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Mitchell McLean

Social Security Benefits

By Planning Tools No Comments

When a loved one dies, there are certain things you need to know about survivor’s benefits. You should immediately contact the local Social Security Office and apply for survivor’s benefits because in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive.


How much are the benefits?

Social Security pays out a special one-time payment of $255 to a surviving spouse of an eligible recipient. Additional monies due will depend on the earnings of the deceased. The more he or she paid in Social Security, the higher the benefits.

Who is eligible to receive benefits?

Social Security survivor benefits can be paid to your:

  • widow or widower – full benefits at 65 and older or reduced benefits as early as age 60. A disabled widow can receive benefits at age 50-60.
  • widow or widower – at any age if he or she is taking care of your child under the age of 16 or disabled.
  • unmarried children – until the age of 18. Your child can receive benefits at any age if they were disabled before the age of 22 and have not recovered from their disability.
  • dependent parents – at the age of 62 and older.
  • divorced spouses – your former spouse can receive benefits under the same circumstances as your widow or widower if your marriage lasted 10 years or more. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.


Information you need to provide

To receive survivor benefits, you will need to provide the following information at the time of your claim:

  • Proof of death – from the funeral home or death certificate
  • Social Security number – as well as the deceased’s
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate – if you’re a widow or widower
  • Divorce papers – if you’re applying as a surviving divorced spouse
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers
  • Deceased worker’s W-2 forms
  • Bank name – if direct deposit is an option

It is important to remember that Social Security benefits and qualification rules for benefits change periodically. Keeping this in mind, be sure to contact your local Social Security Administration office or visit their website to learn more. Link website to:

Should I Have a Funeral?

By Explore Options No Comments


A meaningful funeral can be beneficial in helping surviving family members process their emotions about a loss. According to an article in Psychology Today by Russell Friedman, grief expert, author, and executive director of The Grief Recovery Institute, a funeral carries a two-fold purpose: “One is to remember that person the way we knew them in life; and two, is to say ‘goodbye’ to their physical presence that no longer will be part of our lives.”

There are a few reasons why people may choose to skip the funeral or memorial service.

  1. The person who died planned it that way ahead of time
  2. Family members disagree about whether or not to hold a service
  3. The person was not religious and there is lack of clarity about their wishes

Litsa Williams, a social worker and blogger on What’s Your Grief, said that if a loved one expressed that they did not want a service, she would think very carefully about going against those wishes.

While the wishes of the person who died are very, very important, it is also important to carefully consider the needs of the family.

Author and grief expert, Alan D. Wolfelt, often quotes the saying, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.”

In the vast majority of cases, a family will benefit from acknowledging the loss of someone they love through some form of ritual. This could be a public ritual, as in a funeral or memorial service, or a private ritual. Either way, carefully consider what will work best for you and your family.

Having a public funeral is, in a way, a rite of passage from one stage of life (parent, wife, or son, for example) to another (bereaved parent, widow, bereaved son). The funeral offers a period of transition in which family and friends mark an important occasion together with those they love.

If there are disagreements between family members about the type of service to be held or if the person who died was not religious, find ways to incorporate a public ceremony that reflects the life that has been lived and honors the things that the person loved and valued most while also allowing loved ones to say goodbye.



How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools No Comments

According to the latest national statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the average cost of a funeral increased by 3% from 2014 to 2017. This price includes the basic services of a funeral director and staff, transfer to the funeral home, embalming and other preparations of the body for a viewing, use of facilities for a service, hearse, utility vehicle, basic memorial printed package, a metal casket, and a burial vault. This cost does not include a cemetery plot ($1,000 and up), the opening and closing of the grave ($500 and up), a grave marker or headstone, and third-party charges such as obituaries, flowers, police escort, and honorariums for speakers and musicians, not to mention food and reception space for a gathering after the ceremony.

In the end, the cost of even a basic funeral today can easily add up to well over $10,000. So, you may be wondering…is there any way to save money on a funeral?

