The Saturday before Christmas, a woman called me desperate for help. Her 86-year-old father had just died in the hospital. She and her mother were seeking a burial plot for him. He was Russian Orthodox, so cremation was out – he had to be buried.

The daughter and wife wanted a resting place with trees and grass and upright headstones. With those parameters, her choices were very limited in Albuquerque’s high desert climate. Most cemeteries in this town require flat-to-the-ground markers.

tree

Add the stress of cemetery plot shopping over the weekend before a major holiday, plus the time pressure of having a dead body on your hands! There is a better way to handle this eventuality – preneed planning.

Let’s face it, funeral planning is way down on most people’s list of things to do. Sometimes, the best way to move recalcitrant parents along on preneed planning is for the younger generation to make their own arrangements first. That’s what my husband and I did.

Years ago, we told his parents we were going cemetery plot shopping and asked if they wanted to come along. Because we, the children, thought plot shopping was a perfectly normal thing to do, we lead by example. My in-laws came along, they saw how nice the cemetery was, and they bought their final resting places.

We secured four plots together and it was easy. When my father-in-law died in 2009, it was one less thing to worry about.

Another reason to buy cemetery plots sooner rather than later – if burial is preferred – is price inflation. Generally, real estate only gets more expensive.

My parents bought their burial plots in 1995. Dad purchased a preneed package that included two plots, the opening and closing costs and fees, grave liners, and a double wide marker for both plots. The total cash price in 1995 was US$6,662.09, plus a finance charge of US$2,096.60 for 60 monthly payments of US$134.86.

In contrast, one of my uncles put off making his own arrangements. He vacillated between an unused plot inherited from his parents and a veteran’s free burial in a national cemetery. In 2013, the price for that one inherited burial plot, marker, and service fees was about US$6,800. The price for burial in the same cemetery where my parents bought two plots and services in 1995 had more than doubled.

 

Even with the growing cremation rate, there will always be too many arrangements to make: deciding and funding some method of disposition, communicating the news to family and friends, marking the death or celebrating the life with some sort of gathering, and closing down the deceased’s estate. One less decision and purchase to make can make a big difference.

Yes, preneed funeral planning is rarely at the top of most people’s to-do lists. These true-life examples provide compelling reasons for families to make their arrangements before they’ve got a dead body on their hands. Hence, before someone dies – some preneed thoughts are necessary.