While a sense of discomfort about death may prevent some people from considering funeral pre-planning, concerns about the cost may be a deterrent to others. Funeral planning can be expensive, but pre-planning allows individuals time to consider a budget when making decisions about desired plans and services. The costs for some services may be guaranteed at the time of pre-planning and payment, while others are estimates that may change by the time the services are actually utilized. Whether or not funeral planning is completed ahead of time, it is important for individuals to be honest and realistic with themselves and the funeral home about the size of the financial commitment that can be made for these services.
When pre-planning, check with the funeral director as to whether or not a price guarantee can be provided for certain services. Funeral homes are required by law to establish a general price list for their services, and these services are the ones which some funeral homes will guarantee, such as costs for a casket or urn, embalming, vault, cremation, a private or public service at the funeral home or in a church, and transportation of the body. Other costs which can be estimated, but are not controlled by the funeral home (and thus cannot be guaranteed), include death certificates; flowers; obituaries; church staff including clergy, musicians, and custodians; the coroner’s fee; and the opening and closing of a grave.
When pre-payment for services is made, a funeral home should place the funds in an irrevocable and transferrable insurance product to protect the investment. This is important in case the funeral home should go out of business or the client move out of the area and/or desire to utilize a different funeral home in the future. Some funeral homes will accept a life insurance policy as payment for services. One option is to assign the entire policy to the funeral home. At the time of death, if there are extra funds after all services are paid for, the funeral home will reimburse the family. A second option is a partial assignment of the policy, in which the insurance company pays the funeral home at the time of death, and then pays the remainder of the policy to the beneficiaries. Most funeral homes will not provide a price guarantee for pre-planned funerals when a pre-existing life insurance policy will be utilized as payment for services. Monthly payment plans may also be available if one cannot afford to pay the entire cost at once. A discussion about general wishes for services and available payment options held prior to decisions about specific products and services can help a funeral director assist a client more compassionately and effectively.
For those who are budget conscious, there are some ways to reduce the expenses associated with funeral planning. Some of the most obvious include the type of casket or urn and the flowers which are chosen. In general, the cost of cremation will be less expensive than the cost of a traditional burial. Newspapers, which at one time didn’t charge for obituaries, now charge by the line, and a $400-$500 fee for this service is not uncommon. The type of cemetery utilized can also influence costs. Large cemeteries which are owned by corporations have more regulations, and thus will charge more for the cost of the grave itself as well as the opening and closing of the grave. Smaller cemeteries and church owned cemeteries tend to be more flexible and in many cases, less expensive.
If you remain uncomfortable with the thought of planning the details of your own funeral, or are unsure about discussing plans with a specific funeral home, an irrevocable funeral trust can be used to set funds aside to cover this expense. These trusts have several benefits, including protection from the cost of long-term care (your family won’t have to pay for your funeral if all of your personal assets have been used to pay for care in a facility), they can be used at almost any funeral home, and they are an eligible expense for a Medical Assistance spend-down (check with an elder law attorney about certain regulations which may apply).
For additional questions about advanced funeral planning, check with your local funeral home or attend one of Hoffman-Roth Funeral Home’s Lunch and Learn sessions. Call Jill Lazar, Preneed Counselor and Funeral Director, at 717-243-4511 for dates and reservations.
Karen Kaslow, RN