In addition, look into death benefits, which help survivors pay the costs of service and burial. Your spouse may qualify for a lump-sum payment from Social Security—currently $255. Veterans may be due a $400 payment from the Veterans Administration, as well as a free headstone and American flag. You may also be eligible for death benefits from your trade union, credit union, church, fraternal organization, or private insurance plans.
A funeral and burial together account for one of the largest dollar outlays a family is likely to make. Today, for an adult, average cost of the funeral alone— including professional services, use of facilities, casket, and local transportation of the body—is $1,207. This is higher than it needs to be because when someone you love has just died, you're not inclined to "shop around." Your impulse is to buy the best. A key factor is the casket. A simple pine box costs about $75; a double-walled, silver-plated bronze casket with velvet cushions can cost more than $8,O00. When you plan your own funeral, you can choose what you really want.
Simple services arranged through a memorial society will probably run from $150 to $400. If you decide on cremation, the cost will run from $150 to $300 to have your remains removed from the place of death, placed in an appropriate container, and cremated.
Burial costs vary greatly, but generally you will pay from $400 to $800 for interment in a private cemetery, including plot, opening and closing of the grave, and, vault or grave liner; $600 to $3,000 for a crypt in a mausoleum; $50 to $750 for a niche in a columbarium. You will pay extra for a marker. Bronze headstones start in price at about $90, stone statuary at about $100. Depending on the size, material, and workmanship, the cost of the memorial can run much higher.
To put these wide ranges into realistic perspective, let's assume that you decide on interment in a grave, and on a bronze headstone inscribed with name and dates of birth and death. Burial cost will be around $600. Placing the cremated remains in a simple urn and lodging them in an appropriately inscribed columbarium is likely to cost about $300.
To make the arrangements yourself, get in touch with either a funeral director or memorial society. All 22,000 funeral establishments in the United States are listed in the Yellow Pages, but talk first to your doctor or clergyman. They deal with various funeral directors and should be able to guide you to one with whom you'll feel comfortable.
The 130 memorial societies, sometimes called "funeral societies," are also listed in the Yellow Pages, under "Funerals" or 'Societies." These are nonprofit associations that have sprung up in response to the rising costs of traditional funerals and burials. Most have contracts or agreements with selected funeral directors, to provide members with the services they want at reasonable rates.
Normally, you join a memorial society for a nominal, one-time initiation fee—usually $10 to $20 for a family (parents and dependents) specifying on the membership form your preference as to service and burial. One copy of this form goes to the funeral director whom you designate, another to your files. When you die, your survivors call the funeral director and he provides the services you stipulated.
Consider buying a burial site in advance only if you are confident that you will live out your years where you now reside. You might also consider pre-paying your funeral expenses by setting up an interest-bearing, third-party trust fund. If your funeral director can't arrange such a trust, your bank probably can. But check first to see if your state is one of the 35 that have laws governing methods of funeral and burial prepayments.