Category

Explore Options

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 62.5% of consumers feel that it is important to share funeral wishes with family members, but only 21.4% did so in 2017. That means that more than two-thirds of Americans acknowledge that preplanning is a good idea, but a majority of them never actually do anything about it. Why?

Usually, life gets in the way, and we get too busy. But none of us know the number of our days. Sometimes, we just have to make time for the important things, and this is one of those things. Make an appointment with yourself and your spouse to start getting your affairs in order, including your funeral plans.

There are many benefits to preplanning a funeral. A plan relieves your family of the need to make difficult decisions at a time of loss, saves money, and gives you time to plan a meaningful and healing funeral service. Most of us have never had to plan a funeral. This fact makes planning a difficult process when everyone is under stress and grieving a loss. That is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead of time – when you can consult with a funeral professional who can educate you on all the options available to you.

Once you’ve decided to plan ahead, you’ll want to avoid the most common pitfalls and mistakes people make. Here are the 9 most common mistakes to avoid as you put together a funeral plan.

Mistake #1 – Making a decision based solely on price

Price is important, but the old adage “you get what you pay for,” is also true. When you are comparing packages, make sure that you know what’s included and what’s not. In other words, make sure you are comparing apples to apples as you search for the best value. Understand that cemetery costs and third-party costs like flowers, obituaries, and police escorts are often not included in a funeral home’s package pricing. It is also good to remember that the best offer should include a reasonably-priced funeral in addition to caring, knowledgeable, professional staff. If you can, take time to tour the funeral home facility and meet the staff. While this isn’t always possible, you can thoroughly explore the funeral home’s website and give them a call to ask questions. Doing these things will help you understand some of the differences between your funeral home options. If you need a little guidance on what to look for in a funeral home, this article shares the top 10 things to look for.

Mistake #2 – Making a decision without enough information

Preplanning doesn’t have to be complicated. But without a funeral professional to walk you through the process, you may miss an important step. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know! To make the best preplanning decisions, you need to know about ALL the options available to you. This is why choosing a reputable funeral home and asking a funeral professional all your questions is so important. Another bonus to preplanning is that you can ask questions and explore options on your own time, without grief or stress. This way, you can have confidence that you’ve made the best choices for your particular needs.

Mistake #3 – Forgetting to balance everyone’s needs

A funeral service is more for the survivors than for the one who has died. It’s a time to reflect, to remember, to honor, to grieve, and to say goodbye. For this reason, when possible, it’s important to seriously consider what kind of funeral service to plan. While the wishes of the deceased are important, it is crucial to take the needs of family and friends into account as well. When only one group is considered, a funeral service may feel lacking rather than provide a meaningful and healing experience. To learn more about the 7 elements of a healing service, click here.

Mistake #4 – Procrastinating

Sometimes people wait too long. The best time to make decisions about preplanning is when you are healthy and can make decisions with a clear, rational mind. When illness comes, we often avoid anything related to death or do not have the energy or time to make plans. On top of that, sadness shrouds the entire planning process. When you are still young and strong, you can make your decisions without a cloud over you because you have continued life and enjoyment ahead of you. None of us knows what the future holds, so no matter your age or stage in life, it’s good to preplan now.

Mistake #5 – Not communicating your wishes to family

Some have missed the critical step of making their wishes known. For instance, some people put their funeral wishes in their will. However, no one reads the will until long after the funeral. Because of this, family members may miss any information that it contains about funeral wishes. Also, verbally sharing your funeral wishes with only a few people isn’t the best route either. Later, the people may disagree about what they each heard and create confusion. Be clear about your wishes and ensure that your immediate family knows what you want by writing it down. If you complete a funeral prearrangement, give them the name of the funeral home. This way, they know who to contact when the time comes.

Mistake #6 – Paying the wrong way

If you decide to pay in advance, you have to make sure that you pay the right way: with a prepaid funeral insurance plan. With a prepaid funeral insurance plan, make sure:

  1. Your plan is structured properly for Medicaid if you think you might need to qualify for long-term care assistance from the government.
  2. You have an itemized list of expenses from the funeral home based on your preferences (so you know what you’re paying for).
  3. You are paying through a reputable insurance company or trust, not directly to the funeral home.
  4. The policy is covered by a state guaranty fund that is in place to protect policyholders in the event that an insurance company defaults on benefit payments or becomes insolvent.
  5. Your funds will grow over time to keep up with inflation.
  6. Your plan includes sufficient funds for cash advance items and other possible, unexpected expenses so that your family will not have to pay for much or any of these expenses out of pocket.

Mistake #7 – Not paying in advance

Keep in mind that funeral expenses rise at a relatively high rate. The cost of steel, materials, energy, and wages contribute to a steady rise in costs over the years. By paying for a funeral in advance, you can sometimes reduce the cost of the funeral and alleviate the stress of paying for a funeral at a time of loss and emotional stress. By prefunding a funeral, you can save hundreds, or even thousands. If you decide not to prefund your funeral, make sure that you or your family have enough life insurance and/or cash on-hand to pay for funeral expenses at the current cost. Keep in mind that even if you have a life insurance policy or a final expense policy in place, the proceeds will not be paid for 6-8 weeks (or even longer) after you put in your claim, which is long after the funeral takes place.

