Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Kevin Greenard: Making your own funeral plans

Kevin Greenard

Planning your own funeral may not be the top item on your to-do list. But it should be — it’s one of the components to a comprehensive estate plan.

Let’s visualize a scenario where there are no directions with respect to your funeral arrangements. You have not documented anything regarding your wishes, nor have you spoken to anyone.

In this scenario, you are leaving your family and loved ones scrambling to arrange a funeral service at a difficult time. It is not uncommon to have this result in family disputes or people feeling pressured to pay for funeral services that many not even be what the deceased would have wanted.

Directions outside of your will

Some people have wills that may provide direction with respect to funeral arrangements, but many wills provide no direction. The majority of the lawyers we have spoken to over the years do not recommend putting funeral directions in your will. Regardless of whether arrangements are documented in your will, we recommend that instructions regarding funeral arrangements be left with your executor.

Safety deposit box

Keeping your funeral arrangements within your will, secured in a safety deposit box, may seem like a good idea — but it’s not. Even if your executor has access to the safety deposit box, they may not always be able to get timely access. What happens if a death occurs over a long weekend or during the holiday season when banks, trust companies and law firms are generally closed?

It may be difficult in some situations for your executor to obtain a copy of the will prior to making decisions with respect to your funeral. For those people who have put funeral instructions in their will, you should ensure that your executor also has a copy of your funeral plans to expedite your wishes. It can be frustrating for an executor to get access to your will in a safety deposit box if the financial institution wants proof that you are the executor to get access to the will.

Original copy of will with lawyer

Another challenge with keeping your funeral plans within your will is that the original copy of the will may be stored at the law firm.

In recent years, I’ve heard many stories of clients getting frustrated just getting in touch with some professionals. They don’t answer their phones as many people work remotely or are away from the office. In other cases, the lawyer will send forms saying they need to have the identification verified by the executor.

All of this takes time which isn’t helpful if your family is trying to make funeral plans.

Planning through a memorandum

The first approach to planning your funeral is to have a clear instructions that are written down. Spending a little time now to plan may make decisions easier for your family during a stressful time and ensure your wishes are respected.

For my own estate plan, I have prepared a Pre-planning Funeral Memorandum. The uniqueness of the Funeral Memorandum approach is that it can be customized from start to finish. At the very least it should have the date prepared, your wishes. You should also ensure that your executor has copy of the Funeral Memorandum.

Date Prepared:

Memorial Society:

Funeral Home:

Executor Name:

Copy delivered to executor _________

Planning through Memorial Society forms

Preplanning your funeral service means that you have made arrangements for your own funeral ahead of time. This does not necessarily mean that the services have been paid in advance. A different approach to the self-prepared Funeral Memorandum is to use the forms provided for by a memorial society.

One example of a memorial society is the Memorial Society of B.C. Membership is $50 for basic membership and $60 for basic-plus membership. The basic-plus membership includes a 14-page digital information booklet that helps to get your affairs in order. The society provides a number of services that are focused on planning. Once you are a member, there is no cost to make changes to your plan.

The Memorial Society of B.C. has an arrangement form that the society uses to document your intended wishes like, type of burial, type of funeral service, if you have pre-paid arrangements and where, and any other instructions that you would like documented. Once completed, the arrangement form is kept on file with the Memorial Society.

If you have registered with the society, we encourage you to give a copy of the arrangement form to your executor.

Planning through a funeral home

Planning your funeral through a funeral home will ensure that you have guidance from industry professionals. They can plan all aspects of the funeral, starting with different types of disposition including traditional burials, green burials or cremation.

Once the type of disposition is arranged, the funeral home can then work with families to help plan what type of services they would like to plan for. A full traditional burial and services, graveside services, celebrations of life, receptions are some examples of what the funeral home can plan for.

Funeral homes are obligated to provide a copy of their price lists for the services they provide. Funeral homes will typically have their own planning workbook that they will provide to their customers. This would have some of the same information that would be listed within the memorial society forms.

What happens to the body?

What happens to a deceased person’s body in B.C. The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might think. There are different steps depending on how the death occurred, where the death occurred and whether the death was unexpected or not. It also depends on whether the deceased had indicated organ donation or if there are preplanned arrangements for a funeral home.

