A Simple Guide to Funeral Planning
A Simple Consumer Guide to Funerals
When a loved one has died, it is often the most difficult time for grieving families and friends to have to make funeral decisions. We are faced with many questions, which must be handled quickly, at a moment of great emotional stress. Do you know what kind of funeral it should be? What funeral provider should you use? Did your loved one wish to be buried or cremated? And even, how much will it cost and what are we legally required to purchase? Every year many Americans are faced with these and other questions as they spend billions of dollars planning and arranging funerals for their loved ones.
As we become more educated consumers, there is an increasing trend for making funeral decisions and arrangements in advance, also known as pre-need planning. Consumers want to achieve the most favorable and ultimately meaningful results by comparing prices and services and making wiser purchasing decisions.
Surprisingly, funerals account for one of the largest purchases consumers will ever make. Many funerals run well over $10,000. Traditional funerals, for example those including a casket and vault, will cost over $6000 not including additional items such as flowers, obituaries and limousines. These and many other extras add to a family’s bottom line. Yet many of us feel uncomfortable negotiating and comparing prices when it comes to planning a funeral whether at need or pre-need. We feel it is a reflection of our feelings toward the deceased to overspend on a funeral or burial even if you are the kind of person who likes to haggle for the best price.
An increasing number of people are including funeral planning into will and estate arrangements to relieve the pressure of making such decisions from friends and family. They are planning their own funerals, designating their preferences an paying for them in advance. We want to spare our survivors the stress of making pressured decisions at a time of great emotional duress. Thinking ahead eliminates some of these pressures by helping us make more informed and well-thought-out funeral arrangements. You can compare prices and services offered by various funeral providers and choose according to your specific wants and needs.
Many funeral planning or memorial societies are non-profit organizations that provide information about funerals and disposition but do not offer funeral services. These can be helpful in making educated decisions, as can funeral homes or cemeteries. Keep in mind that not all establishments and services with the word “society” in them are non-profit.
Another important consideration when planning a funeral pre-need is where the remains will be buried, scattered or entombed. It is generally a good idea to make those arrangements ahead of time rather than rushing to make a decision after a loved one dies. It is in the family’s best interest to visit a burial site and purchase the cemetery plot or grave prior to needing it.
You may choose to make funeral arrangements and decisions in advance, but you do not have to pay for them in advance. It is important to remember that many businesses change ownership or close, and that prices may go up or down due to specific market conditions over time. Therefore, you should revisit and revise funeral plans every few years and always let those close to you know your wishes. Remember to put your preferences in writing and furnish copies to your attorney and family members. Keep a copy in a conspicuous place and do not rely on placing it in a safe deposit box since funeral arrangements must often be made during weekends and holidays when there may be no access to the document. Also, do not designate your preferences in your will because your will may not be read until after the funeral.
Prepayment of Services
Funeral prearrangements have been made by millions of Americans. Many are prepaying in part or full for the expenses involved. Individual State laws govern the prepayment of funeral products and services, with several state laws ensuring the availability of funds at the specific time of need. However, some states offer little or no protection. Some states require funeral establishments to use a percentage of the prepayment funds to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery, or to put a percentage in a state-regulated trust.
Several issues are important to consider before pre-paying for funeral goods and services:
Will you be paying only for funeral products or will you be purchasing services as well?
What happens to the pre-payment funds? Where are they held?
What happens to the interest earned on prepayment funds when held in a trust account?
How will you be protected if the firm changes ownership or goes out of business?
What is the refund policy if you change your mind?
What happens if you die while away from home or you move to another city?
Are my prepaid plans transferable and at what cost?
Whether or not you wish to consult an attorney to ensure your wishes are carried out, be sure to inform your family members that you have made funeral plans and that you have prepaid for them. If your family does not know about these arrangements, they may not follow your wishes, or may pay to duplicate arrangements. Keep proper documents handy and let others know where they are.
Know the Funeral Rule
While most funeral professionals strive to meet and exceed the needs and best interests of their clients, some do not. A few take advantage through inflated pricing, double or overcharges, and offering unnecessary services.