Mistake #8 – Taking care of cemetery needs but not funeral service needs

Purchasing a plot or columbarium niche at the cemetery is just one aspect of the preplanning process. Oftentimes, separate owners run the cemetery and the funeral home. This means that you can purchase space in a cemetery but have nothing planned for the funeral service. A funeral home will help you plan a personalized funeral service and select the merchandise (casket, urn, etc.) necessary to complete your final wishes. When the time comes, the funeral home will work in concert with the cemetery to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

It’s important to address all the details associated with planning a funeral. Working with a funeral home partner will help you stay on top of everything and accurately budget for all of the expenses. Unfortunately, some families miss a few details and end up under-funding the funeral service. Then, they have to hastily find additional financial resources to cover the costs. Planning ahead prevents this last-minute scramble.

Mistake #9 – Not preplanning at all

Whether you decide to pay for a funeral in advance or not, it’s always a good idea to preplan. This way, your family will know exactly what your wishes are. They won’t have to make difficult decisions on one of the hardest days of their lives. Instead, they can be together and grieve their loss. With a funeral plan in place, they can put your wishes in motion, confident in knowing that you will be honored in the way you desired. That takes a lot of stress and strain off the family. By preplanning, you give your family a gift of love – the peace of mind that everything is taken care of.

Grave Liners & Burial Vaults: What’s the Difference?

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

For many of us, the ins and outs of funeral planning are unfamiliar and confusing. We don’t know where to start or even what all of our options are. Should you go with cremation or burial? How do you go about personalizing the funeral? What is the value of a funeral, and what elements should you include? All of these questions are why we have funeral directors. They help those of us who aren’t funeral professionals understand and make sense of a whole new world of information.

But, of course, you should learn about and research the different aspects of funeral planning before you ever talk to a funeral professional. This will help you know what kinds of questions to ask when the day comes that you sit across the table from a funeral professional. Today, let’s discuss what outer burial containers are, why we have them, and what options you have regarding their use.

What is an outer burial container?

Simply put, an outer burial container is used when either a casket or an urn is buried. They typically come in two forms: the grave liner or the burial vault. We will discuss these two types in more detail below. Outer burial containers are most often made of reinforced concrete (they also come in plastic and metal). Though most states do not mandate them, most cemeteries do require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

Why do we have them?

A couple of reasons stand out. First, over time, a casket/urn will decay, and with that decay, the earth around the casket/urn will shift and resettle. By surrounding the casket/urn with a reinforced concrete barrier, when decay does inevitably occur, the earth around it will remain undisturbed. By preventing graves from caving in on themselves, the cemetery ensures that the cemetery grounds remain level and people who visit need not worry about falling, twisting ankles, or otherwise injuring themselves due to uneven ground. Secondly, by keeping the ground level, performing routine maintenance on the property is simpler, which keeps costs down for both the cemetery and the consumer. And finally, if the ground were to settle and shift substantially, headstones, grave markers, and monuments may shift and tip. If this happens, the marker must be fixed, which also raises the cost of maintenance.

What are my options?

Grave Liner

A grave liner partially or entirely encloses the casket/urn but only offers minimal protection from the elements. Because is it not sealed, soil, moisture, water, and other elements can make their way inside over time. Though typically made of concrete, plastic and metal are available as well.

There are two types. The first type features a removable lid. The second type, on the other hand, is bottomless and only covers the sides and top of the casket/urn. The grave liner is often less expensive. While it is not water-resistant, it does prevent the grave from settling or caving in on itself.

Burial Vault

A burial vault seals and entirely encloses the casket/urn. In addition to a water-resistant seal in the lid and walls, a burial vault (except those made of plastic) contains an interior liner. This liner works in tandem with the sealant to prevent soil, water/moisture, and other elements from reaching the contents.

In most cases, a burial vault is more expensive than a grave liner. This is due to higher manufacturing costs, the use of more expensive materials and finishing techniques, and if desired, various personalization options.

Green or Natural Burial

Both green and natural burials do not require the use of burial vaults or grave liners. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial and maintained without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows for vault-free burial.

Now, you should have enough information to get you started, whether you are simply curious, are in the process of planning a funeral for a loved one, or are interested in planning ahead for your own funeral wishes. No matter which category you fall into, when the time comes, make sure to partner with a reputable funeral home that has your best interests in mind and is willing to work with you to create a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

By | Estate Planning, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Paying for a funeral in advance doesn’t have to be a difficult task. All you really need is a knowledgeable funeral professional who thoughtfully educates you on all the options available and the differences between them. With an informed partner, making a decision that works best for you and your budget should be much easier.

There are four common ways to pay for funeral expenses. They are: 1) with a life insurance policy, 2) with a final expense policy, 3) with a prepaid funeral plan, and 4) with personal funds. For more information about using a life insurance policy for end-of-life needs, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses to review the pros and cons.

