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group of people placing white roses on a casket

The Simple Guide to Funeral Etiquette

By Educational, Meaningful Funerals No Comments

A funeral is an emotional time for a lost loved one’s family and friends. If you have been invited to attend a funeral, it is helpful to know proper funeral etiquette. Keep in mind that as culture has evolved, so have funerals and funeral etiquette. Traditional services are at times being replaced by more informal celebrations of life. So when no two services are identical, how do you know what etiquette is expected?

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Open medical textbook with stethoscope lying on top

FAQ: Donating Your Body to Science

By Educational, Explore Options No Comments

If you’re reading this, you’re at least a little bit interested in donating your body to science. To help you make the decision that’s best for you and your family, check out this easy-to-understand FAQ list. And if you have additional questions, contact a trusted local funeral home to help you get more detailed information about state or local donation options.

Let’s get started!

Q: What’s the Difference Between Organ Donation and Whole-Body Donation?

Whole-body donation typically refers to the donation of the whole body to medical or scientific research. Once donated, the body may be used for surgical training, scientific research, and anatomy lessons for medical students, promoting the advancement of medical science.

Organ donation, on the other hand, refers to the donation of organs after death that, if approved for donation, would be transplanted to save a living person’s life.

Three medical students looking at a test tube of blood

Q: Is It Possible to Be an Organ Donor and a Whole-Body Donor?

It is technically possible to register as both an organ donor and a whole-body donor. However, when registering for both, applicants should understand that organ donation for transplant will take first priority. This means that if organs are selected and approved for transplant, your selected research facility may refuse the whole-body donation.

However, many registered organ donors are not approved for transplant because of the stringent restrictions and timing required for organ donation. Cancer, heart disease, lung disease, potentially malignant tumors, and other pre-existing conditions often rule out organ donation candidates. In addition, proximity to the hospital or the need to perform an autopsy can also prevent organ donation. Because of these restrictions, many bodies of organ donors remain uncompromised and could still be donated to science or willed to a university after death if the donor wishes.

So, consider your options carefully. If you value organ donation more highly, register for both forms of donation with the understanding that one may not happen. However, if you value whole-body donation to science more highly, consider only registering for that one form of body donation.

Drawing of the human heart with the different parts named

Q: How Do I Donate My Body?

The process will be different for each research facility, but always make sure you include the following steps.

Step 1: Talk to family

When considering whole-body donation, the first step is to communicate your wishes to relatives and next of kin to avoid any confusion after your death.

Step 2: Contact research facilities and ask questions

Next, you will need to contact several research facilities where you would consider donating your body. Fill out the necessary paperwork and request educational materials so that you and your family members can understand the specific procedures, requirements, and restrictions of whole-body donation at this specific location.

To be well informed, ask questions about the facility, costs associated with donation, and the procedures of donation. Check this list to find additional questions to ask donation facilities.

Medical professor teaching medical students

Step 3: Share the research facility’s contact information

Once you have everything arranged with your chosen research facility, provide their contact information and any instructions to your relatives. To make the process even smoother for your family, complete a funeral prearrangement with your local funeral home and give their staff all the body donation details, too.

Step 4: Inform your primary care doctor

Finally, you should inform your primary care doctor about your intentions. They can help you write clear directives regarding your medical care wishes that will help your family make healthcare decisions if you should become incapacitated.

Three medical students learning about the anatomy of the whole body

Q: How Do I Find a Body Donation Facility Near Me?

To find a research facility near you that accepts whole-body donations, visit the University of Florida’s website that lists whole-body donation programs in each state. You can also organize whole-body donation through private organizations, such as United Tissue Network and Science Care.

Q: How Much Does Whole-Body Donation Cost?

There is no set answer to the question of cost because policies differ among donation facilities. Be sure to consult with your donation facility of choice to plan for costs that will not be covered by the facility.

Often, donation facilities will arrange and pay for body transportation (within a designated distance), eventual cremation, and the return of cremated remains to the family. The family should expect to pay for the cost of any necessary legal documentation (like death certificates) and funeral services conducted before the release of the body to the donation facility.

Under no circumstances will your family receive monetary compensation for a body donation as the buying and selling of bodies is prohibited by federal law.

Open medical textbook with stethoscope lying on top

Q: What Does the Whole-Body Donation Process Look Like?

Some donation facilities allow a certain amount of time after death for a funeral service to be performed. However, some facilities require that notification and transportation of the body occur soon after death. This may mean that funeral services with the body present may not be possible. Make sure you know your specific facility’s policies.

