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Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

Do You Know About These 8 Cemetery Expenses?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

When you buy a car or plan a vacation or throw a 50th anniversary party, you take time to consider your options and review your budget. If you’re planning to purchase a cemetery burial space – whether now or in the future – it’s always a good idea to follow the same practice. While purchasing a plot or niche may seem straightforward, there are some expenses that you may not know about. Today, let’s talk about 8 cemetery expenses to consider as you financially prepare to purchase a burial space in your chosen cemetery.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

1. Burial Permit

By law, there are certain rules and regulations around the proper care and disposal of a human body. Before a person can be buried, the funeral home must apply for and obtain a burial permit. Without this document, burial cannot take place, so it’s an important step in the process. Your funeral director will apply for the permit on your behalf, so there’s nothing you will need to do. However, the burial permit does come with a fee. The amount will vary from state to state, so if you’d like to know the cost in your state, make sure to ask your funeral director.

Woman wearing black dress holding gray granite urn close in her arms

2. Casket or Urn

This next one is a bit self-explanatory. If you have opted for full-body burial, you will need to purchase a casket. There are many different types available in a variety of price ranges, so you should find something that works for your specific needs. If you’ve opted for cremation, you can either place the cremated remains in a niche or bury them in a plot. Either way, you will need an urn to house the ashes. Speak with a funeral director to get a good sense of the cost of urns and caskets in your area. They can explain the pros and cons of the different materials and types.

Cemetery worker overseeing arrival of an outer burial container

3. Outer Burial Container

When a casket or an urn is buried, it is placed in an outer burial container. This container (often made of concrete) prevents the ground from shifting too much as the dirt around the grave settles. There are long-term benefits to preventing the ground from settling unevenly. For example, the cemetery grounds remain level (fewer tripping hazards), routine maintenance is easier and less expensive, and headstones are less likely to shift and tip over time. Unless it’s a “green” cemetery, most burial grounds require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

There are two types of outer burial containers: grave liners and burial vaults. To learn more about them, read “Grave Liners & Burials Vaults: What’s the Difference?

Wall of cremation niches with flowers

4. Plot or Niche

And here’s another obvious expense – the plot or niche itself. The offerings at every cemetery will be a bit different, and costs will vary depending on where you live. Additionally, certain sections of the cemetery may come with a higher price tag. It’s also likely that if you want a plot close to a water feature, bench, or something similar, the cost may go up. The best way to nail down what a plot or niche costs is to speak with cemeteries that service your area. Then, with the information you’ve gathered, you can select the cemetery and plot option that best fit your specific needs.

Opening of a grave at a cemetery

5. Opening & Closing of the Grave

If you have chosen casket or urn burial for your final disposition, then you will also need to consider the cost of opening and closing the grave. But what does it mean to open and close the grave? This fee includes digging the grave itself, preparing the ground around the site for the graveside service, back-filling the ground once services are complete, and then landscaping the area to restore and preserve the beauty of the burial space. The cemetery employs maintenance and grounds staff to ensure that this necessary function is done well and correctly for each family.

Well-maintained headstones and graves in a cemetery

6. Headstone or Grave Marker

There’s one thing you will always find at any final resting place – a headstone or grave marker. Grave markers come in a variety of types, so there are quite a few options to consider. Do you want a more traditional headstone made of granite? Or do you prefer a flat, bronze marker? Do you need a simple plaque for a cremation niche? Would you like to add custom details to the grave marker, like a gravestone recipe or an inscription or image? The cemetery or funeral home can direct you to a reputable monument company, who will work with you to create a marker that commemorates a loved one’s life for generations to come.

Close-up of red rose resting on a grave marker

7. Headstone Installation

Related to the grave marker, there may be an additional expense to properly install the headstone once it’s complete. When you are speaking with cemetery personnel, make sure to ask if they have an installation fee and if it varies depending on the type of grave marker. For example, it may cost less to install a single grave marker than to install one that includes multiple names. Having this information will help you make decisions regarding what type of headstone you want to commission for a loved one’s grave.

Person pulling weeds around a grave

8. Perpetual Care

One final cemetery expense to consider is perpetual care. But what is perpetual care? Basically, this fee is paid into the cemetery maintenance fund. The fund is then used for groundwork, security, and other tasks like mowing, weeding, or maintaining pathways and signage. In this way, the grave is looked after and cared for regularly for years to come. Sometimes the service includes headstone maintenance, but often, it does not. Generally, perpetual care is a one-time fee that is 5-15% of the burial plot’s price. However, it can vary, so make sure to ask the cemetery for more specifics.

