4 steps to preplanning a funeral
Preplanning doesn’t have to be complicated when you follow these four steps
By Jessica Catignani
If preplanning your funeral seems intimidating, you’re not alone. In a 2017 National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) report, almost 63% of people said they believe it’s very important to preplan, but only 21.4% had actually communicated their wishes.
“People tend to think that if they talk about their funeral, it will make the clock tick faster. For others, it’s just a subject that’s uncomfortable to speak of,” explains Jason Smith, family services director at Lindquist Mortuaries/Cemeteries.
The reality, he says, is most people find the preplanning process easier and more beneficial than they’d imagined, especially once they understand what’s involved in the process.
What it means to preplan
Smith recently lost his mother, but the decisions for her final wishes were made 20 years ago when she preplanned. She selected her casket and burial vault, provided direction on flowers, and shared what type of funeral she desired, among other details. Her preplanning left very few tasks for Smith, his four siblings, and their father to do after her passing. It removed the guesswork and the burden at a difficult time and allowed them to instead focus on their grief. And his mother was honored in the way she’d envisioned.
Smith’s mother’s plans were comprehensive, but yours don’t have to be. You can make a simple outline that covers the basics or request a preplanning appointment with a funeral professional to draft an extensive plan. Smith recommends meeting with a family service counselor at a funeral home, who can explain your options and use a step-by-step approach to customize your preferences.
4 steps to preplanning your funeral
You can easily walk through the preplanning process with four steps:
1. List your thoughts, plans, and relevant details
Whether you’ve barely thought about your funeral plans or keep a file of ideas, you’ll want to consider your preferences for the following areas before your preplanning appointment:
Have you decided between burial or cremation? Do your plans lean toward one more than the other, such as an eco-friendly green burial or a direct cremation?
Do you want a traditional service or a celebration of life? Do you know where you want the services to be held? Are you a veteran and want military funeral honors?
Final resting place
This will depend on what disposition you select, but your choices may include a certain casket and burial plot or a specific urn and location for scattering cremated remains.
If you’re unfamiliar with these aspects of preplanning, Smith urges you to not feel overwhelmed. A preplanning appointment is meant to educate you on all the available options and keep you from making hasty decisions, so feel free to bring a list of questions. He also says a funeral plan is “a living document,” that can and should be revisited every few years to reflect any new wishes.
2. Make arrangements
At the preplanning appointment, your family service counselor will help you capture your information and desires in a planning guide. Details will include:
Vital statistics, including your place and date of birth, education level, occupation, and military background, will be gathered. You’ll also be asked to provide names of loved ones, such as your parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, and other relatives. These details will be used complete your death certificate and write your obituary.
Memorial and service instructions
These list how you want to be honored. They may include disposition, type of service and location, officiant, pallbearers, flowers, favorite poems or passages, musical selections, and burial location.
Your family service counselor will then provide an itemized estimate of your funeral expenses. Please note these amounts are quoted at present day prices and do not take inflation into account. If you’d like to see how inflation might affect this amount, try our Funeral Expenses calculator.
3. Pick a payment option
Now that you have an idea of what your desired funeral plans will cost, you need to decide whether you will prefund them to save your loved ones the expense. Fortunately, options are available, so you should be able to find a solution that meets your needs.
Preneed Funeral insurance
Sometimes known as burial insurance, this plan only covers your pre-determined funeral expenses, but most plans hold the fees at present day costs, no matter the level of inflation between now and your passing. You determine coverage based on your preplanning, and your funeral home serves as beneficiary. Look for a Preneed Funeral insurance policy that returns the premiums paid or credits policy growth as a death benefit. Most plans offer the options of paying the amount as a lump sum or in installments, known as premiums.
This option will require you to enter into a contract with a funeral home. Before making any decisions or signing any contracts, make sure the funeral home you’re working with respects your preplanning rights.
Final Expense insurance
Final Expense Whole Life insurance covers more than your funeral costs, and the death benefit is paid to someone you choose, not your funeral home. Your beneficiary may use the funds for funeral expenses, unpaid bills, estate taxes, and more. However, it doesn’t retain preplanned funeral costs at present-day levels.
4. Create a notification list
When you’ve finished preplanning, let a trusted individual, such as your spouse, an adult child, or a close friend, know your plan exists and how to find it. To further ease their burden, create a list of people and companies to be notified after your passing, such as:
The funeral home will need to be contacted to set your plans into action, and use your Preneed Funeral insurance to cover costs if you have a policy with them.
In addition to providing support to one another, family will need to discuss the timing of your prearrangements.
Getting the word out about funeral arrangements will be necessary, and friends can spread the word to others, removing the burden from your spouse and children.
Executor or successor trustee
The person you’ve chosen as executor of your will or successor trustee of your living trust may be the same person you’ve entrusted with details of your plan. Regardless, he or she will ensure that your assets are properly handled. This may include paying for funeral services with your Final Expense insurance.
If you have a trusted attorney, be sure to include his or her name on the notification list. The executor will need assistance to navigate probate, if necessary, and other legal matters involved in fulfilling your wishes.
Once your list is compiled, place it and your planning guide with your other estate planning documents.
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