For now, let’s focus on final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans. Important note: a prepaid funeral plan is funded by an annuity, a trust, or an insurance policy. While many use life insurance for funeral expenses, its primary purpose is to replace any income lost by the death of a loved one. On the other hand, most people choose final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans specifically to help offset end-of-life expenses.

Let’s Start Off with Definitions

Final Expense Insurance

Final expense insurance is a type of insurance that covers funeral expenses and/or outstanding bills after death. In terms of insurance, the coverage offered is relatively low, proportionate to the expense of your desired funeral and whatever amount a family may need to cover outstanding bills at the time of death. Final expense policies are usually easier to qualify for than traditional life insurance, and typically, the older you are, the higher your monthly premium will be. With this type of insurance, you usually pay a premium every month until your death, at which time the policy benefits go to your named beneficiary. However, keep in mind that your named beneficiary is not technically (or legally) required to use your final expense funds to pay for funeral or medical expenses.

Prepaid Funeral Plan

Prepaid funeral plans typically offer greater protection. Typically, you will meet with a funeral planning professional to itemize a prearranged funeral contract, including all your desired services and merchandise, and fund the contract using a prepaid funeral insurance policy, annuity, or trust. You may choose to make a prepaid funeral plan revocable or irrevocable. With an “irrevocable” policy, you waive your right to cancel the plan, which offers an added benefit if you need to qualify for Medicaid to cover nursing home expenses at a later date.

Myth vs. Fact

Final expense plans are often touted as the best solution when planning ahead for funeral expenses. However, prepaid funeral plans offer several advantages over final expense plans:

1. Asset Protection for Medicaid

Properly structured prepaid funeral plans can be set up as exempt assets for Medicaid so that those funds are protected from going to the nursing home. On the other hand, under Medicaid rules, a final expense plan qualifies as a limited asset (not exempt). Additionally, the capped amount is usually $1,500—not nearly enough to cover a dignified funeral or cremation service.

2. Plan Is Paid in Full

You can pay for a prepaid funeral plan in full in one lump sum or set up for a specific number of payments. Once you’ve finished paying the total amount of premiums, the plan is considered paid in full. This is a huge benefit considering that many seniors live on a fixed income later in life. Meanwhile, most people with final expense policies must pay premiums throughout their lifetime.

3. Protection from Inflation

Prepaid funeral plans grow over time by design. The growth protects the value of your dollar and helps your funds keep up with inflation. On the other hand, final expense plans do not generally grow over time, meaning that they lose value every year due to decreasing purchasing power.

4. Stay Within a Budget

The amount you pay toward a prepaid funeral plan is directly related to the choices you make regarding your final wishes. So, if you choose cremation with memorial service, the costs associated are itemized, put into a written plan, and your payments set. In the end, you control the cost of the funeral. With final expense insurance, you select an estimated amount that you believe will be enough to cover a funeral. Additionally, in the long run, a prepaid funeral plan is less expensive. While your monthly payments may be a bit higher, you will only make a set number of installment payments. With final expense plans, you will pay monthly premiums for the rest of your life.

5. Plans are Portable

Some people think that final expense plans are more convenient because you can use them at any funeral home. The same is true of prepaid funeral plans. Widely accepted as a method of payment, prepaid plans are transferable to other funeral homes. Moving away or changing your mind are two reasons why you might transfer your plan.

6. When Funds Are Available

Funds from a prepaid funeral plan are typically available within 24-48 hours of submitting your claim. Your family will be able to move forward with payment and funeral arrangements almost immediately. With final expense insurance, it can take up to six to eight weeks to process a claim.

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Many people do not realize that payment for a funeral is due prior to services being rendered. So, having a financial plan in place to pay for a funeral is essential for every adult. There are many ways to pay for a funeral, in advance or at the time of need. However, not all payment methods are created equal. Each method has its own risks and benefits, so it is up to you to decide which payment method is right for you.

1. Prepaid Funeral Plans

Many people choose to pay for a funeral in advance with a prepaid funeral plan. Funeral plans with a special “preneed” contract funded with an insurance policy, trust, or annuity offer several benefits. Some funeral providers will offer a guarantee that “locks in” the cost of the selected funeral goods and services at the current price. If you expect to live another 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years, this type of contract could save your family money.

Preneed Policies

Preneed policies can be paid in full or set up on installment plans with a set number of payments that fit into your budget. The funds go to a specialized insurance company and offer growth with certain tax advantages. The plans are also transferable to another funeral home should you move away.

Funeral Trusts

Funeral trusts also offer the benefit of some growth, depending on the underlying investment, so they are a popular option for those planning ahead as well. Some states require funeral homes to deposit 100% of funeral funds, and other states require only a percentage. Be sure that you clearly understand the terms of your funeral trust before entering into a contract, and pay special attention to the portability of your trust funds should you move.

Irrevocable prepaid funeral plans can also be set up as Medicaid-exempt assets to help an individual qualify for Medicaid later in life.

In the case of using an insurance policy to fund a prepaid funeral plan, it’s best to speak with a preplanning consultant who can review all of your options and answer any questions you may have.

