From an economic standpoint, choosing the institution to handle your burial is probably the most important final arrangement that you can make. For this reason, many people join memorial or funeral societies, which help them find local mortuaries that will deal honestly with their survivors and charge reasonable prices.
Society members are free to choose whatever final arrangements they wish. Most societies, however, emphasize simple arrangements over the costly services often promoted by the funeral industry. The services offered by each society differ, but most societies distribute information on options and explain the legal rules that apply to final arrangements.
If you join a society, you will receive a form that allows you to plan for the goods and services you want -- and to get them for a predetermined cost. Many societies also serve as watchdogs, making sure that you get and pay for only the services you choose.
The cost for joining these organizations is low -- usually from $20 to $40 for a lifetime membership, although some societies periodically charge a small renewal fee.
To find a funeral or memorial society near you, look in the yellow pages of your telephone book under Funeral Information and Advisory Services, or contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance at 800-765-0107, or online at www.funerals.org.
If you don't want to join a society, you can look for a mortuary or funeral home on your own. You'll have to shop around to find the institution that best meets your needs in terms of style, location, and cost. But beware of plans that require you to pay in advance; it's better to set aside your own fund to cover funeral goods and services. (For more information, see The Prepaid Funeral and its Perils.)