One of the best steps you can take in your estate planning is to provide written instructions related to your final ceremonies and the disposition of your body. This will relieve your survivors of the stress of making these decisions at a difficult time. If you don't leave written instructions, then state law will usually determine who will have the right to decide.
You should discuss your plans with those who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and give them a copy of your plans and documents for "pre-paid" services or contracts you may have in place. Many experts recommend that your final arrangements not be included in your will since it may not be located and read until several weeks after you die.
After a home and car, funerals are one of the most expensive purchases you can make. An average funeral can cost from $4,000 to $6,000 with many funerals costing well over $10,000. This guide from the FTC, Funerals: A Consumer Guide, can help you make your plans.
The following is a list of what can be provided in your final arrangements document. You may think of other items.
- Indicate if you want your remains buried, cremated, or donated to science.
- Name of the mortuary or other institution that will handle the burial, cremation, or donation.
- Indicate if you want your body to be embalmed.
- Indicate the type of casket or container in which your remains will be buried or cremated.
- Indicate if you want your remains at any after-death ceremony.
- Provide the details of any ceremonies you want.
- Name your pallbearers if you wish to have any.
- Indicate how your remains are to be transported to the cemetery and gravesite.
- Indicate where your remains will be buried, stored, or scattered.
- Provide the details about any marker you want to indicate where your remains are buried or interred.
- Information you want included in your obituary.
- Indicate how it should be paid for.
As you plan your final arrangements, you should get information about funeral expenses and services from several funeral homes. The Federal Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide free copies of price lists when you visit or provide prices over the telephone. Note that cemeteries don't have to give prices over the phone. The FTC Guide: Funerals: A Consumer Guide has a checklist to help you compare costs of various services.
There are other things to consider with a cemetery site. The price of a plot or crypt can be costly. Other costs include opening the grave and filling it in, perpetual care, and usually a grave liner. Burial in a crypt also has costs for opening and closing as well as endowment care. You will need to make sure that you have been provided all the information you need because the Federal Funeral Rule doesn't cover cemeteries and mausoleums unless they sell both funeral goods and funeral services.
Many funeral providers offer "pre-need contracts" that allow you to plan and pay for your funeral in advance. If you are considering a "pre-need contract," you should check it out very carefully. Here are some questions you should ask:
- What am I purchasing? Only merchandise such as a casket and vault or also funeral services. If funeral services are included, are they described in detail.
- Is there a written guarantee that the prepaid amount plus interest will pay for the specified funeral?
- How is the money handled? Requirements for handling money prepaid for funeral services vary from state to state.
- If the prepaid money is put into a trust, does the interest income on the money stay in the trust?
- What happens if the firm goes out of business?
- If you cancel the contract, do you receive a full refund? What are the penalties, if any?
- Is the plan transferable if you move? Is there an additional cost?
- What if I die away from home?
- What items and/or services are not included in the contract? These represent potential funeral costs that may have to be paid at the time of the funeral.
Many experts recommend that you set aside money for a funeral in another form instead of using a "pre-need contract." One option is to set up a Totten Trust designated for your funeral expenses. This trust is payable on your death to the beneficiary. You continue to control the money in the trust, which means you can transfer or withdraw the money. Other options include placing the money in a shared bank account such as a savings account or certificate of deposit.
Getting Your Affairs in Order from Nolo.com has a Final Arrangements FAQ, and articles on Planning Your Funeral or Memorial Service, the Perils of Funeral Prepayment Plans, and Arranging to Donate Your Body to Medicine.
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