Question:  I have heard that some people who have pre-paid their funeral expenses did not have their account honored after they passed away. What do I need to know before pre-planning for my own funeral expenses?

Pre-planning of your own funeral can help ensure you have your wishes followed, while also relieving stress from your family and friends. Not everyone wants to think about it or have a discussion with family, and each person and family has their own way of handling these types of things. In fact, a 2018 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association showed that only 26 percent of Americans had discussed their funeral preferences with a loved one. However, you may be surprised how it can help you feel more settled in knowing you are not placing any burden of planning on your family.

When considering pre-planning a funeral you want to think about what main components are important to you. You may prefer a full service with embalming, an open casket viewing and a graveside burial. Or a cremation with a service at sea or ashes scattered in a place that has special meaning to you may feel like the right choice. The important thing is that if there is an option that you know is not what you want, then pre-planning can ensure you have your own wishes honored.

Pre-planning does not have to include pre-paying. AARP recommends not pre-paying because your situation may change, the funeral home may go out of business, or you move far from the funeral home you contracted with.

If you decide to pre-pay, make sure to ask questions and understand what happens if the funeral home goes out of business or is sold to another company. Find out if the contract can be canceled and refunded if you move or change your mind.  Ask for a guaranteed price plan to protect your family from any price increases.  Find out if there will be costs not included in the contract that will need to be paid at the time of the funeral. It is important to know how they hold the pre-need funds because it may be in a state regulated trust and you have the right to know where the money is invested and who the trustees are.  Get all their policies in writing and keep this with your proof of payment.

There are other ways to set aside the money yourself to pay for the funeral when the time comes. One way it to set up a bank account that is payable-upon-death to your beneficiary to use that money to pay for the expenses.

Many funeral homes sell packages of deals. You do not need to purchase a package if you do not want every item included. You can consider only what is most important to you and even outsource some items if you prefer, such as the flowers or even the urn or casket. Understand what your options are and be prepared to shop around.

The most important part of pre-planning is to discuss with you loved ones what you want and to put it in writing. Explain what is most important to you, including how much you wish to spend. Keep in mind, however, that you do not want to be too specific, as that can also place a burden on your loved ones. But helping them have an idea of your wishes will make the process less stressful when the time comes.

This is also a good time to discuss your end of life wishes. Talk through when you feel the burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits. Think about where you want to be at end of life and who you want around you.

Having these conversations around death and dying can feel heavy and uncomfortable. Reframe this talk and think about it instead as a gift to your loved ones because it lifts the responsibility off them. When bringing this up with your loved ones explain that this is not meant to upset them, but rather to help them in the future. These conversations are easier in advance before there is an emergency.  You are allowing yourself to take control of your own future.

Martha Shapiro can reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at

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