End of Life Planning


Many people wait until a family member is ill or has passed away to plan for a funeral – but the best time to make decisions about a person’s burial is long before he’s sick. Emotions are high when a family member dies, and emotional decisions can be expensive. Most mortuaries are for-profit ventures, and their bottom line depends upon getting you to spend as much as possible for their services.

Mortuaries offer all-inclusive package discounts, which include transfer of remains to the funeral home, embalming, dressing, casketing, cosmetology, visitation, graveside service, hearse, casket, grave liner, flower van, memorial stationary package (includes guest book, prayer cards and programs), etc. In addition to the charges for the services mentioned above, there’s always an extra fee for “professional services.” Professional services are the mortuary’s way of covering the costs of meeting with the family and making arrangements – and to increase profits.

Even though the mortuary offers these package discounts, their commission-paid sales staff is always eager to offer upgrades. They discuss what a great tribute it would be for your family member to be buried in a higher grade casket, which will cost substantially more than the one included in the package. Caskets have a markup of 300% or more, which translates into a higher commission for the sales staff – but the higher cost doesn’t protect the body any better than the lowest cost casket they offer. Other possible upgrades include heavier duty concrete grave liners, flower arrangements, chapel rentals, limousine services, viewings, and much, much more.

If the family opts to provide their own casket, the mortuary will often charge separately for each service. The end result will be a service that costs substantially more than the package price. There are ways to save money, including:  

  • Use a local minister to provide the service instead of a funeral director.
  • Hold the service in a local church instead of a mortuary chapel.
  • Shop around for a casket; it’s possible to rent a nice one for a viewing and use an inexpensive one for the burial.
  • If a grave liner is required, choose the lowest grade available. It truly doesn’t make a difference once your family member has been buried.
  • Make choices that will fit your budget, such as buying your own flowers.

Funeral expenses are necessary – it’s not uncommon to spend $8,000 on a funeral service. Even a simple cremation can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, while a burial starts at around fifteen hundred dollars. With a little planning it’s possible to spend less than half of that amount, and to make payments on a burial policy rather than to have to come up with all of the money at once.

The most important decision to make is to decide what type of service you’d prefer, whether it’s burial or cremation. Once that decision has been made, you can call around for basic prices. Nearly every city offers more than one mortuary with at least one discount provider. These companies offer the same service as a larger, more expensive mortuary, but at a lesser cost. 

Many people purchase a burial plot in their hometown and later move out of state. If a person is going to be buried out of the general area in which he lives, it’s best to make the arrangements with the funeral home in the town where they’ll be buried. That facility will arrange for the body to be picked up after the death as well as to make all of the transportation arrangements. It’s much easier to deal with one funeral home than to attempt to plan it all on your own.

When preplanning a funeral, it’s important to consider future Medicaid eligibility. Many prepaid plans are actually insurance policies that accrue cash value, which is considered an asset for Medicaid purposes. If Medicaid is a concern, let the mortuary know and they may be able to help you structure the burial policy so that it doesn’t affect future eligibility. If you’re working with an Elder Law attorney, he/she should be able to assist with prepaid funeral planning.