When we think about financial planning milestones, we usually think about life’s most joyous events: the arrival of children, their graduation from university, our own retirement. But there is another element of planning that can save family members from difficult decisions at one of the most challenging times they’ll ever face.

Canadians agree that pre-planning a funeral is wise: According to research conducted by Environics Research Group on behalf of Arbor Memorial, 88 per cent think it’s a good idea to make arrangements in advance, yet only 15 per cent of respondents said they have made funeral arrangements for themselves.

Gary Carmichael, vice president of Arbor Memorial, says he often reminds people that pre-planning provides everyone peace of mind and cost savings – and that funeral planning is inevitable. “You either do it yourself before you need it or you leave it for your family to take care of. There are no other options.”

By having frank discussions with family members and funeral professionals, it’s possible to make end-of-life decisions without the added stress of grief, emotional strain or time pressures, says Mr. Carmichael.

Pre-planning is also a way to mitigate inflation, he notes. “If you purchase your funeral today and it’s not required for 10 years, you can save a substantial amount of money in the long run.”

Making funeral arrangements for a loved one in the difficult days following a death can be very stressful, especially with added layers of second marriages and blended families heightening the possibility of family conflict. The strain of planning a funeral at such a stressful time can also be intensified by the different provincial legislations on the delegation of decision-making authority.

“Disagreements have landed families in court, arguing over whether their loved one can be cremated or not, who will keep the cremated remains, or who may receive copies of the proofs of death necessary to claim the various benefits or insurance policies,” says Mr. Carmichael. “Many families spend a lot of time and energy navigating very challenging issues that often could have been avoided by pre-planning.”

Funeral arrangements have a wide range of cost points and aesthetic choices, and guessing what their loved one would have wanted can be a painful experience for family members. But making those decisions in advance is a straightforward, seamless process, Mr. Carmichael points out.

“It’s really very simple. Families make an appointment to speak to their licensed funeral or cemetery professional, who sits down with them to discuss all the options that are available. We present options to families to help them make choices that are meaningful for them,” he says. “And as they make those choices, they decide how much they want to spend. Some prefer a more elaborate arrangement; some prefer to keep things simple. By making those choices themselves, they give their family members the comfort of knowing the arrangements made are exactly what they wanted.”

Part of the process includes putting documents in a safe, central location so that they’re readily available when needed, says Mr. Carmichael. “Once it’s taken care of, they can go home and forget about it. We can’t underestimate the value of pre-planning – it’s a logical extension of the financial planning process that prudent individuals do in regard to their personal finances.”

After experiencing a personal health crisis himself 15 years ago, Mr. Carmichael made arrangements for his own funeral, and even spoke with the person he wants to conduct the service. “I don’t want to leave that to my family,” he stresses. “I know better. Every day we see people in our offices who didn’t know they were going to have to come in that day. They’re in shock. They’re grieving. They tend to make decisions with their heart instead of their head, at a time when they’re least capable of making decisions.

“If you can save your loved ones from that situation, why wouldn’t you?” 

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For more on finding a planner to help you navigate life's challenges, read Choosing a financial planner and 8 key traits of an ethical financial planner.

“We can’t underestimate the value of pre-planning – it’s a logical extension of the financial planning process that prudent individuals do in regard to their personal finances.”
Gary Carmichael | Vice president of Arbor Memorial
 

BY THE NUMBERS

From a survey of Canadians aged 40 and over:

50%

of Canadians who are uncomfortable about discussing funeral arrangements mainly attribute this to feelings of anxiety or being upset over thoughts of dying

80%

have a will, but 49% have an estate plan

60%

have been responsible for making funeral or cemetery arrangements

Nearly

90%

agree that a good funeral service provider cares about ensuring that the practical and emotional needs of clients’ families are met, and that it is good to make one’s own arrangements in advance

Source: Arbor Memorial Inc. survey of 1,002 Canadians conducted by Environics Research Group Ltd. in December 2013