Pre-planning is the process of making decisions about, and putting plans in place for cemetery, burial, memorial, and funeral goods and services before a death has occurred. Cemetery, burial, memorial, and funeral arrangements are collectively referred to as 'final-arrangements'. Pre-arrangements may be made for oneself or for a family member and may include decisions about the type of burial, location of burial plots, cemetery committal services, cemetery perpetual care, funeral service arrangements including the location and type of service, casket, vault, as well as permanent memorialization.

Generally, there are three times when final arrangement plans may be made. Final arrangement plans can be made in good health, when facing illness, or after a death has occurred. Advanced pre-planning occurs when final arrangement plans are made for a future unspecified need (e.g., plans made in good health, years or decades before an illness or death). Imminent need pre-planning occurs when final arrangement plans made for a relatively imminent passing (e.g., plans made when facing illness or hospice care coinciding with a medical prognosis less than 6-months). Plans that are made after a death has occurred are referred to as at-need plans.

Pre-planning for final arrangements is both a learning and decision-making process. The process begins by gathering information about the available options. With information, decisions can be made to help balance value and cost. Once decisions have been made about the most appropriate rites, rituals, and services a plan can be created to document and share these decisions with the next-of-kin, family and friends. If purchases are made as part of the pre-planning process, written agreements and guarantees will be issued by the cemetery, funeral home or memorial supplier. Pre-planning does not necessarily include the pre-purchasing of goods or services. If pre-planning decisions are to be made without purchases being made, pre-planning should result in a clear, well-documented record of an individual’s wishes and selections.

View our Cemetery Planning Checklist or Funeral Planning Checklist

Purpose of Pre-Planning

Generally, “pre-planning is a powerful tool that provides Care, Comfort, and Control.” There are many benefits of pre-planning for final arrangements. Pre-planning allows an individual to make their wishes known, helps to reduce stress on the next of kin, and in many instances is less expensive than planning after a death.

The general reasons why many people pre-plan for their cemetery, burial, funeral, and memorial arrangements include:

  • Making personal wishes and desires known
  • Removing decision making and stress from family
  • Avoiding and reducing likelihood of emotional overspending
  • Ability to obtain value and save money (lower costs, budgeting)
  • Preserving memory and legacy
  • As part of estate planning (will, insurance, final arrangements, health care power of attorney, etc.…)

There are specific life situations where pre-planning is important:

  • When the next-of-kin, or power of attorney, lives 'out-of-town'
  • When spending down for Medicaid (public aid) assistance
  • Planning for an ailing parent
  • Planning for a disabled loved one
  • When entering hospice

Planning Reduces Decision Making

Pre-planning helps to ensure that an individual's wishes and preferences are known and may be honored. Clearly expressed preferences allow family and friends to feel in control of the burial and funeral ceremonies comforted with the knowledge that all rites and rituals are in keeping with the individual's desires. When there is not a defined and preplanned funeral or burial, the family and friends responsible for making the arrangements may make decisions that are contrary to the wishes of the individual and/or create a tension among the surviving family members. It is often difficult to make decisions relating to the burial and funeral immediately following a loss during the grieving period. There are many considerations and the associated stress along with pressure of fulfilling the individual’s final wishes may lead to feelings of regret and result in overspending. A notable study by Jennifer Lerner, Harvard University psychologist, published in the June 2008 journal Psychological Science, found that emotional sadness can increase spending by up 4 times. Having pre-planned final arrangements in place may reduce the occurrence of emotional overspending.

When pre-planning, information may be gathered in a calm and logical manner. Options and costs can be compared so that the best, most appropriate decisions may be made without any urgency or pressure. In contrast, plans made after a death are time sensitive and are generally both emotionally and financially stressful. After a death, there are over one-hundred separate decisions to be made and actions to be taken. The list of things-to-do after a death vary in complexity, cost and time. Many of these decisions must be made in the days immediately following the passing which may make the first 24-72 hours overwhelming. Pre-planning reduces the number of things-to-do from the next-of-kin, family, and friends thereby relieving an unnecessary stress.

Planning to Preserve Assets and Save Money

Pre-planning allows individuals and families to make financially prudent arrangement decisions, to save money and to budget comfortably over time.

