Advanced Funeral Planning 101

Photograph of David HeckelDavid Heckel,a licensed Funeral Director since 1995, has served hundreds of families from diverse cultural and religious traditions in St. Louis (MO), Denver and Boulder (CO) and Raleigh, NC.

Ben Franklin wrote that there are two certain things in this life: death and taxes. We all hope to live a long life, and we think we’ll have time to think about this often uncomfortable topic in the future. It is easy to put off. However, last minute funeral arrangements are the last thing you would wish for your family, right?

There are many good reasons to do it now and not one good reason to put it off. Receive peace of mind for yourself knowing it is done. Make arrangements together with your family and with a calm and rational state of mind rather than alone and under the anxiety of grief.

Avoid emotional overspending. Give your survivors peace of mind, knowing they are following your wishes. Also help your family avoid potential conflict at a difficult time by giving them a guide to follow. Help your family avoid additional unnecessary stress. Save money when you choose to pay in advance by locking in the cost of services and merchandise at current prices with an inflation-proof contract. Set money aside to cover other funeral related expenses.

Pre-arrangements or pre-need funeral planning can be made with any North Carolina funeral home. Pre-planning can be unfunded, or one can pay in advance. You can plan for yourself and for members of your family. When you pay in advance, you can pay in full, or you can arrange an affordable payment plan. (Most of my clients who pay over time select a three or five-year plan, although there are numerous options.)

There are a number of consumer protections provided by state law and the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule. The Funeral Rule states that a funeral services provider must give a copy of its General Price List to anyone who asks and any time he or she discusses funeral arrangements with a client or prospective client. North Carolina law requires that all pre-need funds be set aside in a bank trust or a life insurance policy until such time as services are rendered.

Only after services are provided can a funeral home collect these funds. Pre-arrangements are transferable to other funeral homes. Every pre-need funeral contract must be filed with the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service which guarantees its performance. If the funeral home which is party to the contract is unable to fulfill its obligation, the board will ensure your family will receive equivalent services and merchandise from another area provider. The current filing fee is $20.

Some people tell me they already have life insurance to pay for their funeral, but let’s consider that idea for a moment. First, the face value of most life insurance policies is static, and some even decrease at a certain age of the insured. Your policy will have the same payout to a beneficiary today as it will 20 years from now, but costs will surely continue to rise over time.

Historically, funeral costs have doubled every eight to ten years. The average price for a traditional funeral with a moderate casket and vault can easily average $10,000 in the Triangle region. Most funeral homes will expect full payment when services are provided.

Can your family readily absorb that expense until they can receive a certified copy of the death certificate and make a claim and wait for it to be paid? What other final expenses might be due from your estate at your passing? There could be doctor and hospital bills as well as the usual debts most of us carry throughout our lifetime like mortgage, loans, credit card debt, and others. Your existing life insurance may need to cover that debt. (I believe most of us purchase life insurance for the benefit of a family member.)

The motto, “Be prepared,” is not only good for the Boy Scouts of America. It is good for all of us. As a funeral director and with my own family’s experience, I’ve witnessed the difference between being prepared with plans in place and not. It is so much better to have a plan. I am happy to answer any of your funeral-related questions. E-mail me at or call me at Bryan-Lee Funeral Home, 919-772-8225.

Article reprinted with permission of the author from The Retirement Resource Guide

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