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Mature couple sitting down with funeral professional to discuss insurance payment options

3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

If you’re reading this, then you understand how important it is to prepare for the future. You know that taking out an insurance policy to cover the cost of a funeral is the loving thing to do. The question now is, “Which funeral insurance option is the best for your situation and needs?” Today, we’re going to discuss the three main types of funeral insurance: 1) prepaid funeral plan, 2) life insurance policy, and 3) final expense plan. By looking at each one in-depth, you can determine which is right for you.

A Brief Overview

Before we look at each option more closely, here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits of each option.

Option #1 – Prepaid Funeral Plan

As you can see, the prepaid funeral plan (or prepaid funeral insurance policy) is the frontrunner. Because the policy amount is based on your funeral preferences, you will sit down with a trusted funeral professional to record your wishes. By doing so, you not only communicate your preferences to your family, but you also have the ability to better control the overall cost.

Generally, a prepaid funeral insurance policy is easy to qualify for. You must answer a few basic medical questions, but even if you are in poor health, graded benefit options may be available.

Once you have recorded your preferences, the funeral professional will draw up an itemized list to give you an exact cost. If you approve, you can either pay for the policy in full or set up a payment plan. The premiums for a fully insured policy include the cost of the funeral plus insurance coverage that ensures that even if you die before the prepaid funeral plan is paid up, the full cost of your funeral will be covered from day 1. From that point, you will only pay premiums until your policy is paid in full or until death occurs. And if you move, your policy goes with you.

Here are a few additional benefits to consider.

  1. Prepaid funeral insurance policies are set up to grow over time, protecting your funeral funds against inflation.
  2. Some funeral providers offer guarantees on their prices, effectively locking in the cost of the funeral when the plan is set up.
  3. A properly structured prepaid funeral plan can be considered an exempt asset for Medicaid, if needed.

If you’d like to learn more about recording your wishes, please read “What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment.”

Middle aged couple looking at laptop together and comparing options

Option #2 – Life Insurance Policy

Next, let’s take a look at life insurance policies. It is very common to use life insurance funds to pay for funeral expenses. However, it’s important to realize that life insurance funds are often not available immediately. Sometimes, it can take up to 8 weeks to receive funds – long after the funeral is complete.

If the funeral home you partner with works with a life insurance assignment company, they may be able to help you access your funds more quickly. That said, if you do plan to use a life insurance policy and want your family to have quicker access, make sure to choose a funeral home that offers this service.

A few more things to note if you plan to use a life insurance policy for funeral needs.

  1. Make sure that you apply for a life insurance policy well in advance. The older you are, the harder it is to qualify and the higher your monthly payments. If you are in poor health, coverage may be limited or not available at all.
  2. Life insurance funds don’t accrue interest, so as inflation rises, your purchasing power decreases.
  3. Make sure to take out a large enough policy to cover everything your family may need. For example, a prepaid funeral plan is solely intended to pay for funeral expenses. However, a life insurance policy is meant to help with other things. For example, paying off debt, replacing an income, or paying for childcare when a surviving spouse goes back to work. If your policy amount isn’t high enough, your family may not have as much financial support after your death as you intended.

If you’d like more information about using a life insurance policy to pay for a funeral, you can speak with a  trusted funeral professional or click here.

Mature couple sitting down with funeral professional to discuss insurance payment options

Option #3 – Final Expense Plan

Finally, let’s take a look at final expense plans. This type of plan focuses on setting aside funds for funeral expenses or outstanding bills after death. Of the three insurance options, final expense plans are the easiest to qualify for.

However, there are a few things to note before you choose this option.

  1. Final expense plans offer lower coverage (often not more than $35K). If you have medical bills or significant debt, this option may not go far in helping your family.
  2. The older you are when you sign up, the higher your monthly premiums. For senior adults on a fixed income, it may be difficult to pay the premiums.
  3. There’s no end date to payments; they will continue until death.
  4. Like a life insurance policy, a final expense plan does not account for inflation.

If you’d like more information about final expense plans, click here or stop by a local funeral home you trust. They can give you a sense of how using a final expense plan has worked for other families.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Insurance Option

No matter which you choose, there are going to be risks and benefits. Consider your personal situation and then choose the one that best meets your needs. In fact, if you aren’t sure if you’d qualify for your first choice, go speak with a professional. They can give you the details, and you may be surprised at what you qualify for!

shows memorial benches along the middle of a inlet walkway with lighthouse are end of wharf

9 Outdoor Memorial Ideas to Honor a Loved One

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Memorial

When you’re grieving the death of a loved one, it helps to find just the right way to honor their life. Sometimes that may mean painting a portrait, creating a scholarship fund, or writing down the story of your life together. Other times, when the person particularly enjoyed the sun and fresh air, it might mean creating an outdoor memorial.

To help you think through all the possibilities, here are 9 ways you could honor your loved one’s life outdoors.

white rose resting on top of gray granite headstone

1. Personalized Headstone

First, let’s look at a traditional option – a personalized headstone or grave marker. Whether it’s a burial plot or a cremation niche, you can customize a headstone or plaque that is meaningful. Include a sweet sentiment. Choose a unique color or shape. Add a photo or special image. There really are a lot of custom options available to you, if you’d like to honor your loved one’s life in this way. For more information on how you can create a one-of-a-kind headstone, read 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker or Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker.

shows memorial benches along the middle of a inlet walkway with lighthouse are end of wharf

2. Bench with Memorial Message

Whether it’s at a cemetery, a favorite park, or even in the middle of downtown, you’ve likely seen memorial benches. Often built of wood or metal, the bench stands in a picturesque or meaningful location and includes a message. The message could be anything you want. Forever loved. In loving memory of <person’s name>. For <person’s name>, impractically perfect in every way. You could also choose a special quote or add a few details about the person. With metal benches, you can even include cutout shapes and various colors to make the bench even more unique.

