With the cost of a funeral averaging between $7,000 and $12,000 and steadily increasing each year, at the very least your estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. And if you are thinking of simply setting aside money in your will to cover your funeral expenses, you should seriously reconsider, as paying for your funeral through your will can create unnecessary burdens for your loved ones.
Although you can leave money in your will to pay for your funeral expenses, your family won’t be able to access those funds until your estate goes through the court process of probate, which can last months or even years. And since most funeral providers require full payment upfront, your family will likely have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket. Moreover, your loved ones will have to deal with all of this while grieving your death.
If you want to avoid burdening your family with such a hefty bill and the stress that comes with it, you need to use estate planning strategies that do not require probate. While you should meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to find the solution best suited for your unique situation, the following 5 options are among the most commonly used methods for covering funeral expenses without the necessity for probate.
01 | TRADITIONAL INSURANCE
You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. Unlike money left in your will, an insurance policy does not go through probate, and it will pay the death benefit to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is filed with the insurance company.
02 | BURIAL INSURANCE
In addition to traditional insurance, you can also purchase burial insurance, which is specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known as “final expense”, “memorial” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. However, you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.
In fact, due to the hefty premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases due to the fact that these policies are often sold to lower income populations.
One final point about using insurance to pay for your funeral: If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, it’s crucial that your family knows about it. Far too often, insurance policies are never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed. Don’t let this happen to you—make sure your family knows about any insurance policies you have as well as how to locate the necessary paperwork.
03 | PREPAID FUNERAL PLANS
Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.
While prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. Plus, most states have inadequate laws protecting funds in such plans, putting your money at risk if the funeral provider closes or is bought out by another company.
In fact, these plans are considered so risky, the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit industry watchdog group, advises against purchasing such plans. The only instance where prepaid plans are a good idea, according to the FCA, is if you are facing a Medicaid spend down before going into a nursing home. This is because prepaid funeral plans funded through irrevocable trusts are not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.
That said, if you’re looking to buy a prepaid funeral plan in order to qualify for Medicaid, be sure to consult with us first, as not all pre-paid funeral plans are actually Medicaid compliant, even if the funeral home says they are. Moreover, if the irrevocable trust is not set up correctly, it may violate Medicaid’s look-back period, which can delay your eligibility for benefits.
04 | PAYABLE-ON-DEATH ACCOUNTS
Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.
A POD account does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.
Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, which puts your money at risk if the person goes into debt or gets sued and their creditors come after your account to pay the other person’s debt.
Given this risk, we recommend you consider other options that will allow you to pay your funeral expenses, without leaving your finances vulnerable to another person’s mistakes or poor money management.
05 | LIVING TRUSTS
When you work with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you don’t need to buy a pre-built trust from a funeral provider. Instead, we can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.
Furthermore, you can change the terms of your living trust at any time, and you can even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need an irrevocable trust to help qualify for Medicaid, we can create that type of trust as well, while ensuring the trust stays totally compliant with all of Medicaid’s requirements, so you don’t run afoul of the program’s many complex requirements.
If you are interested in creating a trust to cover your funeral expenses, meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to discuss the options that are best suited for your intended purpose, budget, and family situation.
USE ESTATE PLANNING TO AVOID BURDENING YOUR FAMILY
Although thinking about your eventual death is never easy, with the proper planning, you can make dealing with the aftermath of your death significantly easier for the loved ones you leave behind. To avoid needlessly burdening your family with the expense and stress of planning and paying for your funeral, make sure your estate plan includes the necessary funds to cover this expense, and be sure to use an estate planning strategy that will allow your family to access these funds as quickly and easily as possible—ideally by using an option that avoids probate.
With so many different options to choose from, consult with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to find an estate planning vehicle that is best suited for your particular situation. With our guidance and support, we will develop a planning strategy that includes adequate funding to ensure your funeral services are handled in the exact manner you desire—and your family won’t be forced to foot the bill. Contact us today to learn more.
This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge; or book a time for our team to call you at a time you choose.