2. Life Insurance or Final Expense Plan

Families often plan to cover funeral expenses with a life insurance policy or final expense policy. The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications. To learn more about these complications, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Advanced Funding

Some funeral homes will agree to file the life insurance claim on your behalf, or they will partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company) to help families access life insurance policy benefits faster. Similar to a rapid refund on a tax return that you might receive from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. The assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. You will receive funds within 24-48 hours of verification of the policy. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

3. Personal Account/CD/Pay-on-Death Account

Some families choose to set up a pay-on-death account with a named beneficiary. This option allows your assets to be available to your heirs without having to go through probate. However, there are a few disadvantages to maintaining a personal pay-on-death account. With each year that goes by, the purchasing power in your account actually goes down. In addition, these types of accounts do not generally offer a sufficient amount of interest to offset inflation over time. Personal accounts are also not considered Medicaid-exempt should you require long-term care assistance. Personal accounts are also at risk of being used or seized due to civil judgments, bankruptcy, or divorce.

4. Credit Card or Funeral Loan

Another possibility to pay for a funeral is using a credit card or taking out a personal loan. Obviously, this is not the best option since it includes the possibility of paying interest on the funeral amount. Some lending companies offer families funeral loans, often with no interest for the first few months. Ask your funeral director about funeral lending companies, if interested.

5. Crowdfunding Website

If no financial plan in place at the time of need, families can use a crowdfunding website to pay for a funeral. Some of these websites are general fundraising platforms that can help you raise money for a funeral. GoFundMe.com, in particular, has become a very popular way to campaign for a service. Other websites such as Funeral Fund are specifically tailored to funeral fundraising. These sites provide efficient ways to receive the financial support needed to craft a meaningful ceremony.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

With any option that you choose, you must weigh the risks and benefits of each. On one end of the spectrum, you have fully-insured prepaid funeral plans. These plans offer the highest amount of protection. On the other end of the spectrum, you have personal accounts. These offer the least amount of protection for funeral funds. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which option is the best for you and your family.

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Cremation is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, with just over 50% of those who died in 2016 selecting cremation for their final disposition. However, many families who choose cremation don’t realize that they can still have a healing and meaningful funeral experience, even if they choose this form of disposition. According to respected grief experts, the funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. And while cremation is a popular option for final disposition, it shouldn’t prevent individuals and families from the benefits of having a healing and meaningful funeral ritual.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service; only 11.8 percent associate it with a funeral that includes a viewing or visitation; and more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware that you can have a funeral/visitation/viewing with the body before cremation takes place. So, what do these statistics tell us? That when families choose cremation, they are likely missing out on the opportunity to memorialize and commemorate the life of a loved one.

That said, let’s review the basic service options for honoring a loved one who has chosen cremation.

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

First of all, choosing cremation does not prevent a family from having a traditional service with the body present. The family may choose to have a private family viewing or public visitation. They may even hold a full funeral service with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. A rental casket looks like a regular casket on the outside. The difference is that a rental casket holds a cremation container insert on the inside. After the service, the funeral home staff removes the cremation container and transports it to the crematorium. For family members, the main benefit of holding a service or viewing with the body present is having an opportunity to emotionally process the reality of the death, which is very important to the grief journey. In fact, one of the best ways to acknowledge that someone is no longer with us is to physically see them and say our goodbyes. With that said, for some it may not be possible to view the body. In that case, you can still say your goodbyes and acknowledge the reality of the loss in your own way.

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

A second option is to plan a memorial service to take place after cremation has already occurred. Like a traditional service, you can create a personalized event complete with all the elements of a meaningful service, tailored to honor the life of your loved one. The main difference is that at a memorial service the body will not be present. However, you can place an urn in a place of honor during the service. By planning a memorial service, you still offer mourners an opportunity to come together. They can offer support to each other and remember the life of someone loved. It’s important to honor a loved one’s life and show them the proper respect. Without a ceremony or service, this need may go unaddressed. And even if your loved one didn’t want to “make a fuss,” gathering together, supporting one another, and honoring life is a necessary part of the grief journey. Before you skip the memorial service, consider the effect on those who mourn if they don’t have the opportunity to come together to grieve.

3. Direct Cremation

A third option is direct cremation. Often, families choose direct cremation for one of three reasons. First, the one who has died didn’t want a “fuss” made over them after their death. Second, they were financially unable to select a different option. Or, third, they didn’t know they had other options. If your loved one chooses direct cremation and you agree with their choice, honor their wishes when the time comes. However, if your loved one sets their mind on direct cremation and you don’t agree with their choice, sit down with them. Talk about why you would like a meaningful service to accompany their cremation wishes.

As you make your end-of-life plans, carefully consider what is best for your loved ones and friends, what they will need as they mourn your loss. Each of these three options may be appropriate in different circumstances and situations. We all have different expectations for what a funeral service will entail and what we want it to look like. No matter which option you choose – cremation with traditional service, viewing, or visitation; cremation with memorial service; direct cremation; or a combination of options – find a way to balance your family’s needs with your own personal wishes.

