Written by our preferred partner: Ryan Knight, Attorney at Law.
Think about how much time and planning we put into thoughts like, “Which college should I attend?”, “Am I ready to have a baby?”, and “How much will I need in retirement?” Probably more than we put into the thought, “How long does it take to plan a funeral?” In fact, many people don’t plan ahead for their death at all.
If you’ve got your estate plan documents in order, you’re ahead of the game. But have you started planning for your funeral, burial, or cremation? Although it’s difficult to think about, preplanning your funeral will help ensure your wishes are honored.
And it’s actually a very loving thing to do! If you don’t make these plans, they end up being thrown together at the last minute by family and friends who are grieving. That’s the worst time for them to make significant financial and emotional decisions.
How Long Does It Take to Plan Your Funeral?
Americans’ funerals typically take place within one week, or maybe two, of death. That’s not much time for your family to make important, expensive decisions—especially in an emotional state.
If you haven’t preplanned your funeral, your family will likely spend hours with a funeral director at a funeral home.
When it comes to planning a funeral, here are some things that will need to be determined:
Scheduling the actual funeral isn’t something you can preplan. It will depend on several factors, like the availability of the funeral home and minister, long-distance loved ones and their travel arrangements, the weather and season, and other preplanned events: such as a wedding, scheduled surgery, or birth.
Finding a Minister
Who will conduct your funeral service? Chances are, you have a minister or trusted person in your life who comes to mind immediately. Make sure your family knows these wishes.
Christian Funeral Traditions
Christian funerals typically happen within one week after death. Usually there’s a viewing the night before—where guests come and go as they can—which is also sometimes called a wake. The body or a memorial to the deceased is displayed to give everyone an opportunity to pay their respects.
Catholic Funeral Traditions
People who strictly follow the Roman Catholic faith have the funeral three days after death. Sometime in the two days prior, there is traditionally a wake where loved ones gather to pray: both for the person who has passed, and for each other.
Celebration of Life Ceremony
Some people prefer their last memorial to feel like a celebration, where loved ones feel encouraged to reminisce on the happiest moments rather than dwell on the loss. While similar, a celebration of life takes the place of a traditional funeral, and is more likely to have upbeat music, good food, and be a fun reflection of the person being celebrated.
A Scattering Ceremony
If you wish to be cremated, you can specify where you want your loved ones to scatter your ashes. You might choose a beautiful location that holds sentimental value, or to bury the ashes in a plot or urn garden at a cemetery. A scattering ceremony is typically smaller than a traditional funeral with less guests present and can be as formal or informal as you like.
Embalming can keep a body preserved for about an extra week, and might be necessary in a situation where the wake or viewing needs to be delayed.
Eulogies, Songs, and Other Elements of the Funeral
In many ways, your funeral is the last impression you get to leave on the world. Do you have ideas about what you want that to be? Who would you like to speak, and what would you like to be wearing? There are many details that go into a funeral, and you should get a say in what they are.
How Much Does a Funeral Cost?
These days, the death industry is big business. According to The National Funeral Director’s Association, the median cost of an adult funeral, with viewing and burial, is $7,848.1 Here in Tennessee, that number is actually a bit lower: $7,271.2 The cost of a casket alone can range from $2,000 to $10,000—but if you comparison shop you can find cheaper prices (see below).3
Interested in learning more about estate planning or wealth management? I’m a guest speaker at some of Beacon’s special in-person events. View their calendar here.
It’s important to remember that a funeral home is a for-profit business, not a charity—and there may be pressure on you or your loved ones to spend more on your arrangements than needed, or more than you’d want.
Just know that among other rules, a funeral home is legally required to:
- Provide a General Price List (GPL) with products, services, and prices
- Give pricing information over the phone when asked, before you provide them with your personal information if you don’t want to
- Sell you only the specific products and services you requested, without forcing an upgrade or a more expensive package
- Accept an urn or casket purchased elsewhere as the means of burial
- Refrain from swaying your purchasing decision with sales-y statements claiming one casket will preserve better than another
These regulations are part of The Funeral Rule, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commissions to protect consumers.
4 Ways to Save On Planning a Funeral
If you want to help your family save on costs and avoid making emotional decisions, preplanning your funeral will go a long way.
You don’t have to prepurchase your own coffin, but you could shop around, create a plan for costs, bookmark your favorite options, and document ideas on how you’d like your arrangements handled. Consider it a guideline for your loved ones to help them make decisions they can feel confident about when the time comes.
1. Buy Your Casket Online.
If you decide to buy your coffin or urn in advance, you can find less expensive options online at places like Costco.4
The median cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,971—which is almost $900 cheaper than the same funeral with a burial.5
3. Don’t Use Embalming.
The median cost of embalming is $775.6 But there are two reasons you might not need it:
- If the funeral home has a refrigeration option and can host the funeral within a few days of passing, or. . .
- If you don’t want a public viewing of your body after you’ve passed.
Many times, embalming is assumed—just know it’s not a necessary expense.
