Funeral Planning FAQ

Planning your own funeral means confronting your own mortality. For some, this may cause introspection, nostalgia, and even vague discomfort. For others, it may seem like just one of life's responsibilities.

Planning your own funeral means confronting your own mortality. For some, this may cause introspection, nostalgia, and even vague discomfort. For others, it may seem like just one of life's responsibilities.

Either way, making end-of-life plans involves several practical considerations, including the following:

  • How would you like your remains handled when you die?
  • Who will you entrust to carry out your wishes?
  • Who will make the financial decisions relating to your funeral arrangements?
  • How will funeral expenses be paid?

Each person's answers to these questions will be highly personal. As you figure out the answers, this planning guide highlights some important points to remember.

Benefits of Preplanning Your Funeral

There are several benefits to planning your own funeral. First, final wishes generally reflect individual values. Some people get peace of mind knowing that their end-of-life decisions will be their own.

Second, if you do not plan, your surviving spouse, family members, or other loved ones must do so in haste after you die. This can be burdensome for your grieving family members. Failure to provide instructions can even create conflict. Loved ones must make difficult decisions regarding funeral arrangements on your behalf.

Finally, planning is the best way to reduce funeral costs. Funeral arrangements can be expensive. Planning for these expenses can give you and your loved ones peace of mind.

Q: Who Will Arrange My Funeral If I Do Not?

A: The person responsible for handling your estate when you die is your “personal representative." Unless otherwise specified, this person is generally also responsible for making your funeral arrangements.

Your estate planning documents may name a personal representative in your will. This individual is sometimes called an “executor." If a will does not exist, the probate court can appoint a personal representative, sometimes known as an “administrator."

Courts distribute your estate during the probate process when a will does not exist. The probate court appoints a representative based on state laws of intestate succession.

Though state laws vary, they generally appoint based on the following hierarchy:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Next of kin

You may feel comfortable relying on a court-appointed representative to handle your funeral. However, the highly personal nature of losing a loved one can lead to family conflict. For example, if an excluded family member feels personally entitled to participate in the decision-making, they may contest the court's appointment. Strife can be extremely taxing on your loved ones and your estate as it funds ongoing litigation.

Q: Why Not Leave Funeral Instructions in My Will?

A: A last will and testament is an important document that is the cornerstone of your estate plan. Your estate planning documents might also include the following:

  • Revocable living trust
  • Power of attorney
  • Living will
  • A durable power of attorney
  • Health care proxy

These legal documents address various issues, such as long-term care and Medicaid planning. They also address putting individuals in place to handle medical decisions on your behalf. These documents, along with your will, are critically important.

When planning your funeral, your will should serve as a last resort for instructions. Why? Because wills are often not read or accessible until weeks, sometimes months, after the testator's death. It will likely be too late to carry out your funeral instructions.

Instead, consider leaving end-of-life instructions in an advance health care directive. These legally binding documents explain how you would like your healthcare decisions to be made if you become incapacitated. Depending on the laws of your state, you can use these legal documents to provide funeral instructions.

Additionally, you can leave a simple "Letter of Instruction." This informal document explains your end-of-life wishes. Your will can have this document attached. Though not legally binding, it can go a long way in clarifying your wishes to your personal representative or loved ones.

Q: What Should My Instructions Include?

A: Funeral rites often carry intense cultural, religious, or philosophical significance. As a result, funeral plans are as diverse as they are personal.

The following list should help you begin thinking about the details you would like to address in your plan:

  1. What funeral provider will handle your remains?
  2. Do you want your body cremated, buried, or embalmed?
  3. If buried or embalmed, where would you like your remains interred (e.g., in-ground burial, above-ground crypt, private mausoleum, natural burial)?
  4. If cremated, where would you like your ashes stored or spread?
  5. Would you like a grave marker (e.g., a tombstone, monument, or plaque)?
  6. Would you like a ceremony, and if so, what kind (full funeral service, graveside service, direct burial, direct cremation, scattering ceremony, memorial service, wake, visitation, etc.)?
  7. What is your preferred ceremony venue (e.g., place of worship, funeral home, graveside)?
  8. How would you like your body transported (hearse, pallbearers, etc.)?
  9. Who should receive notification of your death and an invitation to your ceremony?
  10. How will your funeral expenses be paid?

Q: What Services Do Funeral Homes Provide?

