Funeral planning can be done in the same manner as you buy life insurance, fill out beneficiary forms, write a living will, or see the lawyer about your last will and testament. There are a lot of activities that can be carried out before you die that will help prepare you and your family for the future and relieve some of the stress on the survivors at the time of death.
I think that following a funeral planning checklist helps people prepare. You can put one step in front of the other. You can help divide up the duties. It helps open up difficult conversations and it gives people a roadmap for the physical activities that need to be done while they are going through the grieving process. As you go through this list, you can personalize it by adding items that you think of that need to be done for your family. It will trigger you to remember things or you can cross off the ones that don’t apply. Let’s split the list into two parts – things that can be done ahead of time and those duties that need to be done after death occurs.
Preplanning Funeral Arrangements
1. Prepare a last will and testament. Even if you are young and have children, start with a last will and testament template that you can fill out free. Name the guardians for your children. The state will make decisions for where your children go and how your assets are divided if you do not have a will.
2. Write up a living will or health directive. You can also find many resources for help with this by starting with a living will template. You can follow with a durable power of attorney that will give someone the power to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
3. If you are planning on being an organ donor, make this known on your living will and driver’s license. This will impact some arrangements later on after your death. If you are going to choose the cremation process, be aware that you might also have to have a procedure after death to remove a pacemaker if you have one.
4. Get your “affairs in order”. Look at a survivor’s checklist for things that need to be done by the survivor after your death. Organize your paperwork so that someone can come in and find information on your bank accounts, life insurance policies, location of your will and all of your passwords. Give copies of this information to your children, executor, or spouse.
5. Create a contact list of close friends and relatives that will be notified of your death. This should have phone numbers and addresses on it also.
6. Write down all of the vital statistics that will be needed for the death certificate. You can often get a form or a funeral planning book from a funeral director or send for one from the internet that will tell you what to fill out. For example, in some states you will need to know your parents name and place of birth. You should know ahead of time that there is a charge of $15-$30 for a death certificate and you will need copies of these for insurance companies, social security, and banks after the death.
7. Are you going to publish an obituary? Many people are not aware of the cost of doing this. There is a charge per line or word and an additional charge for pictures when published in the paper. You can inquire about this ahead of time and even write your own obituary to include the things that you want to be remembered for.
8. Decide if you are going to be cremated. This will impact a lot of the decisions and preparations you can make ahead of time.
9. Are you going to have a memorial service or visitation? Is it going to be in a church, synagogue or mosque, or are you going to have a non-denominational funeral order of service? You can work with the religious group or funeral home on how this memorial service will work and what you will need to do to prepare for your funeral order of service. What kind of music will play, pallbearers, readings and who will do them, who will perform the ceremony, location, flowers, charity for donations, catering and food, clothes and jewelry for the deceased at the viewing, memorial register, memorial cards and design, pictures or props for display, eulogies and who will perform them – these will all be decisions that you can work on ahead of time and write down what you want your funeral to look and feel like.
10. If you are going to have a special ceremony as a part of a group or one for a veteran, check with that group for what arrangements need to be made. You can call the Veteran’s Administration at 1-800-828-1000 to make inquiries. You might also be eligible for some benefits to help pay for the funeral, the headstones, or the cemetery plot.
11. Are you going to be embalmed or not? This will impact how the body is handled and how soon after death you will need to be cremated or buried. It will also impact the handling for the viewing or memorial service.
12. Are you going to need a funeral home to work with? Some people are choosing to have the funeral at their own home. Will your funeral home work with you on this? There are some groups that are now forming that will work with you on a home funeral if that is legal in your state. Have you chosen a funeral home to work with? Meet with them ahead of time to start your funeral planning.
