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Funeral directors, financial advisers urge people to plan ahead for end of life

Daniel Dougherty stands in front of examples of caskets for sale at Dougherty Funeral Home in Duluth. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service1 / 4
Cremation and urns are an alternative to burial in a casket. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service2 / 4
The cost of caskets varies widely, determined by materials and design features. Bronze is considered top end, while wooden caskets cost a fraction of a bronze casket’s price. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service3 / 4
Decorative corners are one option that can affect the cost of a casket. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service4 / 4

Death is a difficult subject to discuss, but planning funeral and financial details can make it easier on loved ones left mourning.

There are many things to consider. Service, no service. Flowers. Stationery.

Then, there's the cost: An immediate cremation with no funeral service costs $1,500 to $4,000. An urn can run $300 to $2,400. Caskets are made of wood, steel and maple, and they can cost $1,500 to $15,000, said Daniel Dougherty of Dougherty Funeral Home in Duluth.

Funeral directors are required to provide itemized lists, according to the Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rule, so costs are easily accessible. But grief and loss can make decision making challenging. That's why discussing preferences is key.

"If you have anyone that cares for you, it's critical that you have some sort of plan," said financial adviser Dan Moseley of Northwestern Mutual in Duluth.

For many people, some sort of farewell ritual allows closure and support for friends and family. It's a conversation often avoided because nobody thinks they're going to die tomorrow, said Barton Porter of Sunrise Memorial Park Cemetery.

"I see every age of person come, unfortunately, through the door, and we don't always have tomorrow," he said.

Another reason to plan ahead is that financial demands in death go beyond the funeral. Legal fees can add up, and finances can be tied up in real estate. Problems can arise when there isn't communication, said financial adviser Cory Binsfield of Structured Wealth Advisors in Duluth. Binsfield has commonly seen a separation of financial duties in a marriage.

"The husband dies, and the spouse finds out that there's not as much money as they thought, or the spouse didn't take care of things in advance. It makes it hard to take care of assets."

Binsfield's No. 1 recommendation is that partners communicate family finances at all times, so there are no surprises.

Planning is also key, so everybody knows your wishes, Porter added. "So your family can spend less time giving the funeral home information and more time grieving and celebrating your life," he said.

Funeral services are becoming more personalized, and no two services are the same, Porter said. People are custom-making their urns, and people are including fireworks in their services, Dougherty said. Porter shared a story about a car lover's service that included three race cars in the parking lot.

Funeral services and goods are often pre-funded by an insurance annuity or an insurance policy, or with a bank or credit union, according to the Minnesota Department of Health Mortuary Science section. If not prefunding a service, it's important to leave some plans in a will or health care directive.

"Talk to someone about what your plans are. Even if you're not married, talk to your best friend," Binsfield said.

He suggested saving $5,000 to $20,000 in an emergency fund for final costs. A single person with no assets still needs a basic will that will assign personal belongings. If you don't have a lot of assets and you don't want others to burden the cost, you can buy a small life insurance policy, Binsfield said.

Added Moseley: "There's no ballpark number that everybody should have." Everyone's financial plan and need is different, and to determine how much you need, your investments, bank accounts, debts and insurance should be calculated by a professional, he said.

Life milestones are a good time to evaluate what you're leaving behind, Moseley said. That's when you buy a house, change a job, have a child, get promoted, take on new debt or responsibility of another family member. Not everyone needs life insurance depending on their finances, he said, but the best time to look at it is when you're young and healthy.

Whatever route to planning your final costs, Dougherty suggested visiting a funeral home to discuss which services and items you want so you can get an idea and prioritize what's most important.

Without direction, preparing a funeral is like planning a wedding in three days, Porter said. Working in the funeral business has encouraged Porter to seize opportunities to prepare for the future — and to have fun in the present.

"We have today, and you better make it your best day," he said.

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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