Outdoor mausoleum wall with memorial flowers

What Next?

There’s a lot of information out there about average costs for burial, but it’s best not to rely too much on generalities. It’s true that if you live in Arkansas, your burial costs are going to be lower than if you live in California. However, within California, burial in one area of the state may cost less than another. The best way to figure out average burial costs in your area is to speak with a few cemeteries where you live. That way, you can get a good sense of the average.

Before we go, it’s worth noting that you may want to purchase a cemetery plot early. Planning ahead for funeral and cemetery wishes is an easy process and can save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run. By taking time now to speak with a funeral home and a cemetery, you can remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders and ensure that everything meets your wishes and stays within your budget. You can reach out to a trusted funeral home to learn more about the benefits of planning for funeral wishes in advance.

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting on couch at home, reviewing documents together

5 Ways to Save Money When Funeral Planning

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools No Comments

Across all businesses and industries, prices are going up. Gas prices, groceries, housing, transportation, manufacturing, and yes, even funeral costs. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2021, the average cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848 while the average cost of a funeral with cremation was around $6,971. In the coming years, these numbers will continue to increase, so the question is…is there a way to save money on a funeral?

Perhaps the most effective way to save money is to plan ahead for your funeral wishes. This is called “advance funeral planning” or “preplanning.” But before we talk about why preplanning is the best option, let’s discuss a few other avenues to consider when trying to save money on funeral expenses.

1. Choose a Preferred Funeral Home Partner

Two men in suits shaking hands

Funeral services and merchandise prices vary greatly even within the same general vicinity. Every funeral home is required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule to present you with a complete price list upon request that is yours to keep. They must also give you price information over the phone if you ask for it. Do a little investigating before deciding on your funeral home of choice to find the right fit for you.

Some funeral homes offer package pricing, but make sure you understand what’s included in the package and what’s not. Also, consider the quality of the facilities and the staff when making a decision. The adage “You get what you pay for” is very true when choosing a funeral provider. Sometimes, spending a little more to receive better service, quality products, and attentive staff may be worth it.

2. Look into Veterans’ Burial Benefits

Next of kin receiving a folded flag during a veteran funeral

If you or your spouse is a veteran, you can save money on a funeral by applying for veterans’ burial benefits. If you meet the VA’s requirements, you (and your spouse) may be eligible to receive a free burial space at a state or national cemetery, a burial vault or grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, and a government-furnished headstone. These benefits can save you thousands of dollars in burial costs. To learn more, you can speak with a local funeral director or go directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs and speak with a Veteran Services Officer. You can also learn more by reading Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ.

3. Select Options that Fit into Your Budget

Dark wood casket with funeral spray resting on top

When you’re planning a funeral or memorial service, the funeral director is there to discuss your options and guide you through the planning process. But every decision is up to you. And if you are concerned about the cost, let your funeral director know. They will work closely with you to offer affordable options that meet your needs and fit your budget.

In general, cremation may save you the cost of a casket, full burial space, opening and closing of the grave, and a vault. However, you may still opt for a lower-cost cremation niche or burial in a cremation garden so that loved ones have a permanent memorial to visit after the death.

Another option that can offer some savings is a natural (or green) burial. Green burial options are not only easier on the environment, but they can also be easier on your wallet. Generally, green burial involves a biodegradable casket made of wood, bamboo, or wicker, no burial vault, and minimal or no embalming. However, green burial is not available everywhere, so ask your funeral director about the availability in your area.

Silver urn at a memorial service, man lightly touching the lid in remembrance

Keep in Mind, Sometimes Cutting Corners May Not Pay Off

Many families think that opting for a cremation with no service is their best option for saving money. It’s true that a direct cremation is probably the least expensive option, but you should also consider the emotional cost of not having a funeral or memorial service.

Nationally respected grief expert Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt believes that the funeral or memorial service is an essential part of the healing process. The funeral is a rite of passage, like a graduation or wedding ceremony. Skipping a loved one’s funeral or memorial ceremony can leave the bereaved feeling isolated and frustrated by unexpressed grief. If you are leaning toward cremation, be sure to allow an opportunity for friends and family to gather together. The experience will be a meaningful time of reflection and mutual support.

To learn more, take a moment to read Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony.

