The world of funeral and cemetery pre-arrangement (‘pre-need’ in industry jargon) is one that I spent my tender formative years in while I was learning the ropes of this business.  I started out selling funeral pre-arrangements and cemetery products to families that came to the properties as well as going out to protect people against being completely unprepared when things went south. I believed in it wholeheartedly, and still believe that it’s one of the best things that you can do for your family.  If you have spent some time following or researching Elemental, you probably know that we don’t sell pre-arranged funeral (at the time of this writing) and so you may think that there’s a twinge of hypocrisy in my voice. That would be a logical conclusion, although, it would be wrong. Let’s talk about pre-arrangements for a moment, shall we?

There are two types of pre-arrangement families:

1.       The family that needs something to do.

2.       The family that wants peace of mind or the best deal

Family #1 is the family that called me earlier this week wanting to pre-pay for dad’s funeral expenses. He has days, or maybe hours, to live and they want to make sure that everything is taken care of.  You, like many families may be in this very situation. Mom has taken a sharp decline in the past few days.  Everyone recognizes that these are probably going to be the final days, and… oh no! Has she done anything about the funeral?! What are we going to do? Do you think we should have it next Saturday? Let’s call the funeral home and see what the costs will be and see if we can pre-pay it.

This, my friends, is a family that wants to do something productive. I’ve been there.  Watching someone die is a surreal, bizarre, and hopeless experience.  There is absolutely nothing that you can do. If you could fix them, you would be doing that. You can’t leave to do something fun, because nothing is going to be fun, and you fear that you’re leaving them at their critical hour.  OH! WAIT! We can go to the funeral home and pay for stuff! That’s productive, right?!

I guess.

Truthfully, if you haven’t taken care of this a few weeks, months or years in advance… you’re probably creating more hassle than help.  This is the kind of pre-arrangement that makes people feel better until they have to deal with the hassle of insurance at the funeral home a couple of days later.

Family #2 is the family that wants peace of mind. They are getting a little closer to the spirit of the concept.  The idea that you can go in and pre-arrange and pre-pay for your final arrangements is one that will save your family a fair amount of money and hassle in the future. But even the best laid plans have a few little hitches. Take for example the family I’ve been dealing with for two days now.  They went to one of the most expensive funeral homes in the city and paid top dollar six years ago for a full funeral that I’m going to provide them for 1/3 the price today.  Sure, they are going to be saving $5,000, so they aren’t losing money… but I’m guessing that there’s something that the $5,000 could have been better spent on in the past six years.

For someone who’s got such a background in pre-arrangement, I’m not making it sound that great. Truthfully, it usually is a winner, more than it’s a loser. The point of this post is that in just the past week, I’ve had a family that feels like they need to be productive and another that thought they were fixing all their hassles six years in advance. Here’s what you need to take away from this little rambling:

If your loved one is dying, you don’t need to try to fix it all beforehand.  Once they’re “gone”, the dead don’t need to be on a mad dash to a funeral home. Take time with your loved ones. Talk. Sleep. Eat. Hug. Cry.  Emergencies happen in hospitals, not funeral homes.

If you are planning ahead and are trying to be prudent in your pre-arrangements, you have the luxury of time. Price it out. Ask yourself what your motivations are. Are you trying to uphold a family tradition at the funeral home your grandparents and parents went through, or are you trying to find the most reasonable deal?

There are a million websites out there to tell you what to watch out for, what not to do, and who’s going to screw you and your children. Read them and ask what their angle is. Learn the difference between a guaranteed policy and a non-guaranteed policy; between trust and insurance.  Find the companies that are reputable. Educate yourself.

The families that I’ve mentioned in this post aren’t stupid.  If you read either of those and said “Hey wait, we did that…” that’s alright.  It’s natural to want to do something that feels productive in the face of a situation that feels hopeless. It’s smart to want to plan ahead.  In both situations though, you need to STOP and ask yourself what your motivations are and recognize what makes sense may be the opposite of what you’re doing.  Oh… and don’t forget: most funeral insurance policies are assignable, and Elemental takes any of them that are. *grin*