shows person hugging a tree trunk that has a red heart painted on it

3. Remembrance Tree

If you prefer a completely natural option, you can plant a remembrance tree. While it’s certainly not required, you can also bury a loved one’s ashes with the tree. There are biodegradable urns specifically intended for this purpose. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together, and the ashes rest in a lower section. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down to the ashes, and everything mingles together. With this option, you have grown a tree that supports the environment, but also created a lasting memorial for someone you love.

shows a white outdoor flag against a wall of ivy

4. Memorial Flag

Whether you want a smaller garden flag or a full-sized flag, you can order a custom flag to honor your loved one’s life. Add a favorite photo. Use their favorite color. Choose a flag with a special image, like hearts, flowers, teddy bears, bees. Whatever makes it personal. Then, display it whenever you want. You may want to leave it out all year, or you could put it out on the person’s birthday or the anniversary of their death. There’s no right or wrong way. Simply do what feels right and helps you honor their life.

Shows small stone painted like a fox sitting in the grass

5. Garden Stone

You don’t need a garden to use an outdoor garden stone to honor a loved one’s life. You can either add a personalized plaque to a larger rock, or you can paint a smaller rock. Then, you can place the stone outside your home in a place that makes the most sense for you. That might be in your yard, on your patio, or lined against the walkway to your front door. This option is very versatile, and if you move or want to change things up, you can easily transport the stone to a new location.

Grandfather and grandson building a custom bird feeder

6. Bird Feeder

If birds are special to you or your loved one, then a memorial bird feeder may be just the right thing. You can choose one that appeals to you and add personalized elements, such as a loved one’s name or photo. You can choose the color or design based on their favorite feathered friend, such as red for the cardinal or rust orange for the robin. Then, select the best tree in your yard for its home. Every time you see a bird visiting the feeder, it’s like your loved one is enjoying it, too.

shows silver wind chime with hearts

7. Wind Chime

If you don’t have a large outdoor space, a wind chime doesn’t require much room and holds its own charm. Select a wind chime that feels like the perfect match for your needs and then find a space to hang it up. You can even add customized touches, like a specific color or engraving. Once its in place, the chime’s windswept tones will become a sweet reminder. Some days, it may even feel as if your loved one has stopped by to say hello.

Shows a light wood roadside cross with flowers and gifts around it

8. Memorial Cross

All of us have passed memorial crosses on the side of the road, marking the place where someone loved lost their life. For those who are lost tragically, a memorial cross can bring a sense of comfort to family and friends. It provides a place to mourn, but it also brings attention. Other people – even strangers – will pass by and think kindly of your loved one. Who were they? What were they like? And in a small way, your loved one’s memory lives on and serves as a reminder to value life and to live well.

Young woman creating a sculpture in an art studio

9. Sculpture

Finally, while this option is not for everyone, it may feel right and appropriate for your circumstances. With this form of outdoor memorial, there really are no creative boundaries. Though the most famous memorial sculptures are often associated with historical figures or key historical events, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can commission something small for your own backyard or for a local organization your loved one supported. In fact, many organizations have a memorial wall where beloved contributors are honored and remembered.

Please remember, these ideas only scratch the surface. There are so many ways that you can honor a loved one with an outdoor memorial, so let your imagination loose. And as you consider the best way to honor your loved one’s life, you will find that the process is helping you work through your feelings on the journey to healing and reconciliation.

Beautiful spread of ingredients to bake a cake

Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker

By Explore Options, Memorial, Planning Tools

When planning a loved one’s funeral or memorial services, personalization is key to creating an event that is both healing and meaningful. The same is true when you’re considering what to include on a memorial marker (e.g., headstone, grave marker, etc.). But thankfully, there are a lot of ways to personalize a memorial marker, and one of them is bringing joy to people! What is it? Gravestone recipes!

What are Gravestone Recipes?

Memorial markers generally include the name, birth date, and death date of the person who has died. Often, the memorial marker also includes an inscription, like a sweet sentiment or kind phrase. However, some families have taken to personalizing the inscription in a new way – adding the recipe for that person’s most well-known dish.

Let’s look at a few examples!

Mom and adult daughter making cookies in the kitchen together, daughter learning from mother

Naomi’s Spritz Cookies

At a cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, Naomi Miller-Dawson’s memorial marker bears the recipe for her spritz cookies. While the memorial marker includes the ingredient list and no instructions, you can use the traditional method for spritz cookies to give you a good start on how to bake the cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter or margarine⁠
  • 3/4 cup sugar⁠
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla⁠
  • 1 egg⁠
  • 2 1/4 cups flour⁠
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder⁠
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Kay’s Fudge

Before her death, Kay Andrews of Logan, UT, requested that her memorial marker include her go-to fudge recipe. A woman of encouragement, she often took fudge to friends and family as a gift of love and support. Thankfully, Kay’s family honored her request, and now, we all get to enjoy Kay’s fudge and remember her for her kindness.

Ingredients:

  • 2 squares chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate squares with butter on low heat.
  2. Stir in milk until incorporated and bubbling.
  3. Sift in sugar and salt.
  4. Add vanilla and stir.
  5. Continue stirring overheat until the mixture reaches 273 degrees F.
  6. Remove from heat and pour onto a marble slab.
  7. Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
  8. Cut and serve.

