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Funeral Planning On a Budget
published Nov 7, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior,
I just turned 75, and have been thinking about getting my funeral and burial arrangements taken care of so my kids won’t have to. What funeral preplanning tips can you offer a senior with little money?
Not Dead Yet
 
Dear Not,
Planning your funeral in advance is a wise move. Not only does it give you time to make a thoughtful decision on the type of service you want, it also allows you to shop around to find a good funeral provider, and it will spare your kids the stress of making these decisions at an emotional time. Here are some tips to help you find affordable services.
 
Compare Providers
Choosing a quality funeral home is your first step and most important decision in preplanning your funeral. No matter what type of funeral or memorial service you envision for yourself, it’s wise to talk with several funeral homes because prices and services can vary. Websites like funeraldecisions.com and funeralpricefinder.com can help you compare.
 
When comparing, be sure you take advantage of the “funeral rule.” This is a federal law that requires funeral home directors to provide you with an itemized price list of their products and services so you can choose exactly what you want. Be sure to ask for it.
 
Money Savers
With the average cost of a “full-service” funeral running around $10,000, there are ways to save that few people know about. For example, if a traditional funeral and burial is what you’re interested in, you can save big – at least 50 percent – by purchasing your casket from a store versus the funeral home, and your funeral provider must accept it. Two good casket shopping resources that may surprise you are Walmart (visit walmart.com and type in “casket” in their search engine) and Costco (costco.com) who offers its members a large variety of caskets and urns at discounted prices.
 
Another way to cut your funeral bill is to request a “direct burial” or “direct cremation.” With these options your body would be buried or cremated shortly after death which skips the embalming and viewing. If your family wants a memorial service they can have it at the graveside or at later without the body. These services usually cost between $1,000 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges.
 
Should You Prepay?
Be aware that preplanning your funeral doesn’t mean you have to prepay too. But if you are considering paying in advance, be cautious. Prepaid plans are not regulated by federal law and state regulation is uneven. Before you sign anything, here are some areas you need to be very clear on: 
  • Be sure you know exactly what you’re paying for before committing. 
  • Are the prices locked in or will an additional payment be required at the time of death?   
  • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.
  • Are you protected if the funeral home goes out of business or if it’s bought out by another company?
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • If you do decide to prepay, get all the details of the agreement in writing, have the funeral director sign it, and give copies to your family so they know what’s expected.   
 
Other Payment Option
There are other ways to set aside money for your funeral, rather than giving it to a funeral home. You can set up a payable-on-death, or POD account at your bank, naming the person you want to handle your arrangements as the beneficiary. With this type of account, you maintain control of your money, so if you need funds for medical expenses or something else, you can withdraw it at any time. This type of fund is also available immediately at the time of your death without the delay of probate.

Savvy Senior is written by Jim Miller. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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