One of the most effective ways to save money on a funeral is by planning ahead and becoming familiar with your options ahead of time. If you are dealing with a death in the family right now, you can still apply these same principles to help you manage the costs of funeral expenses.

Shop Around


Prices for funeral services and merchandise vary greatly even within the same general vicinity. Every funeral home is required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule to present you with a full price list upon request that is yours to keep. They must also give you price information over the phone upon request. Do a little investigating before deciding on your funeral home of choice to find the right fit for you. Be careful to compare apples to apples.

Some funeral homes offer package pricing, and it is important to understand what is included in that package and what is not. Also consider the quality of the facilities and the staff. The adage, “You get what you pay for,” is very true when it comes to choosing a funeral provider. Sometimes it may be worth it to you to spend a little more at a funeral home where you feel more comfortable with the staff or the facilities.

Learn About Veterans’ Burial Benefits


If you or your spouse is a veteran, you may be eligible for a free burial space at a state or national cemetery, burial vault or grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, and a government-furnished headstone, which can save you thousands of dollars in burial costs. Go to or talk to a veterans’ benefits specialist or a funeral prearrangement specialist who is knowledgeable about veterans’ burial benefits to learn more. You can also check out our article on veterans’ burial benefits here.

Choose a Lower-Cost Option

There are a few options that offer savings to your bottom line. Cremation can spare you the cost of a casket, full burial space, opening and closing of the grave, and a vault. However, you may still opt for a lower-cost cremation niche or burial in a cremation garden so that loved ones have a permanent memorial to visit after the death. Another option that can offer some savings is a green burial. Green burial options are not only easier on the environment; they can also be easier on your wallet. Generally, green burial involves a biodegradable casket made of wood, bamboo, or wicker, and no burial vault or embalming. Some private cemeteries require a burial vault to maintain an even landscape. Be sure to ask your funeral director about the requirements of the cemeteries in your area.

Do It Yourself

There may be certain aspects of the funeral arrangements that you can do yourself. Or, you could engage your social network to help you with. For example, you may ask family members to bring  potluck dishes to save on the cost of a caterer. If you want a tribute video, you may know someone who is good with video editing who can assist you. Or, you may choose to use an online video maker such as or, which take your family photos and put them to music with animation. For personalized memorial printing, you might check out or While you may want to do a couple of things yourself, be sure to check with your funeral director to see if the funeral home staff can alleviate any or all of these burdens for you. Remember, your time is valuable too.

Where Cutting Corners May Not Pay Off

Many families think that opting for a cremation with no type of service is their best option for saving money. It’s true that a basic cremation is probably the least expensive option for disposition. But you might also want to weigh the emotional cost of not having a funeral or memorial service. Grief expert, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt with the Center for Loss and Life Transition, shares in this article the six needs of a bereaved person and how the funeral helps to meet those needs.

The funeral is a rite of passage, just like a graduation ceremony or a wedding ceremony. It is a defining moment in the life of the bereaved. Skipping the funeral or memorial ceremony for a loved one can leave the bereaved feeling isolated and frustrated by unexpressed grief. If you are leaning toward cremation, be sure to allow an opportunity for the bereaved to gather together. The experience will be a meaningful time of reflection and mutual support.

Plan Ahead

To save money on funeral expenses, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. If you are dealing with a death right now, this advice comes a little too late, but it bears keeping in mind for the future. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral provider, ask to speak with a funeral prearrangement specialist. Most funeral homes offer free advance funeral planning services to their communities. Take advantage of this opportunity to understand your options and take care funeral costs in advance.

When you plan ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options that you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options that you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. In addition, many funeral homes offer a price guarantee when you pay for services in advance. So, if you are young and in good health, this arrangement can potentially save your family 30% to 40% or more on funeral costs just by locking in the present-day price. You can read more about payment options for advance funeral plans here.