WATCH: Funeral Planning for Beginners

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If you have never planned a funeral before, you may be confused about what issues will need to think about.

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with Bruce Humphrey, President and CEO of Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles-Newbigging Chapel Ltd. in Toronto to discuss funeral planning.  He had some sage advice that you should consider before you get you started.

Is it True that if You Choose Cremation, You Can’t Have a Funeral Service?

No, it’s not true.  Cremation, as well as burial or entombment of remains, are all methods of “body disposition” (i.e. ways of dealing with a person’s remains).  With any method of body disposition a family can choose to have (or not have) a funeral service.

For the funeral director, it doesn’t matter what the final body disposition is because this is the last step in the funeral planning process.

Some people choose cremation when funeral planning because they mistakenly assume that they will save money because they don’t have to have a funeral service. “However, most people spend just as much money when they have cremation as they would if they choose a traditional burial,” advises Humphrey.

What are the Pros And Cons of Choosing Burial Over Cremation?

There is one big downside to scattering cremains (or ashes), namely, that there is no dedicated graveside that families can visit, which can help give the family a sense of finality.

Humphrey asks: “What happens if your loved one’s remains were scattered at a family cottage and down the line it needs to be sold?”  This important consideration needs to be taken into account in funeral planning.

Is it Best to Pre-Pay Your Funeral or Wait Until Your Time of Need?

According to Humphrey, if you can afford to pre-pay for a funeral, you should do so.  There are two primary reasons for his recommendation.

First, with a pre-paid funeral plan, the funeral home has to guarantee the price.  The money is placed into trust and is not touch by the funeral home until after a funeral. Humphrey asks:

   What can you buy today, pay cash, and have it delivered in the future at a guaranteed price?” Nothing, except for a funeral.

Second, with a pre-paid funeral plan, families don’t have to worry about covering the cost of the funeral when the time comes.  Pre-paying helps to eliminate the financial stress that falls on family members when a person passes away.  If the funeral hasn’t been pre-paid, the family will have to scramble to determine if the deceased person has money in the bank, or other assets, to cover the cost.

What Elements of Funeral Planning Do People Have Difficulty With?

Humphrey states that the most difficult situation he and the funeral directors at Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles-Newbigging Chapel Ltd. run into is indecision on the part of the families.

Indecision stems from the fact that families often don’t know what their spouse or child wanted when it comes to funeral planning.  “[Families often] feel as though they are creating everything as they go along,” says Humphrey.

Another difficult situation is when the deceased over-planned their funeral.  “They have a list of what they don’t want, and yet they are going to be the only ones who are not actually there at the funeral,” says Humphrey.  “Then the survivors planning the funeral are stuck with living with all the things that their loved one didn’t want.”

Funeral planning is also challenging when family dynamics are thrown into the mix.  The process can be hampered by family tension or complicated family dynamics.

What is the Average Total Cost for a Funeral?

Humphrey says that he is asked about costs on a daily basis. “My response is always, what is the average price of a car?  It really depends on what features and elements you want to include.”

“On average today in Toronto, or Ontario, a traditional funeral costs approximately $6,000 to $10,000, depending on the funeral home and the products and services selected.” There are also additional costs, such as newspaper notices, flowers, cemetery costs, the cost of a minister, that need to be covered.

Humphrey’s advice when doing funeral planning is to budget $15,000 for a traditional, complete funeral in the future.  “You can do it for much less, and you can do it for much more,” says Humphrey. 

But he would rather quote a high number than a low number so that there are sufficient funds to cover the type of funeral and services that a family wants to have.

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When Someone Comes to Your Funeral Home, What are the Different Services on Offer?

Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles-Newbigging Chapel Ltd. is a full-service funeral home. The major services that families usually request are: visitation at the funeral home the day before the funeral service; the actual funeral (whether at the funeral home or at a church); and post-funeral receptions.

Humphrey points out that many families they take care of live in apartment buildings and do not have the space and facilities to host these events.

The funeral home also takes care of added costs the family has to pay, like flowers, cemetery costs and limousine services. These additional costs are then added to the funeral home’s bill under “disbursements”.

Humphrey says that the list of services that they offer is “endless”. However, they do not push products and services.  Families are free to decide what they would like and what they do not need.

Are There Particular Elements That Really Drive Up the Costs of a Funeral?

Humphrey states:  “The biggest factor that drives up funeral costs are the labour costs. The funeral service industry is a very, very labour intensive occupation to be in. 

   We need to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  It doesn’t matter if it is a holiday, or in the middle of the night, [families] expect us to be there within the hour, dressed well, with good equipment and offering good advice. That is by far the biggest cost that goes into funerals—paying the salaries.

You are Known as a High Profile, Carriage Trade Funeral Home.  Have You Ever Looked After Any Famous People?

Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles-Newbigging Chapel Ltd. has taken care of funeral planning for many high profile Canadians that have passed away.  The list includes politicians, business leaders, and actors.

Humphrey states that his funeral home has been “very blessed,” but is quick to add that they take care of people from all different walks of life. “The beauty is that we really look after everyone.” He also adds that the reason that funeral directors work as hard as they do is because “it’s nice to have that handshake and a thank you at the end of the day”.