Planning your own funeral

Woman Shaking Hands in Funeral Parlor

It's not the cheeriest subject – but taking control of what will happen after their death is appealing to many people. Some do it to get the kind of send off they want, others want to make sure relatives are not burdened with the expense and stress of arranging a funeral – and many who plan their own funerals say they feel it's a weight off their mind once it's done.

Talk it over
Before you actually go and make any plans or spend any money it is definitely a good idea to discuss your thoughts on the matter with those close to you. Not only will this give you a valuable sounding board, but you'll be able to prepare them for what is to come after you are gone and they'll be prepared to carry out your wishes already. It may upset those you wish to talk to – and you may get upset yourself – but the feeling of having "cleared the air" afterwards will make it worthwhile.

Pre-paid funeral plans
For many people the main reason for planning their own funeral is to avoid lumbering their relatives with the cost. Pre-paid funeral plans have become popular as a result of this very natural urge – but it pays to do your research if you think you'd like to take this direction. Plans are available either from a dedicated provider – often backed by a financial firm – or from local funeral directors. Payment is flexible according to your circumstances – so you might prefer to pay the lot in one go, spread it over 12 months or – if you're confident you'll be around for a while – pay it over the course of 10 years.

However, despite you not making use of the service, some providers charge up to 25 per cent more to pay in instalments – citing admin costs. Therefore you may wish to put the money in a savings account and buy outright when you have reached the required amount. According to Which? This is likely to be around £3,000 to £4,000.

Check what you're buying
It's worth paying attention to the small print on pre-paid plans – because basic offerings may not cover all the expenses you wish to be paid for. A church service, limousine or the use of the chapel of rest could all be extra costs – and a burial plot is quite unlikely to be covered. This can cost £700 alone.
It is of course possible to purchase this separately – and cremation is covered by more pre-paid plans since it is cheaper. Other "disbursements" such as the doctor, minister, organists, choir and grave digging may also require extra expenditure.

What happens if the firm goes bust?
Funeral plans are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the same way as many other investments, instead they are overseen by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) – an industry body which doesn't actually guarantee your funds in the event of insolvency. It does have a code of conduct for registered members though and a "pledge to customers" which apparently sees the other providers and the FPA attempt to meet the commitment – with no guarantees.

Alternatives to funeral plans
Many people prefer to make their own financial arrangements rather than get a pre-paid plan – and relying on a life insurance payout is a popular option. But as long as you have some financial discipline it's quite possible to just squirrel some money away in a savings account and leave directions for how you would like it to be used. One possible drawback to this is that funeral costs have been rising faster than the interest rates offered by banks, so you may need a "contingency fund" element.
Finally, if you are confident that enough of your wealth will be intact, you can simply allow the costs to be paid from your estate. Banks will usually release funds to a funeral director on production of an itemised bill.

If you want to do it differently
Of course you don't have to have a traditional funeral, and an increasing number of people are doing it unconventionally – either to save money or because they want a simpler farewell. A "direct" cremation can be arranged for as little as £1,000, while cardboard coffins are increasingly popular among the green-minded and are available for £170-plus. The Natural Death Centre is a good resource for alternative funeral ideas.

Help from the government
If you are not leaving any money or assets behind and your relatives are on a low income then they may be able to get help from the Social Fund – which is administered by the government. You will however have to claim within three months of the death and also demonstrate that nobody else is able to pick up the tab.

Have you already made your funeral arrangements? Leave a comment below...
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