After the death of a loved one, family members should notify the facility of the donor’s death and proceed appropriately. Often, this means coordinating with a representative of the donation clinic and a hospital or hospice healthcare representative, who will determine together whether the body can be accepted for whole-body donation.

Whole body studies are typically completed within 1-3 years, but they can last as long as five years. Upon the completion of study, bodies are typically cremated, and the ashes returned to the family.

Q: Are There Any Restrictions for Whole-Body Donation?

Although universities and medical facilities are in constant need of whole-body donations, most programs reserve the right to refuse donation. For example, organ donors may be refused if the research facility prefers to study an intact body.

Additionally, bodies may not be accepted if they:

  • Are significantly damaged
  • Are morbidly obese or emaciated
  • Carry a contagious or infectious disease
  • Have been autopsied
  • or for the simple reason that donations are not needed by the facility at the time.

Check with your chosen facility to learn more about specific restrictions.

And that’s it! If you have additional questions, speak to a representative at your preferred research facility. Alternatively, you can partner with a local funeral home to ensure that you get all the answers you need.

Person typing on a laptop

Writing an Obituary with AI: Dos and Don’ts

By Educational, Planning Tools, Technology and Grief

After losing a loved one, there’s a long list of things that must be taken care of. At a time when you’re grieving and coming to terms with your loved one’s death, trying to find the right words for an obituary may seem like a daunting task. How can you find the right words when you’re still trying to accept the reality that your loved one is gone?

With the recent development of AI writing tools (like Bing’s free chatbot), families can now write an obituary with AI. While AI isn’t perfect, it can provide you with a great starting place. Once AI has generated an obituary, you can edit it to make it more personal and empathetic. Many funeral homes even have AI writers specifically for obituaries.

So, you might be wondering… if you use AI to write an obituary, how can you ensure the result truly honors your loved one and the life they lived? Here are some dos and don’ts for writing an obituary with AI.

DO look at other obituaries first

Obituaries in newspaper with magnifying glass

When you put a prompt in an AI generator, you never know what you’ll end up with. That’s why it’s a good idea to do a little research about obituaries before using AI. While each obituary is unique to the person it’s about, most obituaries include similar information. Before you write an obituary with AI, look at examples of other obituaries. You can find some examples on your funeral home’s website or check out some here.

DO add details to your prompt

Red rose on a sandy beach with a pink sunrise in the background

The more details you can provide for the AI generator, the better. If not enough information is given in the prompt, AI generators may add details that aren’t true for your loved one. By including details about your loved one’s family, history, passions, accomplishments, and hobbies, you’ll give the AI generator more to work with and have a better chance of getting a good starting obituary. For example, instead of saying, “he was involved in the community,” you can give specifics about the organizations your loved one was involved in. If you’re not sure what details to include, ask other family members about their favorite memories of your loved one.

DO proofread and edit the result

While AI generators have improved over the past few years, they’re certainly not perfect! AI writers sometimes repeat phrases or have overly wordy sentences. In one of our sample obituaries, the AI generator repeated the same phrase about the deceased’s husband and children at the beginning and end of the obituary. Take time to read through what the AI generator has put together and make sure there are no errors. You can add your own personal touch to the obituary by rewriting parts in your own words. In short, use the obituary generated by the AI as a starting point and make it your own.

DON’T assume everything is correct

Man holding out his hand with the word AI hovering above it and electronic details

As you read through the obituary provided by the AI generator, make sure all of the facts included are correct. AI pulls information from sources across the internet, and sometimes it adds in things that aren’t true or exaggerate something you added. For example, you may have put in your prompt that your loved one loved to play chess, but AI may try to add detail by saying that they won many chess championships. You should always double-check:

  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Spelling of names
  • Pronouns for anyone mentioned
  • Facts about the person’s accomplishments
  • Anything you didn’t explicitly include in your prompt

For example, in this sample AI-generated obituary, the obituary says, “Janet is survived by her husband Richard, her children Oliver and Iris, her siblings, and many friends.” However, the prompt doesn’t mention siblings, so if Janet doesn’t have siblings, we would need to remove that from the obituary. Watch for inconsistencies like these as you review the obituary.

DON’T feel stuck with the first result

Person typing on a laptop

If you don’t really like what the AI generator writes, that’s okay! Some AI generators have the option to generate something else based on the same prompt. You can try reentering the same prompt, or you can change up your prompt by adding more details or removing details that the AI focused on too much. You could also try using the same prompt in another AI generator. Just remember that you can always edit the results or mix and match what the AI generates to get an obituary that works for you and your family.

As you put together an obituary for your loved one, think about what made them special to you. An AI generator can give you a great starting structure and outline, and by adding your own details and personal touch, you can create a truly unique, heartfelt obituary for your loved one.