4. Do Some Things Yourself

Funeral program with red rose resting on top of it

There may be certain aspects of the funeral arrangements that you can do yourself or ask your social network to help you with.

For example, you may ask family members to bring potluck dishes to save on the cost of a caterer. If you want a tribute video, you may know someone who is good with video editing who can assist you. You could design and print your own programs. And if you want, you can even purchase a casket or urn online. Remember, anything you do on your own must be coordinated with the funeral home to ensure the best possible experience.

While you may want to do some things yourself, the funeral home staff is there to alleviate any or all of these burdens for you. Remember, your time is valuable, too.

5. Plan Ahead for Your Funeral Wishes

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting on couch at home, reviewing documents together

Finally, the best thing you can do to save money on funeral expenses is to plan ahead. If you are dealing with a death right now, this advice comes a little too late, but keep it in mind for the future. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral provider, ask to speak with a prearrangement specialist. Most funeral homes offer free advance funeral planning services, so take advantage of this opportunity to understand your options.

When planning ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. On top of that, you can sign up for a prepaid funeral insurance policy, which can grow over the years and cover the cost of inflation.

Mature husband and wife sitting at home reviewing funeral options with funeral director

To learn more about advance funeral planning and prepaid funeral insurance policies, check out these resources:

As you can see, there are several different ways to save when planning a funeral. If you are planning a funeral or have a loved one who may pass away soon, be open with your funeral director about your financial situation. The vast majority of funeral directors deeply care about your needs and situation and will help you identify the options that work best for you. And if you aren’t currently planning a funeral, consider doing a little advance preparation. By doing so, you not only save money, but you also protect your family from future stress and worry.

Mature woman sitting down with female doctor, reviewing paperwork together

Developing Your Advance Care Directive

By Educational, Estate Planning, Planning Tools

Have you recorded your preferences for medical care through an Advance Care Directive? Most people remember to write a will and put their funeral wishes in writing, but it’s also a good idea to lay out your wishes for medical care. By creating an Advance Care Directive, you give your family valuable insight into what type of medical care you prefer. That way, if you ever become incapacitated, they know what decisions to make regarding your health. Let’s take a deeper look at the Advance Care Directive – what it is and how to plan for it.

Mature woman talking with her doctor about her medical preferences

Advance Care Directives Explained

An Advance Care Directive (ACD), also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive (AHD), ensures that your medical wishes will be followed when you cannot speak or are no longer in a mental state to make decisions. By planning out your wishes in writing ahead of time, you provide healthcare professionals with important guidelines for medical care.

Three key documents make up the Advance Care Directive: the living will, the healthcare power of attorney, and the DNR/DNI order.

What is a Living Will?

The living will is the most common type of ACD. Not to be confused with a Last Will & Testament, which deals with decisions to be carried out after your death, the living will is written to explain the kinds of medical care you wish to receive and those you do not. It helps doctors and your family make important decisions regarding tests, medicines, surgeries, blood transfusions, CPR, and feeding tubes.

Paperwork for healthcare power of attorney and living will

What is the Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A living will does not technically allow you to designate a person to make decisions for you. For this, you will need to turn to a healthcare power of attorney. However, you can combine these two forms into one document. The person who represents your wishes is often referred to as a healthcare proxy, and their authority will be limited to decisions of a medical nature. Legal and financial choices do not fall under their jurisdiction. Choose someone you trust to follow your wishes and make decisions with your best interests in mind.

What are DNR and DNI Orders?

Though DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and DNI (Do Not Intubate) orders may be included in the living will, they don’t have to be. A DNR prevents a medic from performing CPR, and a DNI prevents the use of breathing tubes.  You can also verbally communicate these orders to your physician, who will put them in their medical records.

Man sitting down with this doctor, talking together

7 Tips for Developing Your Advance Care Directives

According to the National Institute on Aging, more than one in four Americans will have medical decisions made when they are incapacitated. That means more than 25% of us will need loved ones to make medical decisions on our behalf. Without an ACD, this can be a very stressful time for physicians, friends, and family members.

To ensure you receive the care you want and make things easier for your family in a medical emergency, consider filling out your advance care directives.

Mature woman sitting down with female doctor, reviewing paperwork together

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Consider your family’s medical history

By examining the medical issues that run in your family, you can construct a good genetic map for determining potential health problems. For example, suppose older family members have suffered strokes. In that case, you may spend some time researching strokes to determine the kinds of decisions that would need to be made if this ever happened to you.

