THE BLOG
10/15/2012 06:07 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2012

The 8 "Must Dos" Of Funeral Planning

Little is more heart-wrenchingly difficult than the task of:

FUNERAL PLANNING

Most people in the bereavement industry are compassionate individuals who truly care about those whom they serve. However, as with any other business, the bereavement industry also has its fair share of "undesirables." At best, these undesirables can include funeral directors who use emotional manipulation and clichéd "hard selling" to push clients into purchasing items that they do not want or need. At worst, reported incidents of blatant fraud aren't uncommon.

For both your protection and your peace of mind, here are eight recommended "must dos" of funeral planning:

1. Educate yourself.

Do you know that you can have a separate mortuary handle arrangements apart from the cemetery? Did you know that you are not obligated to purchase items such as grave markers and flowers through the same mortuary or cemetery? The more knowledgeable you are ahead of time, the less likely you are to be financially taken advantage of at the worst possible time. It is vital that you educate yourself thoroughly and, if possible, before the need arises.

2. Preplanning and prepayment is not a prerequisite.

About a year prior to my husband's death, I was harassed by a "preplanning counselor" (aka salesperson) in an attempt to procure prepayment funds numbering in the mid-four figures. I very firmly advised this person that all of our reserves were being spent on sustaining my husband's life and that when it came time to financially focus on my husband's death, I would do so at that time -- and not one minute before.

You may be under the impression that you are obligated to pay for funeral arrangements in advance. Preplanning and prepayment are optional services. It is a convenience. It is not mandatory.

3. Avoid preplanning pitfalls.

Making both practical and financial arrangements prior to the time of need can be a responsible and thoughtful thing to do. However, if done incorrectly or naively, preplanning can also result in falling prey to a "hard sell" -- purchasing something you do not need or, in the worst case scenario, prepaying into an account or for a policy that does not exist (for any number of reasons) when the time comes to use it.

Before handing over preplanning funds to a mortuary or funeral home, you must do your homework thoroughly. What happens if the funeral home sells out to new owners or goes out of business altogether? What if the person or people with whom you are doing business prove to be dishonest? Client fraud -- employees dipping into client trust accounts or fraudulently cashing in policies -- can and does happen. Further, if a mortuary says that they will purchase either a life insurance or burial policy on your behalf, be aware that this is something that you can very easily do yourself. You may wish to consider paying your designated preplanning money into a specific personal bank account, family trust or purchasing a burial policy through a reputable insurance company.

4. Love is not measured by the amount of money you spend.

A family sits grief-stricken in a funeral director's office reviewing the mortuary's "menu" of goods and services. Grief and confusion reigns as the family struggles to make decisions to everyone's satisfaction. The funeral director feigns sympathy and says things like, "I know you loved him/her very much. Don't you think they deserve the best? Don't you want to show how much you love him/her?" The director then guides the family to a $7,000 coffin and other over-the-top items and services, while enthusiastically encouraging them to incur debt in order to pay for it. Finally, the director insinuates that if the family chooses against spending vast sums of money that they do not have, they clearly did not and do not love their dearly departed.

You must understand that love is not measured by the contents of a checking account or a credit card limit. Do not let anyone (be they friend or foe, funeral director or family member) "guilt" you into purchasing that which you do not need or cannot afford.

5. Assert yourself.

At this most crucial time, you must state exactly what it is that you want; be it for yourself or on behalf of the person for whom you are making arrangements. It can be challenging to summon the strength to speak up while in the throes of immediate or anticipatory grief...but speak up you must.

I once observed a funeral director tell a family wishing to purchase a plain, wooden casket (as is commonly done in many religions) that their beloved would not be properly protected from the elements in such a casket -- even though by law, all caskets are properly vaulted, insulated and protected. As the funeral director had successfully and deceitfully presented a picture befitting a bad horror movie, the widow could not thereafter be convinced by her family that she should proceed as originally planned. She instead gave in to the disgusting sales tactics and purchased a far-more-expensive casket. The result? The widow found herself with a final bill from the mortuary that catapulted her into serious debt... all because of a refusal to speak up and unconscionable behavior by a funeral director.

6. Review "package deals" carefully.

Most mortuaries offer "packages" that may appear to save money. However, there are often items included in packages that you may not need. For example, will you really need funeral procession officers? Is it absolutely necessary to rent a coffin for a cremation? Go over package offers carefully.

7. Know exactly what is included.

Many people do not know what is and is not included in their total price. For example, does the total price include post-funeral tasks such as obtaining death certificates? Did you know that in most cases, a grave marker or a headstone is a separate purchase from the funeral? Request an itemized accounting of exactly what is going to be provided prior to, at the time of and after the funeral.

8. If something or someone makes you uncomfortable...walk away!

Remember that the funeral business is just that...a business. If anything or anyone makes you uncomfortable at any time during the arrangement-making process, go elsewhere. If you feel that you are being unduly pressured, file a complaint with management and walk away. If you are not being listened to, walk away. If you are not being treated compassionately and with respect (including respect for your wallet)...walk away!

Make sure that if presented with the responsibilities of funeral planning, you are equipped with knowledge and enough guidance to help you make arrangements as effortlessly as possible and concentrate on the most important matters: Drawing near to loved ones and finding your comfort and peace.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:
National Funeral Directors Association
Funeral Consumers Alliance

For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com.

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