Other obituary resources

5 Practical Obituary Writing Tips

How to Write a Great Obituary

5 Great Obituary Examples

What is a Funeral Honorarium?

By Educational, Planning Tools

Every funeral comes expenses, such as the professional services of the funeral home staff, casket or urn, cremation permit, cemetery plot, and so on. One expense you may not have considered is the honorarium. But what is an honorarium and who should receive one? Let’s look at a few key questions that will help you understand honorariums and their role at the funeral.

Green envelope and white sheet of paper to use for an honorarium; items are sitting on a table with purple hydrangeas

What is an honorarium?

Traditionally, an honorarium is a monetary token of appreciation for someone who has performed a service for free. For example, at both weddings and funerals, it’s customary to offer an honorarium to the officiant/clergy who presided over the ceremony.

Some churches will accept a monetary token of appreciation, while others will not. It all depends on the practices of that particular church or clergy person. But either way, it’s always good etiquette to determine whether offering one is appropriate or not.

Who might receive an honorarium?

This type of monetary gift is typically offered to the officiant/clergy person who officiated the funeral service. Additionally, it’s also customary to give an honorarium to any soloists or musicians who performed.

If another professional (not clergy) officiated the service, then you might give the honorarium to them instead. However, if a family member or close friend officiates, there’s no need to offer an honorarium unless you want to do so.

Note: It is not necessary to give the funeral director an honorarium. Their services are included in any fees you pay to the funeral home for coordination of the funeral service.

Focus on the hands as a woman plays an organ

How much is customary to pay?

Ultimately, it depends on your preferences and budget. For an officiant, the average range is somewhere between $100 to $300. When determining the amount, consider how much time they spent 1) getting details and preferences from the family, 2) planning their remarks, 3) traveling and 4) attending any services. And of course, did they do a good job? That matters, too.

For a soloist or musician, the average range is somewhere between $50 to $100 per person. However, consider whether they are a volunteer or a paid performer. If the church’s organist volunteers to play at the service, offer an honorarium. On the other hand, if you want to personalize the service by bringing in your loved one’s favorite local band, they will receive payment for their services, not an honorarium.

Please note, some churches or clergy have stated fees for officiating a funeral service, but they should be upfront about these fees when you meet to discuss the service.

One person giving a closed honorarium envelope to a second person

What’s the difference between a payment and an honorarium?

The biggest difference between the two is that the amount of an honorarium is up to you. With payments, the pricing is set by an outside entity, such as the musician or the florist. But with an honorarium, you determine what you are able and/or willing to offer as a token of your appreciation.

How do I pay an honorarium?

Most of the time, you pay with cash (or check). You can place the money in an envelope and give it to the person when you thank them. It’s also good etiquette to either include a thank you note with the honorarium or follow-up with a handwritten note a few days after the service. If it’s easier, the funeral director can deliver the envelope on your behalf.

Funeral director shaking hands with a funeral guest or funeral officiant

What if I have more questions?

Your best resource for information is the funeral director. They have worked closely with countless churches and people in your area and will know what’s expected. If you have questions or concerns about how to proceed, just give your funeral director a call. They are there to help you in whatever way you need!

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

Rental Caskets: What You Need to Know

By Cremation, Educational, Explore Options, Planning Tools

Cremation may be on the rise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan a full service to celebrate a loved one’s life with viewing and visitation. Many families assume that choosing cremation means sacrificing a viewing or having the body present at the funeral service. But that’s where rental caskets (also called ceremonial caskets) come in!

Today, most funeral homes offer rental caskets, which allows you to select cremation and still have a full service with a loved one’s body present. There’s just one major difference. After the funeral service is complete, the casket will not be escorted to the cemetery. Instead, mourners will attend a gathering or reception, and the body will be prepared for cremation.

In this way, families can pair the healing power of saying goodbye in person with the cost-effectiveness of cremation. Thankfully, you don’t have to give up the traditional elements when you prefer cremation over burial.

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

What else do you need to know about rental caskets? Let’s review some important details to consider.

How is a rental casket different from a standard casket?

When looking at the rental casket, most people won’t be able to tell that it’s not a standard casket. However, the construction is a bit different. The foot panel swings out like a door, allowing an insert to be placed into or removed from the casket exterior. So, the deceased person is placed in a removable container (often made of wood or cardboard) and that box is gently slid into the rental casket. The removable insert comes with its own fabric liner, which is for one-time use, and it is hidden from view once inside the casket exterior.

So, the casket is re-used?