Mother and young daughter baking together, making memories

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

In Cascade, IA, a sweet remembrance marks the final resting place of Maxine Menster. When her husband and daughter wanted to add something special to Maxine’s memorial marker, they both thought of her cookies. Handed down through generations of family, Maxine made them every Christmas, leaving her home filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies and her family with precious memories.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup oleo (margarine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cream

Directions:

  1. Cream the sugar and oleo.
  2. Add two beaten eggs and vanilla to the mixture.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt into separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient alternately with 1 cup cream.
  5. Chill and roll out with flour.
  6. Bake 350 degrees oven and frost.

Father and adult daughter making homemade bread together

Connie’s Date & Nut Bread

For registered nurse Constance Galberd, date & nut bread must have been an important part of saying she cared. Mother of three, Connie died in 2008 and was buried in Highland Mills, NY. While it might have seemed a small remembrance, who can really say how many people have been blessed by her date & nut bread long after her passing? It’s a personalization that keeps bringing joy even today!

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dates, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

  1. Pour boiling water (where 2 teaspoons of baking soda have been dissolved) over dates and raisins. Cool.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix well.
  3. Add 2 eggs, well beaten.
  4. Gradually mix in 4 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts. Beat thoroughly.
  6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour.
  7. Bake in tin cans (one batch = 13 cans)*

*During the Great Depression (1929-1939), families often baked with tin cans. You can make this recipe using a regular loaf pan.

Father and young daughter baking together, holding a heart made of dough in their hands

What a Sweet Personalization

In so many ways, food is an integral part of many of our core memories. Grandma’s special cake. Dad’s famous BBQ. The family-famous trimmings that only come out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We all have these special foods in our lives, and a lot of times, they are associated with a special person.

If you are looking for a sweet way to personalize the memorial marker of someone who loved spending time in the kitchen, a gravestone recipe inscription might be a good fit. That way, you and so many others can celebrate and appreciate your loved one’s life for years to come.

If you’d like more inspiration for personalizing a memorial marker, go 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker for ideas!

Can You Name the 4 Different Types of Cemeteries?

By Explore Options, Memorial, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A cemetery is a cemetery, right? Well, to a degree, that’s true. However, there are actually several different types of cemeteries you should know about. Today, we’ll discuss the 4 main categories as well as some of the unique features that are available.

traditional upright headstones with flower arrangements

What are the 4 main types of cemeteries?

1. Public Cemeteries

Many cemeteries are public cemeteries. Often, they are the most affordable option. In short, a “public” cemetery simply means that anyone from the general public can inquire about purchasing a plot or niche. However, not all public cemeteries are run the same way.

Government-run public cemeteries

More than likely, a local government, like the city or the county, owns this type of public cemetery. Burial is open to anyone, and the local government maintains the grounds. However, they may not offer a full range of options and services.

Privately-run public cemeteries

On the other hand, privately-run public cemeteries are often owned independently or by a corporation. When you think of a cemetery, this may be the type that comes to mind most readily. They are commonly called “private cemeteries,” though they are open to the public. You can find them through the local funeral home, friends, or searching online. While the cost of a plot/niche may be higher, they also provide more services and options.

No matter which you choose, check on availability. In some cases, public cemeteries become full, sold out, or dedicated to those who die destitute (especially in the case of a government-run cemetery).

cemetery outside a beautiful old church

2. Private Cemeteries

Owned by individuals or businesses, true private cemeteries are not open to the general public. In fact, the owners have final say in who is allowed burial in a private cemetery. Let’s look at two primary examples of private cemeteries: family burial grounds and religious cemeteries.

Family burial ground

Very common in rural America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a family burial ground is located on private land and designated for relatives only. Today, there are more regulations in place, but it is still a possibility. However, there’s one potential problem to consider: access. If land is sold, the family may no longer have access to the cemetery. Some states guarantee the family access to the cemetery, and other states do not. Therefore, make sure you understand your local or state laws before committing to a family burial ground.

Religious cemeteries

This type of private cemetery restricts availability to those of a certain faith or belief or even affiliation.

Examples include members of a certain:

  • Church
  • Fraternal/sororal group
  • Ethnicity
  • Lodge

In most cases, the organization owns the cemetery and only allows members to purchase a plot or niche. While there are a lot of religious cemeteries across the United States, each cemetery has its own rules. Because of that, some are more restrictive and others more inclusive. If you are interested in burial in a religious cemetery, start by talking with the organization most closely affiliated with it.

Veteran cemetery with white headstones and small American flags

3. Veteran Cemeteries

Have you heard of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? This beautiful cemetery is an iconic example of veteran cemeteries across the nation. For eligible active duty servicemen and women, veterans, and their dependents, both national and state veteran cemeteries are an option.

Maintained by the Veterans Administration, there are more than 100 veteran cemeteries in the United States. For those who are eligible, burial benefits are available. These benefits include a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a headstone, and military honors…at no charge. Some state veteran cemeteries charge a nominal fee, but the funeral home can contact the cemetery on your behalf to confirm.

tree with heart marker, representing natural burial

4. Green or Natural Cemeteries

The natural or green cemetery focuses on minimizing environmental impact and limiting the carbon footprint. While natural cemeteries have all the hallmarks of a standard cemetery, there are some notable differences.

They require the use of a biodegradable casket or urn. While embalming is not prohibited, it must be done without specific chemicals or avoided entirely. Instead of headstones, some cemeteries plant trees with minimal markers. For more information on green or natural burial, talk to your trusted local funeral home. They can answer your questions.

Do cemeteries have special features?

Yes, some cemeteries focus on a certain aesthetic. Let’s review a few examples.

