Planning A Funeral

By pre-planning your funeral, you can save your loved ones a tremendous amount of emotional and financial burden.

Funerals can play a significant role in creating a venue for closure when a loved one dies. However, funerals can sometimes be expensive (the average cost is between $4,000-$5,000). Here are some ways to save some money and plan ahead:

Set Aside The Money Now

You can put the money you expect to be used for a funeral into a so-called “Totten Trust,” which is a special trust fund set aside just for funeral expenses. The funds in the trust will become available immediately after death, without having to pass through estate probate. Totten Trusts often take the form of a certificate of deposit, and the money can be accessed at any time. You may also elect to take out a special life insurance policy that will pay a specified amount for funeral costs.

Pre-Plan With A Funeral Home

Pre-planning has many advantages: You or your family will be able to avoid the stress of making funeral arrangements during the earliest part of bereavement; you can compare funeral homes to get the best prices; and you can choose only the services you want, which will ensure that family members are not pushed into unnecessary costs. Some caveats: Once you choose arrangements, remember to request itemized billing, and check it over. Every service performed will end in a charge. If you choose to pre-pay, you will want to be very specific about refund policies and payment plans. If you anticipate moving, it may be best not to pre-pay.

Buy Your Own Casket

Like any other business, funeral homes often mark up the price on the items they sell. It is possible to avoid some of these markups by purchasing caskets or urns from funeral supply-retailers. Federal Trade Commission law* protects your right to provide a casket to the funeral home, free of “handling costs.” Some states, however, prohibit the sale of caskets by anyone other than morticians, so check first before you buy your own. Many people are confused by the seal vs. non-seal casket options. While the sealed version is often more costly than the non-sealed, the sealing device (a rubber gasket) is relatively inexpensive. With a little research you may learn that you’d rather use a non-sealing casket. The Funeral Consumers Alliance has extensive information on caskets and a listing of independent dealers and wholesalers.

Choose Cremation

Some families prefer cremation for emotional or financial reasons. Your local funeral home can arrange cremation or you can look into the arrangements through memorial societies. Instead of purchasing a fancy casket you can pick a simple and low cost one for the body in the crematorium. There are also fewer burial costs. Before you dispose of the ashes on your own, check your local ordinances; some townships will not allow the disposal of ashes in any place other than a licensed burial ground.

Plan A Memorial Service

Instead of a traditional funeral, you can choose a more informal memorial service. You can have a memorial service anyplace you like. If you plan the service yourself, without the help of a funeral home director, you can expect to pay only a usage fee for the memorial service’s venue, and copying costs should you choose to make a program.


Funerals Consumer Alliance - The Funerals Consumer Alliance Web site has a listing of nonprofit consumer memorial societies by state, where you can learn more about ways to save on funeral costs.

FTC Consumer Guide to Funerals - A comprehensive resource for consumers which explains and lists the different options that should be made available to them by funeral directors.

*See: FTC: Part 453-Funeral Industry Practices Revised Rule: 453.4 Required Purchase of Funeral Goods or Funeral Services.

Reprinted from “Planning a Funeral,” by Ann Villet-Lagomarsino.  Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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