Pre-planning may allow for current costs to be locked-in and frozen at their current levels. Freezing current costs avoids all future cost increases and inflation. Without costs being frozen and guaranteed at their current levels, over time, final arrangement cost could otherwise double or even triple over time. For example, assuming an interest rate of 8%, current costs will double every 9.01 years.

Many pre-planning arrangements allow for payments to be made over time with lower monthly payments. In contrast, after a death has occurred cemetery, burial, funeral and memorial expenses are required be paid-in-full, before the funeral and burial services will take place.

Nearly all cemeteries allow for burial plots, crypts and niches to be pre-purchased and many offer low, or even 0%, interest budgeting payment options. Many cemeteries also allow for the cemetery labor services, perpetual care, and permanent memorialization to be pre-planned and pre-paid for with the same budgeting terms.

Funeral homes may allow for pre-need funeral arrangements to be made using either specialized insurance contracts or a pre-need trust. Funeral pre-arrangements may include both guaranteed goods and services as well as non-guaranteed goods and services. Guaranteed goods and services never increase in price, whereas non-guaranteed goods and services may increase.

Another method of pre-paying for final arrangements is through independent final expense insurance. Independent final expense insurance is a specialized life insurance policy issued in order to cover the cost of the cemetery, burial, funeral, and permanent memorialization. Independent final expense insurance does not obligate an individual to a specific cemetery or funeral home so final expense insurance may be used at any cemetery or funeral home at the time of need. Independent final expense insurance may also have a lower monthly cost depending on the insured's age. The primary drawback for independent final expense insurance is that it does not lock-in and guarantee costs so a stand-alone final expense insurance policy should be based on the projected cost expected at the time of death. Preserving Memory and Legacy

Pre-planning allows individuals and families to make informed, carefully considered, decisions about the location, type, and number of burial plots that a family may need together. Most modern cemeteries offer family gardens, or special family areas, where a family can have a specially designated place to be together. Family gardens can be for as few as two people with no upper limit the garden's size. A familial resting place ensures a meaningful and dignified resting place for members of the family and allows for convenient visitation and memorialization across generations.

Individuals can also pre-plan for permanent graveside memorization in the form of a headstone, bronze memorial, or granite marker. Pre-planning for memorialization does not require inscriptions and epitaphs to be decided upon. Rather, the carving or casting of personal information is typically done only after a death has occurred. Pre-planning for permanent memorialization helps to ensure that individuals are remembered for generations to come. If permanent memorialization is arranged for through the cemetery, the pre-paid funds will be held in a trust or other state-approved account. If permanent memorialization is arranged for through a private memorial company, it is extremely important to determine how that money is protected in case of the memorial company's closure or sale.

Common Types of Pre-Planning

Cemetery and Burial Pre-Planning includes:

  • Burial plots/crypts
  • Cemetery labor services/committal services
  • Permanent memorialization
  • Vault/outer burial container*
  • Perpetual care

Funeral Pre-Planning includes:

  • Funeral director's professional services
  • Funeral/memorial service
  • Care of the deceased (dressing/embalming)
  • Transportation
  • Casket
  • Vault/outer burial container*
  • Clergy/celebrant honorarium
  • Newspaper notices
  • Death certificates

Pre-Planning Costs

The costs of pre-planning are determined by the specific cemetery, burial, funeral and permanent memorization options selected. The cost of pre-planned goods and services should always be equal to, or lower than, the same at-need costs. There are a limited number of cemeteries and funeral homes that charge a premium for pre-planning however, this is not best practice and should be avoided whenever possible.

In order to determine the exact costs of pre-planning:

  • Select a cemetery
  • Choose the type and location of burial plots
  • Decide upon the style and size of permanent memorialization
  • Select a funeral home
  • Determine the type of funeral/memorial service
  • Choose specific funeral goods and merchandise (casket, vault, obituaries, etc.)
  • Find the lowest cost vehicle to pre-pay for these arrangements (directly with the cemetery, via a funeral trust or funeral home insurance, using a stand-alone final expense insurance)

Ancillary Information about Pre-Planning

With average total costs for the cemetery, burial, funeral, and memorialization exceeding $10,000, it is important to compare different prices and to shop around. The FTC Rule which regulates funeral home communications requires funeral homes to provide price quotes over the phone or in person. As of 2018, the FTC Rule does not require funeral homes to provide prices online or via email. For cemeteries and memorial dealers, there are no national requirements regulating price transparency. Individual states determine what information must be shared with consumers.