Q. Why do some people prepay funerals—and how is it done?


There can be advantages to prepaying a funeral—your own or the funeral of a loved one, such as an elderly parent. For example, my siblings and I prepaid our mother’s funeral a few years ago, after her nursing home notified us that her condition (dementia, along with severe heart disease) had suddenly deteriorated. She would die soon. At my suggestion, we decided to use the time we had to plan and prepay her funeral.


The reason: we had recently experienced the death of another family member. We knew about the stress and chaos of handling so many delicate decisions and funeral details all at once. It’s emotionally draining to choose a casket and flowers, agree on a budget, select a cemetery or funeral home, deal with social security, possibly veterans’ benefits, and myriad other issues, especially when you’re under the gun. In the throes of grief after a death, emotions are high and reasoning powers can suffer. Early funeral arrangements allowed us to talk out any differences and proceed thoughtfully. We were also calm enough to decide what questions to ask the funeral director and more able to “hear” the array of options he presented to us. It was a tremendous relief to us to have everything in place when “the call” finally came from the nursing home a few weeks later.


Some people prepay their own funerals to ensure they get exactly what they want, to relieve family members of the burden of expenses and difficult decisions, or to head off potential arguments that can cause rifts. Prepayment can also be a way to avoid inflationary cost creep. The average funeral in the U.S. ran an estimated $7710 in 2010 (not including cemetery expenses) vs. $7383 in 2008, according to the Wall Street Journal. Chances are your funeral will cost less today than five or ten years from now.


If you consider prepayment, do make sure the prices are guaranteed in the contract—and, if possible, that the contract can be transferred to another funeral home elsewhere in the event you move far away. Often there are reciprocal agreements that make this possible. Many funeral homes offer preplanning guides and have websites that guide you every step of the way. You can also find information online from the National Funeral Directors Association (www.nfda.org) or the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (www.ICCFA.com).


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / sushi♥ina

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