With the cost of a funeral averaging between $7,000 and $12,000 and steadily increasing each year, at the very least your estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. And if you are thinking of simply setting aside money in your will to cover your funeral expenses, you should seriously reconsider, as paying for your funeral through your will can create unnecessary burdens for your loved ones.
Although you can leave money in your will to pay for your funeral expenses, your family won’t be able to access those funds until your estate goes through the court process of probate, which can last months or even years. And since most funeral providers require full payment upfront, your family will likely have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket.
Moreover, your loved ones will have to deal with all of this while grieving your death.
If you want to avoid burdening your family with such a hefty bill and the stress that comes with it, you need to use estate planning strategies that do not require probate. The following 5 options are among the most commonly used methods for covering funeral expenses without the necessity for probate.
01 | TRADITIONAL INSURANCE
You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. Unlike money left in your will, an insurance policy does not go through probate, and it will pay the death benefit to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is filed with the insurance company.
02 | BURIAL INSURANCE
In addition to traditional insurance, you can also purchase burial insurance, which is specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known as “final expense”, “memorial” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. However, you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.
In fact, due to the hefty premiums and the fact that such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases due to the fact that these policies are often sold to lower-income populations.
One final point about using insurance to pay for your funeral: If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, it’s crucial that your family knows about it. Far too often, insurance policies are never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed. Don’t let this happen to you—make sure your family knows about any insurance policies you have as well as how to locate the necessary paperwork.
03 | PREPAID FUNERAL PLANS
Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.
While prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. Plus, most states have inadequate laws protecting funds in such plans, putting your money at risk if the funeral provider closes or is bought out by another company.
In fact, these plans are considered so risky, the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit industry watchdog group, advises against purchasing such plans. The only instance where prepaid plans are a good idea, according to the FCA, is if you are facing a Medicaid spend down before going into a nursing home. This is because prepaid funeral plans funded through irrevocable trusts are not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.
04 | PAYABLE-ON-DEATH ACCOUNTS
Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.
A POD account does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.
Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, which puts your money at risk if the person goes into debt or gets sued and their creditors come after your account to pay the other person’s debt.
Given this risk, we recommend you consider other options that will allow you to pay your funeral expenses, without leaving your finances vulnerable to another person’s mistakes or poor money management.
05 | LIVING TRUSTS
When you work with us, you don’t need to buy a pre-built trust from a funeral provider. Instead, we can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate. Furthermore, you can change the terms of your living trust at any time, and you can even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes.
USE ESTATE PLANNING TO AVOID BURDENING YOUR FAMILY
Although thinking about your eventual death is never easy, with the proper planning, you can make dealing with the aftermath of your death significantly easier for the loved ones you leave behind. To avoid needlessly burdening your family with the expense and stress of planning and paying for your funeral, make sure your estate plan includes the necessary funds to cover this expense and be sure to use an estate planning strategy that will allow your family to access these funds as quickly and easily as possible—ideally by using an option that avoids probate.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That is why we offer a strategic planning session, during which you will get more financially organized than you have ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a planning session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
Disclaimer: All information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney trained to work with families on estate planning matters regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, and any users or any other party.