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Last act of love: 3 factors for pre-planning your memorial service

With a little preparation, you can help make a difficult transition easier.

When the future promises good things like careers, vacations, children and retirement, it’s fun to dream and plan for them. But most people don’t like to think about a future without themselves in it.

And their exit strategy – such as the logistics of planning their own funeral or memorial service – is left up to chance. However, keep in mind the words of Benjamin Franklin who famously said: “Nothing can be said to be certain – except death and taxes.”

Instead of leaving it up to your loved ones to pick up the pieces during a very difficult time, consider pre-planning your own funeral or memorial service. It can be your last act of love – and can be done any time, even years in advance.

By doing so, you can play a part in helping ease the emotional and financial burden of your loved ones – and bring them the closure they need. And your life can be honored in a way that you want it to be.

Here are some things to consider.

Leave a message for loved ones

There’s something very comforting knowing that you can make a lasting impression even after you’re gone. You can do this through your words. First, think about how you’d like to be remembered: As someone who valued friendships and family above all else? As someone who took chances in life? Also, what words of wisdom do you want to share with loved ones? You can put these personal thoughts into a special journal. 

Then, you’ll be ready to draft a preamble to your will or your obituary. You can also create a “last wishes” document, one that states your general preferences regarding the planning of your funeral or memorial and names and contact information of lawyers, CPAs, financial services professionals, and others.

Don’t turn the discovery of your last wishes into a treasure hunt. Be sure to let a trusted family member or friend know where you’re keeping this personal information. You might want to store it in the same safe and secure place where you’re keeping your financial information, such as a legacy lock box.

Funeral or memorial service considerations

It’s become a common question: Do you want to be buried or cremated? Just a few years ago, in 2015, consensus was about equal between the two: The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reports cremation at a rate of 47.9 percent and burial at 45.2 percent. However, cremation is growing in popularity. The 2018 cremation rate is projected to be 53.5 percent and the burial rate 40.5 percent. Experts predict by 2025, cremation rates will increase to 64 percent and burial rates will decrease to 30.1 percent.1

The cost of an average funeral – one that includes burial – is around $11,000 or more, depending on where you live and the choices you make. Big ticket items include professional services fee ($2,000); embalming and body preparation ($950); metal casket ($2,400); plot, grave liner, and opening and closing of the grave ($2,000–$4,000); and gravestone ($1,000–$3,000).

Some personal touches you’ll want to think about including: music that means something to you, readings that promote self-reflection, and special photographs or mementos.

Cremation benefits

Cremation is less expensive than a traditional burial because there are no real estate or burial casket costs. Average cremations can run anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000, depending if services are provided through a funeral home or a crematory.3 For example, in New Jersey, the average crematory fee is $306, the urn is $200 and a niche (a space that holds the urn) is around $2,000.4

The lower cost of cremation might be why more people are choosing it. Also, many families – who are not likely to live in one place their entire lives – like the option of taking their loved ones’ ashes with them, wherever in the world they may go. Or they might scatter them in a final resting place with special meaning to them – and to you.

If you do decide on a traditional burial, you don’t have to purchase a casket through the funeral home, and the majority of states don’t require that you hire a funeral director. That means a loved one could host the memorial service.

Green funeral options

Here’s another consideration: Do you try to reduce your impact on the environment by recycling, purchasing only locally grown produce, or biking to work? Then you might want to keep the green theme going even after you die. In fact, more than 50 percent of Americans are interested in green funeral options, according to an NFDA survey.5

People who choose the green route might opt out of the embalming process altogether, or request the funeral home to only use formaldehyde-free products. Biodegradable caskets or urns might be an option.

There are also at least 10 states that have green cemeteries, some of which are considered natural burial grounds and don’t allow the use of outer burial containers or toxic chemicals. (The first one to open in the United States was South Carolina in 1996.)

If these options are “too green” for you, but you still want to be earth-friendly, consider going a lighter shade of green. At your service, you might incorporate flowers grown at a local farm that uses sustainable practices. Or you choose to use a green funeral home – one that operates in an environmentally responsible way.6

Funeral or memorial service payment considerations — should you pre-pay?

You might think pre-paying your funeral costs will make things easier for your loved ones. But the Funeral Consumers Alliance suggests a better option: Plan ahead without paying ahead. You can do some funeral homes comparison shopping and then inform your loved ones of your choice.7

However, if you’re set on paying for your funeral expenses ahead of time, it’s a good idea to put the money into a “payable on death” (POD) account to ensure a trusted family member or friend will use the expenses properly. Keep in mind, the interest gained is subject to income tax.

Doing what you can now to prepare for your final act can give you and your loved ones peace of mind today – and in the future.


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End of life planning resources

End-of-life planning decisions can be difficult to think about and discuss with loved ones. We've prepared information to help guide you through the process — from wills, directives and final arrangements to resources for coping with the death of a loved one.

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1., National Funeral Directors Association, 2018.

2. Miller, Jim T., “This is How Much an Average Funeral Costs,” Huffington Post, October 17, 2016.

3. “Funeral Costs: What Does a Cremation With Services Cost?” Parting, September 15, 2017.

4. Shkolnikova, Svetlana, “Cremation Gaining in Popularity Fast as Burial Costs Rise,” USA Today, May 14, 2018.

5. “Green Funerals,” 2017 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Survey, National Funeral Directors Association.

6. “What it Means to Be Green,” National Funeral Directors Association, 2018.

7. “Should You Prepay For Your Funeral? Safer Ways to Plan Ahead,” Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2018.

DOFU 12-2018