According to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2021, the average cost of a full-service burial was $7,848, and the average cost of full-service cremation was $6,971. When an individual dies without having outlined a funeral plan, surviving family members may be unsure of their loved one’s wishes. As a result, they may disagree, choose more expensive funeral options, or feel pressure to overspend to demonstrate their love. Yet you can shield your family from these issues by prearranging the funeral and, in some cases, prepaying for funeral arrangements.

Without a plan in place, grieving family members often face time constraints in making decisions. For instance, they may not have time to visit multiple funeral homes and compare their values after their loved one’s death. Often, they choose the first funeral home they see rather than exploring various options to find the best fit and value.

When individuals prearrange their funerals, they have time to research funeral homes and carefully decide the details of their end-of-life arrangements, ensuring that the services will follow their wishes.

Beyond choosing the funeral home, planning such arrangements ahead of time can include:

  • Deciding what happens to the remains, including burial or cremation
  • Determining the burial location, such as next to a loved one
  • Letting loved ones know where to spread or keep ashes
  • Deciding whether to donate organs or remains to scientific research
  • Selecting the type of funeral or memorial service (For instance, a traditional funeral ceremony may be held in a religious institution and include viewing and burial, whereas direct burials happen soon after death and do not include a viewing)

How to plan your funeral arrangements

Often, planning funeral arrangements entails writing down your wishes in detail in legally enforceable documents. You may wish to give your family members copies of your written wishes. Additionally, people with a reasonable idea of where they will pass away can prepay a funeral home for services, ensuring family members do not need to take on the cost.

An advance directive can document your desires regarding what happens to your remains after death. You can choose a person to act as your agent to handle the disposition of your remains. You can provide your agent with your funeral wishes along with the power to oversee the arrangements. If you have not chosen an agent, New York law provides that your closest living relative, starting with a surviving spouse, has this authority.  This can be problematic if, for example, a person is in a second or later marriage and would like an adult child to have authority over the remains. Also, if person is not survived by a spouse but has multiple surviving children, the handling of the remains can be disputed especially if the children do not get along or there is an estrangement.

Wills may contain provisions describing desired funeral arrangements. However, wills are not the best place for funeral arrangements, as family members often read wills after the funeral.

Deciding funeral arrangements in advance and providing instructions to your loved ones makes your wishes clear, may avoid arguments within your family, and can give them more peace of mind after you pass away.  Consult with the attorneys at Kurre Schneps LLP for legal guidance on this as well as all of your estate planning concerns.