13. Are you going to be buried? Even if you are going to be cremated, you will need to answer this question. Working with the cemetery and picking out a plot is often separated from the actual funeral arrangements. You sometimes have to choose if you are going to be buried below ground or placed in a mausoleum or niche above ground. Paying for this portion of the funeral arrangements is often separate because they are a different business. If you are choosing to have a “green burial”, there are now “green cemeteries” that are becoming available. If you are choosing one of these, there are regulations on embalming, caskets, and headstones, so you will need to plan ahead.
14. What kind of casket or cremation container are you going to use? If you are going to be cremated, you can use a corrugated or fiberboard container that can cost as little as $55-$90, or choose another type of combustible container. If you are going to choose a “green cremation” or bio cremation, it might be a shroud that you are delivered in to the crematorium. Even if it is a traditional cremation, shopping for the casket ahead of time is a good idea. Making decisions on cement vaults and caskets while you are grieving and under a lot of stress is the reason that a lot of state and federal laws have been passed on disclosure to protect consumers.
15. Are you going to use an urn for your ashes? Is it going to be buried or are you going to need more than one to distribute the remains to your children? Are you going to be scattering the ashes or sending them out to sea in an urn designed to sink and deteriorate?
16. Have you picked out headstones, markers, or gravestones? Check with the cemetery that you are going to use to see what requirements that they have before ordering. They might not allow above ground headstones in certain areas because of lawn maintenance. They might also have size requirements. You might also need permits to install the monument. In the “green cemeteries” you might only be allowed to have a natural stone or planted tree.
17. Who is going to pay for the funeral? Many of the funeral homes have prepayment plans that you can start to pay on your own ahead of time that sort of works like an insurance policy and some lock in the cost of the funeral. You can also decide to do this with your bank by setting up a Payment On Death account with a beneficiary named that will be handling the funeral arrangements along with the payment. This account will not have to go through probate and the money will be immediately available.
Funeral Arrangements After Death
1. If the death occurs outside of the hospital or nursing home, call 911 to report the death and authorities will probably notify the coroner, which might be required for the life insurance companies.
2. Get your contact list out and call the close friends and relatives who are going to be involved in helping you.
3. If you are having a home funeral, call the group that is going to assist you. If this is a funeral home, call them to notify the funeral director of the death in the family.
4. If the body needs to be transferred to the funeral home or crematorium, you will arrange with an ambulance or the funeral director to help you do this.
5. If you are having a direct cremation, the crematorium will help you transfer the body and get the proper permits and death certificate filled out. You will need to discuss the urn that you are going to use and whether there is going to be a service and burial.
6. If you are working with a funeral home, the funeral director will work you through many of the topics discussed above and you will start to fill in the details with names for pallbearers, people giving the eulogy, details about services, decisions on embalming and cremation, catering, music, and flowers, and they will lead you through the rest of the process. This is where it will help to take with you the plans that you have already worked on. You will set the dates and times of the services, make final selections for the casket, give them the information for the obituary and death certificate, and talk about the food and catering for the reception.
Costs Associated With Funeral
1. In the preplanning stage, you should be able to get an itemized breakdown of cost, called the General Price List, from the funeral home that you are working with. This is mandated by the Federal Trade Commission. You should also know what the cremation costs are going to be if that is your choice.
2. There is going to be a basic service fee for almost any funeral home that you use. It will cover the the use of the funeral home, services of the funeral director and funeral home attendants, including being on call for transportation of the body at any time, burial arrangement coordination, and securing the proper permits. In their Price List, you will note that optional services like transporting the body, visitation, use of the hearse and other services and goods are going to be in addition to the basic service fee.
3. The cemetery fee does not have to be associated with the funeral director’s fee. This might include the cost of the plot or niche, opening and closing the grave, installing the headstones and getting permits for that, and “perpetual care” of the grounds after the burial.
4. The headstones and markers might be included in the fees of the cemeteries, but if it is, they are usually acting as the middle man because this is usually a separate business. If you buy one on your own, you need to find out who is going to coordinate the activities of the cemetery with the manufacturer of the headstones.