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), cremation has continued to grow as a choice for final disposition. In fact, in the 2017 Cremation and Burial Report, the NFDA found that approximately half of Americans chose cremation in 2016. However, in spite of the growth of cremation in the U.S., many people don’t know about all the options available to them.

For example, families sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of cremation urns they have to choose from. You can narrow down your options by considering what you want to do with the urn. Whether you are putting together a complete advance funeral plan or planning for the death of a loved one, consider how you want the cremated body to be memorialized. Want to plant a memorial tree or rose bush? Choose a biodegradable urn. Want to keep the urn at home? Choose a decorative memorial urn. Want to scatter the ashes at sea? Choose a scattering urn. Form follows function, so think about the function first, then choose the form.

Another aspect to consider is setting up a long-term plan for permanent placement of the urn. While keeping the cremated body of a loved one at home is comforting to many, it’s important to have a plan in mind for a final resting place. It’s unrealistic to expect that, in 50 years, future generations will keep multiple urns of family members in their homes. Instead, make a plan – a personal and meaningful one – and execute it. In 10 years, you might scatter the ashes or bury the urn in an urn garden or place it in a columbarium. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which option you choose, simply that you have a long-term plan for the cremated remains of your loved one so that they will be cared for long after you are gone.

Materials

An urn is simply a container for the deceased’s cremated body and can be made from almost any material. Urns can be made of:

• Plastic
• Cardboard (or other biodegradable material)
• Cast Resin
• Wood
• Ceramic
• Metal
• Marble
• Glass
• Clay
• And many other types of materials!

Types

Cremation urns come in all shapes and sizes, materials, and styles. You may want to talk with a funeral director, who has years of knowledge to impart, to help you make an informed decision. To get you started, here is a quick list of the different types of cremation urns available:

Keepsake Urn

Often small, a keepsake urn is used when either a small portion of the cremated body is kept and the rest scattered, or the ashes are split between more than one relative.

Decorative Urn

A family may choose a decorative urn to display at a memorial service, at home, or to use in a glass-front niche in a columbarium or to place in an urn garden.

Biodegradable Urn

An environmentally-friendly urn option, the biodegradable urn is becoming increasingly popular. This type of urn is commonly used for scattering, especially at sea. However, burial is also possible.

Religious Urn

This type of urn showcases the spiritual beliefs of the one who has died. In most cases, the scenes or verses on the urn are associated with the person’s religious background.

Companion Urn

The companion urn has two main types: a double or single compartment. Though not a requirement, it’s more common for couples to choose a companion urn. In the double compartment urn, each person’s ashes is separate but always together. With the single compartment urn, the ashes are intermingled.

Infant Urn

Usually smaller in size, an infant urn is most often used to hold the ashes of an infant or small child. In many cases, the family wants to keep the child close as they grieve, and the infant urn meets this need.

Sculpted Urn

Sometimes called an “art urn,” this type is a lovely mini-sculpture of your choice, modified to accommodate ashes. If you plan ahead, you can commission a special art urn that reflects your personal tastes.

Themed Urn

You can purchase a themed urn, and the possible variations are as limitless as your creativity. A few common types of themed urn are sport, hobby, art, and nature.

Picture Urn

Just like it sounds, this urn is shaped like a picture frame and allows you to display a favorite photograph of your loved one on the outside of the urn.

Military/Veteran Urn

If the military was a key part of a person’s life, you might consider selecting a veteran urn. The urn itself is designed to commemorate and honor the patriotism and sacrifice of veterans.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you plan to travel somewhere via airplane with cremated remains, make sure that you have an appropriate urn. If airline security is unable to see through the urn on the X-ray machine, they may need to manually search the urn. To prevent this, make sure to purchase a felt or non-metallic material for the urn.

As you can see, choices for cremation urns abound. Before making a decision, you may wish to talk to your family members and speak with a funeral professional. You may get even more ideas after discussing the topic with a knowledgeable person.

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

A funeral, though a time of mourning, can still be filled with celebration and remembrance. It’s a time to honor the one who has died but also an opportunity to begin the healing process for those who are left to grieve. Options to personalize a funeral are becoming more common, which offers families a richer, more meaningful experience. Those present can connect with their grief and express their emotions through mourning.

Nationally respected grief expert, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, emphasizes that creating a healing and meaningful funeral is incredibly important and helps us live more meaningful lives. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Creating a meaningful experience is all about personalizing the funeral to reflect the life, values, relationships, and ideals of the person who has died. The beauty of personalization is that there’s no mold to follow. Much like a wedding, you can customize every area of a funeral ceremony. As part of that customization, consider including the 7 important elements to creating a meaningful funeral: music, readings, a visitation, a personalized eulogy, symbols, gathering together, and inviting people to participate in symbolic actions.

Below are a few more suggestions for how to personalize a service to the person being honored. Take time to think about favorite songs, readings, recipes, hobbies, pastimes, and funny quirks of habit, as well as treasured memories, mementos, collections, and relationships. Any of these things may trigger some ideas on how to best honor your loved one.

