National Care Planning Council
National Care Planning Council

Senior Services
from our Members

Books for Care Planning

    Long Term Care BooksFind books provided by the National Care Planning Council written to help the public plan for Long Term Care. Learn More...

Eldercare Articles

    Eldercare ArticlesThe NCPC publishes periodic articles under the title "Planning for Eldercare". Each article is written to help families recognize the need for long term care planning and to help implement that planning. All elderly people, regardless of current health, should have a long term care plan. Learn More...

Join the NCPC

Guide to LTC Planning

    Guide to Long Term Care PlanningFrom its inception, the goal of the National Care Planning Council has been to educate the public on the importance of planning for long term care. With that goal in mind, we have created the largest and most comprehensive source of long term care planning material available anywhere. This material -- "Guide to Long Term Care Planning" -- is free to the public for downloading and printing on all of our web sites. Learn More...

Preplanning a Funeral and Burial

Preplanning a Funeral and Burial

Most states generally hold that funerals benefit the survivors and the person who has died has very little to say in the manner in which services are provided for his or her final interment. In some states a person can express the method of final arrangements in a will but, unless there is a sizable estate and the division is contingent upon probating the will, very few families actually execute a will in probate court. Even if there is a will at death, there is usually no reason to respect it, since most personal assets and savings have been transferred in fact, through beneficiary arrangement or by default to the survivors and the home may pass by joint tenancy, by separate probate or in a trust often wills are never used and remain at home in the drawer or in a safety deposit box.

This does not mean; however, that someone can't plan in advance for his or her funeral. There are reasons that people want to plan in advance.

  • They have been through final arrangements with their own loved ones and experienced stress in making decisions dictated by time constraints.
  • They have been concerned with what the loved one would have wanted for his or her final arrangements.
  • They have been troubled by how much they should spend and not be considered spendthrift's by those who attend the funeral.
  • Or they have wondered if the choice of funeral speakers, music and other recognition rituals had been what the loved one would have appreciated.

As a result, many older people want to spare their own family the stress they went through in burying their loved ones. They want to plan in advance for their funeral.

The person planning final arrangements provides a written plan for the family and possibly for a trusted funeral service provider outlining the details of what is to happen. A family meeting is arranged and an agreement is reached that the family will respect these last wishes. However, this is not a legal arrangement. Money can be set aside for this plan or the family may find money from other sources. If there is permanent life insurance, a portion or all of those proceeds can also be used to pay for the services and goods. The funeral services provider agrees to follow through with the plan upon approval of the family after the death. The following issues should be considered when designing a pre-arrangement plan.

  • If a funeral service provider is selected in advance, will that provider offer similar services in the future, try to pressure the family to "buy up" to more expensive options or even be in business?
  • Will the desired funeral items such as caskets, vaults or liners or grave markers be available in the future? If not, are contingency plans provided?
  • About half of the states allow a disposition authorization form to be signed before death choosing cremation or burial as a final disposition. This bypasses approval by the family. If you live in such a state and you want this provision have you checked with your funeral service provider for availability of signing the form now?
  • If there is no pre-arrangement with a service provider, will the family know how to properly shop for a funeral?
  • In some states, if cremation is desired, all family members must agree. Has this been worked out before hand?
  • Where will the money come from to provide for the funeral and burial and if it is to come from savings or insurance, has enough been set aside to allow for inflation with future costs?
  • Is the funeral program flexible enough to allow for participants who may not be available at the time of the funeral?
  • Do all family members agree on the price range or will one person bolt and insist on spending more?
  • If a nonpublic interment with no viewing, no services, no flowers and no fancy caskets is desired will the family respect this request?
  • If the person having preplanned, moves to another state is there a contingency plan?

