Pre-planning your funeral says, "I love you"

#Family and finance

Arranging your final farewell before you die saves loved ones from making tough decisions at a tough time

The idea of discussing our end of life with loved ones makes many people uncomfortable. 

The superstitious among us may fear we’re inviting the grim reaper to the table by raising the topic. Add funeral planning to the conversation and we’re broaching really unpleasant territory: death and finances.

What if you approach the subject from a place of love? Well, that changes everything.

Tonia Catcher, licensed funeral pre-planner, estate care counsellor and certified celebrant in Woodstock, Ont., says pre-planning our funeral is an act of love: “We don’t know when we’ll die and who will be left ultimately with those decisions; it may be a spouse, one of our adult children, a niece or nephew. Maybe they’ll be emotionally unable to make the decisions required of them at that time. Making such decisions ahead of time means that burden is lifted from them, sparing them the emotional task.”1

The loved one who settles the estate is often also responsible for the final farewell. Many of these decisions must be made right away, like arranging for your final resting place and planning a ceremony if one is desired – and these services aren’t free. Financial decisions must be made while your loved ones are experiencing a myriad of emotions – like shock, grief, guilt and anger – which can lead to unsound decisions. 1

Pre-planning a funeral not only gives clear direction to those making arrangements – easing the inevitable emotional stress, it can also reduce financial stress. Catcher estimates a basic cremation with no service at $2,400. The maximum Canada Pension Plan death benefit is $2,500 – for qualifying estates. Funeral costs vary by geographic region; in southwestern Ontario, a complete service with a casket, cemetery costs and a reception could cost as much as $12,000 if the casket purchased is in the mid-price range.1

Only a licensed funeral provider can accept funds for a funeral and you’ll be provided with a contract itemizing the services and costs you’ve agreed upon. In Ontario, when you prepay for your funeral, whatever is listed in the contract is guaranteed; if costs rise for the services arranged in advance, no additional money will be owed at the time of your death.1 You can cancel a pre-arranged contract at any time during your lifetime, and the provider must refund your money, so there’s no financial risk to planning ahead.2 Provincial legislation across Canada governs funeral homes and protects consumers – and the provincial acts are searchable online. For example, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario Opens a new website in a new window enacts the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002.

There is no better time to talk about end-of-life plans than when you have the strength and resources to arrange and finance your funeral.
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Like any major life purchase, comparison shopping makes good sense. As part of the “death industry,” funeral homes are for-profit businesses. Catcher says the best source for cost estimates is the local funeral home, which can provide a range of prices and a list of services available at no charge.1 If you don’t feel up to visiting several homes, this information can often be found online or requested in a phone call.2 And, be sure to deal with a reputable home and get references if you don’t have first-hand experience.

Inform your loved ones about the arrangements you’ve made and provide the documentation to them to avoid confusion and conflict. You can plan almost everything or leave some decisions to family, who may wish to be involved in the arrangements as part of their grieving process. Catcher lists a few of the decisions to be made for the service: music, special readings, who will speak, photo(s) and verses for memorial cards, clothing and jewellery worn by the deceased, whether a minister officiates and the lunch served at the reception.

“Families also make picture boards or provide us with pictures for a DVD. Going through pictures can be very therapeutic as each picture has a story and a memory attached to it,” she adds.1

There’s no better time to talk about end-of-life plans than when you have the strength and resources to arrange and finance your funeral. Invite your loved and trusted family members, caretakers or friends to join you for an honest conversation about how you wish to have your funeral. Tell them what arrangements you’ve made to ensure your family won’t have to worry about expenses or arrangements when they’re grieving. While they may not recognize this as a gift in the moment, one day they’ll know pre-planning your funeral is a demonstration of love – and, to some extent, you get the last word.

1 Personal interview. Catcher, Tonia – June 2018.
2 “Is it a good idea to prepay your funeral?” Opens a new website in a new window Toronto Star – Feb. 20, 2011. 
3 Bereavement Authority of Ontario Opens a new website in a new window – 2018.