1. Establish a memorial together

Often, family members request memorial donations to be given in honor of a loved one. In most cases, the cause or organization is one that the loved one held close to his or her heart. You might consider choosing a memorial gift that includes a plaque, sign, brick, or other physical memorial that can be inscribed with a loved one’s name. Another option would be to donate or plant a tree as a living memorial at a park, school, church, or other organization. Having a physical place to go where your loved one’s name is inscribed can make a memorial gift more personal. It also offers opportunities to reflect, remember, and cherish memories for years to come.

2. Find a way to include their favorite things

Every person is unique, and we all have personal quirks, things we particularly love. Consider how you might incorporate these things into the funeral. Perhaps there is a favorite color, collection, artwork or personal belongings you can implement. By including them, you share what was most precious to your loved one’s heart with those who come to mourn.

3. Create a memorial work of art together

Bring a large canvas, quilt squares, art supplies, scrapbook supplies, or any other medium that you are comfortable with to create a community work of art. Encourage guests to write down their favorite memory of your loved one on a quilt square, create a scrapbook page, or paint a portion of the canvas with a memory, color, or picture that they would like to share. Perhaps, they could write down a favorite saying or what qualities they appreciated most about your loved one. After the funeral, you will have a treasure trove of memories. On days when you need to feel close to the one you have lost, you can admire the painting, pull out the scrapbook, or wrap up in the quilt and cherish your loved one’s influence on their world of family and friends. Don’t forget to bring the appropriate supplies for writing, painting, or crafting!

4. Make a collage or a timeline

If you have access to pictures, you could create a collage of your loved one to display. Start with childhood and share images from the important events of their life. Or, alternatively, share your most treasured memories of them. Likewise, you could create a timeline of their life’s major events and provide pictures for each one. Consider including events like their birth, high school graduation, first job, children, etc.

5. Invite guests to take an item home

For example, if your loved one was a voracious reader, consider taking some of their books to the ceremony with a note, saying, “[Your loved one’s name] loved to read. Please take and read one of [his or her] books in honor of [his or her] memory.” In doing this, guests leave with a tangible reminder, and it may contribute to creating a meaningful experience. You can do this with recipes, seed packets, postcards, collection items—anything your loved one may have cherished – and invite your guests to honor your loved one’s memory by taking home a small reminder of the person they loved.

6. Include favorite foods

Food is a love language in many families. If your loved one favored certain foods, you might try to incorporate those somehow into the person’s celebration of life. You might have an ice cream station at the visitation. Or arrange a fellowship meal after the service that includes all your loved one’s favorite dishes and desserts.

Now, these ideas are only the beginning. Take some time to think about what would be most meaningful to you and to your loved one’s memory. Every person is unique, and because of this, no two funerals should be the same.

On a final note, in case you didn’t know, it is possible to begin this process now. You can plan ahead for funeral wishes at any time. And of course, if you do decide to plan ahead, you will have ample time to create a personalized, healing, and meaningful funeral service for those left behind to mourn.

5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

When we lose someone we love, our feeling of connection to them continues, even though they are no longer with us physically. It is this connection that contributes to our feelings of loss, that makes it so difficult to process death and move toward healing and reconciliation. And today, as cremation continues to rise as a preferred method of final disposition, one very important element of the healing process is being forgotten: the need for a permanent memorial.

In some areas of the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of families that keep the cremated remains of a loved one in their homes. While this is not bad in and of itself, it may create unforeseen difficulties down the road. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for cremated remains to be misplaced, accidentally knocked over and spilled, or even found in the trash or unknowingly donated to thrift stores.

That said, here are 5 reasons why you should consider establishing a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one:

1. It provides a place for people to mourn.

By establishing a permanent memorial, you provide a place to mourn. If a loved one dies, and one person keeps the cremated remains, it may be difficult for other family members to find a place to go to remember and honor their lost loved one. After all, everything that remains of the person may be inaccessible without inconveniencing the one who possesses the ashes. A permanent memorial allows any person access to the one who has died. Because everyone grieves in different ways and at different rates, a specific place is beneficial for individual grief journeys.

2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with the one who has died.

Additionally, a permanent memorial provides an established location for non-family members to mourn. For example, if the best friend of the person who has died wants to connect with them, to talk with them, they may have no place to go where they feel as strong a connection as a permanent memorial would provide. In this same vein, it’s not uncommon to see permanent memorials for those who have died due to acts of violence or vehicular accidents. We do this because we have a need to remember, to remind, and to honor the life lived.

3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.

Cemeteries, mausoleums, or cremation gardens will exist for many years to come. The oldest maintained cemetery in the United States is in Massachusetts, where several voyagers from the Mayflower are buried. People show great interest in their origins, and because of this curiosity, cemeteries will receive visitors consistently. They provide a permanent place for families to reconnect with their ancestors, even those who died long before they themselves were born.

4. It is practical for the family.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-known author, speaker, and grief expert, tells us that establishing a permanent memorial is a practical choice for the family. “Families can rest easy knowing that the cremated remains [of their loved one] are being taken care of in perpetuity. …Having to pass along urns to the next generation or amassing more and more urns on a shelf…is not a viable long-term solution.”