Yes and no; the exterior frame of the casket is re-used, but the removable insert is not. As mentioned above, at no point does the deceased person’s body come in contact with the rental casket itself. The removable insert fully supports the body and the fabric liner within the insert is one-time use only. In this way, the rental casket is protected and preserved.

Additionally, the rental casket is professionally cleaned and sanitized after each use. While the deceased body never touches the rental casket, this extra level of cleanliness is taken to ensure the best possible experience for everyone.

Couple standing next to a casket covered in flowers, paying their respects

What happens to the removable insert?

By law, when a body is cremated, it must be placed in a container of some sort (often made of wood or cardboard). The removable insert can perform both functions – both as the interior of the rental casket and the alternative container at the crematory.

Where can I get a rental casket?

If you’re looking for ease and convenience, the funeral home is your best option. They will have rental caskets available, and there may even be options to choose from. It’s possible to rent from a third-party business, but please note, you will be responsible for making sure the funeral home has access to it before the funeral.

What is the average cost of a rental casket?

It all depends on your area and the funeral home. To get a sense of costs, request a General Price List (GPL) from reputable funeral homes in your area. The GPL should list the cost of a rental casket and what that fee includes. Remember, you will pay for the removable insert/alternative container in addition to the rental casket.

White rose on closed wooden casket

Can I use a rental casket if I choose burial instead of cremation?

While rental caskets are most commonly used for funeral services before cremation, they can be used when burial is chosen. For example, you might want a ceremonial casket for the viewing, but then bury the deceased person in a much simpler casket. Speak with a funeral director about your options. Then, weigh the pros and cons of whether renting a casket is best for your needs.

What’s next?

To learn more about rental caskets or the full service options available with cremation, contact a funeral home you trust.

Also, if you’d like more information what a General Price List is and what your rights are as a consumer, check out Know Your Rights: The FTC Funeral Rule. With this information, you can confidently interact with the funeral home and get your questions answered!

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

5 Emotional Benefits to Funeral Preplanning

By Educational, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

There are many practical benefits to funeral preplanning – like saving money, qualifying for Medicaid, and having funeral funds set aside to pay for everything – but did you know there are also emotional benefits? And let’s be honest – the emotional part of death is the hardest part. So, if you’re on the fence about planning ahead for your funeral wishes, take a look at these 5 emotional benefits that preplanning can give your family during a time of grief and loss.

1. Preplanning reduces stress

Woman sitting at home with a cup of tea, feet resting on coffee table, no stress

After the death of a loved one, it falls to the surviving family members to plan the funeral with the help of a local funeral home. If there’s no advance preparation, that means the family will have to answer 130+ questions in a short period of time. On top of that, they will have to come up with the funds to pay for the funeral, and most families aren’t prepared to take on that kind of unexpected financial responsibility. But with funeral preplanning, you can reduce the stress your family will feel by answering all the questions ahead of time. And if you want, you can set aside funds to cover all the costs.

2. Preplanning removes doubt and uncertainty

Looking down at a pair of black dress shoes; three arrows indicating different directions to choose; which to choose

Have you ever had to make an important decision without first speaking to your spouse? It’s hard, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. That’s what happens when a loved one doesn’t leave instructions about their funeral wishes. When faced with planning a loved one’s final tribute, surviving family members often feel deeply uncertain and doubt the decisions they made.

Was cremation the right choice? Should we have had a viewing to say our last goodbyes? Could we have done more to personalize the service? By putting your funeral wishes in writing, you remove these feelings of indecision. Instead, your family can honor your life the way you want and feel good about it.

3. Preplanning prevents hurt feelings

Son and three sons hugging; family close-knit

What happens when everyone is feeling stressed and no one knows what to do? Stress increases, opinions come out, and arguments begin to simmer. When it’s unclear how to proceed with the funeral plans, surviving family members may begin to disagree on how to proceed.

For example, your son may prefer burial while your daughter thinks cremation is best. Or your spouse is worried about expenses while your children want a big extravagant event. With 130+ questions to answer, there’s a lot of room for argument and hurt feelings. However, when your preferences are clearly outlined with funeral preplanning, your family knows what you want. They can then use that roadmap to honor your life and legacy.

4. Preplanning provides a sense of stability

Young couple talking to funeral director about a loved one's advance funeral plan

It may sound weird, but funeral preplanning can actually give your family a sense of stability and control. When a loved one dies, routines are disrupted, and everything feels out of sync, upended, out of control. But when there’s a plan in place, a feeling of stability returns. They don’t have to wade through a sea of uncertainty without a compass. Instead, your advance funeral plan becomes an anchor amidst the whirlwind of planning. The first days following a loss are the hardest, and that sense of stability can soothe emotions and calm fears.

