Planning for Death: Smart Financial Advice for Your Final Wishes

financial advice, final wishes, last will
A few weeks ago, a close friend’s mother passed unexpectedly after a tragic car accident. As if the traumatic event wasn’t enough, my friend learned soon after that her mother had neglected a number of key elements of her estate plan. Though transfers of all property and finances were fully outlined in a valid will, his mom forgot to include any instructions for her after-death — meaning, how she prefers her body to spend eternity. Worse, she didn’t devote any finances to after-death, so her children are left to guess at their mother’s funerary wishes and scrounge up the appropriate funds to provide a respectful goodbye.

This occurrence got me thinking once again about the lack of foresight most people have when it comes to funeral planning. Most people have rather specific wishes in mind for their after-death arrangements — whether they be burial, cremation, or something else entirely — but more than three-quarters of people over 50 still have yet to put any of their plans into writing. Putting off your after-death preparations will likely end in disaster, both psychologically and financially, for your beneficiaries. Here’s why.

Disadvantages to Putting It Off


Americans find it particularly difficult to consider their own mortality, which means roughly 55 percent of Americans die without organizing their estate and formulating a final will. Among minorities, that statistic climbs to 74 percent. If more than half of Americans lack a legal will, you can bet that even more lack strict after-death instructions.

Considering the end of your life is difficult and often painful, but neglecting to do so will only shift that emotional discomfort to your beneficiaries. Though your surviving loved ones may have spent their lives with you, they might not know exactly how to celebrate your life in a respectful manner. As a result, they may easily overspend on amenities you don’t necessarily care for, like a luxurious casket or a bombastic eulogizer. Alternatively, they may actually underspend, neglecting to include certain traditions you find profoundly important to the end of life. No matter what, you can be sure that you won’t receive the after-death service you expect if you don’t let your loved ones know what you want ahead of time.

Worse than an unexpected service, your loved ones could easily go into severe debt attempting to pay their respects for your life. The price tag on a run-of-the-mill funeral is pushing $7,000 — while slightly fancier after-deaths stretch past $10,000 — which is a significant chunk of savings for most American families. Thus, many survivors are maxing out credit cards to afford even simple ceremonies. By taking out loans to cover costs of after-death wishes, surviving loved ones enter a state of so-called “funeral poverty,” all because you didn’t plan ahead.

Benefits of Advanced Planning

image2Simply by writing down your expectations for your after-death, you can help your surviving loved ones confidently celebrate your life and gain closure on your death. However, there is more you can do to ensure your loved ones’ comfort in their time of grief.

At the very least, you can organize your estate to include savings accounts that will pay for your after-death services. Many life insurance policies will more than cover the costs of typical arrangements; by making your policy payable to a trust, you can avoid incurring estate taxes on that money so it can go wholly toward the celebration of your life. Alternatively, you can divert the remainder of your retirement funds or any other savings accounts to pay for your after-death ceremonies.

For more complete control over the arrangement and payment of your after-death, you can pre-pay for various plans. With this method, you can claim the precise services you want without any worry from your loved ones. Often, funeral homes and cremation providers provide excellent deals to those who pay for their services in advance, which means you can save your loved ones time and hassle by organizing the event yourself. However, you might want to inform your loved ones of your pre-arrangements to ensure they do not pay twice for your after-death.

Suggestions for After-Death

Believe it or not, there are outstandingly few restrictions on how your loved ones can celebrate your life, which means you can instruct your beneficiaries to prepare any sort of service on your behalf. While standard memorial services tend to be humble and respectful, you can have any sort of after-death you like. Some alternative examples of after-death celebrations include:

  • Green burials. Using biodegradable materials and eschewing toxic chemicals, these services allow the body to benefit the Earth. Sometimes, the casket or urn will contain seeds for trees or other greenery.
  • Memorial books. Like scrapbooks, memorial books allow survivors to combine their memories of the deceased. Some sprinkle cremains in the pages to bring the pictures and souvenirs to life.
  • Personal performances. You can invite all of your loved ones — rather than a select few — to perform for you a final time, with speeches, musical instruments, or whatever they wish.

You can start planning your after-death services as soon as you like, but the longer you wait, the harder it might be to make adequate financial preparations. You can avoid giving your loved ones the heartbreak and headache of financing a funeral with some forethought and preparation today.

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