Monument Cemetery – features traditional, upright headstones made of granite, marble, or stone; additionally, may include a designated area for flat memorial plaques

Memorial or Lawn Park – uses lawn-level granite or bronze memorial plaques; by using ground-level markers, they intend to promote natural beauty and decrease maintenance costs

Garden Cemetery – similar to a memorial park, except the design of the cemetery includes specific garden elements; for example, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the earliest known garden cemetery in the United States

Columbarium or Mausoleum Niches – while burial is an option for cremated remains, columbarium or mausoleum niches are also available at many cemeteries

Bench overlooking a cemetery on a beautiful day

Is there a cost difference?

Absolutely. The cost of cemetery good and services varies widely and depends on several factors, including:

  • Where you live
  • Type of cemetery
  • Type of burial
  • Location of the plot
  • Memorialization selections
  • Perpetual care fee

Let’s recap. First, public cemeteries are most likely to receive funding from the local government, so their costs are lower. Second, with private cemeteries, there will be fees associated with opening/closing the grave, perpetual care of the grounds, grave liner, headstone, and so on. Third, in most cases, burial in a veteran cemetery will incur little or no cost to you or your family. And lastly, a green or natural cemetery will likely cost less than a private cemetery because they don’t require certain items, such as a grave liner.

Ultimately, the decision of which cemetery to use is up to you and what’s available in your area. Your trusted local funeral home can give you all the information you need to determine what’s best for your needs and your family.

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Did you know you can put your funeral wishes in writing in advance? That’s where a preplanning specialist can help! They specialize in sitting down with you (and your family, if you’d like) to listen to your wishes, review all the options, answer your questions, and help you put your preferences in writing.

If you’d like to learn more about planning ahead, check out “What is Advance Funeral Planning?” for a deeper look at why planning ahead can benefit both you and your family.

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

During your chat, the preplanning specialist will listen to your thoughts and answer your questions. They will help you understand your options, so you can make plans that balance your own personal wishes with the emotional needs of your family. A few general topics will likely come up. Let’s review them.

1. Vital Statistics

The preplanning specialist will ask you for some specific vital statistics. After death, there are many documents that must be submitted to state and local authorities, and they each require certain information. With the vital information provided, the funeral director can obtain the necessary permits for burial or cremation, help prepare the obituary, and submit a request for a death certificate. And for veterans, the funeral director can use vital statistics to request military honors, if you wish.

When possible, consider bringing these vital statistics to your preplanning appointment:

  • Full legal name
  • Address
  • Race and gender
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Occupation (kind of business or industry)
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s name (if applicable)
  • Maiden name (if applicable)
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Education information
  • Armed Forces information (including DD-214)
  • Names of surviving spouse and family members

2. Funeral Preferences

As you might expect, your funeral preferences are going to be a topic of conversation during a preplanning appointment. Here are a few things you may discuss with the preplanning specialist as you determine what’s right for you and your family.

  • What type of final disposition do you want? (burial, cremation, anatomical donation, etc.)
  • What kind of service do you want?
  • Where do you want the service to take place?
  • If you prefer burial, have you already purchased a cemetery plot? If so, where?
  • Who would you like to take part in the service? For example, eulogists, pallbearers, etc.
  • Would you like a gathering for mourners after the service?

There will be more questions, of course, but these give you an idea of what to expect during your preplanning discussion. If you’d like a more in-depth guide, click on our Funeral Planning Checklist and start filling it out today. You can take the completed checklist to your preplanning appointment and discuss your selections with the preplanning specialist.

3. Personalization Preferences

Just as no two people are the same, no two funeral services should be the same. That’s where personalization preferences come in.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator who has walked alongside thousands of people on the grief journey, tells us:

Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential 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.”

Personalization is the key to creating a healing and meaningful experience that will meet the emotional needs of family and offer comfort throughout the grief journey. During your appointment, you can brainstorm personalization ideas with the preplanning specialist. They will offer ideas based on their own personal experience in the funeral profession.

To help you get a sense of what funeral personalization means, here are a few resources:

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral 

4. Veterans’ Burial Benefits

If you are an honorably discharged veteran, the preplanning specialist will discuss the burial benefits you are eligible to receive. Dependents and survivors of veterans may also be eligible for VA benefits.

The main burial benefits available to veterans include (at no cost to your family; all benefits apply both burial and cremation):

  • Burial allowance
  • Interment at a national cemetery
  • Headstone or grave marker
  • Burial flag
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate
  • Military honors

If you aren’t familiar with what each of these benefits entails, you can read our “What Are My Burial Benefits as a Veteran” eBook here. Then, you can discuss your preferences with the preplanning specialist and ensure that your family gets access to all of the veterans’ burial benefits you’d like to receive.

5. Funding Options

While funding your funeral plans is not required, it’s worth considering. The preplanning specialist will likely discuss a prepaid funeral insurance policy. With a prepaid funeral insurance policy, you can protect your family from a financial burden and ensure that funeral funds are available immediately. Some people elect to use a life insurance policy or final expense plan to pay for funeral expenses, but both have a few drawbacks to consider. Your meeting with the preplanning specialist is an excellent time to ask questions about each of these options to help you decide what works best for your situation.

Here are some resources to help you:

Understanding Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policies

The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

10 Questions to Ask Before Your Prepay Your Funeral

What’s Next?

Now that you know more of what to expect, do a little brainstorming and research in advance of your preplanning appointment. If you choose not to, that’s okay, too. The preplanning specialist has experience with guiding families through each step of the process, and they won’t rush you.

One of the biggest benefits to planning ahead is that you can take your time to decide what makes the most sense for you. After everything is complete and your plan is in place, you and your loved ones will feel a sense of relief that everything is taken care of!

Shows a memorial service with urn

What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service?

By Cremation, Explore Options, Planning Tools

Have you ever planned a funeral or memorial service? If you haven’t, then you’re in good company. Most people haven’t. That’s why it’s not surprising that you may not know the difference between funeral and memorial services. But today, we’re going to break things down, and hopefully, clear things up.

