Whether you are planning long in advance or needing last minute assistance… whether you’re looking for a traditional burial, cremation, or a less traditional option… whether you want to keep things as simple as possible or want something quite elaborate… having accurate information about your options, rights, and pricing is tremendously important.

Most of us recoil from talking about death or funerals. But at some point we’re all going to be faced with the inevitable, and ignoring reality will no longer be an option. Advance planning of funeral arrangements may seem creepy and death-obsessed but it’s actually one of the kindest things we can do for our loved ones, ensuring we understand the preferences of those expected to pass before us, and making things easier on those left behind.

Let’s start with the word “funeral.” For many, a “funeral” is the formal ceremony for celebrating or remembering the life of the person who has recently died. But in its broader sense, “funeral” refers to all of the arrangements that care for the body of the deceased person and for the emotional support of the survivors. Funeral arrangements may encompass cremation or burial, whether there is a service of remembrance or not.

Basic Decision Making

Planning for one’s final arrangements involves two major decisions: burial or cremation, and type of service (if any). There are a range of options for each major decision, all leading to a host of subsequent decisions. If burial, in the ground or in a tomb? Traditional burial or green burial? If cremation, ashes kept, scattered, or buried? Full funeral service (within a few days of death, with body present) or memorial service (at a later time, with no body present)? A viewing of the body or not? Graveside committal service or not? Embalming or not? You can get funeral planning checklists online to help you know what decisions you’ll need to make.

Understand Typical Costs

Costs for all aspects of funeral arrangements vary widely from funeral home to funeral home. Even within the same geographic area, costs for the same products and services can be tremendously disparate. With the average funeral costing between $6,000 and $10,000, it’s extremely important to treat this like any other large purchase and shop around. You wouldn’t buy a car from the first dealership you walked into. So don’t buy a funeral without checking with more than one funeral home. You could pay thousands less just by going a few miles down the road. Call several funeral homes and get quotes. Some funeral homes may be reluctant to reveal prices, but if they resist, insist! The Federal Trade Commission requires them to quote prices over the phone or in person. The law does not require them to give prices online or by email but many will, and it may be seen as an indication of trustworthiness. In addition to the pricing information on this website, you can get some pricing info online at funeral comparison sites such as Parting.com and the interestingly named Funeralocity.com. Both offer itemized lists of goods and services available at many funeral homes around the country.

Be sure you know exactly what’s in a package deal.

Funeral homes sell packages of goods and services, but sometimes there’s more wrapped into them than you want. Other times they don’t include all of the components that you might expect. For example, a direct cremation price might not include the fee for the cremation itself if the funeral home uses a third party crematory. Ask for an itemized list upfront, with prices for each service or item.

Buy only what you want.

You don’t have to buy a package. You can unbundle them and buy goods and services individually and combine them into the funeral you want. You don’t have to buy everything from the funeral home, either. You may save money by buying flowers, an urn, or grave site elsewhere. You can even buy a casket elsewhere! The average cost of a casket bought from a funeral home is $2,400, but Amazon will deliver a $740 casket with free shipping for Prime members. You can also buy caskets from Costco or Walmart through their websites, though neither offers a plain, pine, plywood, or corrugated casket. Few funeral homes will proactively offer whatever “alternative casket” options they may stock or have available to order, so ask!

Talk it over and write it down.

Tell your loved ones what sort of funeral arrangements you’d like to have and how much you want to spend. Be specific, but realize your loved ones may not be able to deliver on everything you want. Funeral planning is not a dictation to your survivors; it’s a conversation you have with your spouse, children, and/or other loved ones to make them part of the process. Being too specific with your plans can make pulling it off more difficult and leave your family feeling guilty if they cannot carry everything out exactly to your specifications.

Plan in advance, but don’t pay in advance

Funeral homes sell plans that promise better rates if you buy a package now, years before you die. Unless you are facing a Medicaid drawdown, DON’T let yourself be talked in to prepaying for your expense. You can plan a funeral ahead of time without prepaying. There are several drawbacks to prepaying, discussed HERE, but the bottom line is that you could lose some or all of your money and/or make it difficult for your survivors to make any needed changes to your arrangements.