Funeral options and general costs

There are many funeral options. Here are some of the choices:

Full service funeral: Traditional full-service funerals are typically conducted in a funeral home or church. A full-service funeral generally includes a viewing, service, transportation of remains, funeral director fee and burial or cremation. Additional services, each at an extra cost, are available, including embalming and dressing the body, funeral home rental, burial container, family transportation, obituary notice and flowers. The cost for a full-service funeral varies, depending on geographical regions and the funeral home, but the average cost, not including burial plot and headstone, is $7,000 to $12,000.

Immediate burial: An immediate burial occurs shortly after death and does not include such services as a viewing. The deceased is typically buried in a basic, inexpensive casket or container. This kind of burial is sometimes referred to a "green burial" because there is no embalming. The costs for an immediate burial include a service fee for the funeral director, transportation, the burial container and care of the body. The average cost is $800 to $1,800.

Cremation: Cremation occurs quickly after death and does not include a viewing or embalming. A memorial service to honor the deceased often follows the cremation and can be conducted with or without the remains. The remains are placed in an urn, which can be kept at home, placed in a niche or crypt or buried, or the ashes can be scattered. The costs of a cremation typically include a basic funeral director's fee, transportation and care of the body. There may be additional charges for such things as an urn, memorial service at the funeral home, and, if the container is buried, the cost of the plot or crypt. The average cremation

Should you preplan or prepay for a funeral?

Most people don't want to think about their funeral. However, dying with no plans clearly expressed in a will or other means can strain your loved ones during an already difficult time. Preplanning also ensures that you can make decisions without a rush and that your final wishes will be carried out. Another benefit is that you can take time to research and be sure you're dealing with a reputable funeral home.

Be aware that preplanning does not require prepayment. While it may be true that paying funeral expenses ahead of need can lock you into current, lower prices, some experts advise against it. They recommend that individuals preplan by documenting their funeral desires and notifying family, but they advise setting money aside in a checking or savings account and adding a POD (payable on death) designation. Your bank or credit union will have you fill out a form so the money can be paid to the person who will be taking care of your funeral arrangements. Consider talking to a certified financial planner about the best approach for taking care of funeral expenses.

If you do consider prepayment through a funeral home or other entity, ask what happens to your money if you want to transfer the funds to a different funeral home or if the funeral home you’ve selected goes out of business. Be aware that most states require you to deposit prepaid funds into a trust or insurance policy, but safeguards vary widely, and some laws offer little or no effective consumer protection. Only a few states have established funds that cover, to some extent, funeral costs when prepayment funds go missing. Those states are Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia.

Whether you're preplanning your own funeral or needing to arrange services for a loved one, Angie's List can be a valuable resource. Funeral homes are among more than 500 categories in which members can access local consumer reviews.

Tips for avoiding funeral scams

Unfamiliarity with the funeral industry can expose consumers to fraudulent schemes that range from overpaying for goods and services to embezzlement of prepaid funds. In an attempt to help consumers, the Federal Trade Commission in 1984 established the Funeral Rule, which requires funeral providers to give consumers detailed information about the services they provide and their costs.

Angie’s List tips:

• Shop around. According to the FTC’s Funeral Rule, you have the right to visit any funeral home and request a General Price List. Visit several funeral homes and use the lists  to compare prices. If a funeral home says you must buy a certain kind of casket, urn or service, ask why and find out if there's a law or regulation requiring it.

• Licensing is mandatory. Confirm a funeral director’s license by checking with the licensing board in your state. Requirements vary from state to state, but most require that funeral directors be at least 21 years old, have two years of education (including mortuary science), have served a one-year apprenticeship and passed an exam.

• Schedule a meeting with the funeral director. Take this time to ask the director your questions to help gauge if they would be a good company for you to use.

• If you have a problem, act. It's best to start by trying to resolve the matter with the funeral director, but If you still have issues, file a complaint with the FTC and your state attorney general's office.

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