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One of the more unpleasant tasks you may have to face as you move along in your retirement is making the necessary arrangements for your funeral. Death is the inescapable end for all of us; medical advances have come a long way, but the Fountain of Youth remains a myth. The least we can do is make the practicalities associated with our death less of a burden on our loved ones, who will be distraught enough. Do them a favor and plan as much in advance as you can, including either paying in advance or leaving provision in your will or through a term life insurance policy to cover the expenses.
Polls conducted by funeral house associations indicate that seniors who have already arranged for their own funerals tend to feel more relaxed about their inevitable demise, knowing they’ve done their part to reduce the stress their loved ones will experience when the time comes.
Making Funeral Plan
A primary consideration is to determine the final disposition of your body. In the United States and indeed in most parts of the world, cremation is the cheapest and most practical option. Depending on the situation, cremation can cost $2,000 or less, including a service. Burial in a casket can cost $7,000. Less common options include a sea burial (as opposed to having one’s ashes scattered in the sea), a tree burial, or a Tibetan sky burial. Those who are curious can Google these options. For Hindus, the most auspicious way to shuffle off one’s earthly coil is to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges, most famously in the holy city of Varanasi, over an open fire, and have one’s remains (usually a partial cremation only, depending on how much firewood the family can afford) deposited into the river, eventually emptying into the Bay of Bengal.
Or, for the truly ecologically conscious, resomation is a new method of disposal that is gradually gaining acceptance. In this process, your body is placed in an alkaline solution, where it dissolves into a pure white dust. This completely eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions that result from cremation; if you can locate a funeral home that offers this option, costs should be roughly equivalent to those for a cremation.
Although traditional burial is still more common than cremation, the latter has been gaining ground rapidly for the past several decades. If you have any special requests regarding the urn in which your ashes will be placed, or how you wish your ashes disposed of, discuss your preferences with the funeral director and also put them in writing in your will. Don’t go over the top with your requests; having one’s ashes shot into outer space may be appropriate for actor James Doohan (“Scotty” in the television series Star Trek), whose estate could afford the cost, but it’s probably not right for you. And remember, the scattering of your ashes will be of primary significance to your survivors, for whom it will be an event they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Let them choose the time and the place. After all, you won’t be there; you won’t know.
This writer’s mother, just before her death, told my sister and me to flush her ashes down the toilet, for all it mattered to her. Instead, we packed them on an airplane and flew them to Tartu, Estonia, where she was born and lived the first 25 years of her life before fleeing the Red Army in 1944. There, we scattered her ashes in the Emajõgi River, which flows through the center of town. “Where do we go when we die? Well, maybe we go back to where we came from,” said my sister in her brief riverside eulogy. My mother would have thought we were nuts for all the trouble we took, but for my sister and me, and the dozen-odd friends who accompanied us, it was a momentous occasion.
You can arrange a traditional burial, just as a cremation, by discussing the matter with your funeral director. Here, you can select your casket and outer burial container as well as provide special instructions for your funeral service, floral arrangements, music, and embalming. You’ll also need a burial plot — in populated localities, these may come at a premium. Ideally, you will have secured a burial plot, selected a casket, and arranged for full payment beforehand; be flexible with any instructions you may have for the service, as your survivors may also have preferences for how they wish to remember you.
If you opt for a traditional burial and wish your spouse or life partner to be buried beside you, you’ll need two adjacent plots. Don’t wait until the last minute to secure these. Prices can start at $1,000 per plot; you are, in a very real sense, purchasing real estate. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t be afraid to shop around. Granite tombstones or headstones will cost another $500-$1,000. If you select an inscription, you’ll probably pay by the letter. The inscription on John Keats’s tombstone at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome reads: “Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water.” Unless you’re a poet — and a talented poet — keep it simple.
Paying for Your Funeral
The most convenient way to pay for your funeral is to utilize life insurance. At the time of death, the funeral home will collect on the portion of the life insurance death payment that has been earmarked to cover funeral expenses, and your named beneficiary will receive the remainder. Funeral homes commonly give 30-day terms or better, especially if they know than an insurance payout is imminent, so they will proceed immediately with your arrangements without holdups. Thirty days is time enough for an insurance payment to come through and the funds distributed.
Alternatively, you can prepay for your funeral, either in a lump sum or via installments This way, you can potentially lock in a lower price — inflation affects funeral home costs just like it does everything else — and leave even less trouble for your heirs. Just be sure to leave careful written records of what you’ve paid, and leave a little extra in your will or other document distributing your assets in case there are any cost overruns.