Written by: Susan Brown of  Brown and Freeman LLC, and Mark Kelly of Lucas Funeral Homes

My father died unexpectedly at age 57 from a heart attack. It’s been about 30 years now and to this day, I regret that his favorite song was not played during his funeral service. Unfortunately, grief took over and my family was unable to think clearly when making the arrangements. Since that time, funeral services have changed from solemn, impersonal processions to lively, uplifting celebrations of the deceased person’s life. Pictures of the loved one, songs that were special and videos are now touching the hearts of those left behind.

People often feel uneasy speaking about death and funeral arrangements. So let’s discuss creating a well thought out celebration that honors a loved one. Women outlive men by an average of 10 years and are responsible for burying their spouse. Whether the loss is sudden or has been expected for some time, this is an emotional time and those left behind are often confused and grieving. Understanding the advantage of preplanning is similar to that of an estate plan. Just as an estate plan and a will aide in the settlement of one’s assets, preplanning your final arrangements as part of your overall financial plan removes the overwhelming and emotional decisions. By preplanning, you can lock in today’s cost for products and services that likely will be more expensive in the future. That can potentially be a huge savings to the estate.

The cost of a funeral is one of the larger purchases a consumer will make. So, what does a funeral cost in today’s dollars? The choices are cremation and burial. General Cremation Costs range from $2000 to $6000 depending on whether the family wants to conduct a Memorial Service/Ceremony and what they choose to do with the remains. General Burial Costs include the cost of a funeral is $7000 to $8500 not including the cemetery plot, which could range from $3000 to $20,000

A common myth is that a funeral will be your 3rd largest lifetime expense next to your home and car. However, I would say that funeral expenses fall more in line as the 5th or 6th after education, weddings and health care.

When you preplan a funeral, you can get exactly what you want and eliminate grief induced “emotional overspending.” An elderly widow recently came to us because she had no idea about her financial status, insurance coverage or even what her budget was at the time of her loss. She was worried about their children making travel arrangements, searching through photo albums for pictures to be displayed, finding the appropriate clothing and a number of scattered tasks that needed to be done in addition to all of the financial decisions. Had she pre-planned the funeral she would have been relieved of the planning pressures and would have had more time to spend with her family.

There is definitely a preplanning trend in the funeral industry and it continues to evolve. The AARP conducted a telephone survey in 2007 and found that approximately 29.5 million U.S. citizens have preplanned some part of a funeral or burial for themselves or someone else, and 20.0 million over age 50 have prepaid for funerals or burials for themselves.

Mark Kelly Lucas is a family member of Lucas Funeral Homes, a family owned business with 19 locations. We asked Mark to share with us, as a funeral professional, what actually happens when someone passes and how their funeral homes work with the family to make all of the difficult decisions that need to be made so quickly.

Mark said, “When someone dies, a funeral professional needs to be chosen and contacted to take custody of the body. The circumstances of the death determine when the funeral home takes custody. When the deceased is under a physician’s care and no unusual or extenuating circumstances restrain the doctor from releasing the body, the funeral home can then be contacted.

If there are any questions about the death, any foul play suspected etc., then the Medical Examiner will take custody. The Funeral Professional can take custody after the Medical Examiner has completed their investigation and releases the body.

Once the Funeral Professional is chosen, the decision to bury or cremate for final disposition needs to be made. Whether or not there will be a viewing and or service of any kind, which will determine if embalming needs to be performed.”

Another area of concern is knowing what to look for when selecting a funeral professional. Mark’s response, “There is a big difference when the funeral owners have their name and reputation on the line. Being a family owned & operated company and not corporately owned by SCI for example: we strive to make each service personalized and really care about our reputation. Many funeral homes run with their ownership off site and miles away. We have a commitment to the community. Our staff personally takes custody of the deceased instead of using a service so that the family doesn’t have to worry about their loved one’s remains.” A true caring funeral professional, while in a privately owned for profit business will still exercise compassion, love, care and concern over the bottom line pure and simple.

My friend recently lost her 24 year old son. When I spoke to her after the funeral services, she was in a peaceful euphoria and it was shocking to me. The funeral service for her son was a warm, touching and wonderful celebration of who he was in life, “larger than life” in her words. There is no better way to honor a loved one than a properly planned farewell.

Many of our clients are understandably distraught. It’s not unusual for one spouse to manage the financial affairs leaving the other overwhelmed by it all. My partner, Jean had a brother-in-law who was killed in a car accident. Her sister was anxious and frightened about how she would survive financially. Prior to the funeral, Jean organized all of her financial documents, wrote up a net worth and income statement, estimated her expenses and wrote out a check list of next steps for her. It was a huge relief for her knowing that financially she was secure.