2. Determine your values

What is most important to you? Would you like to be kept alive by any means necessary? If so, provide clear instructions for doing so. Or are there specific issues that would reduce your quality of life so completely that you would rather not have your life prolonged artificially? If feeding tubes and breathing machines are out of the question for you, make this known so that physicians and loved ones don’t have to worry about making the wrong decision.

Two people sitting across from each other at table, touching hands, focus on hands

3. Talk to your loved ones

Once you have started considering the medical decisions you would like to make, bounce your ideas off the people closest to you. Ask for feedback from family members to see what they think of your plan. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s your plan, and you don’t want to change your directives to conform to the will of others. But it can be useful to get the opinions of people you trust.

4. Research your state laws

As is the case with most medical issues, rules and regulations on advance care directives vary to a certain degree from state to state. Research your state’s laws ahead of time so that you ensure all of your wishes are interpreted or documented in a legally valid way. A lawyer can be helpful in this area, but it’s not required.

5. Seal the deal

Consult with your doctor and talk through your wishes together. Your doctor can help you identify any gaps in your medical preferences. Then, fill out the required forms according to your state’s laws.

Man and his elderly father looking at medical documents together

6. Keep it handy

Once you have completed your ACD, make sure that it is readily accessible. Provide copies for your doctor and your family members. Also, keep copies of your directives in a readily accessible location. It may be a good idea to put a copy in your wallet or the glove compartment of your car for quick and easy access.

7. Reviewing your ACD

If you change your mind about any issue, don’t worry. You can always update it to reflect more current wishes. If you do this, destroy all previous copies to avoid future confusion. Also, don’t forget to give copies of your new directives to family members.

Start Planning Today

While older adults most need ACDs, people of all ages can benefit from a little preparation. After all, tomorrow is never promised. A sudden onset of an illness or an accident could force your family and physician to make some tough decisions. Consider taking these precautionary steps. That way, you can rest assured that your family and healthcare team will know how to proceed.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Woman holding a credit card while sitting on her couch

5 Ways to Avoid Emotional Overspending on a Funeral

By Educational, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Have you ever bought something because of your emotions, like sadness, anxiety, or stress? Most of us have used purchasing to make us feel better. In fact, as many as 69% of Americans say that their feelings have influenced their spending at one time or another.

Because the days following the death of a loved one are often filled with sadness, anxiety, or stress, it’s not uncommon for a family to emotionally overspend when making funeral arrangements. But there are ways to ensure that you honor and celebrate a loved one’s life personally and meaningfully without emotionally overspending.

Let’s look at 5 ways to prevent emotional overspending when planning a funeral for someone you love.

Woman in pink cardigan sitting at table at home making a budget

1. Set a Budget

After the death of a loved one, you will attend an arrangement conference at the funeral home. At this meeting, you will sit down with a funeral director and discuss all available options. It’s a time to ask questions, become familiar with the possibilities, and discover the best way to honor your loved one’s life.

However, before you head into the meeting, look at your finances. What type of budget are you working with? Are there any family members who can chip in to help you pay for funeral expenses? Did the deceased have a funeral insurance policy, a final expense plan, or a life insurance policy? With a little advance preparation, you can set a budget to guide your decisions as you speak with a funeral director.

Woman holding a credit card while sitting on her couch

2. Give Yourself Time to Think

Some people are more open about discussing death than others. But if your loved one never told you what kind of service they wanted, you’re left to make all the decisions on your own. Because you love them deeply, your first impulse may be to buy the absolute best of everything. The most expensive casket. The top-of-the-line engraving. The cemetery plot with the best location.

If you want these things for your loved one, go for it! However, if they don’t fit into your budget, take a day to think about it. If, after 24 hours, you decide you’d like to go all out, the funeral director will help you do that and pull out all the stops. On the other hand, if you decide to make some adjustments to the plan, the funeral director will offer solutions that will both honor your loved one and more closely align with your budget.

Older man with gray beard holding up hands as he says no to something

3. Resist Social Pressure

All kinds of external sources inform our decisions. “I need that dress because it’s ‘in’ this year.” “I should drive a sports car because that’s what people do who have it made.” “My sibling had a big wedding; I should, too.” When planning a funeral, don’t feel like you need to keep up with the Joneses. That can be very expensive, and what’s right for one person may not be right for another.