5. Preplanning brings peace of mind

Young family playing a game during a grandparent visit; everyone happy and at peace

Lastly, funeral preplanning can bring peace of mind to you and your family. For your family, they can rest easy, knowing that you’ve taken care of everything. The selections have been made. The music and venue chosen. The vital statistics are already on file at the funeral home. All your family has to do when the time comes is to choose a date and time. And you can rest in the knowledge that you’ve done everything you can to care for your family and make a difficult experience a little bit easier. That’s a beautiful gift.

Before we go, one more thing.

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

Quick Tip: Invite Others to Plan with You

One of the benefits of planning ahead for your funeral wishes is that it gives you time to consider all the options and choose what best fits your personality and preferences. As you plan, you’ll definitely want to work with a reputable local funeral home. The funeral director can help you understand your options and act as a resource throughout the advance planning process.

However, also consider inviting your family into the planning process. Yes, you are putting a plan in place to help them, but they can also help you. You may think that a simple burial with no service would be easiest, but your family may want to have a funeral service and invite friends and extended family to pay their respects. The funeral is about your life, but it’s also about your family’s emotional needs. Consider listening to what they think and incorporating some of those ideas into your funeral wishes.

Zion National Park, Utah

Your Guide to Scattering Ashes at U.S. National Parks

By Cremation, Educational, Explore Options

There are countless ways to honor a loved one’s life and memory. It’s just a matter of finding the options that are 1) meaningful to the family and 2) beautifully reflect the deceased’s life and interests. For outdoor enthusiasts, honoring a loved one’s life at a U.S. National Park may be just the right decision. But can you scatter ashes at National Parks? You can! But there are certain rules and regulations to follow. Let’s review some key information you will need as you plan a scattering ceremony at a National Park!

Joshua Tree National Park, California(Photo: Joshua Tree National Park, California)

How Many U.S. National Parks are There?

At present, there are 63 sites that are commonly referred to as “National Parks.” They include places like Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and so on. These are types of parks we will focus on today.

However, the National Park System encompasses more than 425 sites, spanning over 84 million acres. In addition to the 63 National Parks, they also manage national battlefields, national military parks, national historic sites, national monuments, national forests, and national reserves, to name a few.

Can I Scatter Ashes at Any U.S. National Park?

In most cases, yes, you can! There are no federal laws that govern burial and cremation – it’s left up to the individual states. That means that there are no “set” rules for scattering ashes at National Parks. Instead, each park has their own policy, based on the laws of their state.

Zion National Park, Utah(Photo: Zion National Park, Utah)

However, there are some general guidelines to be aware of:

A special permit is often required

Many National Parks require that you state your intentions to scatter cremated remains. You do this by submitting an application for a “special use” permit. This permit gives you permission to scatter a loved one’s remains at the park.

Each park will have their own paperwork to complete, so you must visit the website of your preferred park and fill out their permit request form. Allow at least 30 days for processing. You will receive the authorization permit in the mail once it has been approved.

Note: A few parks do not require a permit to scatter ashes. It will be clearly outlined on the park’s website, if they do require a permit.

Keep the group small

Some National Parks put a limit on the number of people allowed to participate in the scattering ceremony. Make sure you’ve checked into the regulations for your preferred park. However, if you would like to have a larger gathering, some parks require an additional permit granting permission. Again, the park’s website will outline all the requirements.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia(Photo: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia)

Stay away from public use areas

When you choose the location for the scattering ceremony, most National Parks prefer that you find a quiet, secluded space to do so. This way, you have more privacy, but also, your gathering doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of the park. Avoiding public use areas means that you should stay away from roads, walkways, trails, buildings, and parking areas.

Also, don’t scatter in just one spot; spread the scattering out over a larger area. And stay at least 100 yards away from any waterways or creeks. Additionally, some parks will have extra requirements regarding the location. For example, Yellowstone does not allow scattering near thermal areas.

Leave no trace

As any avid outdoorsperson knows, it’s important to the natural habitat that you “leave no trace” of your presence. The same holds true at National Parks. What does this mean for scattering? You cannot leave a marker of any kind to commemorate the event. However, you can pin the location on your phone using GPS, so that you always know your loved one’s final resting place. Also, many National Parks keep a “Book of Memories,” where you can record your loved one’s name as an act of memorialization.

Do not bury ashes

Burial is not allowed at National Parks, so do not bury the cremated remains of a loved one.