“Funeral” as a General Term

First, let’s talk about the word “funeral.” Often, it’s used in two different ways.

The word “funeral” can be used in a general sense to refer to the entire process of taking care of the body after death including all associated services. So, “Our family is planning the funeral” could mean either a traditional service or a memorial service, burial or cremation, simple or elaborate. As a culture, we’ve used the word “funeral” for so long that no matter what kind of service it may be, we still use “funeral” in a general sense in our conversations.

However, there is a second meaning to the word that more directly applies to our topic today.

Shows a family of four with flowers honoring a loved one

What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service?

At the risk of sounding anticlimactic, the difference between the two is quite simple: is the body present or not?

Funeral Service

At a funeral service, the body is present, often in a casket in a place of honor. Considered the traditional way of putting a loved one to rest in our culture, the funeral service often features common elements, such as the presence of a casket, religious rituals (if applicable), and  post-funeral burial. They also tend to take place in certain traditional locations.

Memorial Service

At a memorial service, the body is not present, though there may be an urn or a portrait in a place of honor. The specific nature of a memorial service can vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the choices you make. In general, though, a memorial service is a ceremony that memorializes and honors the deceased without the body present (regardless of whether burial or cremation is chosen).

And that’s the main difference between the two. However, let’s go a little deeper.

What are My Service Options?

Most of the time, we associate a memorial service with cremation. However, did you know you can have a viewing, visitation, and traditional service with cremation? Funerals (general use, here) are becoming more and more customizable, so there are lots of options available.

Shows a young woman standing next to a casket with white lilies

Here are 3 basic types of services:

Traditional Service with Burial

Traditional burial may be what comes to mind when you first think “funeral.” A long-time practice, traditional burial typically includes a viewing or visitation, a funeral service (with body present), a graveside committal, and often, some sort of informal gathering following the conclusion of services. After services are concluded, the body is taken to a cemetery and buried according to the family’s wishes.

Traditional Service Before Cremation

Believe it or not, you can have a traditional ceremony, viewing, and/or visitation even if you select cremation. You can choose a private family viewing or a public visitation. You could even hold a full funeral with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. After the services are concluded, the body will be taken to the crematory so that cremation can take place.   

Shows a memorial service with urn

Memorial Service After Cremation

On the other hand, you can plan a memorial service where cremation takes place before the service. Most often, the family will place the urn or a portrait in a place of honor. If the family has elected to bury the urn, then there may be a committal service, but otherwise, it’s common to invite guests to an informal gathering (like a meal or reception) where they can share stories and memories.

No matter what type of service you select – funeral or memorial – the most important thing you can do is create a meaningful and healing event. With a personalized ceremony, you can give grieving loved ones a solid foundation by creating a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace, allow everyone to say goodbye, and encourage each person to start the grief journey on the right foot.  

Shows a woman placing flowers on a grave as a remembrance

After all, the funeral or memorial isn’t for the dead; it’s for the living. It’s a chance to share stories, to reminisce about the sweet memories, to cry, to give and receive support, and most of all, to express what’s deep in our hearts as we say goodbye.  

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the differences between funeral and memorial services as well as a general idea of the types of services that are available to you. There are other options – like natural burial or burial at sea or scattering – so make sure to talk with a reputable funeral home in your area. They can discuss all the options with you so that you can make decisions that balance your own personal wishes with the emotional needs of your family.

Shows couple talking to funeral professional about their funeral plans

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

After the death of a loved one, surviving family members must often answer between 100 – 200 questions before any kind of funeral or memorial service can take place. What’s your loved one’s mother’s maiden name? What is their social security number? For veterans, do you have a copy of the DD-214? Needless to say, pulling together all the answers while grieving a recent loss can feel overwhelming. That’s why advance funeral planning is such a great idea.

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

In short, advance funeral planning is sitting down with a funeral professional to think through and write down (and possibly fund) your final wishes. Like a will, you can put your wishes in writing at any age. But what exactly does advance funeral planning do? Let’s dive into it a little more.

Shows grandmother, daughter, and grandchildren living with peace of mind

1. Advance Planning Gives Peace of Mind

Remember those 100 – 200 questions? By answering them ahead of time, you save your family from having to do it in the future. The first few days after a loss are hazy and can feel like a dark cloud has descended. Having to plan a funeral or memorial in the midst of all those emotions is hard. With advance funeral planning, you alleviate the burden that will fall on your loved ones to plan and pay for your funeral services. That’s a weight off your shoulders – and theirs!

2. Advance Planning Helps Prevent Family Disagreements

One of the biggest family tensions after the death of a loved one can happen when surviving family members disagree on service details, dates, and times. Some lean toward cremation; others burial. Some want a private service; others a public one. With advance funeral planning, they don’t have to guess what you want – they know. You can remove uncertainty and doubt, empowering your loved ones to make decisions with confidence.

Shows a couple creating a meaningful service

3. Advance Planning Gives You Time to Create a Personalized Final Tribute

It’s difficult to plan a truly meaningful funeral in mere hours, especially when feelings of grief are so near the surface. Advance planning allows you to thoughtfully plan and prepare a funeral service (burial or cremation) that will fulfill your wishes and meet the emotional needs of your family and friends. A thoughtfully planned service is a healthy first step for your network of supporters on their individual grief journeys.

4. Advance Planning Saves Money

There are several ways advance planning helps your family save money in the long run.

Prevents emotional overspending

When your family doesn’t know what your wishes are, they may be tempted to seek “only the best” (i.e., most expensive) options and end up emotionally overspending. With advance planning, you can make your selections with a clear, rational mind rather than one affected by emotional strain. In this way, you control the ending cost and save your family money in the long run.

