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How to keep funeral costs affordable

Monday, January 28, 2013

Anyone who's put a loved on to rest knows that death is not cheap. According most recent statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association, the average adult funeral costs $6,560. That doesn't include add-ons such as a cemetery plot, headstone, flowers, obituaries and limousine, which can add thousands of dollars to the bill.

The key message for the living is to decide on preferred funeral arrangements ahead of time and convey those wishes to your family, ideally in your will. Another important lesson is to know your legal rights and what funeral-related goods and services cost you, or your survivors, don't feel pressured into buying things you don't want or need.

The Federal Trade Commission oversees "The Funeral Rule," which regulates how funeral providers must deal with consumers. Upon request, funeral homes must provide an itemized price list of all their goods and services, whether you call (even anonymously) or visit in-person. You have the right to choose among their offerings, with certain state-mandated exceptions, and are not required to purchase package deals containing unwanted items. Prior to purchasing a casket or outer burial container, they must share descriptions and prices before showing you stock on hand. Providers that offer cremations must make alternative containers available. The "Funeral Rule" does not apply to third-party sellers such as casket or monument dealers or cemeteries that lack an on-site funeral home.

If your beliefs don't require following specific funeral protocols, here are a few ways to reduce cost while still honoring the deceased and their survivors. Veterams, immediate family members, members of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and certain civilians who've provided military-related service may be entitled to burial at a national cemetary with a grave marker. Burial is free, but families are responsible for funeral home expenses and transportation to the cemetery.

A $225 lump-sum death benefit is available to surviving spouses or minor children of eligible workers who paid into Social Security.

For many, cremation is viable, less expensive option to burial.

If you plan to hold a viewing first before the cremation, ask if you can rent an attractive casket for the ceremony, but you can purchase a casket or cremation urn from a source other than your funeral home. The funeral home cannot assess handling fees or require you to be there to take delivery.

The death of a loved one is always upsetting, but you may be able to ease your family's emotional and financial burdens by planning ahead.