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Sadly, our family has experienced several funerals this past year. The first one caught us off guard. We found out a bit too late that we had over paid, big time. I am going to share with you some things we learned, in hopes that it will prevent others from over paying.
First off, please be aware that I am in Missouri, and each state has different rules and guidelines. So, check with your local state to see what yours are. What I am sharing here pertains to Missouri, but may or may not be the same in your state.
If someone has a prepaid funeral plan, don't assume everything is covered, as generally its not. Here, there is NO state office to govern prepaid funeral plans. If one has a prepaid funeral plan with funeral home A, and funeral home A goes out of business, their plan may be lost. Other states require that the funeral homes register such plans with the state, and put monies for such plans into a trust, not so here. We had a family member that paid $6000 into a plan, only to discover it was no good. Check with your state government for your states policy. A person is better off to set up a desginated bank/savings account or mutal fund for funeral expenses. This would be FDIC protected, and earn some interest as well. Make sure several other trusted people are on the account, and earmark it for funeral expenses only.
Shop around on funeral expenses. Also check rates with funeral homes in nearby towns. We found out after the fact that we could have saved over $2,000 by using a funeral home in the city, and since we were less than 100 miles away, they would have come and transferred the body at no charge.
You do NOT have to have a visitation or a service. Ask to see the funeral homes itemized rates. Normally each time there is a viewing, or service, there is an additional charge. You do not have to use the funeral homes vehicles in a processional, you can drive your own (saving additional charges). You have the right to use a casket or urn from any source. You can even buy them on eBay, it does not have to be bought from the funeral home. You can even use your own pine box if you want to. If they tell you otherwise, they are in violation of the law.
You DO NOT have to go with the funeral home that the nursing home or hospital sent the deceased to. You have the right to request them to be moved to another funeral home.
Many states do not require embalming. Embalming is NOT required if one is going to be cremated.
Don't sign any paperwork alone, always have someone with you. Wait at least one day before you sign. Take time to think it over. Don't let them pressure you while you are in an emotional state into spending unnecessary money.
If the deceased belongs to a church, most ministers will do the funeral at no charge. Ministers who regularly do funerals are very experienced in fees and such. Most, if asked, will go to the funeral home with you when the service and billing is discussed.
Some states will allow someone to be buried outside of a cemetery, such as on a family farm or in an old family cemetery. This is cheaper, as you don't have to buy a plot. If you go this route, make sure this is a place that will not be sold or disturbed at a later time. If you buy a plot, ask what the fees are, including yearly maintance fees.
Most funeral homes demand payment up front. But, shop around, as some have payment plans. Ours had a form we could fill out, called "an assigment form". An assignment form is used when the desceased has a life insurance policy. The funeral home sends the assignment form to the life insurance company, who then pays the funeral bill out of the policy, then sends the benificeary the balance of the policy. Of course, that requires that the benificary be the one to fill out the assignment form.
Look for life insurance policies that may have been forgotten about, or unknown to survivors. Places to look include with various workers unions, banks (I found a $1000 policy that was at a bank that gave free ones to account holders for up to $1000), tied to retirement funds, tied to mutual accounts, and depending on the cause of death, possibly tied in with auto insurance. Also most employeers or even past employeers often provide them as well.
In Missouri, only estates over $40,000 go through the formal probate process. If the deceased has minor children, other rules come into play. We found that the person who pays for the funeral expenses gets first right at the estate before other bill collectors or people owed, up to the amount paid for the funeral. This requires that the funeral home provides a statement of services, marked paid in full and in the payee's name.
Instead of going to probate, we filled out 2 forms. A week later in the mail, we received a "letter of refusal" from the judge, with basically stated all property from the small estate went to the children. For this form, you need to be able to itemize out basically what you are wanting; such as furniture, pictures, household items, clothing, and security deposits that could be returned, and if bank accounts or safety deposit boxes are involved, the bank name and account numbers. Again, this ONLY applies to small estates, under the dollar amount that your state sets. If the estate is worth more than that amount, then probate is involved, and it can take up to several years. But, for a small estate, with no real estate or large bank accounts involved, this is the way to go.
