For over a decade, I liked to think of myself as a party planner. Well, I guess I wasn’t so much of a “party planner” as I was an event coordinator. And when I say “event coordinator,” what I really mean was I organized important family gatherings and end of life rituals.
I was a funeral director.
Frankly, it’s pretty difficult to come right out and tell new friends I used to be an undertaker because I usually get one of three reactions:
- “Oooooohhhh. How nice…I’m gonna go check on the chips.”
- “That must be so sad. How do you handle it?”
- “Cool! Do you actually do the work on the…um…bodies?”
Thanks for not judging. (And yes, I actually did work on “the bodies.”)
I understand nobody wants to contemplate dying. But, I don’t think I’m breaking new ground here by stating that we’re all going to croak. It’s the simple price we pay for being alive.
None of us can escape death, so why do we refuse to talk about it?
Logistically, there are some things that must happen after you die. We can’t just leave dead bodies lying around. Plus, somebody will have to pay for your body’s “final disposition.” You know you’re going to die, so why not help your family put some plans in place?
The strange thing is, we routinely prepare for every other type of catastrophe. We insure our houses. We insure our cars. We even insure our stupid smartphones! But when it comes to our death, the one thing we actually know is going to happen, many of us choose to ignore it. Time after time, I’ve served families who were unprepared for a death and the costs associated with it – both long and short-term.
Did you know there are nearly 100 different tasks that need to be completed after somebody dies? It’s true. Along with making the big decisions, like whether your body will be buried or cremated, there are government forms to file, notifying employers and the Social Security Administration of your death, and benefits to claim. That doesn’t even include managing the details of your funeral itself. If you don’t give your family direction, they could struggle to make difficult – and sometimes expensive – decisions at a time when they’re not at their best.
Whether you’re 75 or 25, it’s important to have some sort of plan. It doesn’t have to be long and drawn-out. It doesn’t even have to be written down. But you should let your family know what you’re thinking.
Here are a few items to consider.
If you have specific wishes for what happens to you after you die, let your family know. The old “Just throw me in a pine box” isn’t going to cut it. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want your family to be able to see you if they wish? How do you feel about organ and tissue donation?
There are oodles of decisions which need to be made, and telling your family what you want done with your body is a good start.
Remember that the funeral isn’t about you. I would encourage you not to tell your loved ones you don’t want anything done. In my experience, this perpetuates the unhealthy denial of death and sometimes leads to complications later in the grief process. No matter what you do, you can’t spare them from sadness and grief. Don’t deny them the opportunity to celebrate your life…and let you go.
You’re gonna be dead anyway, so what do you care?
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Special Cremation Considerations
When it comes to a burial, things are pretty simple. Your body will be buried at a cemetery and that is that. However, choosing cremation brings its own set of special circumstances. Once the cremation is completed, there’s still the issue of what’s going to happen with your ashes. If you have a specific preference, you need to tell your family.
Generally, you have 3 options for disposing of cremated remains:
- The ashes can be placed in an urn and buried in a cemetery
- They can be scattered
- They can be placed in an urn and kept by a family member
Of course, they all have pros and cons. Using a cemetery is going to be the most expensive, but keeping them in an urn places more burden on the family. (Does anybody really want their great-great-grandma’s ashes on their mantle?) Scattering may seem beautifully romantic, but if you think the wind is going to blow you to the far corners of the Earth, it ain’t happenin’. You’re more likely to tumble to the ground in a cloud of dust and hitch a ride home in your sister’s nose hairs. Plus, the beautiful park you picked out could someday be a parking garage. The point is, you should consider all of these options before making a final decision.
You should also know that choosing cremation is an alternative to burial, not an alternative to a funeral. It’s an important distinction that is sometimes misunderstood. Funerals are ceremonies that allow friends and family to gather together and grieve. Cremation is the method by which your body is disposed. So, you can still have a funeral even if you’re being cremated. Call this gathering whatever you like – a celebration of life, a party, whatever. It’s the gathering – and the support that comes with it – that counts.
In addition to a funeral, did you know a private or public viewing can be held prior to cremation? Viewing a loved one’s deceased body can be a difficult but extremely cathartic experience that helps reinforce the reality that a death has occurred. Tell your family your wishes, but ultimately let them decide what happens. Remember, the funeral is for them, not you.
One of my least favorite tasks as a funeral director was talking about money. But, the fact is, funeral homes need to be paid in order to operate. They have buildings and utilities to pay for. They must pay their staff to be on-call 24-hours a day (including holidays). They typically front the cash for the products you pick out (like caskets, vaults, urns, etc.). It all costs money, and it isn’t always cheap. Prices are highly dependent upon where you live, but most burials will cost upwards of $8,000 to $12,000. Even for a cremation with no services, you’re still looking at a few thousand bucks.
That’s why a life insurance policy is so important.
If you are an adult with financial dependents, there is absolutely no reason not to have some term life insurance. It’s super cheap (usually less than $25 a month for $250,000 worth of coverage on a 30-year-old non-smoking male – and policies for women are usually less!), and it can save your loved ones from numerous financial burdens after your death. And, I’m not just talking about funeral costs. There’s a good chance your family may miss some work or have other expenses to pay for. That mortgage and your kids’ daycare don’t just pay themselves after you die! A good life insurance policy can help them handle those costs.
Do me a favor, and, if you don’t have life insurance, find out how much you need and then buy it.
Final Thoughts (Pun Intended)
None of us knows exactly when our time is going to be up, but we do know that we can’t escape death forever. It’s important not only to understand that you’re going to die, but you need to take action to protect your family’s financial health, as well. Discuss your final wishes with them, and help them create a financial plan for your eventual demise. It’s coming whether you like it or not, so get yo’ shiznit together fool!
Greg Johnson is a writer and entrepreneur who leveraged his online business to quit his 9-5 job, spend more time with his family, and travel the world. As a money nerd, he focuses most of his writing on topics that relate to budgeting, frugality, and investing. With his wife Holly, Greg co-owns two websites – Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. Find him on Pinterest and Twitter: @ClubThrifty.
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“After You Die” is a series we’re hosting on the Haven Life blog to help raise awareness around, well, what actually happens when you die and what you should consider planning while you’re still living. Our team and guest bloggers will tackle topics like: handling your social channels, what happens with your life insurance policy, how to handle your money and more. Remember: talking about death won’t make it happen sooner. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.