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How can I lower the costs of a funeral?

The last thing anyone wants to confront after the death of a loved one is the cost of the funeral. When finances are an issue, it is possible to save money on a funeral:

  • Consider the benefits that may be available for the deceased. Medicaid or Social Security can cover some of the funeral costs if the deceased was eligible.
  • All veterans are entitled to burial in a national cemetery, a grave marker and a flag. This also applies to spouses and dependent children. There are no charges for opening or closing the grave, a vault or liner, or for setting the marker in a national cemetery. If the death occurs during active duty, all funeral expenses are paid by the military.
  • Call a number of funeral homes to get itemized lists and compare prices. Inquire at each funeral home about working within a budget and ask if payment plans are available.
  • Consider different ways to handle the deceased. Direct burial and cremation are two ways to save money and do not limit funeral options.
  • Provide an alternate container. A funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn a customer brings in, regardless of where it is purchased. This includes caskets or urns purchased online, at a discount store or somewhere else.
  • Check with your cemetery of choice before paying for a grave liner or vault. Not all facilities require it.
  • Many churches will charge for the religious representative (priest, reverend, etc.) or ask for a donation to the church. Families can opt to forego a full church service and have prayers said at the funeral home. Other alternatives include having a family-only visitation and graveside prayers. The most cost-effective option is to follow a cremation with a memorial service or gathering at someone's home, a public park, the deceased’s favorite restaurant or other low-cost location.

What do I need to do after a loved one dies?

There are many decisions to make, people to notify and events to coordinate after the death of a loved one. The following is a list of responsibilities and tasks that may need to be done following a death (view as PDF):

  • Talk with doctors and other medical personnel about post-mortem decisions:
    • What was the cause of death?
    • Will there be an autopsy?
    • Will you donate the organs/tissue of the deceased?
  • Notify close friends and family, the deceased’s employer and your employer of the situation.
  • Prepare an obituary or death notice for the newspaper.
  • Cancel other services, including deliveries, appointments, subscriptions or hospice care visits.
  • Contact an attorney or the executor named in the deceased’s will.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration of the death, and apply for survivor benefits if applicable.
  • Notify the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of the death if the deceased was a veteran.
  • Determine if the deceased left instructions for or pre-arranged his or her funeral, cremation or burial.
  • Contact the funeral home or other service about the disposition of the body.
  • Compile a list of information about the deceased for the funeral home. Be sure to include:
    • The full name of your loved one and any nicknames he or she used
    • The deceased’s date and place of birth
    • His or her Social Security Number
    • His or her father's name and mother's maiden name
    • His or her occupation
    • Proof of military service if he or she was a veteran
    • The names of any clubs or organizations of which the deceased was a member
    • The name of an organization, charity or cause to which people can make donation in the name of the deceased as a memorial
  • Arrange for immediate care of any dependents or pets of the deceased.
  • Look for a house-sitter to look after the deceased’s home and pick up mail.
  • Make sure any valuables including jewelry, cash and antiques are safe in the deceased's home. Move the valuables and store them elsewhere if they are not safe. Locate the deceased’s safe deposit box, if applicable, and inventory its contents.
  • Make sure the deceased's bills, including those for his or her mortgage, rent or utilities are paid.
  • Locate copies of the deceased's financial and legal documents including his or her will or living trust, mortgages, titles, deeds, licenses, and identification paper.
  • Other important documents include insurance policies, financial statements, military certificates and tax returns.
  • Check insurance policies for death-related benefits.
  • Contact any fraternal organizations, unions or other groups about possible insurance benefits.
  • Look into transferring titles and deeds to shared assets and property if the deceased was a spouse, partner or dependent. Transfer shared policies and accounts to your name if you are a spouse or surviving partner. This can include opening your own credit card or bank account, and transferring utility accounts to only your name.
  • Make changes to the necessary documents if the deceased was a beneficiary for your insurance policies or in your will.

How do I write an obituary?

Writing an obituary is an important and oftentimes difficult exercise that is best approached with thought and care. In general, an obituary will contain the following information:

  • Announcement of death. Obituaries usually begin with the name, age and residence of the deceased, and then mention the time and place of death. The death can be described in many ways, such as “passed away,” but the important thing is to use what you feel comfortable with. You are not obligated to mention the cause of death in the obituary, but in some cases, doing so may help from having to explain what happened repeatedly. Use your discretion.
  • Biographical sketch. Though a full biography of the deceased is not appropriate in the obituary, recounting important events or qualities of the person gives the obituary a more personal feel. Listing events chronologically works well, but you can also place the information in order of importance to the deceased. Mentioning the impact the deceased had on the people around him or her is a good way to illustrate a person’s life.
  • Surviving family members. Those who preceded the deceased in death should be mentioned, as well as those who are survivors. If you are not sure of all the names of family members, you can say “many” to avoid leaving anyone out. List relatives with their first name, spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname.
  • Service times. Include the time, date and place of service along with the name of the officiant. Include the time, date and place of any burial, interment, wake and/or visitation.
  • Photo. Though optional, adding a photo to the obituary can be a pleasant reminder of the person and make it easier for people to recognize the identity of the deceased in the obituary.
  • Special messages. There will oftentimes be special instructions at the end for flowers or donations, or a note of gratitude to caretakers or healthcare providers. Short thoughts or a line from a poem can also be included.

A funeral home or cemetery can help you determine what relevant information is needed for your area, and can help you in writing and placing the obituary for your loved one in the proper manner.

How do I choose a funeral provider?