A: Also known as “mortuaries," funeral homes provide a range of services. Basic goods and services typically include:

  • Coffins, caskets, cremation urns
  • Transporting the body from the place of death to the funeral home
  • Preparing the body as needed (embalming, washing, dressing, cremation, etc.)
  • Storing the body until its final disposition
  • Transferring the body to its final resting place
  • Preparing and filing necessary paperwork (e.g., death certificate and certified copies)
  • Composing and publishing an obituary
  • Organizing and conducting requested ceremonies

You can pick and choose what you need from the funeral home's offerings according to your needs.

Q: How Will You Pay for Your Funeral?

A: Funerals are surprisingly expensive. According to the latest National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) report, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial in 2021 reached $7,848. In the same year, a funeral with viewing and cremation cost a median of $6,971.

If you do not plan, these funeral costs can create a significant headache for your grieving family and friends. That said, there are ways to prepare.

  1. Life Insurance: Sometimes known as “burial insurance" or “funeral insurance," a life insurance policy can cover your end-of-life expenses. Instead of one large funeral bill, you can pay an affordable monthly premium in exchange for a sizable payout when you die. Because life insurance proceeds avoid probate, the beneficiary receives the funds directly from the insurance company.
  2. Funeral Trust: A trust is a property arrangement where a “grantor" (sometimes known as a “trustor" or “settlor") transfers assets to be managed by a “trustee" on behalf of a “beneficiary" in a funeral trust. The grantor sets aside assets to cover the grantor's end-of-life expenses. The trustee may be an institution (e.g., a trust company or bank) or a trustworthy individual. The beneficiary would be a funeral establishment of your choice.
  3. Payable-On-Death (POD) Account: Also known as a “Totten trust," a POD account is a financial account (e.g., a bank account, retirement account, investment account, IRA, etc.) with a valid beneficiary designation. When the owner dies, the assets avoid probate and immediately transfer to the beneficiary. You can provide just enough funds to cover end-of-life expenses.
  4. Veteran Benefits: Veterans, service members, and some family members may be eligible for burial in a Veteran's Association National Cemetery. At no cost to the family, benefits include burial, perpetual care, a government headstone, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Cremations are also available with full death benefits. Some veterans may also be eligible for a burial allowance.
  5. Savings Account: You can always reserve funds in a savings account to cover or supplement your end-of-life expenses.
  6. Credit Cards and Loans: Taking on debt to pay for funeral expenses is, of course, the least attractive option. That said, it allows you to cover funeral expenses while paying the debt in installments. It may also provide a short-term solution when the necessary funds are available but not yet accessible.

Beware of Funeral Prepayment Plans

As you shop around, beware of prepaid funeral plans. Sadly, unscrupulous funeral providers often take advantage of vulnerable consumers looking for an easy funeral-planning solution. Though funeral homes are highly regulated, regulations vary widely from state to state. You can review your state's Funeral Licensing Board & Requirements.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also regulates the funeral home industry, which combats deceptive practices by enforcing the “Funeral Rule." You may review your full rights under the FTC's Funeral Rule.

Among other things, the Funeral Rule requires that funeral providers (licensed and unlicensed) give each customer a physical price list they can take home. The list should include all funeral goods and services offered by the provider, allowing consumers to shop on an itemized basis. The goal is to stop providers from pressuring vulnerable consumers into buying overpriced funeral “packages."

A few of the many pitfalls you may encounter with a prepaid funeral plan are:

  • The funds you prepay are misused, lost, or stolen
  • The service provider goes out of business, leaving you with no recourse to reclaim your money
  • You make a non-refundable prepayment and then move to another city where the provider does not operate
  • The prepaid funds are insufficient to cover future costs (e.g., burial plots become more expensive before the provider makes a purchase)

Questions About Funeral Planning? Talk to an Attorney

Creating an end-of-life plan makes things easier when the inevitable arrives. In particular, preparing funeral instructions now will make your loved ones more likely to honor your final wishes. Planning also helps your loved ones. They will not need to make painful decisions as they mourn your loss.

Whether drafting enforceable funeral instructions or exploring options to fund your end-of-life expenses, a local estate planning attorney can help. An experienced estate planning attorney will provide legal advice that will allow you to make informed decisions.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • DIY is possible in some simple cases
  • Complex estate planning situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer can reduce the chances of a family dispute
  • You can always have an attorney review your forms

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

If you need an attorney, browse our directory now.