Whether at-need or pre-need, you want to make sure that you only pay for those products and services that you have selected according to your wants and needs. There is a federal law, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, designed to help consumers make those decisions. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide a list of itemized prices in person or over the phone, if you ask. It also requires them to give you additional information in regards to their products and services. For instance, if you ask in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral home must provide you with a written price list, that you may keep, describing the products and services available. Also, when inquiring about caskets and outer burial containers, the funeral home must provide you with pricing and descriptions of the available selections prior to showing you the actual caskets. It is important to know that you may purchase goods and services individually in accordance to your wishes when making funeral arrangements.
Many funeral providers offer “packages” that include the most commonly selected items and services that make up a funeral. However, you do not have to accept and pay for products or services included in the package that you do not want or need.
According to the Funeral Rule:
You have the right to choose the funeral products and services that you want and need, with some exceptions The funeral provider is required to state this right in writing on the price list. If state or local laws require that you purchase a particular item, it must be stated in the price list with specific reference to that law. The funeral provider may not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket bought elsewhere. If the funeral provider offers cremation services, they must make available alternative containers.
What Kind of Funeral Should It Be?
As far as funeral practices go, every individual and family is different. There are many factors that influence our funeral decisions such as cost, religion, cultural belief and personal preference. These will determine where the funeral will be held, whether or not the funeral will be public, private, religious, secular, and how elaborate or simple it will be. Will the body be buried or cremated? Will there be a viewing, visitation or wake? Will the casket be open or closed? Will the body be present at the funeral?
A Full Service or Traditional Funeral typically includes a formal funeral service, a viewing or visitation, hearse services to transport the remains to the funeral site, and a burial or cremation of the body. This type of funeral tends to be the most expensive because it includes basic funeral home fees, rental of the funeral home for viewing, embalming and dressing of the body, transportation, casket, cemetery plot and several other funeral products and services.
With a Direct Burial the body is buried shortly after death and in a simple fashion. There is no viewing or embalming necessary and the memorial service may be held at a later time. This type of funeral typically costs less than a traditional service since it only includes the funeral home’s basic service fees, a casket or other burial container, care and transportation of the body, a cemetery plot or crypt and, if chosen, an additional fee for a graveside service.
There is also the option of a Direct Cremation. The body is not embalmed and cremation takes place shortly after death. Typically there is no viewing or visitation, although there may be a memorial service held with the option to have the remains present. The family may choose to have the remains placed in an urn or other container, buried, or often times, scattered in a special location. With a direct cremation, the funeral provider is required to provide alternative containers if the family chooses not to use or purchase a casket. The cremation fee may be included in the funeral home’s fees, or if the home does not own the crematory, this may show up as an additional fee. There will be additional charges for the urn or other burial container, and if the family wants to bury or entomb the remains, they may want to purchase a cemetery plot.
Who Should Be the Funeral Provider?
Few people are experienced in managing the details and legal requirements involved with planning a funeral. For this main reason, most families feel comfortable using the professional services of a funeral home or other provider. While it is not required that a family use one of these establishments, their knowledge and experience becomes invaluable at a time of need and emotional stress.
Most of us haven't put a lot of thought into the business of funerals or funeral planning, so when the time comes at-need or pre-need, we tend to choose a funeral provider that our family has used before, one close to where we live or one that has been recommended by a trusted source. However, it is not generally a good idea to narrow your choices and possibly risk paying more for funeral goods and services. Allow yourself to comparison shop by planning ahead, visiting a number of funeral providers and remembering that they are required to provide you with an itemized price list prior to showing you the products.
You may also wish to price shop by phone and get the legally required price list from the funeral director. When purchasing a package from a funeral provider, remember to compare the included products and services to the itemized price list and make sure that you are not paying more for unnecessary items.
Finally, there is a growing trend for funeral providers to become part of national companies. So while you may think that the funeral home in your town is independently owned, they could very well belong to a larger conglomerate. If this issue is important to you and your family, then some research should be done about the funeral home on this website or within your community.
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