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8 Important Things You Need to Know About Arranging a Funeral

By Alexandra Kathryn Mosca August 30, 2018 Family

Arranging a funeral is something we will likely all have to deal with at some point. The better prepared we are in advance, the easier it will be when the time comes. Here are some useful tips to help guide you.

The Cost of a Funeral

There’s no getting around the fact that funerals are one of life’s major purchases. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national median cost for a funeral in 2017, with viewing and burial, was $7,360.

This includes a casket and the funeral home’s charges, as well as the outside fixed costs of clergy and pallbearers, but it does not include the cost of a cemetery plot, or their opening charges (which vary).

The NFDA lists the cost for a funeral with viewing and cremation as $6,260, with a cremation casket included in that price.

Useful Tip: Funeral homes are required by law to furnish their prices to you over the phone and in person by a printed price list.

Choosing a Funeral Director

For decades, families chose the local funeral director who was familiar to them. Today, the Internet has made price shopping common. However, choosing a funeral director by price alone is not the best tactic.

The lowest price may not be commensurate with the best service. A better way to choose a funeral director is through recommendations from friends or relatives who recently used such services.

Useful Tip: Funeral homes can change hands. A positive experience with one owner does not guarantee future satisfaction. Check to see if the funeral home is under new ownership.

The Arrangement Conference

At the arrangement conference, you’ll meet with a licensed funeral director to arrange the funeral details. You’ll be asked vital statistic questions for the death certificate, as well as the type of final disposition you are interested in.

A casket and memorial items will be selected, the religious service booked and the visiting hours set. You will be given an itemized statement of all goods and services and discuss payment options (most funeral homes require payment at time of service).

If you have a cemetery plot, do bring along the deed, as well as a full set of clothing for the deceased and a recent photo to aid in the preparation.

Useful Tip: Many funeral homes and cemeteries accept payment by credit card.

Burial, Cremation or Entombment

While for many years, burial has been the most common choice, cremation has steadily been on the rise. However, people sometimes confuse cremation with direct cremation though there is a major difference between the two.

Cremation is simply an alternative to burial or entombment (above ground burial) and does not preclude the elements of a traditional funeral: embalming, visitation and a religious service. Whereas in the case of direct cremation there are no services before the remains are taken to the crematory.

Useful Tip: Honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a free grave or niche space in a national cemetery, along with a monument or grave marker for themselves, their spouse and dependent children in a national cemetery.

Embalming: Necessary or Not

Although embalming is not required by law in most states, a funeral home will likely require it for an open-casket visitation. Embalming delays post-mortem changes and has much aesthetic value.

It can restore a more pleasing appearance, which can be of great comfort, particularly if the deceased suffered through a debilitating illness.

Glyn Tallon, the founder of Tallon Mortuary Specialists, echoed the sentiments of grief experts when he said: “I’m a firm believer in the need to say goodbye to our loved ones, helped by the visual.”

Useful Tip: If you decide not to have an open-casket visitation, consider making an identification.

The Visitation Period

Known colloquially as a ‘wake’ (the term derives from the time loved ones watched over the deceased to see if they would awaken), a visitation is where people gather to pay their respects, share memories and comfort family members.

Today’s wakes usually last one or sometimes two days, and families are no longer bound by the traditional calling hours of 2-5 and 7-10 PM. Becoming popular today are the hours of 3-7 and 4-8 PM.

Gathering at the funeral home the morning of the funeral for a brief private (family only) or public viewing, is another option.

Useful Tip: You may opt not to have a visitation and meet instead at the site of the religious service, cemetery or crematory. However, this will likely preclude viewing the deceased.

Casket and Urns

Caskets range in price from several hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars, and can be made of wood, steel, copper or bronze.

Some caskets contain a sealing gasket to help retard decomposition by keeping out the elements. Caskets come in many styles and colors and manufacturers offer a selection of options for personalization.

Urns, too, range in price, and are available in a variety of materials and styles, which can range from the classic cylindrical shape to the more elaborate and artistic.

Useful Tip: A number of funeral homes offer rental caskets for cremation.

Pre-Planning Makes It Easier

You can pre-arrange your own funeral or that of a family member. Pre-planning ensures that last wishes will be carried out. It also allows for well thought out decisions not colored by emotion. What’s more, you can also decide in advance how much to spend.

If you decide to pre-pay, funds will be placed in an interest-bearing burial account through the funeral home. Many funeral homes guarantee that the interest on the savings will offset any future increase in the costs of their services.

Useful Tip: Pre-arrangements are portable and can be transferred to the funeral home of your choice if you move or decide to use a different funeral home.

Have you made arrangements about your funeral or that of a family member? Did you have to make decisions you weren’t comfortable with? What is your experience of the process? Please share in the comments below.

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The Author

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca has worked as a funeral director in New York for more than 35 years. She is the author of three books: Grave Undertakings, Green-Wood Cemetery and Gardens of Stone and has contributed articles to Newsday, New York Daily News, The Saturday Evening Post and funeral industry publications. Visit her website here

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