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Facing the Funeral Before You Have To

A visiting fire-and-brimstone preacher decided to put the fear of God into the congregation. Scowling as he climbed into the pulpit, he glared at the parishioners. “Every member of this parish is going to die!” he yelled.

A man on the front row wiped his brow and said, “Whew!”

The preacher turned toward him. “What are you so happy about?”

“I’m sure glad I’m not a member of this parish!”

Joking aside, what the preacher said is true. We’re all going to die, and our loved ones are going to have to pay for a funeral. Precious few will walk away from the experience feeling good about the cost because they either have no idea what they are facing or are vaguely aware but haven’t given it enough thought.

History’s Biggest Spenders

In 323 B.C., Alexander the Great was laid to rest at a cost—in today’s dollars—of $600 million, making his the most expensive funeral ever. Alex floated in a glass case filled with honey inside a gold sarcophagus encased in a gold casket. They even built a new road from Babylon so 64 horses could haul his jewel-studded hearse!

The next four most expensive were Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley—though we’ve heard Elvis was recently spotted behind the counter at a Memphis Krispy Kreme. You might expect the latter three, but Ronald Reagan? Well, it cost at least $1 million to transport his body, and Wall Street closed for a whole day. The grand total topped $400 million!

Today’s Reality

Thankfully the majority of us don’t have to worry about stockpiling that kind of money to lay a loved one to rest! But there are still significant costs required. Research reveals that you should expect to pay anywhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Personal experience suggests that might be low—very low—depending on where you live and how much you know.

Prepare, but don’t prepay. That’s Dave’s advice. Concerned about having enough money? Invest what you would have prepaid then watch your money grow beyond what you might have saved by shelling out in advance.

Whether you’re financially ready or not, that time is going to come. When it does, here’s how to stay ahead of their game.

Be a Savvy Shopper

Funeral directors run a necessary business and sell needed products. They ought to have an attitude of service while they help you or your loved ones make hard decisions, but why throw yourself on their mercy? Instead, smooth your own path by knowing these important things:

*No funeral director wants you to buy a “traditional” package. They all work on commission, and they’ll try some pretty subtle tricks to reach deep into your wallet.

*They have the advantage. When a loved one dies, most people have no idea what goods and services are required or what they should cost. Sad and vulnerable, most buy whatever the funeral director recommends.

*Watch out for the guilt card. They’re going to play it. “It’s the last thing you’ll be able to do for your loved one,” they’ll say in a voice dripping with false sympathy. “A person that special really deserves a special farewell,” or “Goodness knows they’d have done the same for you.”

Complete Guide to Estate Planning

Federal Law Is Your Friend

Grief, pain and unanticipated problems frequently accompany the loss of a loved one. No amount of preparation or advice can wipe away your tears. But piling trouble on top of tragedy is unacceptable, especially when it’s trouble you can avoid with a little determination and knowledge of the law.

*You’re entitled to a price list during the initial conversation, before you see caskets or choose a vault. They must let you take the lists home to think about it.

*They can’t make you pay for services you don’t want or pressure you to order services—like embalming—that might not be required by law. Check with a lawyer before signing the papers.

*If you buy a casket online or from a discount vendor like Costco, the funeral home must use it, and they can’t charge a handling fee.

*They can recommend the heaviest vault, but the cheapest one will also prevent cave-ins. If they suggest otherwise, ask why they carry something that won’t work.

*You can switch funeral homes at any time as long as you pay the original one for the goods and services you’ve already used.

*Beware of “packages.” Choose specific goods and services and compare costs. If they’re offering a package, you can bet it’s to their advantage, not yours.

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Yes, It’s an Emergency

If you’ve been following Dave’s advice, you have an emergency fund or are working toward fully funding one. This isn’t how you’d planned to spend it, but if there ever was a legitimate use, this is it. Study your bill carefully. Question everything. Be absolutely sure they’ve only charged you for things you agreed to pay for.


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We’re definitely not trying to scare or sadden you. All we want is to ease the financial pressures of a situation that’s 100% guaranteed to happen whether you are prepared or not.

Have you experienced a situation where a loved one planned in advance and eased this burden for you? Our friends at Mama Bear Legal Forms offer a will package that gives you peace of mind for the future. Create your will in 20 minutes or less!

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Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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