Yosemite National Park, California(Photo: Yosemite National Park, California)

Consider the weather conditions

Before settling on a date for a scattering ceremony, take weather conditions into account. Some parks may be closed for snow, flood, or other seasonal climate changes. If you need to make changes to your dates, contact the park directly.

What Type of Information Do They Request on the Permit Authorization Form?

Every park has their own application form, so the questions may vary from park to park. However, they will generally ask for:

  • Mailing address
  • Name of person whose ashes will be scattered
  • Preferred date, location, time
  • Number of participants

Also, some National Parks may require an application fee. If they do, it will be clearly outlined on their website. If you wish to do anything other than scatter ashes, you may need to apply for additional permits. For example, if you want to camp off the beaten path, you may need a wilderness camping permit. If you have larger plans than a scattering ceremony, you may need an additional permit. A park ranger can help you iron out the details.

Redwood National Park, California(Photo: Redwood National Park, California)

Do I Need to Carry the Permit with Me?

Yes, make sure you keep your permit with you. If a park ranger happens by and sees your scattering ceremony taking place, they may ask to see your permit. If you don’t have it with you, you may have to pay a fine.

Can I Include a Service When I Scatter the Ashes?

Absolutely, you can put together a short ceremony in honor of your loved one. While you cannot set up a large-scale event, you can invite each person to say a few words. Or you can sing songs, pray, drink a special beverage, and so on. Just keep in mind that it should be simple, intimate, and leave no trace when the ceremony is complete.

(Photo: Badlands National Park, South Dakota)

Where Can I Find Information About a Specific National Park?

To make planning a little easier for you, here’s a list of all National Parks that allow scattering.

From A to Z:

Haleakala National Park, Hawaii(Photo: Haleakala National Park, Hawaii)

Today, there are so many ways to honor a loved one’s life in a meaningful and unique way. And a scattering ceremony at a U.S. National Park may feel like just the right thing to do. Hopefully, this complete guide gives you all the information you need to get started. However, if you have additional questions, you can either reach out to the park directly or speak to a trusted funeral professional. They can help you get all the answers you need!

Man in uniform standing outside, holding an American flag

5 Key Veteran Burial Benefits You Should Know

By Educational, Veterans

Man in uniform standing outside, holding an American flag

As a veteran, you know there are a lot of great benefits out there for you, like discounts, educational grants and scholarships, pension, and healthcare. But are you familiar with the 5 key burial benefits available to you and your family? Let’s briefly break down each benefit, so you know exactly what to request and how to save your family money by taking advantage of all the services open to you.

Three Quick Notes

Before we look at each benefit, a couple of quick notes for you.

  • Though they are called “burial” benefits, they also apply to cremation.
  • Each benefit is available free of charge, though they must be requested.
  • Only veterans with a discharge other than dishonorable are eligible to receive benefits.
  • Some benefits are also available to eligible spouses and dependents (see below).

Hand resting on casket draped with an American flag; white roses nearby

Burial Benefit #1: Burial Allowances

What is a burial allowance? In a nutshell, burial allowances are a designated dollar amount that the VA will reimburse to your family to assist with the cost of a veteran’s funeral. Burial allowances are often split into two categories:

  1. A burial and funeral expense allowance (associated with funeral or memorial options)
  2. A plot interment allowance (associated with burial costs of a casket or urn)

Burial allowances are available to help offset the funeral costs of an eligible veteran, spouse, or dependent child. (They do not pay for the funeral in full.) To apply, your family must fill out VA Form 21P-530, “Application for Burial Allowance.” Include proof of military service (DD 214 or equivalent), a death certificate, and receipts to claim reimbursement. Your funeral director will be familiar with this process and can help you do it correctly.

Military cemetery with white headstones; American flags displayed; red rose resting on first headstone

Burial Benefit #2: Cemetery Options

Choosing a final resting place is a very personal decision, and it’s always good to know your options. In the VA’s eyes, there are three types of cemeteries: national, state veterans, and private. Let’s review each one and the benefits available for each.

National Cemetery (free of charge)

In addition to burial allowances, the VA also offers burial (cremated or full body) in a national cemetery through the National Cemetery Administration. This benefit includes a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, and a government-issued headstone. While placement is based on availability, you, your spouse, and any dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Of course, as with anything, there are certain rules and guidelines.

There is no charge for a burial plot in a national cemetery. Because of this, the plot allowance is not available to the families of veterans who are buried in a national cemetery. In some cases, the VA may even pay for the cost of transporting a deceased veteran to the national cemetery. Speak to a local funeral director or your regional VA office to get more details.