About half of all states recognize the right of the deceased to pick the final disposition of the body -- either burial or cremation. In those states with no disposition laws, courts will likely recognize a written declaration by the decedent on his or her preference for disposition especially if the document came from a state that had a disposition law. Some states allow appointment of a designated agent for body disposition. This is most useful as it provides someone who can represent the interests of the person making the request after death occurs.

Guaranteed Issue Life Insurance

One way to informally provide future funds for a prearranged funeral and burial is to buy a life-insurance policy specifically designed for this purpose. And of course, anyone who has an existing life-insurance policy that is a permanent contract - will not lapse at some future date - can use all or a portion of that death benefit to pay for future funeral costs. Traditional life insurance policies are generally designed for younger people who are in reasonably good health. In addition, these policies are usually not available in amounts less than $50,000 in face value. Older people may qualify for these policies, but many elderly who are in good health may not want to buy a policy that large since it could be very expensive.

Some life insurance companies specialize in permanent life insurance burial policies for older ages and for people with health problems. These so-called "final expense" policies are designed to accommodate smaller amounts of death benefit and people who might normally be uninsurable through traditional policies. Available death benefits may range from $2,500 to $25,000. As an example, for a 65-year-old in reasonably good health, a permanent policy with a $10,000 death benefit might cost about $42 to $87 a month depending on the gender and smoking habits of the applicant.

The policy will generally have cash value after a certain number of years and may also increase in death benefit value in future years. For those who have cancer or heart disease or life-threatening health problems or in some other way may be uninsurable there are so-called "guaranteed issue" policies. A $10,000 policy like this for a 65 year old might cost $75 to $87 a month depending on gender.

In order to protect itself from too many premature death claims with guaranteed issue policies, the insurance company usually has some kind of a waiting period on these policies before a benefit will be paid. One arrangement might pay nothing if death occurs in the first six months, 50% of the death benefit in the second six months, and the full death benefit after the first year. Another policy might simply exclude payment for any death claim in the first two years. This policy would probably be less expensive than the one quoted above.

A major problem with final expense policies is that overhead costs, claims, commissions and other costs associated with managing these contracts make premiums much higher in proportion to death benefit than with larger policies of $100,000 or more. Final expense policies are also generally designed to be more lenient in covering the death of policyholders who may have major health problems. And those final expense policies that guarantee coverage regardless of health are obviously going to pay out death claims sooner than a policy that required someone to be in good health when they applied. All of these factors make final expense policies very expensive relative to the death benefit.

Someone in good health buying one of these policies could live a long time. Premiums are generally set up to be paid monthly or yearly as long as the person lives. Some people living a long time and paying into one of these policies could end up paying significantly more in premiums than the policy would pay at death. Such a policy is only a good idea if a person is in poor health and not expected to live very long. For someone in good health, putting money away in a savings account is usually a better option.

PreNeed (Pre-Paid) Funeral and Burial Plans

Another way to plan in advance is to sign a formal contract called a "preneed funeral plan", where money is held in a trust, in an escrow account or paid through an insurance policy. Parts of or all of the funeral service and burial are designed in advance and prefunded in advance and the family has little to do but show up. This type of planning has become very popular in recent years. A survey conducted by the AARP found that two out of five people over age 50 had been approached to pre-purchase funerals and burial goods and services.

Prepaid funerals and burials funded privately by the family, or paid from an individual life insurance policy and arranged informally through a funeral home or funeral director, are generally not subject to state regulation. Any formal arrangement through a second party or involving a contract is subject to regulation in all states. Each state has adopted different rules as to who can sell these plans, what the plans can provide, what contract provisions must be, how the plan is to be funded and what recourse purchasers might have in the event of fraud or default.

All states call these regulated plans "preneed" funeral and burial arrangements.

Here are some advantages to why one would want to buy a preneed plan for funeral and burial services and goods.

