America has been called a “death-denying society.” It’s certainly not something I want to sit around thinking about. But a little research now can save you thousands of dollars and a lot of grief later on. (Kind of like having the names and numbers of trustworthy locksmiths and tow companies in your wallet, rather than having to scramble after an accident.)
With this in mind, I compiled a list of ABCs for the hopefully far-distant day when you will have to plan a funeral.
Bring: A trusted friend with you, someone able to keep a clear head. This person’s logic should not be affected by their grief, as yours might be.
Burial: Read your funeral plot contract to see if it merely gives you the right to have your loved one buried in the cemetery or if you are buying the actual deed to that land.
Cheapest Caskets: Are not usually on display on the sales floor. Don’t blindly purchase a higher-end coffin without realizing there are less expensive options.
Cremation: At this time, my sources indicate that prior storage in a mortuary refrigerator should not cost more than about $25 per day.
Federal Trade Commission: This consumer protection agency has a Funeral Rule, which lays out your rights under Federal law. Check it out. Hard copies may also be available.
Internet (the): Should be used for research as well as the funeral home. Know that some items can be marked up as high as 3,000 percent.
Insurance Assignment: Don’t sign this over to the funeral home. If you can, put it on your credit card instead so you can deny any unfair charges. Wait to pay until you have a fair, itemized contract in front of you to sign.
Licensing: Make sure both the funeral home director and the embalmer, if you use one, are licensed to do business in your state.
Monuments: Shop around. While bodies must be disposed of fairly quickly, a monument can wait. Remember, you may see this marker often, while once the casket is in the ground, you’ll never see it again. Purchase something that gives you the most peace of mind.
Obituary: If you’re pre-planning for yourself, write your own obituary, and leave it with your other important papers. (Some funeral homes may triple the price to place this for you.)
Package Deals: Read carefully to see if they’re padded with services you’re not interested in. You’re not stuck with entire packages—you can cherry-pick. In fact, you don’t have to buy any service unless the state requires it (sometimes embalming, for example).
Pre-paid Plans: Every state has different rules about how well your money is protected in a prepaid funeral plan. The AARP currently recommends preplanning (but not prepaying) for your funeral. This is to avoid scams and the possibility of your heirs having to pay a second time.
Totten Trust Account: Also called a “pay-on-death account,” this savings account can be opened at your local bank and administered upon your death by a designated trustee. Your money is safe, and you don’t have to worry about your heirs not being able to cover the expenses. It will sit there earning interest, hopefully for many years.
Pictures: Should be taken of everything you buy. Compare them against what you actually get. If a funeral home must substitute, by law they have to give you an item of equal or greater value to the one you paid for.
Printed Price List: According to the FTC, a funeral home must give you a printed price list. Don’t start discussing arrangements until you hold one in your hands.
Realistic Pricing: Call or email your city or county purchasing office and ask what they pay for funeral services for a pauper’s burial; this is a matter of public record. If your quoted lowest price is more than double this one, you may want to go somewhere else.
Veterans: All veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetary and a courtesy grave marker. To find out more, contact the Department of Veteran’s Affairs at www.cem.va.gov or call your regional VA at 800 827-1000.
A final note: Is everything taking too long? You don’t have to view the plot or any other items the funeral home wants to sell you prior to purchase. The longer you talk to them about buying things, the more you add-ons you may be persuaded to buy. If you feel they’re stalling, walk out.