The average wedding is planned over 6-12 months. The average funeral is planned over a matter of a few hours or days. All in the middle of grieving the loss of a dear loved one.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is taking a few hours now, while you’re still alive and healthy, to make things as easy as possible for your loved ones when you die. I know, you’d rather not think about your death. But living in denial causes pain for your family, and it’s a pain you can help them avoid by taking a few easy steps now.
There are 3 simple aspects of your funeral which, if you spend a few hours planning and communicating now, will make things much easier for your family when you pass away.
- Burial vs. cremation
- Memorial service details
- How to pay your final expenses
Burial vs. Cremation (and location for remains)
One of the decisions you need to make for your family is whether you want to be buried or cremated. I’ve had clients say, “I don’t care. Let my family decide after I die.” But if you can’t decide now, while you’re alive, do you really want to make your kids or other loved ones make this kind of difficult decision when they’re in shock right after your death?
Once the memorial service is over, where do you want your body’s final resting place to be? When my mom died, my brothers and I disagreed about where her ashes should be spread. Not wanting to make waves during our time of grief, I decided to go along with their wishes and then returned to that site a week later to retrieve some of her ashes and take them where I thought she’d want to be.
It could have been worse, creating a fight in the middle of our grief. Make sure your family doesn’t have an opportunity to squabble. If you’re going to be buried, do you want that to be in a cemetery? In a mausoleum? Buried at sea? If you’ve been cremated, where do you want your ashes … on a mountainside? On the mantel? Sprinkled in your favorite flower garden?
At a minimum, you need to decide these 2 things:
- Do you want to be buried or cremated?
- Where is the final resting place of your remains?
Type of Service/Memorial Service Details
You may have specific ideas about the style of your memorial service. It may be formal, in a church. Or informal, in the local pub. If you have a preference, state it now.
Do you have favorite music you’d like to have played? A poem or spiritual text you’d like shared? Certain people you’d like to deliver a eulogy?
Every once in a while a client tells me they don’t want any kind of memorial service. I get it. Thinking of having people stand around grieving your loss, telling stories, may feel uncomfortable, depressing even. But the memorial service is not for you, it’s for the loved ones you leave behind. I encourage you to ask your loved ones what they want, and allow them the space to grieve your loss in whatever way works best for them.
How to Pay Your Final Expenses
If you’re counting on bank accounts or life insurance to pay for your funeral, burial/cremation, and other final expenses, think again. These funds are typically not available until weeks after your death, because of the need for a death certificate first. So if your family can’t get into your bank account, can’t collect on your life insurance, they might be in a pickle … the funeral home won’t wait for a week (or even days) for payment. They need to be paid immediately, typically as soon as your body is retrieved.
According to the AARP, funeral and final expenses can easily exceed $10,000. There are several options for how to cover these costs:
- Pre-Payment Plan – Funeral homes typically offer some type of pre-payment plan. This allows you to choose some basic elements and make a payment today which, theoretically, will cover all of the expenses when you pass away. However, you may be tied to a particular funeral home or affiliation of funeral providers, and if you move or … God forbid, the funeral home closes, you may or may not have someone to provide the services for which you’ve already paid.
- Family or Friend – You may have a family member or friend who has money in a bank account or a credit card available to pay your final expenses and wait for reimbursement as your bank accounts or life insurance become available.
- Funeral Trust – A newer option, the funeral trust is actually just a life insurance policy with special terms that allows it to be paid out within 24 hours of your death, even before a death certificate is issued. There’s no cost for this kind of plan, you simply pre-pay a life insurance policy for the amount of your choice. It will even accrue interest each year between now and your death. If there’s anything left over after paying your final expenses (and travel expenses for your immediate family, if you want), the extra money would go back to your family.
If you want to free your family from the burden of scrambling to plan your funeral, and how to pay for it, when you die, set aside time in the next 2 weeks to plan these details. It won’t take long. Put your plans in writing, and let your loved ones know where to find them. This could be your final, lasting act of love for your family.
If you’re looking for more help with how to plan and pay for your funeral, join us for our upcoming funeral planning workshop. If you’re interested in more details on a Funeral Trust, contact our office and download our free report titled, Funeral Planning: Options for You and Your Family.
About Catherine Hammond
Catherine Hammond is the founder of Hammond Law Group. Ms. Hammond learned firsthand the effects of failing to plan when her mother developed early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease without any planning documents in place, requiring her to endure the living probate of her mother’s estate. Through that heart-wrenching experience she determined to help others avoid the added devastation of a complicated and expensive legal process by obtaining a law degree and devoting her practice to estate planning. More »