Your most helpful resource aside from family members and friends is the funeral-home director. This person and his or her team can help with all of the important details, from selecting the cemetery and planning the post-funeral luncheon to contacting the necessary companies to arrange for disbursement of benefits entitled to you.

Begin by calling a number of funeral homes to get itemized lists and compare prices. The Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to provide pricing up-front over the telephone without the caller having to provide any information about the deceased or about him or herself. Inquire at each funeral home about working within a budget and ask if payment plans are available. Some funeral homes provide plans where payments can be made over a year or more.

Choose a licensed funeral director with a good reputation. Do not feel pressured to make an immediate decision and do not pick a location only because it is in the neighborhood or has been traditionally used by the family.

What is the Funeral Rule?

When a loved one passes away, making funeral arrangements can be stressful and daunting. In order to ensure that consumers receive fair pricing from funeral homes, the Federal Trade Commission enforces the “Funeral Rule.” This law requires that funeral homes provide pricing for products and services over the phone without consumers having to provide any information such as their name or telephone number. In addition, the Funeral Rule mandates that funeral homes sell goods and services individually and not just as packages. This allows consumers to easily compare prices among funeral homes and to only purchase the goods and services that they desire. It is important to note that this law does not apply to third party sellers, including casket and monument dealers, or cemeteries that do not have an onsite funeral home. For more information on the Funeral Rule, please visit the FTC online at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule.

How do I buy a cemetery plot?

You may need to consider location, cost, and beliefs of your family when you buy a cemetery plot.

Cemetery plots can be expensive, especially in urban areas. Most cemeteries require the purchase of a grave liner, which usually costs several hundred dollars. Plot care is sometimes included in the purchase price, but make sure to clarify before you buy the site. Look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and groundskeeping if it is not included.

Expect to purchase a crypt, pay opening and closing fees, and pay for endowment care if you plan to bury cremated remains in a mausoleum or columbarium.

All military veterans are entitled to free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This also extends to veterans’ spouses and dependent children. Many states have also established veterans’ cemeteries. Eligibility requirements vary by state, so contact your state for more information.

What are the different types of funerals and dispositions?

Funeral practices are influenced by beliefs and cultural traditions, costs, and personal preferences. These factors will influence your funeral and disposition decisions.

The following are examples of common types of funerals and dispositions:

  • Full-service funeral. Often called a “traditional” funeral, this type of funeral usually includes a viewing; use of a hearse to transport the body to the funeral site and cemetery; and burial, entombment, or cremation of remains. This is the most expensive type of funeral.
  • Immediate burial. The body is buried shortly after death, often in a simple container. No visiting or viewing is involved, so embalming is not necessary.
  • Cremation. The body is reduced to ashes and is then either buried, entombed, or kept in an urn or scattered respectfully by relatives.
  • Anatomical donation. The individual donates his or her body to medicine for scientific research. Or the individual may choose to donate organs and tissues and have his or her body returned to the family for burial or cremation.
  • “Green” funerals and burials. A green funeral is also known as an eco-funeral or natural funeral. People often choose among the following eco-friendly options to reduce the environmental impact of funerals:
    • Use a shroud or a biodegradable casket for a direct burial, without the use of concrete vaults or grave liners.
    • Plant a tree or shrub in place of a headstone or other marker.
    • Choose cremation and have the ashes buried at sea in a biodegradable container, or scattered in a specific place.

For more information on green funerals, visit www.greenburialcouncil.org.

What are the different funeral service events?

Generally funerals have different events that take place before and after the service itself. It is common to have one, or a combination of, the following events:

  • Visitation. A visitation (also called a wake) can last for up to three days before a funeral service. Alternatively, it can also take place immediately before the service. This time offers visitors the opportunity to view the deceased, or to offer condolences to the deceased’s surviving family members and friends. The obituary/death notice will usually designate the days and hours when visitation will take place.
  • Ceremony. Usually the family decides the type of remembrance service that should take place in order to best honor the deceased. If you have particular preferences regarding your own service, Final Arrangements allows you to inform your surviving family members and friends of your wishes.
  • Resting place service. Surviving family members and friends may elect to have a brief service at the site where the deceased will be laid to rest. The service will usually include a short prayer or reflection before the deceased is committed to their final resting place.
  • Reception. If the deceased’s family members and friends elect to hold a reception, it will be listed in the remembrance service program, or announced at the end of the service. Receptions usually take place after the ceremony and resting place service. At the reception, the deceased’s family usually hosts a luncheon for service attendees. The reception allows family and friends to reflect on happier memories of the deceased, and provides for more lighthearted fellowship. It has become increasingly common for people to forgo a formal remembrance service, and elect to have a reception instead.

How can I talk to my family about my final arrangements?

It is best to have a written final arrangements plan and thoughtful talking points before talking to your family about your final arrangements. Having these things in place allows you to best share your wishes and helps make the conversation comforting instead of frightening.

Use the following points to help you frame the discussion:

  • Be upfront with your family about your health and any issues you may have.
  • Acknowledge that talking about final arrangements is not an easy topic to discuss, but that death is a fact of life.
  • Tell your family the reasons you preplanned your arrangements.
  • Present your plan. You do not have to tell them everything, but let them know where they can find your plan and what details you think they should know now.
  • Answer questions and discuss what is up for family debate and what is not.
  • Reassure them of your health and the reasons you chose to preplan your arrangements.

How do I make my Final Arrangements legally valid and enforceable?

The information that you provide in this form does not create a binding legal document. This document is intended to give your surviving family members, friends, and associates guidance regarding your last wishes. If you would like to make your last wishes legally binding, please check your state’s Probate or Health and Safety Code for the applicable legal form.