Shows older couple making a plan

Protects against inflation

If you decide to prefund as well as preplan your funeral arrangements, many funeral homes will guarantee in writing that the funeral services and merchandise itemized on your contract will be covered by your prepaid funeral insurance policy at the time of death. A prepaid funeral policy grows over time and often covers all inflation costs.

Plus, if you have a prepaid funeral insurance policy, funds will become available for use immediately. If you rely on life insurance proceeds to pay for a service, it could be six to eight weeks before any funds become available to your family. That means your surviving family members will likely have to pay for the service out of pocket before the life insurance claim is paid out.

Helps you qualify for Medicaid coverage

If you anticipate that you will apply for Medicaid in the future, you can spend down your assets with a prepaid funeral plan. If you place your funeral funds into an irrevocable contract, then whatever funds you place in the contract will be considered exempt assets for Medicaid purposes. In this way, you help yourself qualify for Medicaid while ensuring that your money benefits your family. Click here to learn more.

Shows couple talking to funeral professional about their funeral plans

How to Get Started

Now that you know what advance planning is and how it benefits both you and your family, the best next step is to talk with a preplanning specialist.

Once you select the funeral home you want to partner with (here are some tips for that), give them a call, send an email, connect on Facebook or just stop by their business. They will have a qualified funeral preplanning specialist on staff who will work with you to iron out all the details for your funeral wishes. They will educate you on all the options, so you can make informed decisions regarding your plans. And best of all, their assistance is free!

In many ways, the most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance. The future may be uncertain, but with advance planning, you can make a difference in the lives of the people who matter most.

Shows person following directions to pack box correctly

5 Tips When Shipping Cremated Remains

By Cremation, Explore Options

It’s impossible to know what circumstances you’re going to face after a loved one’s death. In some cases, it may become necessary to transport a loved one’s remains across a large distance. If this is the case, you have three transportation choices: personal vehicle (car or boat), commercial airline, or postal service.

If shipping a loved one’s (or a pet’s) remains is the most logical choice for your individual situation, then the United States Postal Service (USPS) can help you. As the only legal method of shipping cremated remains (both human and animal) within the United States, USPS can ship domestically through Priority Mail Express and internationally through Priority Mail Express International (if the receiving country accepts cremated remains via the postal service). No other service options are available (for example, you can’t ship cremated remains First-Class or Ground).

To make this process as smooth as possible, let’s review 5 key tips for shipping cremated remains.

Shows on person receiving a box

1. Consider Using the Cremated Remains Kit

You will, of course, need a box to ship the cremated remains in. The USPS actually provides a “Cremated Remains Kit” that gives you all of the materials you need to ship cremated remains through the postal service. You can order either Cremated Remains Kit 1 or Cremated Remains Kit 2 at www.usps.com (kits only available online).

The main difference between the two kits is that Cremated Remains Kit 2 includes instructions, bubble wrap, and a self-sealing plastic bag in addition to the box and Priority Mail Express tape. The biggest benefit to using the Cremated Remains Kit is that the kit is free, it is easily recognizable by USPS employees, and is sturdy enough to ensure the safety and security of your package.

However, if you’d prefer, you can use whatever box you want. It’s not required to use the Cremated Remains Kit.

2. Affix Label 139 to the Outside of the Box

If you choose to use your own box, you must affix Label 139 to all sides (including the top and bottom) of the box. This label says “Cremated Remains” in large letters and is brightly colored to draw attention. The Cremated Remains Kit already has this label printed on it so you won’t need to affix additional labels.

The intention behind the label is to ensure that your package is treated with the proper respect and more likely to be delivered in a timely manner. You must affix the label for both human and animal cremated remains.

Shows person following directions to pack box correctly

3. Pack Your Box Carefully

Whether you use the Cremated Remains Kit or your own box, it’s important to ensure that the urn/container is securely closed and packaged. It’s always a good idea to ship the urn/container in a sealed plastic bag.

With both a securely closed urn/container and a sealed plastic bag, you can ensure that the cremated remains are contained at all times and won’t sift or leak out of the box during transit.

You should definitely add plenty of padding to cushion the urn/container. Also, it’s good practice to include your name, address, and other contact information on a sheet of paper inside the shipping box.

The USPS has given detailed instructions on the best way to package cremated remains (whether human or animal). You can find a PDF version here or a video explanation here.

4. When Mailing Internationally, Check the Policies of the Receiving Country

Just because the United States allows the shipping of cremated remains doesn’t mean that other countries do. When shipping cremated remains (human or animal), contact the receiving country’s embassy or consulate. They can tell if it’s legal to send and receive cremated remains within that country.

In some cases, it’s not legal. In other cases, there may be additional forms to complete or regulations to follow. You can always check out the International Mail Manual (IMM) provided by USPS, and if the regulations aren’t clear, contact the embassy/consulate directly.

Do NOT mail cremated remains internationally until you’ve determined whether or not they can be successfully received by the recipient. Also, don’t forget to complete a customs declaration form.

Shows man and woman packing boxes carefully

5. Decide Whether Extra Services Will Provide Peace of Mind

If it will give you more peace of mind, you can sign up for extra service options when shipping cremated remains. You can request Return Receipt, Insurance, Signature Required, or Signature Waived. If you’d prefer not to pay or request these extra services, they aren’t required.

Consider the Risks

It would be remiss not to mention that there are risks to shipping cremated remains (human or animal). You run the risk of the box getting lost or taking an inordinate amount of time to reach its destination. Review all your options, and if shipping is the best option, then do it.

Also, don’t hesitate to contact the funeral home in charge of your loved one’s cremation. They may have helpful tips or might even be able to handle the shipment for you.

