Final Expense and Preneed Planning
Many people choose to plan for their funeral ahead of time. This is a wise decision as it can save your family both money and decision-making during a very emotional time.
There are many options available when planning your funeral in advance. The two main options are pre-need plans and final expense insurance.
Funerals can be more costly than one would expect. The National Funeral Directors Association's most recent (2021) estimate of the median cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,971, and median cost of funeral with viewing and burial is $7,848. These numbers don't consider burial plots, upgraded urns or caskets, published obituaries, headstones, or flowers. The total funeral cost may exceed $10,000, potentially leaving unprepared family or loved ones with unanticipated expenses.
People may choose to pay for a funeral in various ways, including a savings account or planning for funding funeral expenses when obtaining life insurance protection. Final expense (FE) policies are a (whole) life insurance product. If the death benefits exceed funeral costs, they could be used for anything, including transportation of family members or unpaid medical expenses. FE policies do not necessarily account for or protect against inflation. In contrast, a funeral home may offer payment plans at low or no interest. It is important to determine whether these costs are guaranteed or non-guaranteed to know whether family or loved ones have to make up the difference. In other words, if a guaranteed service costs $2,000 now, but the cost rises to $3,000 by the time you die, your family or loved ones do not have to make up the difference. If a service is not guaranteed, family or loved ones may be responsible for the difference in cost. Costs can also vary by funeral home. If you decide to purchase a pre-need plan, compare the General Price List (GPL) of several funeral homes before deciding where to purchase the plan.
Preneed planning questions
The FTC encourages asking questions when considering prepaying for funeral services on their consumer advice site with information about Shopping for Funeral Services:
What exactly is included in the cost?
Does the cost cover only merchandise, such as a casket or urn, or are other funeral services included?
What happens to the money you have paid? (Requirements in how the funds must be handled differ by state.)
What happens to any interest income?
What protection is in place if the funeral home goes out of business?
Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund?
What happens if you move or die while away from home?
According to the Green Burial Council, green burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat. (Availability and legality of green burial options varies by state.)
Green burials are not only chosen to protect the environment. Some families are turned off by what they see as excessive and expensive fancy caskets. Many want something simpler and more meaningful. An added benefit is green burials are often less costly than traditional burial options.
Burial in Simple Pine Casket
Pine caskets are required by some religions. Many believe burial in a pine casket ensures a return to nature that is full of good fortune and luck. Harsh chemicals traditionally used in embalming (such as formaldehyde) are avoided, so as to prevent them from eventually leaching into the ground. Simple pine caskets avoid use of varnishes and metal parts that degrade and leach into groundwater. Pine trees are native to much of the United States and can be grown and harvested sustainably, versus more tropical woods that may deplete tropical forests, not to mention the expense and emissions involved in their transport.
Water cremation (also known as aquamation, hydro cremation, or bio cremation) uses water instead of flame and is therefore a more natural, ethical, and environmentally friendly alternative to flame cremation or burial. The scientific term for the process is alkaline hydrolysis, and it was invented in the late 19th century for use on livestock. Aquamation uses just 10% of the energy used during flame cremation, and there are no air emissions. This results in a 75-80% lower carbon footprint. Since our bodies are 70% water, this natural process returns us to a natural form and a natural component of our universe!
Human composting (also known as natural organic reduction, recomposting, terramation, or recomposition) relies on natural processes that assist the body in decomposing aerobically and efficiently. The above-ground process (recomposition) requires state approval. This process is currently legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, and New York.
This content is intended to be educational and informational in nature.
For more information:
Statistics regarding cremation and burial from the National Funeral Directors Association: https://nfda.org/news/statistics
FTC's Consumer Advice on Shopping for Funeral Services: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/shopping-funeral-services
Green Burial Council: https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/
Disposition options from the Green Burial Council: https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/other_disposition_options.html