My own layman’s guide, born of my own experience and observations – Part 5

One of the biggest expenses is the funeral.  Unfortunately, all of the funeral decisions (and funeral spending) happen while the grief is very new and raw.  The assets probably haven’t even been tallied yet, or an estate bank account opened.  It is easy to lose sight of the need to spend wisely and to track expenses.  Fortunately, an honorable funeral parlor will provide a detailed invoice.

Funeral expenses can be broken down into 4 areas:  funeral parlor, viewing and/or service, cemetery, and what has commonly become known as the “funeral lunch.”

The primary function of the funeral parlor is to prepare the deceased for burial or cremation, but their services do not stop there.  Your funeral director will probably be a valuable planning resource.  Funeral directors may have relationships with cemeteries.  Your funeral director will probably offer to place funeral notices or obituaries in newspapers, many of which are now online.  Posting such is certainly a standard funeral expense.

Your funeral director may also offer to obtain death certificates for you.  Generally speaking, it is wise to say yes to this offer as it will save you a step later on.  How many should you get?  Hard to say.  A rule of thumb is to count the assets that will need to be liquidated, and round up.

They probably have limousines to drive the immediate family – and all the flowers – to the cemetery.

The cemetery:  our next major expense.  These expenses could include the cost for the burial plot, the digging of the grave and the actual burial.  Many people opt for some kind of gravestone, which usually needs to be lettered and then installed some weeks after the actual funeral.

The need for a formal viewing or service has been evolving, and I believe it is no longer considered a necessity.  Many people are opting to forego the drama of immediate viewings, services, and funeral processions.  Instead they host a memorial service a few weeks afterwards.  However, you choose to do it, there could well be expenses.  A viewing and/or funeral service can be held in a house of worship, or at the funeral parlor.  Either way, there could be specific fees for the space.  Some houses of worship have stated honorariums for the officiant, the janitor, the organist/soloist/musician, etc.  Some have options for videography or photography.  The viewing may be the night before the funeral, or right before the funeral, or skipped altogether.  Sometimes instead of a viewing, there is simply a “visitation” which is simply an opportunity for folks to line up and express their condolences to the family, without the presence of a casket.  However this is handled, there are still usually some kind of floral arrangements, though this, too, is waning in popularity.

This brings us to the “funeral lunch.”  Traditionally, this meal would be held immediately after the cemetery.  It could be in a nearby restaurant, or someone’s home, or back to the house of worship.  Obviously, if the deceased is cremated, there might not even be a need to go to a cemetery, so the funeral lunch might follow the visitation or memorial service, mentioned above.  It might even happen before the actual funeral.  Why is it called a “funeral lunch?”  Economics:  lunch is cheaper than dinner, and easier to arrange on short notice.

The actual reason for going into so much detail on funeral expenses is to allow for a few words on what types of expenses are not allowed.

Funeral expenses do NOT include costs for meals while you plan the funeral.  Even if there are co-executors, there is no reason for a planning session at a restaurant.  Co-executors can meet by phone, or in someone’s living room, or even the public library, or simply at the funeral parlor.

Funeral expenses do not include costs for multiple alternative meals for various sub-groups of family.

Funeral expenses do not include costs to fly various family members in from other cities, or to put them up in hotels, or to feed them while they are in town for a few days, or to buy them a decent pair of shoes so they don’t embarrass you.

Funeral expenses can include some flowers at the funeral, but only for the immediate family.  Also, excluded would be additional flowers for the grave, three months later, on Granny’s birthday.