Whenever we're asked what's involved in funeral preplanning, here's what we say: a certain amount of consumer research, some time spent in thoughtful introspection and, most likely; a conversation with family and/or friends. That's it. Honestly, for most people, getting started in the hardest part. Once you make the decision to begin preplanning a funeral (for yourself or a family member); it's just a matter of sticking with it.
We know it's not something people are eager to do; after all, who wants to think about dying? Yet we must; as Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote, "Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it." (Source: Goodreads.com) It could be said accepting that fact is the very first step in preplanning a funeral.
With step two, the actual work of preplanning a funeral begins. It involves deciding how the body will be cared for after death. In other words, would you (or your family member) prefer a traditional casketed whole-body burial instead of cremation? Everything else you'll need to think about comes from that one initial decision.
Preplanning a Funeral: What Comes Next?
Here are the funeral preplanning tasks we suggest you put your attention on:
1. Set your budget. How much can you—or your family member—afford to spend on their funeral arrangements? You may want to begin by reading the average cost of a funeral, where you'll discover in 2016, the average funeral package costs $7,181 (Source: National Funeral Directors Association). While this includes a viewing and burial; the transfer, preparation and embalming of the deceased, rental of the hearse, and the basic professional services fee charged by a funeral home; it doesn't include the purchase price of a cemetery plot, headstone, or the after-service reception, should you plan one. All those things will add thousands of dollars to the cost.
2. Select the funeral home. Which local firm should you choose to follow through with your funeral plans? Here's where online research, as well as speaking with people living in your community, can get you pointed in the right direction. You can begin in the privacy of your own home, by reviewing the websites of the funeral homes in your area. Narrow your selection further by making a phone call to each firm, asking the following questions:
- Is your firm locally-owned or is it part of a larger nationwide chain of funeral homes?
- What professional associations do the firm, or the professional staff, belong to?
- What licenses are held by the firm and its professional staff?
- What types of services are available?
- What funeral packages do you offer?
- Can we customize the funeral or memorial service?
- What third-party crematories does your firm work with?
- Which local cemetery or cemeteries is your firm aligned with?
- Will a member of your staff come to our home to assist us in preplanning a funeral or do we have to come in to your office? Even if you're able to arrange for a home visit, we also suggest you visit the facilities in question. While you're there, pick up copies of the firm's General Price List (the GPL); as well as any other documents you'd find valuable, such as a basic list of services, the Urn Price List or the Casket Price List.
3. Once you've selected a funeral home make good use of the staff's experience and professional insights. These men and women are your best allies in preplanning a funeral. Don't be afraid to ask them any question about funeral preplanning you may have, as many times as you need to. These are big decisions and you want to get them right! Should you need to, you'll be able to review your initial decision (regarding burial or cremation of the physical remains) with the funeral director in question. You'll be able to explore your options, such as direct cremation or burial, as well as the money-saving opportunities of whole body and/or tissue donation, in greater detail.
4. When you're preplanning a funeral or memorial service, think about both the large and the small details. The ceremony is a sensory experience. This means you want to consider the sights, sounds, and smells of the event—all of which contribute to the emotional experience of the participants. What music should be played? Do you want particular flowers? Would you like to feature a table of memorabilia or photos? As we said earlier, your funeral professional is your best ally in tending to all the details; his or her previous experience can help you avoid mistakes and help ensure the funeral or memorial service will be everything you want it to be. He or she can also take time to explain the benefits of prepaying for your funeral expenses.
5. Write down everything. Once you're finished preplanning a funeral, you'll want to keep a record of your plan in a safe place. You'll also want to give a copy to the funeral home you've chosen.
6. Now, sit back and relax. You can be proud of the fact you've gotten it done! Like we said earlier, preplanning a funeral isn't hard; it's just uncomfortable. Now that it's done, you can realize the primary benefit of a few hours of discomfort: extreme peace of mind.
Rowe, Barbara, "Preplanning a Funeral", Utah State University Extension, October 1, 2001
Federal Trade Commission, "Planning Your Own Funeral", July 2012
Josephson, Amelia, "How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost?", Smart Asset, March 2, 2016