5. It ensures respect for the dead.

Keeping the cremated remains of a loved one at home can be an important part of the healing process. It all depends on what the mourner needs. But, out of respect for the one who has died, to ensure that nothing unfortunate happens to them when you are gone, it’s best to consider how you can permanently memorialize them. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “It’s about respect for the dying and the dead. Permanent memorialization is one of the most important ways in which we as a culture can ensure that respect [is carried out] ….”

It’s perfectly fine to wait to set up a permanent memorial. For some, it’s necessary to have a loved one nearby during the healing process. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up a permanent memorial. It will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.

View from above of light-wood desk with laptop, cup of tea, plant, pens, and notepad

Top 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

For many of us, the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult life events we face. We don’t want to think about it, but there is value in thinking ahead and being prepared for an event that we will all face someday. Whether you want to complete advance planning arrangements or are in the midst of planning the funeral of a loved one right now, it’s important to choose the funeral home that works best for you.

Unfortunately, funeral homes are not created equal. It’s important to choose one that will meet your individual needs and desires. Consider these 10 characteristics of a good funeral home as you select a partner for your funeral planning needs.

1. Possesses a Good Reputation

We all know of a place (whether it be a restaurant, movie theater, retail store, or funeral home) that has a bad reputation. What do we instinctively do when we know a place has a bad reputation? We avoid it. We read the online reviews, we listen to other people’s stories, and we value our own experience.

Particularly when selecting a funeral home, find an establishment that possesses a good reputation so you can be confident in the care and service you will receive. Ask your friends for recommendations or read online reviews of the funeral homes in your area.

2. Employs Caring and Compassionate Staff

As with any business you frequent, you should expect to be treated with kindness. However, this attitude should be especially true of funeral home staff since families are facing a difficult time in their lives. Excellent customer service and authentic sincerity constitute a large part of a funeral home’s reputation, which is one reason these two qualities are very important to funeral directors and their staff. The staff will treat you well and with consummate professionalism. If they don’t, there’s a problem.

One way to determine if a funeral home’s staff is caring is to see how involved they are in the community. Or, make a short list of funeral homes you are considering and give them a call. You can learn a lot about the quality of a person from a simple phone call. Also, some funeral homes are now incorporating grief therapy dogs as part of their staff, in an effort to provide comfort to families and guests.

3. Communicates a Commitment to the Families It Serves

No matter where you go, you should have confidence in the funeral home’s commitment to you. If a funeral home has a good reputation and employs kind and caring staff, then they will likely show great commitment to the families they serve. However, it is still good practice to read a funeral home’s mission statement and history. These two pieces of information can give you a better understanding of a funeral home’s values and commitments. You should be a top priority.

4. Is Willing to Create a Unique and Meaningful Experience for You or Your Loved One

Renowned grief counselor, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “What is essential [when planning a funeral] is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

As you consider a funeral home, ask yourself, “Will this funeral home help me create a service unique to my needs and values?” Personalized funerals and memorials are on the rise in the United States. Families and friends are looking for unique and personal ways to honor lost loved ones, and a good funeral home will work with you to create a meaningful and healing experience. Is the funeral director listening to you carefully and willing to educate you in areas where you lack knowledge? Is the funeral director offering helpful options and explaining the benefits and pitfalls of each option?

Inside a large, nicely-furnished room

5. Offers a Good Location, Facility, and Services

First, whenever possible, choose a convenient location. You will be in frequent contact with the funeral home as you plan a funeral, so a convenient location will be helpful for your preparations.

Second, consider the funeral home facility critically. Is it clean and well-kept? Do they have a chapel, space for a visitation, viewing, or reception (if your plans require such spaces)? Is the décor to your liking? Is the space flexible – can you adjust it to meet your specific needs? Consider the elements you want to be a part of the funeral service and choose a funeral home that meets those desires.

Finally, confirm that the funeral home offers the services you need. Do they offer transportation services, embalming, cremation, etc.? Some funeral homes now offer child-friendly spaces – is that something that’s important to you? No matter what your wishes, only commit to a funeral home that can accomplish them.

6. Accommodates Religious or Cultural Needs

In the United States, the population has always been a mix of religions and culture. As it becomes even more diverse, it’s important for funeral homes to meet the changing needs. With this in mind, no matter what your background, you should look for a funeral home that will help you honor your loved one in the way that you deem appropriate for your cultural background and religious beliefs. For some people, their origins and beliefs make up the fabric of who they are. It’s important that these core values are evident in the funeral or memorial service. No two people are the same, and because of our individual uniqueness, no two funerals should be the same either.