  • It provides peace of mind knowing these arrangements have been made in advance
  • It avoids the burden on family members to make decisions when they are most vulnerable to manipulation.
  • It allows one to virtually control from the grave by determining in advance the funeral products, funeral services, burial products and burial services that one would prefer having for final arrangements.
  • It helps the family to avoid taking loans, arranging finance plans, raiding savings or selling assets to pay for a funeral and burial.
  • It guarantees (for many contracts) that if products and services currently purchased are not available in the future, equivalent substitutes will be provided at no additional cost.
  • It locks in guaranteed prices (available with some contracts) forever.
  • It allows for inflation in future costs (for those contracts that do not guarantee prices) by investing money in an interest-bearing account or buying life insurance that increases in value over time.
  • Depending on the contract, it may allow for transfer to another funeral home or for partial or full refund.
  • Unfortunately, there are also problems with prepaid, preplanned final arrangements.
  • With some trust fund and insurance funding options there may be no refund if someone wants to cancel the plan in the future.
  • If a purchaser moves to another state there may be no transfer options or there may be different rules governing the funding option.
  • In some contracts, interest earnings on investments resulting in excess money not needed for the plan may be retained by the funeral home or funeral director.
  • On installment plans interest may be charged but not credited to the account.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, the ownership or death benefit may be irrevocably assigned to the contract holder, preventing the purchaser from enjoying ownership rights in the policy.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, a growth in the death benefit over time that exceeds the cost of the pre-need plan services and goods may be pocketed by the contract holder instead of being refunded.
  • If the contract provider goes out of business or fails to secure 100% of the funds for future payment, there may be no recourse to get all of the money back that was put in.
  • If certain services or goods that were purchased initially are not available in the future, but more expensive versions might be, the family may be forced to pay extra for those items.
  • In certain insurance funded plans, if the insured dies too soon, there may have been a waiting period in which few or no benefits are paid at death, thus forcing the family to pay out of pocket for the funeral.
  • Certain unscrupulous providers may have failed to provide an itemized list of services and goods or failed to identify properly, specific services and goods, thus allowing the provider in the future to substitute less expensive items or to leave out services and goods that were originally anticipated in the agreement.

Prepaid Trust Plans for Medicaid Spend Down

Medicaid rules allow someone going through a Medicaid spend down - in order to have Medicaid pick up all or part of their nursing home bill - to retain $1,500 for funeral expenses. For many that is not enough. Most states allow potential Medicaid recipients going through spend down to put up to an additional $10,000 or possibly more, with allowances for burial expenses, into an irrevocable funeral and burial plan. Preneed plans are most often used with this spend down provision.

Money must be put into a trust arrangement where the trustee will pay for funeral costs and burial costs after the death of the trust owner - the purchaser. The trust must be irrevocable meaning the purchaser of the preneed plan has no claim on the money or interest earnings. If insurance is used for funding, the ownership of the policy or the death benefit must be irrevocably assigned to the trust. Some states may not allow insurance to be used in this type of trust. Neither cash value nor the death benefit is available to the family.

Purchasers who have entered into irrevocable funeral and burial trusts may only use the funds for payment of funeral services and merchandise upon the death of the intended funeral recipient. Any excess in the trust account after payment of funeral expenses might go back to Medicaid or be returned to the local county Social Services Department in which the intended funeral recipient resided, to be earmarked for indigent burials.

Federal law protects the beneficiaries of Medicaid funeral trusts. The law allows the consumer to change funeral homes at any time prior to death without affecting the irrevocability of the arrangements themselves. If such a transfer is desired, a new irrevocable preneed agreement with the newly selected funeral home must be generated. The transfer of irrevocable preneed funds may, however, ONLY be made payable to another funeral home, or another funeral trust program.

Additionally, the law permits the beneficiary's family, at the time of need, to select different goods and services from those originally prearranged. Please note, however, that the funds in the account may only be used for payment of funeral services and merchandise. Any remaining funds in the account after payment of funeral services and merchandise must be remitted by the funeral director to the appropriate trust designated government recipient. The money cannot go back to the family.