If someone asked you to describe your own funeral, what would you tell them?
Talking about death—and what comes next—is understandably tough for many of us. The numbers say it all: A recent survey found that 92% of people say it’s important to them to talk with their family about their end-of-life wishes, yet only 32% have actually had the conversation.
Even if it’s still years in the future, planning ahead for your own funeral can take a big burden off your family because:
- They won’t have to guess what you want (and second-guess their own decisions) during an already emotionally taxing time.
- Funerals are expensive, with the average funeral costing $11,000 or more. Planning ahead can help you make sure your family has enough money to carry out your wishes once you’re gone.
We know thinking about the end of life can be overwhelming. Remember, you don’t need to coordinate every last detail, like your sock selection or the exact color of flowers at the service. That said, figuring a few key aspects ahead of time, and discussing them with loved ones, can help make things go much more smoothly later.
Common final arrangements to consider
The biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether you want a burial or a cremation. Burials are more costly than cremations, and the biggest-ticket item in a burial is the casket. Caskets can range anywhere from $2,000 to over $10,000, depending on the quality and materials used.
If you want to be buried, you’ll need to choose a cemetery plot. Think about whether you want other family members to be buried there as well, and plan ahead for that. Or, perhaps your family already has its own family cemetery. Other typical burial expenses involve the plot and grave marker, transportation for you and your family to the cemetery, and graveside service.
If you want to be cremated, think about the final resting place for your ashes. Will they be buried, scattered, or given to family members? With cremation, you’ll need to plan for the cost of an urn or other container, the cremation itself, and the transportation of your “cremains,” or cremated remains.
Additionally, some people decide to forgo both of these options and instead donate their body to science. You’ll want to look into this ahead of time should you choose this route.
Beyond deciding on cremation vs. a burial, other arrangements to consider include:
- The type of service. Will the funeral service be followed by a burial or cremation? A memorial service at a later date?
- The location for the service, like your house of worship or a funeral home.
- Celebrations such as readings, songs, or other relevant elements of the service.
- Who will be at the service, including your pallbearers, your officiant, loved ones delivering eulogies, and other guests.
- Other personal requests, like special flowers or music.
Making a funeral checklist
Preplanning certain elements ahead of time can be a big help to your family later. Here’s what to consider.
- Choose a funeral home and contact the funeral director. They can help you plan your service, select the items you need ahead of time, and help you understand overall costs.
- Make cemetery arrangements, if needed. Is this the place you want your body to rest? Do they have room for other family members, if needed? You may want to visit the location yourself first.
- Let your loved ones know if you want to be buried or cremated. Telling them whether you prefer a burial or a cremation (or if you don’t have a preference) ahead of time can help avoid a lot of stress down the road. Consider putting arrangements in your will or writing them down somewhere on paper to avoid confusion. If you change your mind later, that’s OK, too. Just be sure to communicate anything new with your family members. You may want to choose a trusted family member to be the main person in charge of arrangements, which can help make things simpler.
- Communicate other final wishes. If it’s important for your daughter to perform a reading, or for you to be buried with a special piece of jewelry or clothing, let them know now while you still can. You also may want to talk to them about your obituary or write it ahead of time.
- Make sure your estate plan is in order. Once the funeral is over, having a proper estate plan can help avoid unnecessary hassles and costs for your family. A will covers where you want your things to go when you die, and who should take care of any minor children or dependent relatives. A will may not cover all of your assets, though, so you may need a trust or other estate planning documents, too. Without the right documentation, your family can end up in probate court to sort things out, which can cost thousands of dollars. An estate plan may also include powers of attorney, which give your family the power to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf before you die, if needed.
Related reading: Do I need a will?
Paying for your funeral
Making sure the cost of your funeral is covered is an important part of end-of-life planning. Think about the money you’ll need for a funeral, plus any additional medical bills or expenses that might crop up unexpectedly. Final expense insurance can help ensure your family has enough money to cover everything, and typically is available in amounts up to $35,000. You can purchase this kind of policy up until age 85, and it’s easy to qualify since it doesn’t require a medical exam.
When you buy final expense insurance, you can name a spouse or child as your beneficiary or assign it directly to your funeral home if you know where your arrangements will be carried out. If you decide to go this route, check in with your funeral home to ensure they can accept final expense insurance as a form of payment.
For many people, making arrangements ahead of time can provide a sense of control and peace. No one knows when their time will come, but planning ahead where possible can help make that time easier for you and your family.
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