7. Values Transparency about Costs and Descriptions

Almost everyone values a transparent fee structure. With that in mind, partner with a funeral home that values openness and transparency with you. In case you aren’t aware, funeral homes are required to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule. This law stipulates that, when asked, a funeral home:

  • Must provide any consumer with a general price list
  • Should inform the consumer that they have the right to choose the funeral goods and services they want (with some exceptions)
  • Must disclose, on the general price list, whether any particular item is required by state or local law
  • May not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket bought elsewhere
  • Must offer alternative containers (if cremation is chosen, alternative containers must be offered)

Ask for an itemized list that includes all expenses with nothing left out. This will help you determine what’s best for your budget – no surprises! And remember, you get what you pay for. Cheapest isn’t always best in every case. If you are looking to cut down on costs, consider looking into a preplanned and prepaid funeral. By making plans without the stress of time constraints, a family can save hundreds of dollars.

In short, look for a funeral home that is considerate of your needs and your budget. Is the funeral home transparent about funeral service costs? Is the package pricing clear? Have they offered you a general price list and helped you plan a service within your budget?

8. Offers Grief Resources

An important question to ask yourself is, “Does this funeral home provide services beyond the funeral itself?” A good funeral home will be there for you even after the funeral is over. Look for an establishment that offers grief counseling services, post funeral newsletters and education, grief support groups or materials, in-home “check in” visits and phone calls, or hosts holiday commemoration services, to name a few options. Your grief journey is important, and the right funeral home can help you on the road toward healing.

9. Utilizes Up-to-Date Technology

The funeral industry is often accused of being behind the times, but this is not entirely true. Yes, some funeral homes may be slow to change, but there are new, exciting technological advances available. More and more funeral homes are cultivating a social media presence, creating and updating their websites, helping families create memorial videos, or offering webcasting services. Some are even providing online funeral planning services. If these services are important to you, look for a funeral home that uses up-to-date technology to enhance its services.

View from above of light-wood desk with laptop, cup of tea, plant, pens, and notepad

10. Engages the Community with Education Programs

Finally, a good funeral home and its staff engages the community before, during, and after the funeral. Does the funeral home host education programs about estate planning and the importance of getting your affairs together? Do they offer Lunch & Learns to share the importance of funeral preplanning or offer tours of the funeral home facilities? Do they offer hospice continuing education or engage in community events? The funeral home should be an advocate of information. Death inevitably comes to us all, and we cannot change that. But, education and preparation can be our ally, but that only happens if a funeral home engages with its community.

How to Write a Great Epitaph

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

An epitaph is an inscription on a tomb, a gravestone, a plaque, or a memorial marker that honors the memory of a deceased person. The use of epitaphs can be traced to the ancient Egyptians. Epitaphs were also used by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. The use of inscriptions in this way became commonplace around the late 1700’s.

Epitaphs can be light-hearted and witty or inspirational and profound. All great epitaphs reflect the spirit of the loved one and put a unique, personalized touch on the marker. If you want to memorialize your loved one’s life in an interesting way, you may want to consider the following tips for creating a unique epitaph.

Brainstorm ideas and get feedback

First of all, brainstorm a few ideas and get feedback from other family members. Consider your options and others’ input before making a final decision on the epitaph. For example, if the epitaph is for a parent, make sure all of your siblings are on board with the decision.

Give yourself time to think

Secondly, make sure that you leave plenty of time to decide on the epitaph you and your family want. This is not the kind of decision that you want to rush into. Start thinking ahead, and when you come up with an idea that everyone likes, sit with it for a while. Your choice will literally be set in stone.

Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes

Next, consider what your loved one would want. Would they prefer a light-hearted, humorous epitaph? Or one that moves people deeply and encourages them in daily life? Perhaps you could use a quote from one of their favorite historical figures or a quote that is unique to the individual. Brainstorm words or phrases that describe your loved one’s personality, and look for quotes that represent their character.

Examine principles, beliefs, and values

Also consider your loved one’s core beliefs and values when choosing an epitaph. If your loved one is a person of faith, you may want to consider a favorite Bible verse. Or you might want to use a quote from a poem, song, or literary work. Whatever you choose, make sure that it represents the life of the individual and what was most important to them.

Share the person’s legacy

Alternatively, many epitaphs share a snippet of the person’s legacy. You might see epitaphs that say something like, “Beloved wife, mother, and friend,” or “He gave his life for his country.” These brief testaments can bring comfort to those who come back year after year to visit the grave for a time of reflection.

Keep it short

The length of an epitaph will vary, but in most cases, it should be as compact as possible. Consider the amount of space you have available, as well as the kind of material that it will be inscribed on. Certain types of rock require larger lettering, and the bigger the letters, the shorter the epitaph will have to be. If you have any questions regarding the marker, talk with your funeral director. But remember, as a general rule, shorter is better.

Think big picture

The epitaph is an opportunity to communicate a message to people who will be visiting your loved one in the decades or even centuries to come. For this reason, it’s important to decide on an epitaph that will stand the test of time. Consider something that has universal appeal. You don’t want to decide on a passing fad or a cultural reference that will fade into obscurity as the years go by.

Finally, these tips don’t only apply to a lost loved one. Planning ahead for your own end-of-life decisions takes a burden off of your loved ones. You can choose an epitaph in advance that is reflective of your life, values, and core beliefs. By providing your loved ones with an epitaph in writing, you’ll take one more decision off of their hands after your passing.