Planning Your Own Funeral

Making Life a Little Easier on your Family – If you Plan Ahead

The thought of planning your own funeral can seem a bit weird, even macabre, for many people. Funerals are just one topic that many people would prefer to avoid entirely. But the unfortunate fact of life is that avoiding the topic can end up causing your loved ones to spend a great deal more than necessary, not to mention having to deal with a lot of stress as they plan a memorial service for you on the fly. One man’s family recently spent more than $14,000 on a memorial service that was planned and paid for entirely in the 10 days immediately following his death. He and his family had not talked seriously about his wishes for a funeral in any of his 76 years of life and, consequentially, there was a great deal of disagreement when the time came for his memorial planning over whether he would have wanted to be cremated or buried, not to mention many other details of his service.

The man’s family did ultimately end up hosting a funeral service that all in attendance agreed was a beautiful and fitting honor to his well-lived and much blessed life. But, if the man – or someone in the family – had the foresight to discuss the plans well before the time of need, the family members realized afterward, they would have saved themselves a great deal of emotional stress and probably at least $8,000. (Granted, this man was mentally ill for his whole life, and that led to the inability to discuss his death in great detail and seriousness with his family, but, the family will now testify that even mentally ill people can be led to discuss this topic with sincerity, if that is made a significant goal in the family’s life.)

In respect to the important lesson this family learned, we have compiled the following helpful tips for helping you to plan your own funeral and be a blessing to your friends and family who will be charged with carrying out your plans. (As we are sure you will agree, carrying them out after they have been decided upon is much easier than creating – and potentially paying for – a memorial service from scratch.)

Selecting a Funeral Home

One of the first things you will want to do when planning your own funeral is to decide upon a funeral home that will arrange the services. When we say “funeral home” we need to be careful to mention that your own home can actually be an option. “Home funerals,” that is, funerals done entirely by family without the services of a professional funeral home, are increasing in popularity (as more and more families are learning that the services provided by a traditional funeral home are much more elaborate and expensive than they really need). A home funeral is not typically a wise idea in the event that a family is caught off guard by a death and has not planned a funeral well in advance, but, by planning in advance, a family can achieve a blessed memorial service with a minimum amount of expense. We won’t go into details in this article about just how to plan a home funeral, but rest assured, there are plenty of resources available to help with that. (Including many other articles that the present authors and publishers have produced elsewhere on the internet.)

All of that said, a home funeral is not for everyone, even if it is to be planned well in advance. So traditional funeral homes are still very useful to many – probably most – who plan and organize a funeral. Finding the right funeral home, and the right funeral director, is important.

You should not rush into this decision. The funeral home industry is a very competitive, profitable field, so most cities – even very small ones of 2,000 people or fewer – offer multiple options. You should investigate all of them personally, asking to meet with a funeral director directly, to make sure your options are thoroughly understood, before making any final decisions. Even when selecting the merchandise for the funeral you should look around and see other options like online memorials.

Please keep in mind as you decide upon your funeral home, that selecting one and paying for a funeral service in advance are two separate decisions. Do not feel pressured into paying in advance for your funeral – and, if a funeral director attempts to unduly sway you into a “prepaid” plan, that may be a sign that his or her funeral home is not for you. It is true that funeral prices have historically risen at rates that are greater than inflation in general across the United States, so, if prices are to be fixed at today’s rates, paying in advance for a funeral may be a smart financial choice, but it also may be a mistake. Some analysts have predicted that the rate of funeral inflation cannot possibly hold as it has for much longer, so it remains possible that funeral homes will experience a deflation period – especially as competition in the industry increases. In that case, those who paid in advance may end up seeing a loss in the end. So, the better choice when planning your own funeral may be to simply put some money aside in an interest-bearing savings account and make sure that money will be quickly accessible upon your death. If you exercise this option, it is wise to check with your banker or financial institution’s representative to make sure they understand what you are trying to do. If plans are not carefully made in advance, getting money out of an account belonging to a deceased person can be a challenge. So make sure these considerations are a part of your planning for your own funeral.

