Pre-planning your own funeral allows you to decide what kind of funeral you want and how much you want to spend.
Download this pdf Funeral pre-planning information (pdf) (984 KB)
Should I plan my own funeral?
Most funeral homes offer funeral pre-planning or pre-arranging services. This means you decide on the type of funeral you want, and in most cases, pay for the services when the arrangements are made. If you have a funeral plan, your survivors will know what you wanted, and you spare them the difficulty of making decisions at a stressful and emotional time. You also receive the benefit of a locked-in price. However, this is a very personal decision and there is no “right” answer.
If you have a pre-planned funeral, you should:
- tell your family and the people who would likely organize your funeral about the arrangements you have made
- leave the contract for the funeral where it will be found and read immediately after your death
Some people include burial wishes in their will so there is a formal expression of their wishes. This may be helpful if you give your executor a copy of the will when it is made, but this should not be the only place where you indicate what your wishes are since the will is often not opened until after the funeral.
It is a good idea to do a separate letter giving your executor and loved ones instructions about your wishes so that they know what you would like and any arrangements you have made. For example, you can:
- leave instructions about whether you wish to be buried or cremated
- if you want to be cremated you can say if you have specific wishes for your ashes
- list the service or event that you’d like after you die, such as a funeral, wake, memorial service, and/or celebration of life. You can list more than one
- say if you have specific cultural wishes or practices you would like followed
- say if you do not want any service or event held after you die.
If you are thinking about pre-paying for your funeral, get at least two quotes. Be sure you know what is included in the basic price and what costs are extra. Consider whether the extras being offered are necessary to your funeral plans and fit your budget. Many of the products and services offered by funeral homes are not required by law.
You can also arrange for a cemetery lot, grave liner, vault, urn, and memorial (including installation). The opening and closing of gravesites can also be pre-arranged. The sale of these cemetery plans is regulated by the Cemetery and Funeral Services Act.
Is a formal reading of my will required at my funeral or at some point after my death?
No. Although this is sometimes done in books, TV, and movies, there is no requirement that your will be read publicly.
Where do I go to plan my own funeral?
In Nova Scotia, a funeral home is the best place to go for help planning your funeral. You can pre-purchase your funeral from a funeral home. Some funeral homes will also register your wishes for free. You will be given a wallet-sized card which indicates that you have registered your wishes at that funeral home. You can also buy a funeral plan from a funeral planning company.
What is the law on burial of human remains in Nova Scotia?
There are two methods of burial. One is an in-ground burial where the body is placed in a casket and lowered into the ground. Some cemeteries require a liner of wood or concrete. This structure keeps the ground even and solid to allow for proper maintenance.
Another, more expensive form of burial is when the casket is permanently placed in a building or mausoleum above or just below the ground. When you buy a plot in a cemetery, you have the right to access it at reasonable times and the right to put a memorial on the plot. The cemetery’s contract with you will set out what types of memorials or monuments are permitted.
What is the law relating to cremation of human remains in Nova Scotia?
When someone is cremated, both the body and the cremation container are burned completely. There is no law saying that a coffin must be used in cremation. However, funeral chapels and crematoria do request that the body be in a container which will burn, has a hard top, sides and bottom, and has handles.
After cremation, usually a small amount of ash is left. The crematorium may dispose of it or the ashes may be shipped to the next of kin in a cardboard container. If the ashes are to be kept or buried by the family, an urn can be made or purchased. You may provide your own urn if you prefer.
There are no legal restrictions on scattering ashes in a body of water or in the wild. However, scattering of ashes on land is subject to laws regarding property. For example, you may not trespass on anyone’s property. You should also avoid scattering ashes near watercourses that are used for drinking water.
Is embalming required in Nova Scotia?
Embalming preserves a body for a short time, to improve the body's appearance for viewing. In Nova Scotia, embalming is not required if the body is to be buried or cremated within 72 hours after death. Embalming is not done when a person dies of certain communicable diseases (diseases which may transmitted to others).
Funeral homes will often embalm human remains unless you ask them not to, so you should be clear if you do not want this expense to be included in your funeral plans.
What are a funeral home's legal obligations?
In Nova Scotia, any funeral home, crematorium, or company providing funeral merchandise or services to the public must have a funeral home licence. This licence is issued by Service Nova Scotia.
Funeral homes in Nova Scotia are regulated by the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Regulations. They regulate how a funeral home, funeral director, embalmer, and apprentice embalmer can advertise. For example, funeral goods and services cannot be sold over the phone or through door-to-door sales, or in a hospital, nursing home, senior citizen’s home, or home for special care.
When you buy pre-planned funeral arrangements, the funeral home must give you a copy of your contract. The money you provide for your pre-planned arrangements must be held in a trust account and cannot be used by the funeral home for any other purpose. The lowest priced merchandise available must be included in any display of funeral merchandise.
When you cancel pre-planned funeral arrangements, the seller may charge an administration fee and may keep the interest plus up to 10 % of the money you have paid. If the funeral home goes bankrupt, the money kept in trust will be distributed by the courts to everyone whose money was in the trust.
