The next level of funeral cost management

Wills, estate planning and probate are intimately connected, after all they are concerned what happens after we die, and yet there is something we tend to forget about in terms of financial obligation. There is little point in imaging a bells and whistles funeral with a large wake and a handmade oak coffin if there is insufficient money to pay for it all – and the same goes for even the most mundane and ordinary of funerals.

Costs for funerals are rising all the time, with the Guardian recently stating that even the cost of the most basic funeral more than £3700 plus disbursements. Remembering that a funeral director will still make a profit from a basic funeral, it isn’t their fees which are being cut, but the ‘service’ that is arranged will have no minister, perhaps no Orders of Service or flowers and that the coffin is likely to be very simple. There will be no viewings, and no limousine, and you will not be able to choose a time for the service, with an early morning cheap slot being given.

Funeral Directors will not like to offer this kind of funeral as they make no money on the mark ups for goods and services. People are often made to feel that this a ‘cheap’ option, and any addition will immediately render the basic price null and void.

There are alternatives of course.

Direct cremation (a cremation funeral with no mourners, at a time and location of the funeral director’s choice, with the ashes returned to the family) is possible and will suit some people. A memorial service can be arranged by the family in their own time and in the style they wish.

Costs will vary and depend on where you are in the country, and you may not know where the body is stored post mortem.

Many providers of low-cost direct cremation funerals are based in a part of the country where cremation costs are low and it is likely that the body will be picked up from hospital and driven cross country for an early morning “disposal”. They are unlikely to have a local branch, or offices

Your client may express a wish for a ‘DIY’ option, a home funeral. Many people do ask (at least in private) for no fuss, ‘just stick me in a box and burn me’ is something that most have us have heard from time to time. This will mean however, storing the deceased for a number of days, perhaps at home, perhaps in summer, and that means PLENTY of ice!  Purchasing a suitable coffin, or shroud needs to be approved for cremation, although burial is easier. Obtaining the correct certificates, and, if cremation is the chosen disposal option, possibly removing any pacemakers or other implants as they will explode during the cremation process, potentially damaging the cremator at huge cost.

When thinking in advance of this kind of funeral, it is vital to bear in mind the grieving friends and or relatives. This isn’t the kind of thing that can or should be forced on anyone – consult the family first. Whatever it says in a will, they may not want to have a body in their front room for a week or more and deal with all the paperwork at an already difficult time. The best sources for help with home funerals are ‘The Natural Death Centre’ and ‘Only With Love’ who specialise in this. It can be a very empowering and intimate way of saying goodbye to a loved one, but is not for everyone.

It may well be that someone has the money and desire for an expensive send off. A fancy casket, horse drawn hearse, a following procession of expensive custom limousines, extravagant flowers, orders of service and a big celebration. If it’s really important, to you or your client, that this happens then that is fine and many funeral directors will be happy to take just as much money as you wish to spend. Remember though, that almost all funeral directors (particularly those with old and familiar sounding names that now belong to a rather less familiar large chain) will charge an extremely hefty mark-up on all these things. As an example a willow coffin is usually sold for three or more times cost price and this kind of mark-up is not unusual. So, a careful plan will include suppliers such as printers and florists who may charge less if you approach them direct.

But, many people either cannot afford, or do not wish, to spend this kind of money and indeed why should they? But they still want a funeral, one that is dignified and professional, led by a professional Celebrant or Minister, with a thoughtful and carefully designed service and time for everyone to grieve. So, what’s the alternative – if direct cremation or DIY isn’t a preferred option, and a basic funeral seems undignified and still overpriced?

There is a new type of company entering the market, such as Go Simply Funerals, that don’t charge mark-ups on goods and services, don’t hide ‘disbursements’ and offer straightforward funerals, at a time that suits you with a professional to lead the ceremony.

There are other considerations. If the person lives in, or moves into a care or nursing home, then it’s vitally important to tell the home that you have a preferred funeral director. Further ensure that any preferences are written down. If possible get the care home manager to sign a copy of those instructions and leave that signed copy with the executor or next of kin. If not, then you may find that costs have suddenly increased as the nursing home may choose to have the body removed and ‘cared for’ by their ‘preferred’ funeral director, however all funeral directors will offer a direct cremation service, and it is worth shopping around, as costs vary enormously. Also check that they have included ALL fees and disbursements, as most funeral directors cannily leave them out, so as to appear cheaper.

Finally it is of course up to each of us and our loved ones how we go, but I have been to many funerals and spoken to many families before and after. What I know, is that none of them ever say – what a lovely hearse, what a great coffin, or those flowers were such an unusual idea. But, if the ceremony is right and meaningful for them, if they were well cared for with personal attention and someone that listened to them? That, they always say thank you for.

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