Aerial view, looking down at military cemetery and tree in fall bloom

State Veterans Cemetery (minimal fee)

A second option for burial is a state veterans cemetery. These cemeteries are facilitated by individual states, not by the National Cemetery Administration, so the regulations will vary. Because of this, you or a funeral professional will need to contact your nearby state veterans cemetery to see if there are any fees associated with burial there and if they allow dependents to be buried on the grounds.

Private Cemetery (personal expense)

If you choose burial or inurnment in a private cemetery, then you and your family are responsible for the cost. However, you can apply for burial allowances to help with the overall cost. Make sure to keep all receipts, so you can receive a reimbursement. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery receive no VA benefits.

Close-up of military headstone with American flag nearby

Burial Benefit #3: Government-Issued Headstones or Medallions

Regardless of the type of cemetery you choose, veterans are always eligible to receive a government-issued headstone or medallion. But what’s the difference between the two?


As you’ve likely seen at national cemeteries or in the movies, the government issues uniform headstones or plaques to mark the graves of military members. The VA will provide a government-issued headstone to mark the grave of an eligible veteran buried in a national, military post/base, state veterans, or private cemetery. If you want, you can even request a government headstone for an eligible spouse or dependent buried in a national or state veterans cemetery.

Ground plaque in American military cemetery


Alternatively, if you prefer burial in a private cemetery, you can request to receive a medallion rather than a government-issued headstone. Medallions are durable and can be easily affixed to any headstone. They offer you a way to identify as a veteran while also choosing a personalized grave marker. There are different varieties of headstones and medallions available. Click here to view the options available through the National Cemetery Administration. Spouses and dependents are not eligible to receive a medallion.

Folded American burial flag resting on a marble headstone

Burial Benefit #4: Burial Flag with Military Honors

Because the American flag is a symbol of your service and sacrifice, its presence is a tribute to your life and a sign of the nation’s gratitude. Due to its importance, the VA provides an American flag to drape the casket or urn of every veteran. After the funeral or memorial service is complete, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag is issued per veteran.

In addition to a burial flag, eligible veterans may receive military honors at a funeral service, which includes folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. For more information, take a moment to read “The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral.”

Note: Spouses and dependents are not eligible to receive a burial flag or military honors.

Group of service members salute

Burial Benefit #5: Presidential Memorial Certificate

Lastly, the VA offers a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), which is an engraved certificate, signed by the current President, that is given to honor your memory and your service. Your family can then display it in the home or hold onto it as a keepsake of your life and commitment to serve. Perhaps it goes without saying, but spouses and dependents are not eligible to receive a certificate.

And that’s it! Together, these five elements make up the basic lineup of burial benefits that are available to an eligible veteran: burial allowances, burial in a national cemetery, government-issued headstone or medallion, burial flag, military honors, and Presidential Memorial Certificate. Now that you have this information, what should you do next?

Grandfather and grandson smiling together and going to play American football

Consider Preplanning for Your Funeral Wishes

Given your experience as a service member, you know how complicated things can get, whether it’s updating your Page 2, keeping an eye on your LES, or just getting an updated government ID. By preplanning for your funeral wishes, you can jump through all the hoops now, ensuring your family doesn’t have to do it in the future.

To learn more about the benefits of planning ahead as a veteran, read “Why Should Veterans Plan Ahead?” or schedule a visit with a local funeral director or Veterans Service Officer (or both!). With a knowledgeable professional by your side, you can get all your questions answered and put together a plan that honors your life and meets your family’s needs.

Mature woman sitting on a pink exercise mat, stretching her right leg out in front of her

Can Exercise Help You Grieve?

By Educational, Grief/Loss

You may have noticed that grief puts a lot of stress on your mind and body. To combat that stress, your body’s natural response is to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps regulate your blood pressure, blood sugar, inflammation levels, and stress response. So, it’s a good thing, but cortisol also makes you tired. That’s why it’s important to practice good self-care during times of grief, and one important key to self-care is exercise. The best news – according to the experts, as little as 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can make a difference.

Mature woman sitting on a pink exercise mat, stretching her right leg out in front of her

It might seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re already feeling tired and emotionally spent, but let’s discuss 5 ways that exercise can make you feel better when you’re feeling down.

1. Exercise Boosts Mood

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a hormone that acts as a natural pain and stress reliever. You can decrease your stress and anxiety by exercising just a little bit every day. That might mean a brisk walk outside for 30 minutes or a calming Pilates routine. As you work movement into your day, you will see your aches and pains ease and your mood boost. Numerous research studies have shown that inactivity and staying in bed increase anxiety and sad feelings, so get up and get moving.

