”
If you create written funeral plans, you can include a copy of your wishes with a will or a trust, but it shouldn’t be a part of these documents. You should also make sure that a copy of the instructions is with the executor of your estate or your loved ones. This is especially important if you have very specific wishes for your funeral.
Many people these days wish to have a green funeral, which forgoes embalming and uses eco-friendly burial containers to minimize environmental impact. Currently, however, not many funeral homes can accommodate this request.
“If a person has a strong conviction that they want their funeral to be a green funeral, then they need to commit that in writing so that can be communicated to their family. I also strongly recommend that they reach out to funeral homes or cremation centers in their local area to find out which ones provide green services. I cannot stress how important it is to plan,” said Showers.
“At Hammond Law Group, we actually have a form that we created by speaking with funeral directors that lists out over six or seven pages of all the different types of questions a funeral director may ask. So, you can leave specific directions about what you want: what kind of flowers, do you want to be buried or cremated, what kind of casket, do you want to be memorialized in any other way, etc. All of these things the funeral director is going to ask this worksheet goes through all of that.
“One of the greatest gifts you can leave your family is a solid plan. So that in the days after your passing, while your loved ones are grieving, many of the hard decisions will already have been made.”
Take action now to get your funeral – and other estate planning needs – in order. The compassionate team at the Hammond Law Group is ready to help.