If shipping a loved one’s (or a pet’s) remains isn’t right for you, you can always make the drive by car or fly commercially. To learn more about flying with cremated remains, check out What You Need to Know About Flying with Cremated Remains.

No matter what you decide, may you find peace and healing in the days to come as you mourn the loss of someone dearly loved.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Memorial, Planning Tools

When visiting a cemetery, it can seem like your options are limited when choosing a memorial marker, but that’s not true. There are many options for creating a personalized monument that will identify a loved one’s final resting place for generations to come. Today, let’s talk about why memorial markers matter and 6 different ways you can personalize a monument to create something unique and special.

Shows an example of a memorial marker

What is a Memorial Marker?

A memorial marker goes by many names. Tombstone. Headstone. Grave marker. Monument. It can get confusing quickly, so we will use “memorial marker” and “monument” for our purposes today.

If you’ve ever visited a cemetery, then you’ve seen memorial markers. It could be a plaque, an upright headstone, a footstone, or even occasionally a ledger stone, to name a few options. Typically, a memorial marker lists the deceased person’s name and life dates. Anything beyond that is customized.

Why is a Memorial Marker Important?

As human beings, 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.

Not only do memorial markers highlight the value of remembering people by name – names are so important – they also give us a place to go to feel close to the person who has died.

To learn more about why memorial markers and a final resting place can be valuable to families, especially when feelings of grief arise or anniversaries come around, check out 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Illustrates why a memorial marker is important as two young people visit a loved one's final resting place

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

Now, let’s dive into 6 ways you can personalize a memorial marker to reflect a person’s unique life, personality, and preferences.

To help you decide what’s right for your needs and situation, consider which of these categories you want to focus on (or if you’d like to create a mix):

  • Choose elements that reflect personality (kind, giving, friendly)
  • Focus on family attributes (father, grandmother, uncle, sister)
  • Highlight achievements, hobbies, interests, or long-term commitments

With these categories in mind, let’s talk about personalizing a memorial marker.

1. Create a Personalized Inscription

Also called an epitaph, you can include a short message on the monument that has meaning and significance to everyone – family, friends, and the person who has died.

For instance, you could include:

  • A focus on family (“Beloved mother, sister, and friend”)
  • A poignant sentiment (“Forever in our hearts”)
  • A spiritual quote or verse for a person of faith
  • Pop culture references to music, movies, etc. (“May the Force be with you” or similar)

For a real-life example, one beloved grandmother included her famous fudge recipe on her memorial marker so that everyone who came by could make and enjoy it as much as she did. The possibilities are quite literally endless with how you can personalize the inscription.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

2. Choose a Color

Next, let’s talk about color. Depending on what material you select, you can choose a color to personalize a memorial marker. Granite is the most popular monument material because it retains its shine for many years. It is available in black, blue, gray, pink, red, and more. If your loved one had an affinity for a certain color, you can ask your monument representative what your color options are.

Bronze is another common material used for memorial markers. Keep in mind, bronze will develop patina over time, resulting in a color change ranging from antiqued green to light or dark brown. Some people love this color change, and one more famous example of patina is the greenish hue that we now see on the Statue of Liberty.

3. Select a Shape

While most people choose a rectangular, square, or pointed top monument, memorial markers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Custom monuments come in many forms—from benches to unique shapes like hearts, books, arches, or even guitars.

If you have a specific vision for what shape you’d like the memorial marker to be, talk to the monument designers about the possibilities. They will discuss the cost and what’s possible when working with stone.

Shows one shape option for memorial markers

4. Add an Image or Symbol

If you’d like, you can request that the memorial marker feature a specific image or symbol. From animals and military insignia to pop culture references or nature scenes, anything is possible. The key is to pick something that is meaningful.

If you aren’t sure what kind of image to request, ask yourself, “Does my loved one have a well-known hobby? A pet who is always nearby? A deep faith? A favorite instrument or talent or sports team?” These types of questions will help you narrow down the options.

Monument companies will work with you on the design and help you create something that will bring your creative vision to life as you honor your loved one’s legacy.

5. Include a Photo

Similar to an image or symbol, you could add a photo (or photos) to personalize a memorial marker. Depending on your wishes, the photo could be etched (by hand or with a laser), or if you prefer to use a color photo, the image can be created in ceramic or porcelain and then permanently affixed to the marker in whatever size you want.

If you decide to include a photo, select one of your favorites and go over your wishes with the monument designer so they can create exactly what you want.

Shows a man leaving flowers at a loved one's memorial marker

6. Incorporate a QR Code

A new trend in memorial marker personalization is the QR code. The code is affixed to the marker, and when mourners or visitors scan the code, they view a website dedicated to that person’s life and legacy.

Imagine if you could scan a QR code for someone who died 100 years ago. It would be both amazing and interesting to read more about who they were and what their life was like.

Of course, this personalization option takes a little additional work on your part (you have to create a website), but it may be a good option for remembering and honoring your loved one’s life.

Do What’s Best for Your Family

The best thing about this whole discussion? There’s no right or wrong. If something traditional is right and good for your needs, do that. If a photo with inscription is best, do that. Would a book top with a literary quote be meaningful? Do that. It’s entirely up to you.

One final note as you consider the possibilities, remember to ask the cemetery representative if they have any specific regulations. Some cemeteries place firm restrictions on monument color and material.

Shows woman visiting a cemetery where there are monument regulations

Now, take some time to brainstorm. Talk to a funeral home or monument company to learn what the options are. Then, start creating a vision for a personalized memorial marker that makes the most sense for your family, your needs, and your loved one.

For more helpful information, make sure to read Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker.