So, as you decide how to honor your loved one’s life, keep their life at the forefront of your mind. Were they an outgoing or quiet person? Did they like big parties or close gatherings? Did they like to eat? Ride horses? Crochet? Golf? Work with their hands? Read? Thinking about their personality and their life decisions will help you decide how best to honor their memory at a funeral.

Man and woman sitting down with a professional to discuss

4. Take a Level-Headed Friend with You

If you know you’re not in the best state of mind following a loved one’s death, consider taking a level-headed friend with you to the arrangement conference. Choose someone you trust who isn’t directly affected by the death. Their steadiness will help settle your emotions and possibly protect you from making an impulse decision. On top of that, they may think of questions or solutions you don’t because their mind is not clouded by grief.

Man and wife talking with professional in the comfort of their home

5. Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes

While these tips will help you prevent emotional overspending at a time of loss, the best way to prevent emotional overspending is to prepare in advance. If you have communicated your funeral wishes to family and friends, then they know exactly what you want and won’t be left wondering on the day they plan the funeral.

You might also consider pre-funding your funeral plan. Funeral homes offer prepaid funeral insurance policies that allow you to pay for a funeral in advance. Essentially, you decide what kind of funeral you want, the funeral home gives you a cost estimate, and once you’re satisfied, you sign up for an insurance policy. Over the next several years, you pay premiums until the insurance policy is paid in full. This way, all your wishes are outlined and fully paid for when the time comes. Your family just needs to choose a time and date for the services. And there’s no need to worry about emotional overspending!

Whether you pre-fund your funeral or simply record your funeral wishes, your family will be able to make good financial decisions at a time of loss because they know what you wanted.

Husband and wife sitting on couch at home as they speak with a funeral professional

If planning ahead for funeral wishes is a new concept for you or you’re skeptical, check out these resources for additional information:

Hopefully, these 5 suggestions will you avoid emotional overspending as you plan a loved one’s final tribute. Remember, the funeral directors and funeral home staff are there to serve you. They don’t make decisions – you do! Share your ideas and preferences, ask questions, and consider all the options. The funeral director will work with you and offer affordable options that meet your budget AND honor your loved one.

Older man in blue shirt sitting at a table at home with a laptop and notepad in front of him

8 Tips for Managing Your Digital Estate

By Estate Planning

While the internet and advances in technology have made so many aspects of life easier, they’ve made estate planning a little bit harder. Now, you not only need to focus on planning the funeral and dividing up your estate, but you must also decide what should happen to all the online accounts in your name. After all, the last thing your family needs is for a portion of your identity to float around in cyberspace. But not to worry – with these 8 tips, you can easily organize and manage your digital estate!

Older man in blue shirt sitting at a table at home with a laptop and notepad in front of him

1. Create an inventory of your digital material

Before doing anything else, make sure that you are aware of all of your online material (at least the most important sites). This may seem obvious, but it’s the first step. You can’t make a plan if you don’t know what to include. Consider social media accounts, email information, blogs, online shopping, pictures, and videos. There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s best to understand the entirety of your digital estate before you go any further.

2. Use an online resource or app as a tool to organize your assets

If you haven’t already, consider investing in a password manager app that allows you to store your passwords, usernames, pins, and any other login information in a secure place. There are also free options available, if you prefer. These apps function as a sort of vault for your digital assets. This is an easy way to compile everything so that it can be easily accessible to loved ones. However, be sure to do some thorough research on the company you choose to make sure they have a good reputation.

Man standing at computer typing in password; lock on screen denotes privacy and protected password

3. Keep your digital inventory up to date

After you organize your digital information, be sure to update your list or password manager every time you update your passwords or create a new account. Also, don’t include passwords in your will because the will ends up in the public records, which raises safety concerns. However, make sure that your emergency contacts have access to your computer and phone pass codes. Many people forget that their devices (and all the information stored on them) are often inaccessible to loved ones after they die without those very important codes.

4. Review company policies regarding accounts of the deceased

Many companies have a default plan regarding what happens to a customer’s account upon their death. For example, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn all have different policies for dealing with a deceased person’s personal information. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with each company’s policy, particularly social media accounts, so you can determine the best course of action. For more information, read How to Create a Memorial Page on Facebook and Instagram.

Woman sitting in chair at home, checking social media accounts

5. Provide instructions on your preferences

Once you have everything organized, appoint a representative who will act on your behalf and follow your instructions regarding your online information. Though username and password information should not go in the will, you can designate your representative in the will and provide general instructions. Be in contact with your representative to make sure that he or she knows where and how to obtain your personal information.

