AMARILLO — Discussing funeral arrangements in advance may not be the happiest of topics, but it certainly may alleviate some grief and stress, said one Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.
Andrew B. Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist here, said burial insurance policies and pre-planning services may help with decision making, sparing families from having to do it when emotions are high.
“Just as with other end-of-life decisions, you and your loved ones can plan for your funeral prior to your death,” Crocker said.
“The options are many and the costs may vary, but the purpose is the same: to provide you, your family and your deceased loved one with dignified closure and resolution to life,” he said.
Many people turn to a funeral home to help with the planning process. There are many options to consider when choosing a funeral home, Crocker said.
Whether it is proximity, religious, cultural or ethnic affiliations that factor in to the decision, it is important to feel comfortable with that funeral home and its staff, he said.
Funeral costs can vary widely for similar products and services, so there is value in exploring more than one option, Crocker said. Each is required by federal and state regulations to provide consumers with an itemized general price list and must not require that specific funeral packages be purchased, he said.
For those choosing burial, arrangements must be made for a casket and burial plot. Caskets, one of the most expensive costs in a funeral, can range in style and price from very simple and inexpensive to very ornate and expensive. They can cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Most people purchase a casket through the funeral home, but federal regulations require funeral homes to allow independent purchases, he said.
“Consumers have the right to buy a casket directly from a casket retailer or over the Internet or even to make their own,” Crocker said.
Many issues, both financial and personal, may influence the decision about where to be buried and whether to purchase a burial site in advance, he said. Individuals should compare options and costs of cemeteries.
Cremation is another option. A cremation must be performed at a licensed crematory, where both the body and its container are incinerated with intense heat, Crocker explained.
Individuals can make arrangements with a crematory and even pre-pay for this service. However, transportation of the body from the place of death must be in a vehicle licensed for that purpose and is normally handled by a funeral home, Crocker said.
By federal law, a casket cannot be required for cremation, he said. The ashes may be: placed in a niche in a columbarium, a special structure at a cemetery or church; buried or put in a crypt in a cemetery; kept at home; or scattered on land or at sea, Crocker said.
“It may be important to talk with a member of the clergy before choosing cremation,” he said. “Some religions forbid the practice, and some denominations look on the practice with disfavor.”
Paying for a funeral is the final step and one that can cause a financial hardship, Crocker said.
Limited financial assistance may be available. Social Security pays the direct survivor a small lump sum. Veterans may be eligible for a burial allowance, and some unions, fraternal organizations and mutual aid societies may also offer funeral benefits.
Funeral homes may offer pre-planning services in which funeral arrangements are made at a discounted rate. Also, several insurance companies offer burial insurance policies which may help with funeral costs. Burial insurance policies may cover costs in excess of actual costs.
“Remember to keep in control of your policy’s money rather than turning the money over to the funeral director,” Crocker said.
For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site regarding consumer rights in relation to funerals:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/funerals/index.html . A print publication on the subject which may be downloaded free from the site.