A death in the family is a demanding and emotional time. The days leading up to a loved one’s funeral can be a blur of difficult tasks and major expenses, and many survivors complain about a lack of time for grieving. Here are a few ways to get a handle on the financial and mental stress.
Cremation or burial? Open casket or closed? Religious service or private ceremony? In the absence of instructions from the deceased, a funeral director will ask at least a hundred questions, says Scott Macleod, owner of York Funeral Home in Fredericton and vice-president of the Funeral Service Association of Canada.
It can be a numbing experience. “A natural side-effect of grief is that making decisions becomes more difficult,” he observes. It may help to bring along a friend or relative who is at more of a distance from the grief to act as a sounding board.
“A funeral is a major business transaction,” says Nicole Renwick, executive director of the Memorial Society of British Columbia, a consumer advocacy group for the bereaved. “It is okay to set a budget and shop around—that doesn’t mean you are being cheap.”
Renwick suggests visiting at least two funeral homes in the 48 hours after a death. Memorial societies are located in many provinces and keep track of your funeral wishes for a small fee. Members of these organizations are also able to negotiate better rates with select funeral homes.
Delegate where possible
Macleod recommends that only one family member, usually the executor, deal directly with the funeral home to avoid confusion. But there are plenty of other tasks that can be handed off to other family members or friends. Picking flowers, charities and music, writing an obituary or eulogy, contacting distant relatives and collecting photos or mementos for a legacy display are all jobs best shared among family members. “It can be important for everyone to participate in the grieving process,” says Macleod.
Understand the costs
Funerals range from basic to lavish, with price tags to match. In Ontario, the average cost of funeral home services comes to approximately $4,100, plus another $2,200 for a casket or container. But this does not cover extras such as flowers, clergy, a burial plot or death notices. An alternative is to ask for a direct disposition, which includes only the minimum services necessary to have a body transported and interred or cremated, with an average cost of $1,500. Renwick suggests one way to keep costs down is to arrange for cremation through direct disposition and then organize a memorial reception at a country club or rented hall later. That will require more effort on your part, but allows for greater personalization and can feel less rushed.
Preplan your own
Surviving the experience of organizing a funeral often encourages serious thinking about your own final ceremony. Simply writing down your preferences or joining a memorial society will make this task much simpler. “Leaving behind clear instructions is the biggest gift you can leave your family,” says Renwick. Pre-financing is another option, and can be done through an insurance policy or funds deposited into a regulated trust account. If you do pre-pay, make sure your survivors know about it.