2. Exercise Aids Sleep

Every person responds to grief differently, and for some, that includes experiencing sleeplessness. Your thoughts may be racing. You may be struggling to mentally accept what has happened. By including exercise in your daily routine, you can reduce your stress levels and make it more likely that you will relax when bedtime comes around. For more sleeping tips, make sure to read Sleeping Tips for the Grieving.

Young man in group class, sitting on a black exercise mat and doing an ab exercise

3. Exercise Provides an Emotional Reprieve

When a death occurs, it can quickly take center stage in your life. While you shouldn’t ignore your grief feelings, you can’t work through everything at once. Instead, give yourself mental and emotional breaks. Though it may only be for 20 or 30 minutes, participating in exercise allows your emotions to rest and gives your mind a much-needed reprieve.

4. Exercise Increases Self-Esteem & Normalcy

Grief and loss interrupt the normal flow of life. In many ways, grief can make you feel helpless and like you are no longer the captain of your own life. But by committing to regular exercise, you can begin to take back some of that control and normalcy. Whether it’s going for a run, attending a Zumba class, or playing golf, exercise can boost your self-esteem as you grow stronger and give you confidence to overcome any challenges and obstacles ahead.

Three older women walking together outside, enjoying time together

5. Exercise Decreases Loneliness

The grief journey can feel long and lonely, but with exercise, you can increase your opportunities to give and receive support from others. Some days, it’s going to be easier to exercise at home or take a quick stroll around the block. However, when you can, try to attend a group class or invite a friend to walk with you. You will feel less lonely and will even have the chance to share what’s on your heart and mind.

Recommendations for Exercising While You’re Grieving

Now that you understand the benefits of exercise during times of grief, let’s talk through a few quick recommendations if you choose to add exercise to your grief journey.

Young woman taking a relaxing walk outside with her dog

Take it Easy on Yourself

Exercise isn’t going to magically cure your problems. And while exercise is a useful tool to boost your mood and create a better overall outlook, you also need to listen to your body. For a time, you may need to re-define what exercise looks like for you. You may be used to 45-minute HIIT sessions every day, but while you’re grieving, that may need to scale back to HIIT two days a week and long walks on the other days. The bottom line is, take it easy. Listen to your body. Don’t overdo it.

 Eat Well and Drink Plenty of Water

After a death, many people experience a change in eating habits. Some may experience a loss of appetite, while others may overindulge in takeout, sweets, and comfort food. A few days of this is totally normal, but don’t let it go on too long. Instead, make an effort to give your body nutritious foods that will fuel you rather than drag you down. Also, drink plenty of water. Whether you are losing water through sweat (from exercise) or crying (from your feelings of grief), your body needs water to replenish itself. And to be on the safe side, limit your caffeine and alcohol as these two drink choices may dehydrate your body.

Older man standing on treadmill at gym, getting assistance with setting goals

30 Minutes Can Make a Difference

Depending on your personality and preferred workout routine, 30 minutes may seem like forever or no time at all. But regardless of where you fall on the exercise spectrum, you will experience the benefits of exercise in as little as 30 minutes 5 days a week. So, if you aren’t ready to jump back into a full routine, that’s okay. Commit to 30 minutes of moderate exercise and see how you feel. Also, choose an activity that matches your mood. If you need peace and relaxation, do yoga or Pilates. If you’re dealing with anger, a boxing class might be best. No matter what you choose, even a little bit of exercise can help.

Lacking Motivation?

If you find that you just don’t have the desire to exercise but you’d like to, consider exercising to honor your loved one’s memory. You could sign up for a 5K or do a walking challenge. If your loved one enjoyed baseball, surfing, or some other sport, join a league and learn for yourself. You can also recruit friends or family to join you in your exercise goals. You’re more likely to do something if other people are counting on you to be there.

Groups class sitting on exercise mats and stretching after a workout

Don’t Use Exercise to Avoid Your Grief

It’s a natural part of human nature to avoid painful or difficult things. But, if you’re going to heal and learn how to move forward after a loss, it’s essential that you engage with your feelings and come to a place of reconciliation and peace. People all over the world use exercise to provide relief, a sense of purpose, and an outlet for positive or negative emotions. Carefully analyze your own motivations and make sure you aren’t using exercise as an excuse to escape your grief.

While including an exercise routine in your grief journey isn’t required to come to a place of healing, it is a useful tool in your belt. Exercise can boost your mood, help you sleep, provide a reprieve from complex feelings, increase your self-esteem, and decrease your loneliness during times of grief. And if you feel stuck despite doing your best to work through your feelings of grief, consider talking with a grief therapist. They can listen to what’s going on in your heart and mind and give you suggestions that will help you find the healing you’re looking for.

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