We’re going to talk about death and dying in a moment, so you might want to prepare yourself with a short break that you might find entertaining. You might even try dancing along with this video by motivational speaker Sean Stephenson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAibh3SqRUo.
Funeral costs have risen so far and so fast lately that people who have been through it tell what may be the unfunniest joke in history: they say that dying has become so expensive that nobody can afford it any more.
One reason for these cost increases is that many people fail to plan for the funeral, the burial plot or cremation, the flowers and everything else before the fact. Suddenly, the grieving family has to make complicated arrangements, and in the highly-emotional moment, they are in no mood to bargain over the cost. In fact, it was so easy for funeral directors to sell unnecessary add-ons during these moments of vulnerability that the Federal Trade Commission created a “Funeral Rule” which requires mortuaries to present a price list of services to consumers before showing them products such as caskets. More recently, the FTC has created not one but two brochures, one that summarize the rights of consumers (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro26.shtm), another that functions as a guide to planning funeral arrangements from a consumer standpoint (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm). Among the little-known regulatory provisions: a funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
Why do people fail to plan? Children of aging parents are often reluctant to bring up the difficult subject of death, even though in many cases the parents would greet the discussion with relief. Spelling out the funeral preferences is not normally part of a person’s will or estate documents, and few people understand their choices, which can be complex. Do you want a traditional full-service funeral which includes a viewing and formal funeral service (the most expensive option), a direct burial (no viewing and therefore no embalming) plus a graveside memorial service, or a direct cremation?
And if you do use a funeral home, which one should you use? The nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) has estimated that the exact same package of services at different providers can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000. The FCA is offering a new book, “Final Rights,” which offers tips on how to navigate what it calls the “death industry,” which takes in $15 billion a year.
Having this conversation could not only save money for the heirs of loved ones; it could also reduce the confusion and emotion around making difficult decisions at a time of grief. It can be part of the discussion about a medical power of attorney – another important safeguard of everyone’s well-being.