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Paying for funerals in advance
By Joe Volz / Copley News Service

My father died of heart disease eight years ago at the age of 92. My mom and I spent the better part of a couple of days choosing a funeral home, coffin, burial place and arranging for his funeral.
When the funeral was all over, my mother, now 95, insisted on making arrangements for her own funeral in advance. She wanted to minimize the stress for my sister and me at such a difficult time.
Two million people are buried every year in the United States. Clearly, the funeral business is big business.
t's not cheap. The average cost of a traditional funeral today is $6,000. But it's not unusual for a family to spend $10,000.
Few people are prepared to make funeral purchases when a loved one dies. And the emotions surrounding death may cloud your judgment. So, you end up spending far more than you otherwise would.
One way to think about funeral planning is to make the arrangements far in advance of a death, even before sickness strikes. Preplanning can significantly decrease funeral costs.
You are not left completely in the dark when it comes to funerals.
The Federal Trade Commission has a law regulating funeral home practices. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide price lists to help you know what options are available and how much they will cost before you look at any actual products. Funeral homes, but not cemeteries, must disclose prices by telephone and offer price lists for review at each facility.
Many funeral homes will mail you their price lists, although the law does not require this. If you visit the funeral home in person, the Funeral Rule requires directors to give you the price list to take home with you.
Most people select a funeral home or cemetery based on location, reputation or personal experience. But you may pay too much if you only call one facility. Call or visit at least two funeral homes and cemeteries to check out prices.
Compare prices for the entire package, not just a single item. Every funeral home should have separate price lists for general services, caskets and outer burial containers. Only by using all three lists can you accurately compare prices.
Compare the lists in the privacy of your home, not at the funeral home with a director pressuring you to make choices.
Generally speaking, the funeral home price list itemizes available services and their cost, including:
- Funeral director services for the initial conference, consultations, paperwork and overhead.
- Taking the deceased to the funeral home and to the place of burial or cremation.
- Care of the body including embalming and "casketing," or dressing the body.
- Use of facilities for a viewing, wake or visitation, and the funeral or memorial ceremony at the funeral home.
- Buying flowers, providing music and preparing obituary notices and cards with the dead person's name and birth and death dates.
General price lists usually include the costs for alternative arrangements such as immediate burial, which is a simple, low-cost funeral. The body is buried without embalming, usually in a simple container. There is no viewing or ceremony with the body present.
A package price for immediate burial will include the funeral director's fee, transportation and care of the body.
It may not include the charge for a container, casket or simple pine box. A casket is the single most expensive item. In 1996, an AARP survey found that the average price was $1,658. Today, caskets made from expensive wood, such as mahogany or teak, can cost $10,000 or more.
Caskets are available in many styles and prices. They may be made from metal, wood, fiberglass and plastic. Originally, only funeral homes sold caskets, but now cemeteries and third parties and even the Internet sell caskets. Compare casket prices from several sources before your make your choice.
No casket is required if you choose direct cremation, immediate burial or to donate the body to science. You also may rent a casket to transport the body.
Because funeral expenses are so hefty, some people are coming up with alternatives. One promising idea is from a pioneering doctor in South Carolina who offers $1,900 burials in an environmentally correct preserve. The funerals take place as soon as possible after death without embalming, caskets and fancy headstones.
Finally, keep in mind that what you spend on a funeral does not reflect your feelings for the deceased. What you did during life counts far more than what you provide in death.