6. Make sure that loved ones know to act fast

Many companies have a legal right to the ownership of your account after you die. In most cases, the account is merely shut down and the material lost. However, if your family members need to access a particular account, they should act fast before the company deletes the account.

If it’s a social media account, your family can gain access to post a final tribute or retrieve photos and videos. If it’s an email, they may be able to transfer information before the account is terminated. However, most major institutions – like life insurance companies and banks – require a death certificate in order to update the account, so you can take your time with those types of businesses.

Woman in pink doing a search on her phone

7. Check your state’s laws

As with so many legal issues, digital estate planning may vary based on the laws of your state. Some states have specific laws for handling the online material of a deceased person. Other states have no such laws regarding these issues. To ensure that you’re doing things according to the book, look into the guidelines of your individual state.

8. Plan ahead

While it’s tempting to procrastinate, everything is much smoother for your family members when your estate is planned and organized. Imagine how stressful it would be to not even know which life insurance company to call when making a claim. With an ever-increasing portion of our lives dedicated to cyberspace, it’s important that you begin to think about the management of your online content. By developing a plan ahead of time and organizing your thoughts and wishes, you can make things easier on your loved ones in the future.

For more useful information about estate planning, check out:

Woman in a yellow shirt looking at papers

How to Make an Estate Planning Checklist

By Estate Planning

Most of us know that estate planning is important, but many people don’t take care of their estate planning because they find it intimidating. There are so many estate planning documents to consider, so how do you know where to start?

A checklist is a great place to start! Starting with a checklist can help you track what you’ve already taken care of and what you still need to work on. You can make your estate planning checklist using the points below, or you can download our estate planning checklist here.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Gather What You Have

Woman in a yellow shirt looking at papers

For families who have recently lost a loved one, it can be difficult to track down all of the documents they need for death certificates, life insurance, veterans’ benefits applications, and closing an estate. You can help your family by gathering these documents and putting them in a safe, secure location. Important documents include:

  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, or adoption
  • Education records
  • Employment records
  • Military records
  • Property deeds
  • Car title and registration
  • Medicare/Medicaid information
  • Copy of most recent income tax return

Don’t forget to let your emergency contacts know where these documents are stored so they can find them if needed.


paper that says last will and testament

When most people think of estate planning, they usually think of writing a will. A legal will is one way to make your wishes about your assets known; the other option is usually a living trust. Without one of these two plans, the state will distribute your assets, so they may not go to the people you want. Whether you choose to distribute your assets through a will or a living trust is up to you. Talking to your financial advisor or an estate planning attorney can help you pick the right option for you and your family. Plus, an estate planning attorney can help you know what you should and shouldn’t put in your will.

End-of-Life Care Documents

Nurse holding a hospice patient's hand

End-of-life care documents determine what will happen to you and your assets if you become incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions. There are two types of end-of-life care documents: powers of attorney and advance care directives.

Powers of attorney (POAs) allow you to choose a person (called an agent) to make decisions on your behalf when you can’t. You can either have a general POA that selects one agent to look over all of your affairs or specific POAs, like healthcare or financial, that give your agent control over one aspect of your affairs.

Advance care directives are documents that let your family know what medical decisions you’re okay with and which you don’t want. These can be separate documents, like DNR or DNI orders, or combined into one document. When choosing what medical procedures you want, make sure your wishes are on file with your doctor.

Digital Assets

Older man looking at a laptop

One part of estate planning that’s easy to forget is your digital estate! Your digital assets are all your online accounts, rewards points, subscriptions, online bills, and digital photos and videos. Deciding what should be done with your digital assets is an important part of estate planning that shouldn’t be overlooked. Start by making a list of all of your digital assets (see our checklist for a long list of potential assets). After you’ve listed your assets, you’ll need to determine what should be done with each one after you’re gone.

Advance Funeral Planning

Older couple planning a funeral in advance

Prearranging your funeral is another essential part of your estate plan. Making decisions about a funeral after a loved one’s death can be stressful, especially if your family doesn’t know your wishes. When you preplan, you’ll remove their doubt and uncertainty by answering the many questions they might have. Plus, you’ll have the option to prepay, which can save your family from the stress of waiting for life insurance money to come through. Assets like life insurance and bank accounts can be tied up for weeks or even months, while the funds in a prepaid funeral plan are available right away. To start preplanning, you can call your local funeral home and schedule a time to speak with a funeral director about your wishes.

