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Planning funerals in advance makes decisions easier

Published on -5/8/2014, 3:58 PM

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Funeral planning and end-of-life issues are difficult subjects. But those who attended last week's Extension program found these topics could be interesting, thought-provoking and sometimes even a bit humorous. If you missed our presentation on end-of-life issues, the following summary provides useful information to think about now, so you'll be better prepared when the need arises in your family.

Because death is something you might not want to think about, funeral or memorial service planning is something you might put off. The reality is most people will be involved in making funeral arrangements at some point in their lives.

Americans spend billions of dollars every year to arrange more than 2 million funerals for loved ones. Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers ever will make. Yet, when a loved one dies, grieving family members are confronted with dozens of decisions about the funeral -- all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional stress.

Consumers who make funeral plans in advance can compare prices and services so that the funeral reflects a wise and well-informed purchasing decision, honors the deceased and is meaningful to survivors. Advance planning also can reduce the temptation some people have to "overspend" on a funeral or burial because they think of it as a reflection of their feelings for the deceased.

Pre-planning does not have to mean pre-paying, so even those who are uncomfortable about paying for services in advance can benefit from planning ahead before any dollars ever change hands. In either case, leaving preferences or instructions for family members can be helpful. Explain whether you would like to be buried or cremated, how and where you would like services to be conducted, your choice of cemetery, including information about a burial plot, and the location of documents verifying prepayment of funeral expenses or funds set aside.

Funeral expenses generally fit into four categories. Being familiar with these types of typical expenses might make planning and comparison shopping easier.

* Professional services: These include the services of the funeral director and staff, including the use of facilities and equipment, and the casket and vault.

* Grave site or cremation: These include the cost of the grave and opening and closing the site. There also are costs associated with cremation and an urn, if desired.

* Monument or marker: These include costs for a monument or marker for the grave or a niche for an urn.

* Miscellaneous: Costs for items paid directly by the family or through the funeral director for flowers, limousines, death notices, burial clothing or transporting the body.

The Federal Trade Commission is charged with enforcing laws regarding funeral costs. The FTC offers these tips for shopping for funeral services.

1. Plan ahead. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion, and lifts some of the burden from your family. If you are planning your own service, and especially if you are paying in advance, you might want to review your arrangements every few years.

2. Ask for a written price list. By law, funeral homes must give you written price lists for products and services. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes.

3. Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don't really need. Recognize and avoid potential emotional overspending in your desire to honor a loved one.

4. Recognize your rights. Funeral and burial laws vary from state to state. For information about the Kansas rules and laws and other helpful resources, go online to the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts at www.accesskansas.org/ksbma/.

For more information, talk to your local funeral director. You'll find he can provide a wealth of helpful information and advice.

K-State Research and Extension also has two new publications on Decisions After a Death. Find them on our Ellis County Extension website at www.ellis.ksu.edu under "Home and Family: Aging."

The FTC also offers many helpful resources. Search for "funerals" at the FTC website www.ftc.gov.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences.

lbeech@ksu.edu

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