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CONNECT TO | Research & Resources
July 2010
 

Planning a Funeral
Know Your Rights and Shop Around

When a loved one dies, family members and friends face dozens of decisions about the funeral, all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional duress. What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral home should you use? Should you bury the body, cremate it or donate it to science? What are you legally required to buy? What other arrangements should you plan? And - how much is it all going to cost?

Planning a funeral

A funeral can be as unique as the life that is being celebrated. It also can be one of the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. The average funeral in the United States costs $6,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The true sum can easily reach $10,000 once a burial plot, flowers and other costs are included, AARP says.

No one likes to think about death, let alone plan for it. In many families, death is an extremely uncomfortable topic to discuss. By talking about an individual's wishes and making plans for a funeral, families do not have to make important financial decisions during a period of great stress and grief. Desires are known and can be followed.

Whatever a person chooses, be sure it's based on what's meaningful to them. A "traditional funeral," with embalming, casket, funeral ceremony, procession and graveside service, is a relatively recent invention rarely practiced outside the U.S. and Canada. The typical American funeral has no roots in any religion. Every family should know it has the right to care for its dead in any way the family sees fit within the law.

People who favor a traditional funeral and burial can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by taking a few simple steps. Consumer advocates recommend three steps above all others:

  • Plan ahead. Talk about death with your spouse or your family members. Know what they want and write their choices down.
  • Know your rights. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) "Funeral Rule" requires mortuaries to present a price list of services to consumers before showing them products such as caskets. The Rule makes it possible for you to choose only those services you want or need, to pay only for those you select and to compare prices among funeral homes. The FTC offers publications that can help when planning a funeral: Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services and Funerals: A Consumer Guide.
  • Shop around. Some people "overspend" on a funeral or burial because they think it reflects their feelings for the deceased. Many survivors also don't shop around for deals because they consider bargain hunting an affront to the dead. Spending too much, however, is hardly a tribute.

It is a good idea to discuss any pre-arrangements with family members and reach an agreement on what will be done because survivors could choose to disregard a person's stated plans. Early discussions help avoid any decisions that go against a person's wishes, as well as decisions that are unacceptable to family members.

While families should make decisions about funeral arrangements in advance, they should not pay for them in advance. Over time, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. A person might change his mind about what he wants or move to another state. It is better to put money for a funeral aside in a special savings account, trust or life-insurance policy so that it is available when needed.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a nonprofit, educational organization that sells an end-of-life planning kit, Before I Go: You Should Know. The International Cemetery and Funeral Association Web site offers information and advice under "Consumer Resources."

Talking about funeral planning can be difficult, but avoiding the topic won't keep a funeral from happening. However, planning will make it less difficult and less expensive for survivors.

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