Shows people boarding a plane with sunlight on their hair

What You Need to Know About Flying with Cremated Remains

By Cremation, Explore Options

Did you know that it’s possible to fly – both domestically and internationally – with cremated remains? While flying with cremated remains may not be something you’ve ever thought about before, there are many reasons why someone might consider flying with a loved one’s cremated body. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Your seatmate is taking the cremated remains to a specific place for scattering or burial.
  • The surviving family is hosting a memorial service across the country to allow distant family members to say goodbye, and they want the cremated remains present.
  • The person died away from home – either in country or abroad – and your seatmate is flying them home.

No matter the reason, sometimes flying with the cremated remains of a loved one is necessary. But before getting on a plane with cremated remains, there are a few things you need to know to make the process smoother.

Shows a woman holding an urn clos

Use your Carry-on Instead of a Checked Bag

While many airlines allow travelers to transport cremated remains in a checked bag, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn’t necessarily recommend it. If you’ve flown before, you’ve probably looked out the airplane window and seen airport employees tossing checked bags around rather quickly and roughly. They have no idea what’s in your bag. To them, the most important thing is to get all the right bags to the right places as quickly as possible.

That said, by transporting a loved one’s cremated remains in your carry-on, you ensure that they are handled with care every step of the journey. All you have to do is use an x-rayable container that fits into your carry-on suitcase.

One more quick note: Please, even though you have the urn with you, don’t open the container while on the flight or in the airport. Turbulence and bumping into bustling human beings happens, but if the urn is tightly closed, your loved one will remain secure.

Choose an X-rayable Urn or Temporary Container

Just like the rest of your carry-on items, the urn must make it through the x-ray machine at the security checkpoint. To make it through security, TSA recommends that you choose an urn or temporary container made of wood, plastic, biodegradable paper, or even fabric. Avoid metal or lead-lined urns, which will register as opaque on the x-ray.

If your container registers as opaque, TSA may try a few other options, but they will NOT open the urn (even if you say it’s okay). In part, they will not open the urn out of respect for the person who has died, but additionally, it is illegal for airport personnel to open any container that holds cremated remains.

Shows x-ray machine at airport security

If TSA is unable to clearly determine what’s inside the container, you won’t be allowed to take it on the plane. In order to avoid this complication, select an urn or temporary container that will easily make it through security.

If you have a decorative urn, you can always transport it in your checked bag (packed very carefully). Once you reach your destination, you can place the cremated remains back into the decorative urn.

If you’d like more guidance about temporary urns or containers, feel free to call your local funeral home. They can give you options and suggestions for traveling with ease.

Give Yourself Extra Time to Get Through Security

While TSA has a streamlined process for screening cremated remains, it’s always good to allow a little extra time. With an appropriate urn, the process should be smooth and quick. However, if there’s a problem, you’re going to want time to figure out your next steps. The airport is already a somewhat stressful place. The last thing you need when transporting a loved one’s remains is to run around last-minute trying to figure out what to do. Leave a little earlier and give yourself extra time.

If you have any questions about TSA’s policies, you can contact them directly through Customer Service.

Shows man going through airport security with carry on bag

Have the Appropriate Documents Readily Available

When flying, it’s important to have the necessary documentation on hand. The most commonly required documents are:

Certificate of Cremation (also called Disposition Permit or Cremation Permit)

This legal document certifies that a cremation has taken place and identifies the person cremated. Additionally, it includes identification information for the crematorium and the qualified staff member who oversaw the cremation itself. The funeral home or crematorium should give you this document when you receive your loved one’s cremated remains.

Death Certificate

The death certificate is used for many purposes, including updating accounts, switching beneficiaries, and receiving life insurance funds after the death of a loved one. It’s good practice to bring a certified copy with you when flying, just in case it’s asked for. You can obtain copies (usually for a small fee) through your local Registrar or Vital Records Office.

However – each airline makes their own regulations regarding the transportation of human remains. Contact your specific airline to find out what documentation is required. To be extra safe, you might also bring something that shows proof of relationship. You could use a birth certificate, marriage license, or a copy of the obituary.

Talk to Your Airline About Specific Guidelines

It cannot be stressed enough that you need to contact your airline about their specific regulations. For instance, some airlines do not allow cremated remains in checked bag at all or may require more documentation. By contacting the airline, you decrease the likelihood of issues at the airport.

Also, if you’d prefer not to take the cremated remains on a plane at all, you can ship them through the USPS. You can learn more about this option by reading 5 Tips When Shipping Cremated Remains.

Shows airport terminal with airplane outside window

A Few Extras for International Travel

All of the tips we’ve already discussed apply to flying internationally as well. However, there are a few extra things to consider. Let’s go over them.

  • Check with the embassy/consulate of your destination country
  • Be prepared for extra documentation

Every country has their own regulations when accepting cremated remains within their borders.

Because of that, if you are taking cremated remains outside the United States, you should contact the appropriate embassy or consulate before you travel to determine what that country requires. Some countries may require special forms or additional authorizations, so give yourself at least two weeks to get everything completed.

If you are entering the United States with cremated remains, you will go through U.S. Customs, which has its own policies. In general, if the remains have already been cremated, you should be fine, and a death certificate won’t be required.

If you have additional questions about international travel, contact your local funeral home for assistance.

Shows people boarding a plane with sunlight on their hair

Be Prepared for an Emotional Journey

As you get ready to travel, take a little time to prepare yourself emotionally. If your grief is fresh, this may be an emotional journey, and that’s to be expected. Give yourself grace. Grief is the natural result of love. When we love deeply, we open ourselves up to the grief that comes when the person we love dies.

It will take time and intentionality to come to grips with everything you think and feel, but it’s okay to give yourself permission to grieve. Use this journey to reflect on your loved one’s life and remember just how much they mean to you.

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