None of us likes talking about death. Or funerals. But at some point, you’re going to shuffle off this mortal coil and need a funeral. You can make things easier on your family and get the send-off you want by planning your own.
To some, this feels like death-obsessed prepping. That’s probably why just 36 percent of Americans have talked with or written plans for loved ones about their funeral, according to a 2021 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). You’re also likely to plan a funeral for a family member at some point, so you need to know how to make smart decisions. Here are some tips to help you.
1. Learn what’s involved
To plan a funeral, you need to know what happens at one. There are three general components: preparing the corpse, holding the ceremony and handling the interment.
There are a range of options for each. Embalming or cremation? A full service at a funeral home, a graveside one or a DIY ceremony? Who will be there? A viewing of the deceased or not? Burial in the ground or in a tomb, or ashes scattered someplace meaningful?
You can get funeral planning checklists online to help you know what decisions you’ll need to make.
2. Plan in advance, but don’t pay in advance
Funeral homes sell plans that promise better rates if you buy a package now, years before you die. Don’t do it, says Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a death-care industry watchdog group.
"You can plan a funeral ahead of time without prepaying,” he says. “Planning is not the same thing as prepaying.”
The drawback to prepaying, Slocum says, is that your situation can change between the time you pay and the time you die. Funeral homes go out of business, which leaves no one to honor the plan you bought. Or you may die in a city far from where you paid for a funeral and a plot. “A much better approach to save money is to comparison shop at the time of death,” he says.