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How to Preplan a Funeral and Provide Peace of Mind For Your Children

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
October 7th 2022 - 15 minute read
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This guide explains how to preplan for the end of life. Learn how to ensure your wishes are considered and to provide your family with peace of mind.

Losing a parent is difficult, but handling all personal and legal affairs while grieving can make it more challenging. Settling matters, making clear choices, and allocating funds beforehand can relieve some of the stress and financial burden that would otherwise fall on adult children. This article shows how to preplan arrangements and make this transition easier for surviving family members.

Have a conversation about end-of-life choices

One of the best places to start when preplanning for end-of-life choices is to have a conversation with loved ones. It can be a difficult discussion with children of any age. Still, it ensures your wishes are considered, and family members that participate have an opportunity to voice their opinions. It can also help simplify and clarify family responsibilities after a parent's death.

The conversation should touch on all end-of-life concerns. It is important to understand what is expected, what decisions must be made, who is making the decisions, what resources are available, etc. Having a general discussion with the family is a good idea, but speaking to an expert like a funeral provider will also be helpful, especially when gathering information.

This article examines the issues that need to be handled by a family upon a parent's death and divides them into four primary topics:

Funeral choices

When planning a funeral, there are three key areas to consider: Final disposition, desired funeral services, and budget.

Final disposition

Final disposition means how a deceased person's body is handled after death. Standard final-disposition options include:

Once a type of disposition is selected, additional decisions must be made as follows.

Cremated remains: How will ashes be handled? Scattered? Buried? Interred in a columbarium or kept by the family in an urn? Arrangements need to be made with a cemetery or columbarium, or a scattering site might need to be selected.

Burial: A cemetery will need to be selected, along with the purchase of a burial plot. A headstone will need to be considered.

Green burial: There are limited green burial sites in Canada, so this option may not be possible in some areas, depending on where the individual is located and if the family is willing to travel to the green burial site.

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Funeral services

There are many funeral service and ceremony options, but final disposition choice may limit or expand the available funeral services.

For example, cremation offers more flexibility and fewer time constraints than burial. Services can be held before or long after the cremation and can be formal or informal. Aquamation is an option for those that want a sustainable funeral option, but it is not legal or available in all Canadian provinces (learn more).

In contrast, burials are time sensitive, especially when embalming is not used as with green burial. In addition, traditional burials often involve several formal services, from a viewing to a funeral procession. As such, more planning and costs are involved. The family may also be required to take on more responsibilities, such as booking a venue, communicating funeral attire guidelines, providing directions to venues, creating a funeral order of service, etc.

Ideas for funeral services can be found in these articles on our website:

Funeral budget

Funerals can be expensive and a financial burden on families, so ensuring an available budget for desired funeral services is essential. For example, most burial options are significantly more expensive than cremation options. A burial may include casket purchase, buying a plot, additional transportation, storage, etc. However, choosing a direct burial is more budget-friendly. Direct burials involve the body buried shortly after death, forgoing additional, more expensive services.

Choosing cremation can reduce costs compared to a burial funeral. In most cases, it is less expensive than a burial because it excludes many of the services and purchases associated with a burial.

A direct cremation can reduce costs further. However, it is important to note that there is a slight price difference between flame cremation and aquamation. Flame cremation can be less expensive, but the difference is not drastic. The price for aquamation ranges from $2,000 to $3,000. Flame cremation costs can fall anywhere between $800 to over $3,000.

Learn more about funeral costs in these articles:

Many financial assistance programs and benefits are available to help fund funeral costs. Learn more in the following articles:

It can be challenging to explore all funeral options, so including adult children and other family members in these decisions can be helpful. Asking for help from a funeral provider or financial planner can make these decisions easier. Moreover, families may opt to prepay for final arrangements or allocate a portion of personal assets to cover funeral costs. These options are discussed in greater detail below.

After a death, numerous legal matters must be attended to, including settling the estate, administering assets, cancelling benefits and licenses, etc. A will is one of the most vital pieces of documentation that will help simplify legal matters.

A will is a legal document that outlines how estate, assets, and custody of children (if applicable), will be handled after a person's death.

In a will, an appointed administrator is called an executor, who is responsible for a deceased person's estate. The estate and assets are distributed according to the wishes expressed in the will and following local and federal laws. The executor is also in charge of funeral arrangements or responsible for assigning funeral responsibilities to someone else.

If there is no will, then a person has died "intestate." That means there are no instructions on who will handle the responsibilities that would fall to an executor. Therefore, inheritance rights, funeral arrangements, and other duties will typically fall to the next of kin (learn how next of kin is determined in Canada).

One of the main issues with defaulting to the next of kin is that no one, including a spouse or partner (if not deemed next of kin), can decide how the estate is divided.

A court-appointed representative is assigned to administer the estate, distribute belongings, and handle other final affairs. They follow a legal formula determined by the government. The family has little say in how possessions and assets are distributed. This can lead to legal battles among children and other family members and cause unnecessary stress during an already difficult time. Creating a will can help avoid many of these issues and allow for belongings to be distributed more fairly.