4. Create a Prepaid Funeral Plan.
A prepaid funeral plan is a contract you can set up through a funeral home to preplan your funeral. They’ll give you the full price for your plan with the option to pay it in full, or make payments over a number of years. Doing this in advance helps in two big ways: it protects against inflation, and it ensures your loved ones don’t have to come up with the money when the time comes.
How to Preplan a Funeral
Once you embrace the idea of planning for your own funeral, it can become a satisfying exploration into your life, your quirks, and individuality. You can feel confident and prepared for the next chapter. Plus, preplanning your funeral is a very caring thing to do for your family.
Make sure you keep your funeral wishes and plans somewhere accessible. Better yet, make them part of your will. For example, I work with my clients to create memorial instructions within their will.
Here are four steps to planning your funeral:
1. Make Sure Your Will and Estate Plan Are Up-to-Date.
This is probably the most important piece of having your affairs in order. If you don’t have a will, it creates an awkward situation for your loved ones. At that point a probate judge will assign your next of kin as the representative to distribute your assets according to the laws of Tennessee. This person might feel unsure about what to do with your assets, or worse, become pressured by family members who are fighting over them.
If you haven’t met with an estate planning attorney yet, I’d love to help with a free consultation. I’ll spend time to get to know you, your goals, and how your family works. Let’s find creative solutions tailored to your specific circumstances.
2. Decide How and Where You Want to Be Buried.
Now that you’ve read about the different burial traditions and costs, think about which one feels right for you.
If you’re going to be buried in a traditional cemetery, you probably want to buy a plot in advance. I know it’s not the most exciting purchase of your life, but it’s another one of those stressful decisions you’re not leaving for your loved ones.
Cemetery plots can range in price from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand. Work with the cemetery of your choosing to pick your plot and personalize it with neighboring plots, statues, benches, plaques, and more.
3. Set Aside Money For Funeral Expenses.
As we discussed earlier, there are advantages to prepaying for your funeral. But some people aren’t comfortable with that for various reasons—for example, it’s possible that particular funeral home may go out of business—and that’s okay, because there are plenty of other thoughtful ways to ensure your family isn’t burdened with the financial cost of your death. Here are some ideas:
- Designate a portion of your estate to pay for the funeral and burial
- Set aside an amount to pay for your family’s travel expenses
- Get a life insurance policy that will pay out enough to cover your funeral expenses
4. Preplan the Funeral Details.
Right now we’re seeing all kinds of people get creative with how they preplan their funerals. Some ideas include:
- Custom-decorated caskets
- A customized music playlist
- Green funerals
- Video streaming for people who can’t attend services in person
- Writing and/or videotaping their own obituaries
Regardless of how creative you want to get, here are some details you can start thinking about now:
Who do you want to share some words in honor of you?
Are there Bible verses, poems, or other special literature you would like someone to read?
Which hymns or songs do you want sung or played?
What type of flowers or plants would you like present?
What’s on the menu? What do you want to treat your loved ones to, one last time?
Unique Examples of Funeral Plans
Some funerals encourage participants to share their own memories of the deceased during the actual service, or reading personal letters or poems that reflect their feelings.
One thing I give my clients the opportunity to do is incorporate their memorial wishes into their estate planning. This is kept in the memorial section of their estate planning binder, and would help ensure your own thoughts and words are used to tell your life story.
And here’s a new twist on cremation: There are now companies that can compress the ashes into a memorial diamond. Because human remains contain carbon, they can be compressed and heated in the same way that diamonds are formed naturally. This process can even be used to memorialize deceased pets. This alternative can even be a less expensive and less complicated alternative to a traditional burial, depending on the color, size, and cut of the diamond.
It might feel incredibly unconventional, but turning a loved one into a diamond sounds like a special way to keep your loved one close to you. After all, diamonds are forever.
When it comes to preplanning your funeral, I may be able to help. Consider earmarking funds for just this purpose and save them in a readily accessible account, or have these costs funded by a life insurance policy. As you can see, there are several things to consider when thinking about your end of life wishes. Hopefully the information in this article helps you start that conversation.
From Beacon Capital Management:
Ryan Knight, Attorney at Law owns Knight Legal and is our preferred partner. His office is jointly located with our headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee.
If you’re ready to talk about the legacy, estate planning options, and your overall financial plan—give our firm a call. Beacon Capital Management is a full-service wealth management firm that takes a comprehensive approach to financial planning. We want to help you cover the most important areas of your life.
1 National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA.org. Dec. 2, 2021. “Statistics.” https://nfda.org/news/statistics. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.
2 National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA.org. Nov. 4, 2021. “2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising As Fast As Rate of Inflation.” https://nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.
3 Federal Trade Commission. Consumer.FTC.gov. “Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist.” https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/funeral-costs-pricing-checklist. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.
4 Costco. “Funeral.” https://www.costco.com/funeral.html. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.
5 National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA.org. Nov. 4, 2021. “2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising As Fast As Rate of Inflation.” https://nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.
6 National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA.org. Nov. 4, 2021. “2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising As Fast As Rate of Inflation.” https://nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.