by Dr. Charlotte Gorman
Americans arrange for more than two million funerals for their families and friends each year. Some people spend more for a funeral than for any other single "item" they buy. According to the National Funeral Director's Association, the average cost for a funeral in 2001 was $5,180 and does not include vault, cemetery, monument or marker, or miscellaneous items, such as flowers, burial clothing, or newspaper notices. It may well be the third most expensive purchase for most people after a home and a car.
Below are some tips for cutting funeral and burial costs while maintaining the dignity and spirit of the occasion. It also gives suggestions of other things to check on after a death occurs.
1. If you do not know whether the deceased had made and paid in advance for funeral and burial arrangements, call local and nearby funeral homes and ask if they have any record of such arrangements. Be sure to examine all papers of the deceased and look for funeral and burial contracts. Neglecting to check out the possibility of such arrangements could result in unnecessary expenditures for survivors.
2. If the deceased and the family of the deceased are extremely poor, check with the local county government to see what financial assistance for burial might be available.
3. If the deceased lived at your address, think about having someone "house-sit" for you while you are at the funeral. Burglars take advantage of such absences to break into houses. They learn where the deceased lived and the time and date of the funeral by reading the obituary column. They assume that no one will be at home and plan their break in. A house-sitter could prevent loss of your personal property.
4. If the deceased was a veteran, the spouse of a veteran, or a dependent child of a veteran, check immediately after death with the nearest Veteran's Affairs office to determine (if you don't know already) whether the deceased is eligible for burial in a National Cemetery. Check also on what payments are available for funeral and burial expenses. In addition, ask if a grave marker or headstone is provided. Generally, a survivor is eligible to receive an American Flag to use in the funeral and to keep afterwards. If you are the surviving spouse or a dependent child of a veteran, ask about survivor's benefits.
5. If the deceased was a participant in the Social Security System, contact your nearest Social Security office as soon as possible after the death and apply for any benefits that might be payable to eligible survivors. Also, apply for the lump-sum death benefit.
6. Contact all life insurance companies with which the deceased had policies and file claims for payment.
7. Collect from insurers any funeral/burial/death benefits payable to survivors.
8. Check with the deceased's present and all previous employers to determine what benefits, if any, might be payable to survivors. Such benefits might include life insurance, accidental death insurance, pension benefits, and payments under Worker's Compensation Insurance. Also, be sure to collect pay for any vacation and applicable sick leave accumulated but not taken by the deceased.
9. Contact the deceased's employee's labor union and collect any death or survivor's benefits due. For example, ask whether the labor union provides for any financial assistance with funeral and burial expenses for the deceased or with living or educational expenses of the survivors.
10. Check with the company with which the deceased carried medical/health insurance. Free accidental death and dismemberment insurance is sometimes provided to those participating in group medical/health plans. The death and dismemberment insurance might be sponsored and administered by an organization other than the medical/health insurance company, such as that sponsored and administered by the National Association of Government Employees. If the death was an accident, normally the payment will be made to a designated beneficiary.
11. File for any pension/retirement benefits due the survivors of the deceased.
12. Check with community credit unions, credit unions at all places where the deceased has been employed, and possibly other credit unions to see whether he or she had deposits or life insurance there. If so, discuss payment of the money in the accounts and apply for insurance benefits.
13. Check with insurance companies with which the deceased had automobile insurance and homeowners insurance to determine whether any death benefits, such as payment of funeral and burial expenses, are payable under the policies.
14. Check with the deceased's automobile club to see if any life insurance or other benefits are due the survivors.
15. Check with all credit card companies with which the deceased held credit cards and apply for any death benefits that are due. For example, some credit card companies automatically carry accident life insurance on card holders. The insurance may be collected by survivors, for example, if the cardholder had charged his or her airline ticket on the credit card and was subsequently killed in a crash of the aircraft or died within a specified time following the accident.
16. If the deceased died in an accident on a trip arranged by a travel agency, survivors may be eligible for payment of death benefits from the agency. Some travel agencies automatically provide accident life insurance coverage to persons who purchase airline tickets through the agency. Check with the agency to see whether the deceased was covered by such a policy. If so, apply for benefits.
17. Submit any medical claims for the deceased to health insurance companies and/or Medicare for payment or reimbursement.
18. Collect any death benefits due survivors from various organizations, associations, clubs, and other groups to which the deceased belonged. Some of these may have provided free or inexpensive life insurance on the deceased as a membership benefit.
19. Check on all debts of the deceased. Some debts may carry credit life insurance that will pay the outstanding balance of the debts.
20. Notify the deceased's insurance companies of the death; cancel policies, if appropriate (or remove the name of the deceased from the policy, if appropriate); and request refunds of premiums. Such insurance may include automobile, personal property, medical, disability, homeowners, and others. Discuss the above with the deceased's insurance agent(s) before taking any action.
21. Cancel orders for unwanted goods and services ordered by the deceased and collect any applicable refunds.
22. Turn in season tickets that were held by the deceased (for sports events, symphonies, ballets, etc.) and request refunds.
23. Cancel unwanted magazine and newspaper subscriptions and book club memberships held by the deceased and request refunds.
24. Cancel memberships in clubs and organizations to which the deceased belonged and request refunds.
25. Cancel hotel reservations, trip and tour reservations, and airline reservations for the deceased and request applicable refunds.
26. If the deceased was a college student, cancel enrollment and request refunds of prepayments for such things as tuition, room and board, laboratory fees, and activity fees.
27. Cancel medical and dental appointments for the deceased. Some members of the medical and dental profession charge patients even if they do not show up for their scheduled appointments. Even though you surely could have the charges canceled, canceling the appointments will prevent your having to further deal with the situation.
28. If the deceased was renting living accommodations for himself or herself only, contact the landlord and cancel the lease. Ask for any applicable refunds, such as the security deposit and rent paid in advance.
29. Check copies of income tax returns filed recently by the deceased to determine whether refunds are due. If the refunds are not received, you will know to follow up. (Check with your lawyer, tax accountant, IRS, and State Tax Office for instructions on filing final tax returns for the deceased.)
30. If the death of the deceased was the fault of someone else, check on the possibility of benefits payable under liability insurance carried by the person at fault. Also, consider whether a lawsuit should be brought against the responsible party. Consult your lawyer.
31. Collect the total amount or accept periodical payments for debts owed to the deceased.
32. Be cautious of strangers offering help during your bereavement, particularly those wanting to help you handle or invest your money. Put off making major financial decisions (if at all possible) until your mental state will allow you to think clearly and logically.
33. If the deceased was your spouse, check with all appropriate sources of survivor's benefits to determine whether you would lose your benefits if you remarry. After receiving the necessary information, you can, in time, make an informed decision on remarriage.
SOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Write to the Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards of the United States, 520 E. Van Trees Street, P. O. Box 497, Washington, Indiana 47501 for information on the laws related to funerals and burials in the various states. This association represents the licensing boards of 47 states and will respond to consumer inquiries or complaints about funeral providers.
For a first-hand look at the implications of the Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule," go to Yahoo or other search engine; and type under search: "Federal Funeral Rule". From the list on the menu, select "The Federal Funeral Rule".
About the Author
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.