How funeral planning can save you thousands

BALA CYNWYD, Pa. - October 19, 2010

But going that extra step could save you and your family thousands of dollars.

Tom Fluck already has a headstone at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. And the details of his funeral are arranged, even though Tom is still very much alive!

"Our father always said life is a terminal condition so it only makes sense to be prepared," Tom said.

Tom was inspired to pre-plan his funeral after his parents did the same.

"They had a folder of all the parents' requests and everything had been prepaid, you didn't have to worry about any of that and it just made everything so much easier," said Tom.

A typical funeral can cost $12,000 or more.

One of the ways you can save is to plan ahead so you're not making major financial decisions when you're emotionally upset. Find out what items you're required to pay for and what you can skip. Like embalming, this can cost about $500.

"Embalming doesn't need to be necessary or isn't required if you have a closed casket, it's not required if you have a cremation," said Sylvia Loner, Author of "55 Ways to save on a Funeral." She also suggests asking whether your cemetery requires vaults to keep the ground from collapsing.

Casket prices vary widely and can cost upwards of $2500 so it pays to shop around. At Costco and Wal-Mart online, you can buy a casket for less than $2,000 and funeral homes have to accept them.

If you're planning to be cremated but still want a viewing, check into renting a casket and even the flowers.

"Casket sprays in specific, there is a flower in the front that is removable that is given to the family," Sylvia said.

If your family plot already has a headstone, consider adding names on different sides, rather than buying another marker.

Find out if cemetery maintenance fees are included in the price of your plot, and ask if they offer discounts for veterans or others with special circumstances.

And be aware of the Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rules", which protect consumer rights. They include your right to see written price lists and your right to use an alternate container like a simple wooden box instead of a costly casket for cremation.

Finally, consider pre-paying when you pre-plan. That locks in today's prices, and is a good hedge against inflation.

But even if you can't pre-pay, pre-planning can help you save.

"If it's funded than those prices are locked in but yes we've had families that have come out, not necessarily ready to pay, or maybe they want to be on a payment plan of some sort and they can certainly do that," said Deborah Cassidy of West Laurel Hill Cemetery Bringhurst Funeral Home.

For Tom and his family, pre-planning has made facing death a little easier on the mind and on the wallet.

"I'm very comfortable with it, I feel at ease with it now and I don't fear it."

For more information:
"55 Ways to save Money on a Funeral" by Sylvia Loner
West Laurel Hill Cemetery Bringhurst Funeral Home
Federal Trade Commission = Funerals: A Consumer Guide
Federal Trade Commission = Funeral Rule
National Caregivers Library, Funeral Costs
The Consumerist = Save Money on a Funeral

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