Imagine having only two days to organize an important event from scratch. When you leave it to family members to arrange your funeral after you’re gone, it’s like asking them to plan a wedding in a weekend, said Sarah Sunnucks.
“You would never put that [burden] on somebody,” said Sunnucks, a preplanning funeral director at Smith’s Funeral Homes, with locations in Burlington, Grimsby, and Stoney Creek, Ontario. According to Sunnucks, a common misconception is that letting your spouse or kids decide what’s best will be easier for them.
“A lot of times, we sit with families [immediately after a death], and they haven’t slept, they haven’t eaten, they’ve been in the hospital. They’re dealing with a lot of things, and then here we are trying to have them make all these decisions within a short period of time.
“Having a plan in place makes it a lot easier for the family and your wishes,” said Sunnucks.
Why Preplan Your Funeral?
Not understanding the benefits of preplanning or the options available may be the reason why only one out of three Canadians preplan their funeral.
Yet, funeral preplanning prevents your loved ones from scrambling to make stressful decisions during a time of grief.
“I think the biggest benefit [of preplanning] is for anyone that’s left behind,” said Sunnucks. “The more that you can do to make decisions, ask questions, investigate, have those professional conversations—even for your family just to have [a funeral home’s] phone number to call so that if there was an emergency, they wouldn’t be having to figure that out—is a huge benefit.”
Funeral preplanning also gives you time to explore options and lets you communicate your wishes. “There are people who have really strong opinions about [having an environmentally friendly send-off] or not being cremated or being cremated,” said Sunnucks.
With a pre-arranged funeral, you have the option to prepay, which relieves your family from your funeral’s financial costs.
Save Money with a Prepaid Funeral Plan
Though you can record your wishes with a funeral home free of charge, you may also choose to pay for your future funeral costs. Examples of funeral-home costs are your service, your casket, and an urn.
“It’s a great way for families to save money,” said Sunnucks. Prepaying locks in tomorrow’s expenses at today’s prices, protecting you from inflation over the years. It can also reduce your taxes.
With prepaying, you’ll sign a contract and pay the funeral home an amount to be held for you in trust. “That investment fund [generates] tax-free interest, similar to a TFSA,” said Sunnucks. When you die, the fund will cover your funeral costs and guarantees your family won’t have to pay a single additional penny to offset price increases.
“Whatever that investment fund has gained in interest, it goes to cover our inflation,” said Sunnucks. Any leftover money will go to your estate or to a person you have designated, depending on your situation.
And what if you move or your funeral home goes out of business? The money is still in your name, said Sunnucks. “[People’s] funeral home fund—their trust—can move with them so any funeral home can become the beneficiary of that investment.”
From Backyard Funerals to Green Burials, Your Choices Are Endless
When you’re planning, the sky’s the limit, said Sunnucks. “We’re here to help you be creative,” she said, “and do something that really represents that person. It doesn’t have to be that traditional two days of visitation with the service and burial, and everyone wears black.”
For example, she’s seen party-style celebrations of life, gift-giving, funeral-goers wearing matching T‑shirts, and unique objects used in funerals as tributes. “We’ve had canoe oars; we’ve had hockey equipment,” she said.
Smith’s Funeral Homes had to pivot in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve added live streaming,” said Sunnucks. “People who are anywhere in the world can watch a funeral.” She also mentioned outdoor backyard funerals and an increasing number of private ceremonies as examples of new and continuing trends.
Traditionally, your choices have included whether to have a visitation or viewing, the type of casket, and whether to bury or cremate. For a cremation, you can either buy an urn or provide your own, and you should plan a final resting place for the remains—whether they be buried, scattered, displayed in the family home, or turned into jewellery or other keepsakes.
As we become more eco-conscious, many families are choosing environmentally friendly arrangements. “Green funerals are what we call natural funerals,” said Sunnucks. “Green means there’s no carbon footprint; natural means there’s as little as possible.”
As the first Canadian funeral business to be certified by the Green Burial Council, Smith’s Funeral Homes offers the option of a green or natural burial. For example, said Sunnucks, “there’s no kind of embalming happening. There doesn’t have to be a casket. And they are buried higher up in the ground above the frost line, so it’s more natural for them to go back into the earth.”
For such burials, bodies are wrapped in all-natural shrouds, and traditional grave markers aren’t used. “Most green [burial sites] don’t have monuments, so you wouldn’t know that that person is in that site. You would just know they’re in that general area. And then all-natural foliage happens there. Wildflowers are planted over top of you, and then they never get cut down.”
Let Your Final Wishes Be Known
What are your last wishes—and have you spoken about them with your family? Do you know what kind of funeral your parents want when they die? Though these family conversations can be difficult, it’s important to have them, said Sunnucks.
When you work with Transitions Realty—where we help you downsize into a new home that’s right for you and guide you into the next chapter of your life—we’ll ask you whether you need help with funeral preplanning. As an integral part of estate planning in retirement, a preplanned funeral eases your family’s emotional and financial burden after your death.
Funeral preplanning: It brings peace of mind, for both you and your loved ones.