1. Cremation or burial?
Ashes to ashes or dust to dust...do you want to be cremated or buried?
Cremation has been growing in popularity over the years. In fact, for the last four years, cremations have outpaced burials, and by 2040, they're expected to lead burials 78.7% to 15.7%, according to a 2019 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association. The advantage of cremation is that it's much cheaper, and you can distribute the remains wherever you please.
If you opt for a traditional burial, your costs can be high. When you price it, factor in the following fees: funeral planning, permits, death certificates, preparing the body, coordinating with the cemetery, embalming, a casket, obituary, etc. You'll also need to purchase a burial site. After all, you don't want to force your family to find one when they should be focusing on the service.
The median cost in 2017 for a funeral with all the trimmings was $8,755. That doesn't include lots of stuff, though, like a grave marker and other miscellaneous expenses that always seem to pop up. The median cost for a cremation in 2017 was $6,260 if done by a funeral home. However, you can save tons of money by going for direct cremation (no service) -- only about $1,100, according to the Cremation Research Council.
By choosing beforehand how you want to spend eternity, you'll save your family from having to make this critical decision -- and potentially save lots of money as well.
2. Decide how to pay
If you make your wishes known beforehand, you can set aside the funds in advance or prepay (see below). Otherwise, the costs of the funeral will fall directly onto your family, and they may not be prepared.
The funeral happens within days of your death, and your family may not have access to funds they're going to inherit. And not everyone can come up with $8,000 or more within a few days or have that much available on a credit card.
3. Consider a prepaid plan
If you're thinking of prepaying for a funeral, the general consensus is to never do this. And there are certainly many valid reasons for this advice: It's expensive, you're not earning interest on your money, the funeral home may go out of business, you may decide to relocate or change your mind, etc.
But if it will give you peace of mind, why not? If you have a funeral plan in advance, your family will know who to call when the inevitable occurs, and most of the significant choices will have been made -- because you've already planned and paid for everything. It's not always about dollars and cents.
If you decide to purchase a prepaid plan, shop around and find a funeral home that appeals to you. At the very least, you'll learn about what choices need to be made and how much the costs will be, so even if you decide to self-fund or buy some type of small insurance policy that will cover your funeral expenses, you'll have the info at your fingertips while you still have fingertips that function.
4. Create your funeral service
This will definitely be more fun (and only possible) for you to do when you're alive -- because when you're gone, the choices won't be yours. If you follow the steps above, your family will already know a lot of the other details that funerals entail. Now you can decide whether you want a large service in the funeral home or a small service by the graveside and a memorial service later on.
You can choose readings by your favorite poets and writers and the kind of music you'd like played. Jot down some thoughts or prerecord a tape that can be played at the service. It may bring people to tears to hear your voice, but it can also be deeply meaningful for them to hear your words and thoughts once you're gone.
5. Write your obituary
Do you want to control how the world views your life when you're gone? Then write your own obituary. It will be the final literary document of your life -- but only if you can control what it says. This can be sent as a press release to your local newspaper, trade journals in your professional industry, or alma mater.
Talk about your life's challenges and how you overcame them. Do you have funny anecdotes or stories that define your sense of humor? Write them down. Dying is somber, and your capacity to make others laugh will be showcased as a memory of your personality.
Write about your history, your parents, your gratitude for the wonderful life you've lived, and the people who shared it with you. Include accomplishments and unforgettable moments, as well as lessons you learned that can be passed on to future generations. This exercise may seem sad, but the truth is that it will give you the opportunity to review your life and bring to the forefront all your special memories. It will also give you a deeper appreciation for the life you've been living.
6. Attend a "Death Cafe"
All of the above discussion may sound a bit morbid, but it shouldn't. Death is a reality that everyone faces, and there's no reason it should be a taboo subject. Imagine a place where people can gather and discuss end-of-life issues in a comfortable environment that takes the stigma away from dying. Welcome to the Death Cafe.
Created in 2004 by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, Death Cafes are nonprofit events organized across the globe for people to gather around tea, coffee, and treats to discuss the reality and challenges of dying. Attending one gives you and/or your family the opportunity to have an objective and open conversation regarding feelings about death in a supportive and open space.
7. Discuss your plans with close family or friends
It would be a disservice to your loved ones not to talk to them about your plans for your final bow. Discuss all of the things above and what your wishes are. They can even help you fulfill many of your wishes if you're unable to manage them by yourself.
Now you have the tools to circumvent the sadness of your death by creating an opportunity for your friends and family to celebrate your life with joy, unencumbered by the cloud of grief and funeral details that they may find overwhelming. Death is not a happy time, but by following the above steps and taking control of your funeral, you can give your family peace of mind, knowing that all is handled when that final moment comes.