Know your rights
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces a federal law commonly known as the "Funeral Rule," which regulates how funeral providers must deal with consumers. Among its provisions:
Upon request, funeral homes must provide an itemized price list of all its goods and services, whether you call (even anonymously) or visit in person.
You have the right to choose among their offerings (with certain state-mandated exceptions) and are not required to purchase package deals containing unwanted items.
Before you purchase a casket or outer burial container from a funeral home, they must share descriptions and prices before showing you stock on hand - so you'll know whether less expensive alternatives are available.
You have the right to purchase certain items, such as caskets and cremation urns, from outside vendors; and by law, the funeral home cannot assess handling fees.
Providers that offer cremations must make alternative containers (besides caskets) available.
You can't be charged for embalming procedures you didn't authorize, unless they're required by state law.
The FTC's website includes much helpful information including tips for planning a funeral, a comprehensive publication called "Funerals: A Consumer Guide," and links to organizations that can help with funeral arrangements (see various tabs at www.ftc.gov/funerals).
For many people, funeral and burial expenses can easily reach $10,000 or more, once you factor in a burial plot, funeral services, viewing and visitation schedules, flowers, obituary notices, limousines, etc. Caskets alone often cost thousands of dollars - although many third-party and online retailers now carry them.
Some people set aside money ahead of time to cover costs. One option is to open a payable-on-death bank account naming the person handling your death arrangements as beneficiary, so the money will be available immediately without going through probate. Ask your bank for details.
Make your wishes known
Spell out in your will any burial and ceremony preferences, as well as your stance on issues such as cremation or donating your body to science. That way, you'll spare your family from having to make difficult decisions at an emotionally stressful time - including possibly being pressured into spending more than they can reasonably afford.
Preplanning vs. prepaying
If you're comfortable doing so, preplanning your own funeral arrangements can help ease your family's burden. By researching and visiting a few providers, you'll have a better idea of what's available and what things cost.
Some people opt to prepay their arrangements, but the FTC advises caution and recommends you ask potential funeral home candidates:
What happens to money and interest earned that you've prepaid?
Are prices locked in, or can they charge due to inflation?
Are you protected if the firm goes out of business?
Can you cancel the contract and be reimbursed if you change your mind?
Can the prepaid plan be transferred if you move elsewhere?
As always, it's a good idea to check with a financial advisor before committing to any contract.
The death of a loved one is always upsetting, but you may be able to ease your family's burden by planning ahead.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.