Page Reviewed / Updated – June 5, 2022

Although no one wants to dwell on their death, everyone eventually will face it. A study found that for many seniors, worries about how their loved ones would cope vastly outweighed fears of their own deaths. Picturing beloved relatives having to make arrangements for a funeral and burial while dealing with grief is particularly distressing. That’s why many older adults choose to prepare for and plan for their funerals.

When a person gets started with the pre-planning process, they quickly see they need to make many decisions. Deciding on the details and ensuring that loved ones know about them is challenging. Fortunately, knowledge can make planning and preparing for a funeral much simpler for seniors. These tips can help older adults and their families make smart choices throughout the process.

1. Start Early

Planning and preparing for a funeral is a time-consuming process. Seniors should consider starting as soon as possible. Putting it off could mean trying to make complicated decisions while dealing with other issues, such as relocating to assisted living or undergoing treatment for a medical condition.

2. Write Everything Down

To ensure that their family honors their wishes and can easily follow their instructions, seniors should write everything down. Spell out instructions in an easy-to-follow way. Include contact information for preferred funeral homes, places of worship and cemeteries. Older adults who prepay for anything should include receipts and account numbers. Choose a safe place to store all the information, such as a fireproof lockbox or a safety deposit box.

3. Communicate Wishes with Family

Some seniors don’t want to burden their families with talk of death. While it’s not necessary to go over all the details, a person should at least tell their loved ones if they have already planned for their funeral. Let a trusted person know where to find the written instructions. Older adults may even wish to give that person a key to the lockbox or safety deposit box.

People also have the freedom to involve their family in the planning and preparation if they wish. Doing so can ensure that seniors have support as they make important decisions. Plus, including family in the decision-making process gives them a clear picture of their loved one’s wishes. Although older adults should ultimately have the final say, they may wish to seek input from family about various details.

4. Add Personal Touches

Preparing for funerals ahead of time allows seniors to set the tone for their services. Including special touches like music and readings can provide comfort and make the proceedings more meaningful. Seniors may even wish to collect photographs for display or play a special home movie. In addition, older adults may want to choose their own apparel for the visitation or ask to have a cherished memento placed in the casket.

5. Consider Online Options

Seniors who are computer savvy can make funeral plans by using an online service. A quick internet search can reveal multiple sites that offer step-by-step assistance. Some are free to use, while others involve a monthly or one-time fee. These sites can make it easier to remember all the elements of a funeral, so family members don’t have to worry about any aspect of the service or arrangements.

6. Review Local Laws and Rules

States establish their own laws regarding embalming, interment and cremation. Seniors can double-check that their plans comply with these requirements to spare family members from future hassles. For example, some states place restrictions on where you can spread a person’s ashes or allow people to keep their loved one’s body at home rather than having a viewing or funeral in another location. The National Funeral Home Alliance is a useful starting point for researching state laws.

7. Choose the Funding Option That Is Right for You

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral is $7,848 for a burial and $6,971 for a cremation. No matter which option a person prefers, they need to determine how to ensure their families have enough money to pay for these final expenses. Options include:

  • Savings accounts: Seniors who have enough money saved may wish to open a joint savings account with a trusted family member and deposit funds to cover funeral costs. With this option, they may need to deposit more money in the future to account for rising prices and ensure the account balance is enough to fully cover expenses.
  • Preneed funeral programs: Many funeral homes give seniors the option to pay for their caskets, burial plots, headstones and even flowers and music before they pass away. These programs lock in prices, so older adults don’t need to worry about inflation. However, the plan may not cover some items. Anyone considering a preneed funeral program should closely examine the details before signing up. Usually, people must pay for the entire plan upfront. Payment plans may be available, but any balance owed at the time of death will need to be settled by family members prior to the funeral.
  • Burial insurance: This type of permanent life insurance pays a small lump sum soon after a person’s death to cover final expenses in exchange for a low monthly premium. Normally, no medical exam is necessary, and some policies offer guaranteed acceptance, meaning even people with health conditions may qualify. The downside is that most plans have a waiting period of two to three years before coverage begins. Learn more about this option for paying for funeral expenses by reviewing the best burial insurance plans.
  • Other types of life insurance: Term, whole life and other types of life insurance can provide money that family members can use to pay for a funeral. Normally, life insurance is available in amounts of $100,000 or more, so beneficiaries will likely have extra funds for other things, such as settling debts, supplementing their own income while taking care of the deceased’s affairs or paying for college or major purchases. Most life insurance policies have short waiting periods, but payouts generally take longer than burial insurance.

8. Obtain Multiple Quotes for Everything

Seniors who choose to pay for final expenses ahead of time should shop around before choosing funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries and mausoleums. Pricing can vary widely from business to business. Reputable service providers are willing to offer free, no-obligation quotes and won’t employ high-pressure sales tactics. In fact, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that they do.

By comparing the services and fees for several businesses, older adults can get more for their money. In addition, they can have peace of mind that the providers they’ve chosen will be empathetic and caring to their family members.

9. Consider Mixing and Matching Services

FTC rules forbid funeral providers from refusing to work with caskets purchased from other providers and prohibit them from charging an extra fee for handling them. Crematoriums also can’t force a person to buy an urn from them or make them pay a fee for using an urn purchased from a third party. The regulation gives seniors the flexibility to take advantage of low prices online or purchase a casket or urn from one local business and have another funeral home handle embalming and host visitations.

10. Be on the Lookout for Scams

Unfortunately, scammers target seniors with a variety of schemes, and some use funeral planning as an opportunity to take older adults’ hard-earned money. To avoid becoming a victim, research potential funeral service providers before committing to one. Every state requires funeral service providers to obtain a license or registration. Checking a state’s registry is a simple way to verify that a business is legitimate.