LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Planning for your death and funeral are probably not things you think about often, and certainly not things you look forward to doing.
However, in Kentucky, the average cost of a funeral is about $9,000, and that doesn’t include costs for the cemetery, grave marker, and flowers. If you don’t save the funds for the day you die, your next of kin will be left to figure out the bill while dealing with the grief.
“Only God knows when your time is," said Joanna Smith, who recently had to cover funeral expenses for both of her brothers’ unexpected deaths. "You don’t know. You need to prepare!”
According to a study by the National Funeral Directors Association, 62.5 percent of consumers felt it was very important to communicate their funeral plans and wishes to family members prior to their own deaths, yet only 21.4 percent had done so. Smith was responsible for the funerals of her brothers John and David after they both died prematurely. They fell into that 21.4 percent, noted by the NFDA, who did not plan or talk to family members prior to their own deaths.
“I can’t even remember how much it was for John because it was devastating," Smith said. John had died at the age of 46. He was pulling tree stumps from his mother’s yard, and once he stopped to rest, he thought he had pulled a muscle because he had severe chest pains. It was only a couple of hours after John mentioned his chest pain that Joanna ended up calling 911 for fear that something might be seriously wrong with her brother. John was having a heart attack and died just days later.
"John didn’t have insurance,” Smith said.
Years later, Smith had to mourn another unexpected death.
“I got a call at 1 o’clock in the day saying, ‘I just took David to the emergency room and they said he’s not going to make it,’” Smith said. Joanna and John’s brother David died at the age of 65. The funeral costs again fell on Joanna.
“I think he gave us the best deal he could with David, but it was well over $8,000,” Smith said.
Sidney Fogle, Executive Director of the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky, said families are often left with the pain, cost and shock of losing a loved one.
“In the state of Kentucky, when you pass away, for lack of a better term, you become the property of your next of kin,” Fogle said. “Your next of kin is responsible for taking care of you.”
In other words, your next of kin is the party responsible for paying the bill and making the plans.
“There are three ways to prepay for a funeral,” Fogle said. They are below:
- An assignment form can be filled out at the funeral home to allow payment of a life insurance policy you purchased at some time in your life to go directly to the funeral home. Any money left over is given back to the beneficiaries named once the funeral expenses are settled.
- Another type of insurance policy you can buy to cover some of your funeral expenses comes directly from the funeral home. You choose the services you want for your funeral and buy a policy to cover the cost. Funeral homes by law in the state of Kentucky must provide you with an itemized price list in person. If you are calling, they must disclose the prices to you if you ask. The Federal Trade Commission requires this under the “Funeral Rule.” You have the right to choose the goods and services you want.
- In the state of Kentucky, laws have been set up for a Funeral Trust fund. The trust is regulated by the State Attorney General’s Office and is invested at PNC Bank. The trust can be opened with as little as $5 and can be transferred from one funeral home to another. Any money left over after funeral expenses are paid is given to the estate of that individual.
“If something happens in your life, you have a catastrophic event and you need that money, you can get that money back at any time with all of the interest,” Fogle said about the Funeral Trust Fund.
Fogle said there are many options to consider when planning and preparing for an end-of-life service.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Kentucky. Local zoning laws do vary. Before establishing a family cemetery, it is best to check the local zoning laws in your county or town.
“You can bury your mom or dad on your own property if that county or city allows it,” Fogle said. “It’s pretty common in rural areas.”
“If a person is going to be cremated, funeral homes have caskets that are rental units,” Fogle said. “There’s like a box that sits on the inside of the casket. With all the draping you can’t see the box.” Renting a casket may save money while also allowing you to still have a traditional viewing, funeral or memorial service even if you want to be cremated.
“We tell people to start thinking about this before you die,” Fogle stressed. “A lot of people are not prepared. They’re not prepared financially or just not having talked to their family.”
Added Smith: “It allows you to grieve when you don’t have to worry about paying the funeral director. When you don’t have to worry about all those other things.”
If you are applying for Social Security income or Medicaid, you can designate those funds from your Funeral Trust Fund as irrevocable, so they are not considered an asset and disqualify you from qualifying for those funds. Once it is declared irrevocable, you cannot touch those funds again until they are used at your time of death.
Tell your family about any arrangements you make. Don’t include funeral plans in your will since your family may not have access to that document at the time of your death. Be honest about what you can and cannot afford when talking to the funeral home about your wishes.