The saying that “It’s Never Too Late” doesn’t apply to certain aspects of retirement and estate planning. I can attest first hand to this; my father died when I was one and my mother, at age 37, was left with 4 small children of which I was the youngest. My father died without life insurance and my mother was left to raise us during the hard times ahead.
Final arrangements are a necessary part of everyone’s estate plan yet it is the one facet of the plan that many neglect… UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE! Now is the time to put pen to paper and let your loved ones know your wishes and determine what services you desire when that time comes. Another critical aspect of pre-planning for federal employees and annuitants is that It will help your surviving spouse and family members retain their benefits, reduce their health care costs, and cash in your FEGLI life insurance.
- Identify an interment site (cemetery)
- Purchase a plot, crypt, or elect cremation
- Selecting a funeral home
- Funeral Director to prepare a “Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected”
- Prepare a Funeral Planning Record
- Payment options
- Prepay or,
- Pay with an insurance policy
- Identify funds to be used for payment
- Report Death to OPM (Procedures & Form)
- Confirm FEHB changed from Self Plus One to Self Only if appropriate
- Report Death to FEGLI (Procedures & Form)
I started planning our final arrangements when we updated our estate plans several years ago. I should have completed this task long before; you never know what’s just around the corner. Our estate plan included all of the essentials except for detailed final arrangements; what funeral home we would use, services desired, and other necessary details.
What brought the subject up was an out of town trip. We passed the National Cemetery where we originally planned to be buried. Burial is free for veterans and their spouses and it was a natural choice for us. I wrote an article about Final Arrangements and the National Cemeteries  that you may find informative. My wife was concerned that the National Cemetery was too far from home for her to visit.
Identify an interment site (cemetery)
Use the following resources to find a suitable location:
- National Veteran’s Cemetery Locator 
- Cemetery Locator  (This site doesn’t include all locations in an area)
- Perform a Google Search  to find a cemetery your area
I researched local cemeteries in early 2014 and upon our return home we purchased a crypt in a cemetery only three miles from our home. We received a substantial pre-construction discount with a no interest loan from the Catholic Cemeteries Association . The association also offered a prepaid funeral plan that we used to compare prices at local funeral homes. Catholic cemeteries now accept all faiths.
I compared standard grave burials to crypt interment. With a grave you have to pay for the plot, a headstone which can cost up to $5,000 or more, a vault, and have the grave excavated and filled in. The cost for a crypt in a mausoleum, especially with a pre-need and/or pre-construction discount, wasn’t much more and everything is included with the purchase.
Selecting a funeral home
I contacted three local funeral homes and requested copies of their General Price List. Most, if not all, funeral homes will provide price lists upon request. I visited two on the list and we discussed options, services, and they answered my many questions. Each provided a detailed “Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected.” The statements included the total cost for all of the essential services, casket, viewing duration, up to required clothing that we desired. We selected the funeral home best suited to our needs and prepared a Funeral Planning Record for them to hold on file until notified of a death.
The costs listed on their statement are only good for 30 days. Prices generally increase over time. The good thing is that you have exactly what services you desire on paper so there won’t be any confusion at the time of death.
Pre-planning helps loved ones cope at a very difficult time and lets them know exactly what the deceased desired and how to pay for it. The Funeral Planning Record lists all of the important information the funeral director needs when the time comes. It lists your name, address, birth date, church affiliation, marriage information, family members, and so much more. The information is used for many purposes including writing an obituary and notifying Social Security and Medicare. They also ask for a copy of a veteran’s DD-214 and coordinate VA benefits. If desired you can also write a draft obituary and include it in the record.
All funeral directors provide a Funeral Planning Record for you to complete. However, most funeral homes aren’t automated to the point where you can enter this information into a database or on a fill-in PDF form. I converted the Funeral Planning Record to a Microsoft Word document because I don’t like to manually fill in forms. Keep a copy with your estate plan or include it in a Funeral Arrangement file like I did for my wife and children. All they have to do is take a copy with my DD-214 form, I placed a copy in the file, to the funeral home when they go to finalize arrangements and sign the forms. It’s best to review your final arrangements with your children or heirs so they know what to expect.
The average cost of a funeral today is just over $7,000 and then you have to add thousands more for the cemetery plot and headstone or a crypt. Cost is the major reason why cremation has become so popular now accounting for almost 50% of all burials.
