The idea of planning a funeral is generally not at the top of anyone’s "to do" list. It’s a job that almost always falls to the spouse, children, or close friend of a deceased. Expressing your preferences or actually making the formal arrangements can truly be a gift to your family and friends.
I recently received a devastating call that a dear friend passed away unexpectedly. As personal representative of the estate and a close friend to her children, her daughter asked if I had documentation of her mother’s wishes for a memorial service. She wanted to make sure her mother had an opportunity to express herself one last time through music and scripture – things she knew were important to her mother. Unfortunately, I did not.
The service was lovely, and I know my friend would have been pleased. However, if her wishes had been documented, it would have helped alleviate her children’s stress during a highly emotional time.
Have you expressed your final wishes to those you love? Probably not – and you would not be alone. A 2017 study by the National Funeral Directors Association found that while almost two-thirds of Americans feel pre-planning is important, only 21.4 percent had actually completed the exercise.
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed with the idea of pre-planning your memorial service, think how your loved ones will feel when they have to make those decisions. Moreover, pre-planning does not have to be complicated process. It can be an informal written statement of your desires or a legal Funeral Planning Declaration. Here are some reasons why pre-planning makes good sense.
Relieve family stress. Pre-planning reduces stress on family or friends and helps avoid emotionally charged conflicts on the days immediately after your passing. Who wouldn’t want to leave that precious last gift for their loved ones? Take time now to make your preferences known or make the actual arrangements.
Avoid overspending. When you pre-plan, you choose the appropriate spending level. Your loved ones may not consider the cost when they are making quick decisions at a time when they can barely think. Or, they might mistakenly believe the amount spent equates to the amount of respect and love they have for you. Either scenario can cause overspending.
Specify detailed preferences. You and your loved ones may find peace in knowing that your final wishes will be carried out. Things to consider include: burial or cremation, your attire, the location, service participants, music, readings, flowers, photographs. You may think this level of detail is unnecessary, but if you do not specify your wishes, someone else will make these decisions.
Reimburse family expenses. If you want to reimburse long-distance family members and friends for travel expenses, you can include that information in your pre-planning documentation. Note: You may need to work with your attorney to include this provision in your will.
Arrange For Payment
Have you considered how you will pay for your funeral expenses? Now is a good time to address this idea as well. You can designate funds in your savings or investment account or use life insurance proceeds to fund funeral expenses.
Is pre-paying a good idea? The advantage with pre-paying is that you can lock-in today’s funeral prices which could result in big savings. But you want to make sure your funds are safe. If you decide to pre-pay, confirm that the sales person is an agent of your funeral home and ask how and where your money will be held. To ensure the funeral home can offer prearranged services, ask to see a copy of the funeral home’s Certificate of Authority and make sure it is current.
Communicate With Family
Whether your pre-planning is simple or extensive, it is important to share the details with your family. If they do not know about the decisions you made, they will think they need to do all the planning. Talking with everyone ahead of time will ensure there are no surprises when the time comes. They will already be aware of your desires and understand your choices.
No matter your age or health status, pre-planning your funeral can be an act of kindness for your family and friends. It is an opportunity to express your personal desires and to potentially avoid conflicts that can arise after your death. Although it may not be the most enjoyable experience, when the time comes, it will be a viewed as a very thoughtful gift.
Meredith Carbrey, CFP, is a Senior Wealth Advisor with Bedel Financial Consulting Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website at bedelfinancial.com or email Meredith.