If you watch enough late night TV you see ads for insurance to cover your 'final expenses' of outstanding credit card bills and funeral expenses. I'm not sold on the idea of paying an insurance company to help cover such expenses. However those commercials help point out something that I wasn't really conscious of until my housemate's mother passed away: that no matter how small an estate you leave behind there will be expenses in dealing with your bodily remains and announcing your passing to your friends and family.
At a bare minimum your body will need to be buried or cremated and an announcement of some sort should go out to friends and family (and creditors) to let them know that you've shuffled off this mortal coil. Much like a wedding, funeral prices start low if you opt for the basics (cremation, a short obituary, and a potluck at local hall may run less than $2000.00) and go up from there into the stratosphere if desired. A fancy funeral with casket, viewing, procession to the cemetery, your own plot and headstone can easily start at $10,000 and go up from there.
The Federal Trade Commission has a handy Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist that gives an overview of some of the rules funeral homes must follow when selling you goods and services.
My housemate's mother had prepaid for cremation and an urn and had those papers with her will. That is a good option if you are settled and don't plan on moving, or if you choose a plan that can move with you. It was one less thing my housemate had to worry about immediately after her mother died (when she was exhausted from several weeks of hospital vigil).
At the very least, take the time to think about what you would like to have when you die. You won't be there for it, but if you do the planning now, while you are alert and alive, your family and friends can be confident that the are doing what you would have wanted and it removes the stress of having to make to decisions when they are the most vulnerable.
So here's a basic after death planning checklist to get you thinking about what you want.
1. I want to be:
donated to science / cremated / buried / other (please specify)
If donated, I want to go to:
local teaching hospital / anyone who will have me on short notice / specific medical issue (specify below & arrange in advance)
If donation doesn't work out, I want to be buried / cremated.
If cremated I want:
to be interred in a columbarium / interred in a plot / kept on a shelf / scattered
If buried I want:
basic casket / mid-line casket / the works casket and all the trimmings
If other, I want:
In general my religious beliefs require the following in the handling of my mortal remains:
If my remains are interred, I want the following on my marker (i.e.: name, birth & death date, quote):
2. I want my funeral to be:
a community potluck / a religious service / at a funeral home / a poetry slam / a music jam / other specified below
3. I belong to the following organizations that would like to participate in my funeral:
4. I belong to the following religious organization and would like to use its funeral / burial rites:
5. I want the following music at my service / gathering:
6. Please don't play the following at my service / gathering:
7. I want the following read at my service / gathering:
8. Please don't read the following at my service / gathering:
9. I want my funeral expenses to be paid out of (name account). I have budgeted $ for this. If my plans exceed my savings you have my permission to adjust my funeral plans accordingly.
10. I have / have not purchased a pre-paid funeral plan. My plan is with:
11. I want my obituary published in the following papers / websites:
12. I would like the following organizations to be notified of my death:
13. I want flowers / gifts in lieu of flowers. If gifts, then to the following organizations:
14. One last thing:
As you fill out this checklist, have a web browser open and do some basic serching on the cost of the things you would like. Just get a rough idea so that you have and idea of a cost range. That will give you a budget to save towards (and let you decide if your would rather have a live band at your memorial service or a top of the line casket).
At a minimum think about saving $2000.00 for your final expenses. If you have an emergency fund, your funeral expenses can form the basis of that fund. Death is the final emergency we will all have after all.
Anything you can do now, from making a will, to noting down that you will come back and haunt anyone who plays "Wind Beneath My Wings" at your service, will help your family and friends send you off in style you would like. The less they have to guess what you would want the easier it will be for them. Knowing you set aside money for your funeral is a final gift you can give your them in a time when they will be missing you.