Funeral Service Shopping: Planning Tips Part 7 of 7

Part 7 – Planning Your Own Funeral

Pre-planning your funeral is not morbid.  It is being thoughtful and considerate of the loved ones you will leave behind.  It gives you control in selecting what you want and relieves your family of the burden of making decisions in a time of mourning.  Many people feel that funeral planning is an extension of estate planning and putting one’s affairs in order. 

Funeral Planning Tips

Thinking ahead allows you to compare prices and evaluate what you want and perhaps need for cultural/religious reasons.  It can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements.

An important consideration when planning a funeral pre-need is where the remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. In the short time between the death and burial of a loved one, many family members find themselves rushing to buy a cemetery plot or grave — often without careful thought or a personal visit to the site. That’s why it’s in the family’s best interest to buy cemetery plots or places of interment before they are needed.

Arrangements can be made in advance, but not pre-paid.  This will enable your wishes to be documented, but the price quoted may rise over time.  Further, businesses may close or change ownership.  So, just as you should review your estate planning documents periodically, you may wish to review your funeral arrangements from time to time. 

Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members and your attorney, and keep a copy in a handy place. Don’t designate your preferences in your will as a will often is not found or read until after the funeral. And, avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safe deposit box. Your family may have to make arrangements on a weekend or holiday before the box can be opened.  In many states like New Jersey, a letter of last instruction can be prepared with the assistance of an attorney to set forth your wishes. 


Many, many Americans have entered into contracts to arrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. Laws of individual states govern the prepayment of funeral goods and services.  Many states have laws to help ensure that these advance payments are available to pay for the funeral products and services when they’re needed. But the protections vary widely from state to state and there are some state whose laws offer little or no effective protection. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery.

In New Jersey, there is a program called New Jersey Choices, into which the prepayments are placed until needed.  The funds deposited earn interest while on deposit and when needed, the funeral home can request payment.  This protects the monies deposited should a funeral home go out of business, as the funeral home does not hold the monies. 

Pennsylvania is slightly different in that the funeral director must deposit the funds into a bank account separate from their personal or business accounts. 

Wherever you live, you should check with the funeral director, or a couple directors, as to the law in effect for your state. 

If you’re thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it’s important to consider these issues before putting down any money:

  • What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?
  • What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
  • Are you protected if the funeral home you dealt with goes out of business?
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.

Be sure to tell your family about the plans you’ve made; let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn’t aware that you’ve made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And, if family members don’t know that you’ve prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements. Check with your estate planning attorney as to the  most effective way to ensure that your wishes are followed.

I hope that you have learned some do’s and don’t’s from this multi-part series of blogs.  I know that it is not the most pleasant matter to address, but one that is a very important matter.



About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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