Learn more about wills in these articles:

Other important end-of-life legal documents include, but are not limited to:

  • Advance Care Directive: This legal document provides instructions for future medical care or outlines end-of-life choices that a family can use if their loved one is incapable of physically or mentally advocating for themselves. Learn more.
  • Health Care Proxy or Surrogate: An individual appointed to make health and medical decisions for a person when they cannot make them for themselves. This refers to any period in life when a person cannot communicate their health decisions. Learn more.
  • Funeral documentation: Paperwork that must be completed before funeral services can commence. This differs slightly between provinces. It can be completed by the family or (more commonly) with the assistance of a funeral provider. Necessary information includes the date of birth, date of death, country of origin, etc. It is essential to have on-hand important documents like birth certificates, driver's licenses, Social Insurance Number, etc.
  • Prepaid final arrangements: Discussed below.

Handling finances

Handling finances is an important part of the legal affairs associated with end-of-life planning. A will outlines how estate and assets are distributed and who will be in charge of this (executor). However, handling the financial portion of the will can be tricky, and there are methods to make this process easier on one's children.

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How to avoid probate

Probate is a process that validates a will and the executor's authority to handle and administer the estate, assets, and belongings as outlined in the will. Bank accounts may be subject to probate, but this can be avoided in certain circumstances. This means that the money in the accounts will not go through the will, and the executor will not have access to it. Therefore, the family does not need to wait for probate to access the money, which can be helpful with handling funeral arrangements and other end-of-life matters.

One way to avoid probate in Canada is by appointing a beneficiary who is payable on death from a designated account. These account give, the beneficiary access to funds once they prove their identity and provide a death certificate. However, if the beneficiary dies before the primary account holder, the money is transferred to the executor and subject to probate (if applicable). Naming beneficiaries is a great way to avoid probate, but in Canada, this can only be applied to registered accounts like RRSPs and TFSAs.

Another way to avoid probate is by creating a joint bank account. This is an account shared with one or more people; all named account holders have equal access to the money. There are two main types of joint accounts - survivorship accounts and convenience accounts. Convenience accounts allow another individual to act on their behalf, but the estate typically absorbs the money. With a survivorship account, all the money goes to the surviving account owner(s), which means the money is not absorbed by the estate and is not subject to probate.

Note: Survivorship rights do not exist in Quebec. Instead, the bank freezes the account, and the funds become the property of the estate and the surviving account holder.

Estate accounts

Another way to make estate management easier is by opening an estate account, which enables the executor to deposit income and pay expenses incurred while handling executor duties. Opening an estate account is not required but is usually recommended by banking institutions.

Preplanning final arrangements

Putting money aside for funeral arrangements can also make end-of-life planning easier. This can be allocated officially in a will, or it can be communicated ahead of time to a beneficiary or joint account holder so they know how much should be spent on desired final arrangements.

One of the issues with these options is that there is no guarantee the money will be used how the deceased person has indicated. Similarly, the will may go into probate, delaying funeral plans. A good way to avoid these issues is by entering a prepay or preplan final arrangement contract, which allows a person to choose and pay for their funeral services ahead of time. Rules differ between provinces. Here is how this is handled in Ontario and Nova Scotia, where Eirene currently offers preplanning.

Preplanning arrangements in Ontario

Preplanning contracts can be made with a funeral service provider or directly with an insurance company in Ontario.

With a funeral service provider, the money is held "in trust" by a bank, trust company, or independent trustee. With this option, the money is protected under the Prepaid Funeral Services Compensation Fund administered by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario. If the money is placed in a trust, the service provider is required by law to hold it in safe investments.

With an insurance company, individuals must sign an insurance contract and a prepaid contract with their service provider. This helps ensure the money is used for supplies and services. Money is also protected under Ontario's Insurance Act.

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Funeral preplanning in Nova Scotia

For funeral preplanning in Nova Scotia, there are two ways to make pre-arrangements.

  1. Insurance policy or trust fund with a funeral provider: The consumer can buy an insurance policy in their name that is facilitated by a funeral provider that will be earmarked to pay for final arrangements. They can also pre-select the arrangements they want. Or they can also choose to leave the money as a lump sum for use by the family as they wish. A less popular offering is for the funeral provider to set up a trust fund for the consumer and hold the funds until needed, and assign those funds to a pre-selected set of final arrangements and their associated goods and services. Most people that want to make pre-arrangements select the insurance model through a funeral provider in Nova Scotia. This approach offers more protections for a client’s funds.
  2. Final arrangements insurance policy through an insurer: A consumer can also buy a policy directly through an insurer. That money can be earmarked to pay final arrangements or to just become available as a lump sum for use by the family upon a person's death.

At Eirene, Nova Scotia residents can learn more about our funeral preplanning process here. Eirene offers guaranteed contracts for final expense funds which are already set up but are not currently assigned to a service provider. This locks-in pricing and protects against inflation. Learn more about your rights in Nova Scotia as a consumer with regard to funeral preplanning at the government website NovaScotia.ca.

Additional preplanning resources

Learn more about prepaid funeral arrangements in these articles:

If you are interested in preplanning arrangements, visit Eirene's preplanning page. In addition, answers to frequently asked preplanned arrangement questions can be found here.

For information about our service areas please visit our locations page.

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