Your executor may cancel a contract for a pre-paid funeral if you died in another province or country, or if you died under unusual circumstances that mean that the goods or services cannot be used at the time of your death.
You cannot get a refund on a cemetery plot if you decide you don’t want to use it, but you can re-sell it to someone else.
Is there any financial help to pay for funerals?
The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) provides a one-time death benefit to the executor or next-of-kin of a deceased CPP contributor. The maximum benefit amount is $2,500. Payment from Service Canada takes approximately 6-12 weeks after a benefit application is filed. For more information, call 1-800-277-9914 or visit https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicpensions/cpp/cpp-death-benefit.html.
In Nova Scotia, the Department of Community Services (DCS) may provide financial assistance to help with funeral costs if your spouse or next-of-kin cannot afford to pay for a funeral. Your next-of-kin must also apply for the CPP death benefit, which will be applied against the cost of funeral costs. For more information, contact your local DCS office or visit https://www.novascotia.ca/coms/.
The Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program ensures that eligible Veterans receive dignified funeral and burial services. The Last Post Fund (LPF) is a non-profit organization which delivers the program on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada. To be eligible for the program, Veterans must meet both military and financial criteria. For more information, visit http://www.lastpostfund.ca.
Can I cancel my pre-paid funeral plans?
Yes, you can cancel a pre-arranged funeral plan or cemetery plan at any time. However, a seller may keep any interest that was earned on your money. If any cemetery or funeral goods were purchased at your direction of the consumer, those items must be delivered to you.
Can I donate my body for scientific research?
In Nova Scotia, you may donate your body to the Dalhousie University Human Body Donation Program or to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank.
The Human Body Donation Program was established to help professional students learn about human anatomy and biology. Your next-of-kin must consent to the donation. If your remains are accepted, the Program will cover the costs of cremation. Your ashes will be buried in the Dalhousie Memorial Garden or shipped to your next of kin. Your remains will usually be studied for 1-3 years before this happens. For more information, call 902-494-6850 or visit https://medicine.dal.ca/departments/department-sites/medical-neuroscience/about/donation-program.html.
The Maritime Brain Tissue Bank was established to collect brain tissues and to make them available for researchers who are trying to better understand the causes of dementia. For a brain to be donated, an autopsy must be performed at a hospital to determine the cause of death. The family of the deceased must consent. For more information about this program, call (902) 494-4130 or visit http://braintissuebank.dal.ca.
If you wish to be an organ and/or tissue donor, visit Nova Scotia Organ and Tissue Donation Program.
It is possible to make donations to both the Human Body Donation Program and the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank. However, you should have a back-up plan in case either program is unable to accept your remains.
Are there any eco-friendly or green burial options available in Nova Scotia?
Eco-friendly or “green” burial refers to burial practices that attempt to minimize the environmental impact of disposing of human remains. There are a number of non-profits in Canada which provide information about eco-friendly burial options. These options include avoiding embalming and cremation to allow remains to decompose naturally, and eliminating the use of varnish, glue, laminate, or metal when building coffins or caskets.
The law does not regulate which services or practices may be labelled as green or eco-friendly, so you should research funeral homes or cemeteries making these claims to be sure that their practices align with your wishes. In Nova Scotia, there are no completely green cemeteries, although some cemeteries have green sections.
Where can I get more information on planning my own funeral?
You can read the Nova Scotia Cemetery and Funeral Services Act online: www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/legc/statutes/cem_funs.htm
The municipality where you want to be buried will have a bylaw on cemeteries. For example, Halifax Regional Municipality’s bylaw C-700 can be read online at: www.halifax.ca/legislation/bylaws/hrm/documents/By-LawC-700.pdf
To find out about bylaws in other areas of Nova Scotia, contact your town or municipality office.
The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq (CMM) has a Mi’kmaw Wills and Estates series which includes:
- 1. Book One: How to Write a Will
2. Book Two: How to Settle an Estate
3. Book Three: How to Write a Power of Attorney and
4. Mi’kmaq Wills and Estates & Matrimonial Real Property.
Copies are located in band offices of CMM’s member bands or can be found online at cmmns.com/program/wills-estates/
There are also many books available through the public libraries which can help you make decisions about pre-planning a funeral. One recommended resource which includes checklists for funeral pre-planning is:
Big Death: Funeral Planning in the Age of Corporate Deathcare
Author: Doug Smith
Publisher: Fernwood Publishing (2007) ISBN-10: 1552662403
Another resource which examines North American attitudes about death and provides information about how the funeral industry works is:
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company (2015) ISBN-10: 0393351904
Complaints or concerns about funeral pre-planning?
Service Nova Scotia oversees the Nova Scotia Cemetery and Funeral Services Act, and the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Act, and deals with complaints or concerns under those laws. Contact Service Nova Scotia at 1 800 670-4357 or 902-424-5200.