08/20/2012 10:52 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

Lessons Learned From Ted Williams: Funeral Planning

Imagine holding a bake sale to pay for a love one's funeral. That's just about what Brandy Rankins did after her mother passed away from lung cancer and there were no funeral and burial arrangements made in advance.

"When my mother passed with lung cancer several years ago, it was one of the most heartbreaking, difficult, and life-defining moments of my entire life. My mother not having any type of life insurance only added to that challenge," Ms. Rankin said.

Cremation was the most affordable option and despite being the youngest of my mother's four children, I fought boldly against it because I knew that option wasn't my mother's will. We held three car washes and petitioned the community for monies to help us bury our mother. Doing that was the most humiliating thing I've ever experienced. Pride, logic, and embarrassment rose up within me but ultimately I stepped out and chose faith.

Ms. Rankin, founder of Speaklife Ministries, said that in three days she raised $4,800 -- and $4,600 was the cost of the burial and funeral. She said:

Of course, I could say that if my mother had life insurance or we had made proper burial arrangements in advance, it could have made things easier -- and in many ways it would have. However, I can't negate that the aforementioned experience gave me the opportunity to feel the love and compassion of my community and to witness the impossible being done. I encourage everyone to conquer the fear of writing your will and properly planning your home-going services to prevent your loved ones from finding a way to overcome that burden later. None of us, not even my mother, wanted to accept the fact that death was coming and we endured a large price as a result.

And taking the time to plan in advance for a funeral can save considerable money in addition to heartache, experts agree.

"It's cheaper to do it in advance because you can negotiate," said Richard S. Bernstein, CEO of Rochard S. Bernstein & Associates who has advised many of America's wealthiest families and businesses, including serving as a healthcare and insurance adviser to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. "The minute the family has to go in there, the price doubles or triples."

Mr. Bernstein said that when his mother died about a year ago, he noticed that that price was triple what he had prepaid long before her death.

Oftentimes families can disagree and, in the case of baseball great Ted Williams, leave the actual body in limbo as they bicker. "Pre-planning takes the emotional burden off of family members and gives the person who is dying the opportunity to make the decisions," Mr. Bernstein said.

And the time is now to plan for a funeral -- in part because prices will continue to go up over a lifetime and also because the unexpected can happen anytime.

"I worked with a lady for about four months on her funeral planning," said Stefan Magyar, community service counselor at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery. "Then two months later, she passed away unexpectedly. She was thoughtful and got everything done and had wanted to relieve her family of that burden and she did."

TJ Panzer, a 36-year-old widow, wishes her husband had done the same, but given the couple's relative youth, he brushed it off when his wife asked him about his burial wishes.

"I remember asking him about it a few months before he died, but he said that was 'never going to happen' so don't worry about it," she said. "When you're blindsided by an unexpected death, it's extremely difficult to think clearly and make the best decision, so it would have been good to know exactly what he wanted. I hear a lot of other women in the widow community had a horrendous time with their in-laws about funeral arrangements."

Beth Anderson's family was torn apart after her mother's suicide 30 years ago, and subsequent squabbles over how she should be buried led to financial disputes that remain unresolved. "Thirty years later they still say that my brother and I should have paid our parts although they are the ones who made the decisions and kept anything of any monetary value of our mother's," she said of her two older sisters.

"With pre-planning there are payment options available, and we can arrange for affordable payments," Mr. Magyar said. There are not typically payment options at the time of the funeral and burial, and Mr. Magyar said that people tend to do "emotional overspending" when they are unprepared.

Mr. Bernstein cautions people to find a reputable funeral home to deal with that provides a contract that will be honored even in the event of the business being sold.

"Death is inevitable, and sometimes sudden and unexpected," said Mr. Magyar. "Nobody likes talking about it, but if you spend a little time dealing with it, it can relieve the stress and anxiety. It could be one of the best gifts you ever give to your family."

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