It may seem to be inviting bad luck to plan your funeral while you are still in good health. But you will be doing your loved ones a big favor if they can avoid the emotionally tough decisions immediately after you die.
No detail is too small. You can name preferences for a funeral home, eulogists, readings, people to invite to a service, and the location of a reception for mourners.
"When people are dealing with the loss of a family member, they are not thinking clearly. It's an amazing gift to let your family know what you want," says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of New York-based Everplans, an online platform for the storage of end-of-life information.
Topping a funeral-planning checklist should be your choice for burial or cremation. Elva Roy, 73, made it clear to her two sons that she wants a "direct cremation." A funeral home will deliver the body directly to a crematory, thus eliminating the need for a casket or embalming.
Roy says she found two funeral homes near her home in Arlington, Texas, that will provide the service for less than $1,000, and she has set aside money to pay the tab.
"I don't want to enrich funeral homes," says Roy. "I want to leave as much money as possible to my heirs."
In drawing up your funeral plans, consider the costs. Leave funds in a payable-on-death savings account, so the executor or beneficiary has immediate access to the money for the funeral.
Setting aside a reserve for your loved ones is a wise course. If you instead use a prepaid plan, in which you sign a contract with a funeral home and pay in advance, you could lose your money if the funeral home goes bankrupt or you move far from the mortuary's location.
Let your loved ones know if keeping down costs is important to you. Funeral homes are businesses, and many directors try to persuade frazzled heirs to buy high-cost caskets as evidence of their love for the deceased relative.
"You don't want your family going to a funeral home and hearing a director say, 'You want the best for your mom, don't you?'" says Steve Byrne, co-founder of Seattle-based Final Roadmap, a digital repository for users' end-of-life documents and instructions.