Typically, when a death has occurred at a hospital, nursing home or other health-care facility, the attending physician or coroner will be required to pronounce the death and will then advise the person with the right to control disposition (executor) when the body may be moved. If there is no will, then the order of control for disposition of human remains is:

• The spouse of the deceased.

• An adult child of the deceased.

• An adult grandchild of the deceased.

• If the deceased was a minor, a person who was a guardian who had care and control of the deceased at date of death.

• A parent of the deceased.

• An adult sibling of the deceased.

• An adult nephew or niece of the deceased.

• An adult next of kin of the deceased, determined on the basis provided by Section 23 (5) of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act.

• The minister under the Employment and Assistance Act, or if the Public Guardian and Trustee is administering the estate of the deceased under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, the Public Guardian and Trustee.

• An adult person having a personal or kinship relationship with the deceased, other than those referred to above.

If the person at the top of the order of priority is unavailable or unwilling to give instruction, the right to give instructions passes to the person who is next in priority. If there are persons of equal rank (in the same priority level), then order is determined by agreement between the persons of said equal rank, or else it resorts to age, going from eldest to youngest.

If a person has indicated organ donation, then a coordinator in the hospital will confirm with the executor or family. Organ donation only happens if the death occurs in a hospital. For more information on organ donation, please visit B.C. Transplant.

Prearranging versus prepaying

It is important to differentiate between prearranging and prepaying funeral services. Prepaid funeral services mean the services are paid in advance either with a funeral home or an insurance company to provide funeral services at the time of death.

First, make a few phone calls. Two good resources that are available are the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority and Funeral Service Association of British Columbia.

You can determine whether a funeral home is licensed and in good standing with the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act (BPCPA). A listing of all funeral providers, cemeteries and crematoriums can be found at The BPCPA can be contacted directly to ensure there are no licensing suspensions or outstanding complaints at 1-888-564-9963

Planning allows you an opportunity to see if the funeral home is a member in good standing with the Funeral Service Association of British Columbia (FSABC). A listing of members in good standing can be found at or by contacting FSABC directly at 1-800-665-3899. Not all funeral home are members of FSABC.

Once you have decided on the type of service you would like, you would then discuss with the funeral home your options.

One option is to get a prepaid funeral service contract. A prepaid funeral service contract is a detailed contract with a funeral provider for future funeral services. In these contracts, the funeral service and merchandise costs do not typically increase, even if the funeral takes place many years later.

Similarly, a pre-need cemetery service contract is with a cemetery operator for future cemetery services, such as a burial lot or mausoleum/columbarium space. Keep in mind funeral service contracts must include an itemized listing of all goods and services purchased and any other costs involved.

In addition, any money collected under a pre-need contract is placed in trust and, in British Columbia, a savings institution will administer the trust account. This money must be deposited by the funeral provider or cemetery operator into the trust account within 21 days.

You may cancel these contracts at any time if you choose. If you want to cancel your pre-need cemetery or funeral service contract, you must deliver a cancellation letter, or send it by registered mail, to the funeral provider’s business.

Certain items that have a unique characteristic or are personalized may not be refundable. In any contract of sale, the seller must explain under what terms a refund will be made. Before you sign a contract, make sure you understand your cancellation rights.

As noted above, all funeral providers, cemeteries, and crematoriums are required by law to provide an itemized price list. By paying today you can control and calculate costs. Prepayments may be done through a trust fund or funeral insurance certificate.

What happens if a person prepays funeral costs for a funeral home, but moves to another city? Generally, pre-paid funerals are transferable. But depending on the payment — either a trust fund for funeral insurance certificate, as well as the policies of the individual funeral home — there could be some limitations.

BPCPA regulations indicate that trust accounts that are transferred between funeral homes may keep up to 20 per cent of the trust account for selling and administrative costs. Some funeral homes keep the full 20 per cent while others choose to release all the funds.

Regarding insurance funded funeral plans, usually all of the funds together with any interest are transferred to the new funeral home by changing the beneficiary of the certificate. If an insurance funded funeral plan is cancelled, then cash surrender values would apply.

Funds available for funeral costs

The majority of our older clients have prearranged their funeral plans. Only some have prepaid. For clients that have not prepaid funeral arrangements, we will always have a discussion as part of their estate plan to make sure that funds are available to cover final taxes, probate fees, funeral costs, and other final expenses.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Senior Wealth Advisor and Portfolio Manager, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at Call 250-389-2138, email [email protected], or visit