- Pay with an insurance policy using a “Funeral Home Assignment”
- Prepay in advance with a Final Arrangement insurance policy
- Pay with estate assets at time of death
Funeral homes typically allow 30 days for payment after a funeral and they will have death certificates within 2 to 3 days from the date of death. You will need to send a copy of the death certificate to the insurance companies to have them release funds. You can elect to have the insurance company pay the funeral home direct for their services and the remainder will be sent to the beneficiary. This is called a Funeral Home Assignment and FEGLI allows this. I advised my wife to do this with my FEGLI policy.
If you have sufficient savings the costs can be paid from estate assets or from the surviving spouse’s accounts at the time of death.
Many funeral homes offer prepayment plans using a final arrangement insurance policy. These policies require a lump sum payment to the insurer for the total amount listed on the funeral home’s Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected contract. The insurance policy earns dividends that take care of any additional costs at the time of death. If you decide to use this option check the AmBest insurance ratings  for the company. According to AM Best, “A Best’s Credit Rating provides a forward-looking independent and objective opinion of the insurer’s creditworthiness.” You have to register to use their free service.
Another more desirable option, if you don’t have sufficient insurance, is to set aside the amount specified and place it into an interest bearing savings account or a Certificate of Deposit (CD) that has a low early withdrawal penalty. Let it grow there to cover future cost increases. Place a copy of the CD or a note about the savings account in your Funeral Arrangement file and advise your heirs so they will know where the funds are located.
Reporting a Death to OPM (Procedures & Forms)
This is a critical and time sensitive issue for annuitants and survivor annuitants. You must report the death of an annuitant or survivor annuitant to OPM and complete an Application for Death Benefits shortly after the death. Reporting the death to OPM will stop the annuitant’s payment and start the survivor’s reduced payment. They should also contact the surviving spouse about reducing their FEHB coverage from a family or self-plus one plan to a self only plan that will substantially reduce the surviving spouse’s monthly premium.
Three Ways to Contact OPM:
Call, it may take a number of tries to get through. Call early in the morning and just keep redialing until you get through. Long waits are typical.
- Telephone at 1-888-767-6738 —hours of operation are 7:40 A.M. until 5:00 P.M (Eastern Time)
- Send email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Don’t send confidential info by email)
- Report a death to OPM online 
All payments received from OPM after the annuitant’s date of death must be returned to the Treasury Department.
Complete an SF-2800  “Application for Death Benefits” for CSRS annuitants or a SF-3104  and SF-3104B  forms for FERS annuitants. OPM will send a package for the survivor to complete. I downloaded and completed the SF-2800 (Application For Death Benefits) form in advance for my wife and added sticky green arrow markers where my wife will have to enter my date of death, sign and date. This form must be sent to OPM along with a copy of the death certificate and marriage license. I advised my wife to check with OPM to make sure the form I completed is still valid, it was last revised on November 2011. I included a copy of our marriage license in the file attached to this draft form. Send it to the Office of Personnel Management, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045.
You will need the following information when reporting a death to OPM and FEGLI:
- Deceased CSA Number:
- Retirement System: CSRS or FERS
- Copy of death certificate (Funeral home will have death certificates within 2 days of the death.)
- Copy of marriage certificate (Attached to the SF-2800 or 3104 form in folder)
- Date of Birth:
- Health Benefit Enrollment Code at time of death:
- Spouse’s birth date:
- Spouse’s SSN:
- Spouses Date of Marriage:
- Address & Phone Number:
Reporting a Death to Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) by MET LIFE: Call FEGLI (1-800-633-4542) to report the death and complete their Form FE-6  Claim For Death Benefits form. I also downloaded this form and completed it in advance and added sticky green arrow markers where my wife will have to enter my date of death, sign and date. If you should decide to do this your survivor should call and ask FEGLI if the form you completed, the current one was revised December 2016, is still current. If a newer form is available have them send a copy or downloaded it from the Internet. Attach a copy of the death certificate. Send this completed form to OFEGLI, PO Box 6080, Scranton, PA 18505. This address is in the instructions with the form.
FEGLI will pay for the funeral costs and send the difference to the surviving spouse or designated beneficiaries if desired. The funeral home will have you sign a document, a Funeral Home Assignment letter, agreeing to this and provide a copy to attach to the FE-6 form. You must check YES in Part F authorizing them to pay the funeral home direct.
The time spent preparing your final arrangements will make it much easier on your family and friends. Take the necessary steps to prepare your final arrangements now. I feel relieved now that I’ve done what was needed to help my wife and children when that time comes and I hope that time is far, far away! If you decide to put this task off, print this article and keep it in your retirement or estate planning folder for future reference.
Helpful Retirement Planning Tools
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- Retirement Planning Guide 
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- 2017 Annuity Calculator (FREE Excel chart estimates annuity growth)
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment advisor. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.
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