Selecting a Cemetery Plot

Much of what we have said also applies to selecting a cemetery plot too. If planned properly in advance, a cemetery plot can be a very inexpensive purchase. Most people do not even realized that they may have free or low cost access to a church cemetery or a family cemetery or a cemetery intended to honor certain professions or groups. If you take the time to plan your own funeral while you are still healthy and unrushed, you will have ample opportunity to research all of your options and find the spot that is most suitable to you (and your family’s finances). On this note, it is also quite common that people who plan their funerals well in advance discover a plot has been purchased for them by a relative years before. Sometimes these people find this out well after they have already purchased one for themselves, and in these cases, one of the multiple plots is often placed on a market similar to that of any other type of real estate. These types of sales are almost always for less money than a traditional cemetery would charge. It is often the case that plots bought from a traditional cemetery are bought and sold three or four times before they are ever used. To find these sorts of plots available on a market can be tricky. Most large professional cemeteries view these sales as a bit of competition, so they will not usually be a good source for information about them. The best bet is to search newspaper classified ads and online sites such as Craigslist. A few sites have started in recent years that specialize in brokering cemetery sales exclusively, but these may not be the best place to get a low price. They are often run by companies that also run traditional cemeteries, and their commissions are sometimes much more than you might pay from other sources.

Planning a Memorial Service

After a cemetery plot and funeral home are picked, the next step in planning a funeral is to simply plan the service. If you plan in advance, you can make all sorts of decisions that will prove to be a blessing for your family members as well as a lasting tribute to your own legacy. One of the best examples of careful planning of a funeral service is that of the great Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Many people today who have never heard of his work, much less read or seen it, Hunter Thompson as the man who blasted his cremation remains into space via a rocket that was actually fired well past satellites and other man-made equipment that was in orbit around the earth at the time. This legendary feat definitely took careful planning beforehand, and it’s an example of the very thing that can be accomplished if you plan your own funeral. It is doubtful that, had Hunter Thompson simply mentioned his desire to have his ashes rocketed into outer space, he would have been taken seriously enough to have had it accomplished. The logistics of such a feat are much too much to expect that a family mourning his loss would be able to find the means and resources to do something like that. No, it seems sure that Thompson’s pre-planning was the only thing that assured that his elaborate desires were carried out. And, it seems equally certain that Thompson had a great time in organizing this event. This is one case in which planning a funeral for oneself probably was not an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.

In short, as we say, the sky is the limit as to what you can organize for your own funeral, if you have the foresight to plan it well in advance.

Financial Matters

An important part of planning your own funeral is figuring out how it will be paid for. Any good plan should definitely take this into account. As with all of the other sections of this article, this section will not offer specific ideas for financing your funeral because, well, there are so many options. Imagination can run wild.

Some families have special bank accounts set aside that the various members of the family contribute to as they are able, and this money is earmarked legally to be used only for memorial expenses. Often this money is placed in a high yield interest bearing account that cannot become “liquid” for several decades. This arrangement assumes that many family members will die at roughly the same time in their old age, but, as we know, that won’t always be the case. In such situations in which a person dies before the account has reached its maturity, a family can sometimes borrow against its balance. Or perhaps family members with savings to spare can contribute to the memorial service in exchange for a promissory note that will give them a larger percentage of the matured balance when it comes due. This sort of a arrangement is common among families whose members take pride in their wise financial stewardship, and it always leads to memorial services that are an inspiration to those who attend and a great comfort to those in the family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Notifying Your Family about your Funeral Decision

No matter what you do in preparing your own funeral, probably the most important thing to remember about this topic is to simply notify your family and friends of your plans and intentions. The internet is abound with stories of people who created elaborate plans for their funeral, only to neglect telling them to others. Sadly – or frustratingly may be the better word – those plans were discovered some time (occasionally decades) after the funeral service and they were of no use to anyone.

The silver lining in these cases is that sometimes families used the discovery to create “tribute memorials” for the loved one who left behind the plans that were originally missed. These memorials – whether they be events or permanently installed statues – give the deceased a second chance at being remembered exactly as he or she intended. But, of course, that’s no excuse for not notifying your family of your intentions. In fact, it is almost certain that many great plans have gone unheeded forever simply because a person neglected this important step.