Funeral Expenses: Does it Pay to Plan Ahead?

BRANSON, Mo. - According to AARP, a traditional burial is the third-largest lifetime cost for people behind only their home and automobiles expenditures.

Most estate attorneys like Clancy Parks, with Parks & Jones in Springfield, say it's worth preplanning for funeral arrangements and paying the expenses ahead of time.

"If you're planning a funeral right after your loved one has passed, you are prey for paying all kinds of expenses that maybe you wouldn't need if you were in your right mind, where you didn't have the stress of the death," he says.

Parks says planning and paying ahead can also act as a gift to your loved ones, allowing them to focus on grieving following your death.

But picking the right financial plan, he says, depends on the person and their situation.

"When you're planning for the end, specifically funeral costs, you need to factor that in for your planning for the nursing home," Clancy says. "Prepaying your funeral expenses can help you better qualify for some program benefits that are available under Medicaid or [Veterans Administration], so you can afford the cost of your disability or ultimately when you pass."

One option Parks suggests is burial insurance because it can travel with you if you move to another area.

There is also regular life insurance to consider, setting up a trust that spells out desired memorial arrangements or simply letting your estate cover the costs.

However, many funeral homes will point out the importance of making sure the money set aside, and the interest it collects, covers rising costs down the road.

It's why many funeral homes suggest pre-need planning.

"[Pre-need] locks those charges in 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-years down the road," says Jeff Bluto, funeral director for Greenlawn in Branson.

"What they have selected and what they paid for at the time, will be the same price when the time comes," he says.

Bluto says with pre-need planning, the money paid into a plan is put into a trust that accumulates interest for the funeral home, covering the rising costs.

While there have been stories of funeral homes dipping into the pre-need funds early, Bluto says Greenlawn's funds are bonded, insured and can't be touched until the owner of the policy passes.

"Obviously because of what has happened, and stuff that gets out in the media, people have concerns and questions," he says.

"All we can do is tell them, the best we can, how we handle things," Bluto says, "and hope that's enough to put them at ease."

Regardless of the route chosen, Bluto say individuals should know what expenses their policy will cover and what it won't.

For instance, while pre-need can set aside money for flowers, obituaries and opening a grave site, those are ultimately costs the funeral home doesn't control.

Parks says in addition to shopping around at multiple funeral homes, it's also a good idea to talk with multiple estate planners.


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