Missouri, as well as other states has rules in place to help orphaned minor children. One of these rules states that minor children can receive a vehicle from the estate unless the vehicle is TOD to another person on the title. My children, 13, 13 and 15, were able to get their fathers Ford Explorer for only the $11 fee to retitle it. This we found out from a friend who worked at license bureau. We had to fill one one form, provide a copy of their fathers death certificate, and their birth certificates showing he was their father. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that minor children have transportation to and from school, doctors appointments, to shop and such. Yes, they are too young to drive it, but it provides transportation for their care giver to properly get them where they need to go.
Of course this also means that they will need to start paying personal property taxes each year, but when we checked, for their vehicle it will only be around $80, then divided by 1/3 for each child. This is a good way for them to learn about expenses, taxes and budgeting.
Minor children or disabaled children may also be able to collect social security on their deceased parents account until age 18 or completion of highschool at age 19. Check with your local office, and if denied, check with another office. At our first inquiry, we were told my daughters did not qualify. We then went to a different office, where we found out they did qualify. The first social security person made a mistake, and I am glad we asked for a second opinion at another office. Call ahead of time to see what documentation you will need to take with you to your appointment to ensure a faster response. Also, ask if they payments can be backdated to the date of death, as they will do that.
Many florist shops can be bargined with or "talked down" some on their prices if you buy family flowers (the ones that have the ribbons that state mom, dad, uncle. My brother saved $140 this way.
Before you order your orginal certified death certificates from the funeral home, find out how many you need. The first set the funeral home will provide (there is a charge) but if you need more certified copies at a later date, you order those from the state, and then it can take up to 6 weeks or more, and the fee is higher. So, make sure you get them all the first time. You will need one for any bank accounts that have to be closed or changed, insurance companies, real estate dealings, and more. However, several companies that we dealt with sent the certified copies back after they were done with them -- so ask if that is an option. They just made a copy for their own records first.
While going through bank accounts, remember any that are in a child's name, but under the direction of a deceased parent, also need to be updated. My daughters each had their own savings account at the credit union, with both their father's name and my name on the accounts. Each of those accounts had to be updated as well.
If you open an education account, talk to the bank first. Some banks require the checks be made out a specific way. Much easier to publish in the obituary checks made out to the -- education fund, or trust, than to try and get the checks changed at a later date. If the deceased person is listed as a beneficiary for someone else's policies, on bank accounts, or as a TOD, that will need to be updated as well.
Don't forget to notify utilities, magazine and newspaper deliveries. Some items, such as cable or dish boxes may need to be returned to avoid additional charges. We asked the dish company if the service could be backdated to the date of death, as no one was there and they did, saving an additional $49.
If there is rented medical equipment involved, the companies providing it will need to be notified, as well as the health/medical insurance company. Many medical equipment companies will also backdate their billing to the death date, provided they are notified promptly.
Also be sure to notify employeers, alumni associations, clubs and organizations, post office (if they lived alone) and their church, friends, as well as neighbors and a landlord. Neighbors may also prove to be helpful in keeping an eye on the house during this time.
By mom-from-missouri from NW, MO
Don't purchase anything from the funeral home that you can buy elsewhere because they mark up the prices.
After my husband passed away and was cremated, I wanted to have some of the ashes put in very small containers to give to his mom, his brother, his son, and his daughter.
Funerals are expensive. Cremations are less expensive but many people do not wish this. I would just like to remind everyone that if you or your spouse have ever served in the Armed Forces, you may be buried in a national or state Veteran's cemetery.
If your using cremation and want to have a viewing, many funeral homes will rent a casket at a reduced price.
A lot of people would be adverse to this, but my husband and I have donated our bodies to science. I have always thought if just one medical cure could come from the use of my body, then the sacrifice is worth the effort.
Costco sells caskets at a fraction of the cost. This is a very difficult time and prior knowledge could help cut on funeral expenses. Go to their web site and you will find Funeral at the top between Entertainment and Furniture and Decor