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.