While creating your checklist, you can always add other things you want to take care of, like taking care of your small business or making plans for minors in your care. It’s also a good idea to consult with an estate planning attorney to learn about your state’s individual laws and your options. Once your estate planning checklist is finished, you’ll be ready to tackle estate planning and ensure everything is taken care of!

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

5 Emotional Benefits to Funeral Preplanning

By Educational, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

There are many practical benefits to funeral preplanning – like saving money, qualifying for Medicaid, and having funeral funds set aside to pay for everything – but did you know there are also emotional benefits? And let’s be honest – the emotional part of death is the hardest part. So, if you’re on the fence about planning ahead for your funeral wishes, take a look at these 5 emotional benefits that preplanning can give your family during a time of grief and loss.

1. Preplanning reduces stress

Woman sitting at home with a cup of tea, feet resting on coffee table, no stress

After the death of a loved one, it falls to the surviving family members to plan the funeral with the help of a local funeral home. If there’s no advance preparation, that means the family will have to answer 130+ questions in a short period of time. On top of that, they will have to come up with the funds to pay for the funeral, and most families aren’t prepared to take on that kind of unexpected financial responsibility. But with funeral preplanning, you can reduce the stress your family will feel by answering all the questions ahead of time. And if you want, you can set aside funds to cover all the costs.

2. Preplanning removes doubt and uncertainty

Looking down at a pair of black dress shoes; three arrows indicating different directions to choose; which to choose

Have you ever had to make an important decision without first speaking to your spouse? It’s hard, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. That’s what happens when a loved one doesn’t leave instructions about their funeral wishes. When faced with planning a loved one’s final tribute, surviving family members often feel deeply uncertain and doubt the decisions they made.

Was cremation the right choice? Should we have had a viewing to say our last goodbyes? Could we have done more to personalize the service? By putting your funeral wishes in writing, you remove these feelings of indecision. Instead, your family can honor your life the way you want and feel good about it.

3. Preplanning prevents hurt feelings

Son and three sons hugging; family close-knit

What happens when everyone is feeling stressed and no one knows what to do? Stress increases, opinions come out, and arguments begin to simmer. When it’s unclear how to proceed with the funeral plans, surviving family members may begin to disagree on how to proceed.

For example, your son may prefer burial while your daughter thinks cremation is best. Or your spouse is worried about expenses while your children want a big extravagant event. With 130+ questions to answer, there’s a lot of room for argument and hurt feelings. However, when your preferences are clearly outlined with funeral preplanning, your family knows what you want. They can then use that roadmap to honor your life and legacy.

4. Preplanning provides a sense of stability

Young couple talking to funeral director about a loved one's advance funeral plan

It may sound weird, but funeral preplanning can actually give your family a sense of stability and control. When a loved one dies, routines are disrupted, and everything feels out of sync, upended, out of control. But when there’s a plan in place, a feeling of stability returns. They don’t have to wade through a sea of uncertainty without a compass. Instead, your advance funeral plan becomes an anchor amidst the whirlwind of planning. The first days following a loss are the hardest, and that sense of stability can soothe emotions and calm fears.

5. Preplanning brings peace of mind

Young family playing a game during a grandparent visit; everyone happy and at peace

Lastly, funeral preplanning can bring peace of mind to you and your family. For your family, they can rest easy, knowing that you’ve taken care of everything. The selections have been made. The music and venue chosen. The vital statistics are already on file at the funeral home. All your family has to do when the time comes is to choose a date and time. And you can rest in the knowledge that you’ve done everything you can to care for your family and make a difficult experience a little bit easier. That’s a beautiful gift.

Before we go, one more thing.

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

Quick Tip: Invite Others to Plan with You

One of the benefits of planning ahead for your funeral wishes is that it gives you time to consider all the options and choose what best fits your personality and preferences. As you plan, you’ll definitely want to work with a reputable local funeral home. The funeral director can help you understand your options and act as a resource throughout the advance planning process.

However, also consider inviting your family into the planning process. Yes, you are putting a plan in place to help them, but they can also help you. You may think that a simple burial with no service would be easiest, but your family may want to have a funeral service and invite friends and extended family to pay their respects. The funeral is about your life, but it’s also about your family’s emotional needs. Consider listening to what they think and incorporating some of those ideas into your funeral wishes.

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