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6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Funeral Goods and Services

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Most of us will only plan a handful of funerals in our lifetime, and because it is so infrequent, we often don’t know what to do, how to do it, or how much it should cost. Fortunately for us, funeral directors are here to help. When you walk into a funeral home, you don’t have to have everything figured out. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. However, while you don’t have to know everything, it’s always good practice to prepare as much as you can in advance. Today, let’s talk about a few things you probably didn’t know about funeral goods and services.

1. What is the General Price List (GPL)?

A General Price List (GPL) is an itemized list of the goods and services provided by the funeral home, including their associated cost. The GPL allows you and the funeral professional to openly talk about the goods and services that are best for you and your family. The GPL includes the cost for many different items and services, including but not limited to:

  • Basic service
  • Preparation of the body (embalming, dressing, casketing, etc.)
  • Use of facilities and staff for various types of funeral services
  • Transportation
  • Burial options
  • Cremation options
  • Memorial packages
  • Urns
  • Outer burial containers (sometimes on a separate list from GPL)
  • Caskets (sometimes on a separate list from GPL)

2. What is the Funeral Rule?

In the funeral profession, funeral homes abide by the Funeral Rule, set in place by the Federal Trade Commission. These regulations allow the funeral home to provide you, the consumer, with certain rights and privileges. The Funeral Rule allows you to:

Choose what goods and services you want.

Personalization is key to a healing and meaningful funeral, and funeral professionals are willing to work with you to select the options that are best for you and your family.

Call for pricing information.

Sometimes you just don’t know which funeral home you want to partner with, so you call around. While the price is important, you should also take other factors into consideration, like location, reputation, facilities, and the services available. To learn more about choosing the best funeral home partner for you, read Top 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home.

Review an itemized statement before payment.

Transparency is important. Both the GPL and the itemized statement are ways for the funeral home to open pathways for clear communication with you. After you choose which goods and services you want, they will provide you with an itemized statement so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Take home a price list for caskets and outer burial containers.

Before you make any decisions on a casket or outer burial container, you can peruse all the options available at the funeral home. Then, you can ask questions and discuss the best options with your family before making a decision.

Select an alternative container for cremation.

No longer must you use a casket for cremation. Now, you can use an alternative container, often made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard. Just talk with your funeral professional for more details.

Purchase a casket or urn on your own.

While purchasing a casket or urn from the funeral home is the most convenient option and ensures that you receive a quality item, you can purchase these items from other places.

Elect to forego embalming.

With direct cremation or immediate burial, embalming isn’t necessary. If you select other services, speak with your funeral professional to determine if embalming is the best way to fulfill your wishes.

3. What is a basic service fee?

Simply put, the basic service fee is a set charge for the professional services of the funeral director and staff. This fee includes services provided by the funeral home, including conducting the arrangement conference, planning the services, obtaining permits and death certificates, preparing notices, and seeing to cemetery or crematory arrangements. This fee may also include overhead that hasn’t been allocated elsewhere.

4. What are cash advance items?

Cash advance items are funeral-related goods and services that must be purchased from a third-party vendor. In other words, a service that is not expressly provided by the funeral home. A great example is the publication of an obituary in a newspaper. It is the newspaper, not the funeral home, that determines the cost to print. For more information on cash advance items, make sure to read 9 Funeral Costs That Are Often Overlooked.

5. Why does the cost of a funeral vary so widely across the nation?

While there are many reasons, one of the primary reasons is the cost of real estate and property taxes. In some areas of the country, the cost of overhead is higher, and similar to how housing prices differ across the nation, so do funeral costs. Another factor is that costs are dependent on what merchandise you choose. An item that is made locally will cost less than an item that must be shipped across the country.

6. What do I need to know about cemetery costs?

First, you should know that funeral costs and cemetery costs are often separate. This is because, for the most part, funeral homes do not also own and operate cemeteries, unless they are a combination operation. If the cemetery is run by a different proprietor than your funeral home partner, the costs are separate.

Second, it’s helpful to know what cemetery costs typically entail. On the whole, cemetery costs will include the purchase of a plot, niche, or other designated final resting place on the cemetery grounds. In addition to the final resting place, the cost will also include the opening and closing of the grave as well as a fee for the perpetual care of the gravesite.

Taking the Next Step

Now that you have more information about funeral goods and services, the next step is deciding what to do with all that you’ve learned. More and more families have found that planning ahead for funeral wishes saves time, decreases stress, and allows families to spend more time grieving together at a time of loss. If you are interested in learning more about how to plan ahead, take a few minutes to check out the following articles:

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

Walking a Child Through a Funeral: 9 Tips for Parents

By | Explore Options, Living Well

Most of us dearly love our children and want to protect them from the difficult parts of life. But understanding that a funeral is a rite of passage and an important part of the grieving process is an important lesson to learn. Whether or not your child attends a funeral is entirely up to you. For many children, attending a funeral actually helps them move forward in their own grief process. However, as Dr. Kenneth Doka states, “One of the questions oft asked is whether, or at what age, children should attend funerals. The truth is that I am not the person to ask – ask the child!

It’s important to determine whether your child is ready and to give them a choice. Forcing them to attend is usually not very successful, but you also don’t want to assume they wouldn’t want to go. Just like adults, children need an opportunity to say goodbye, so giving them a choice and preparing them ahead of time are important factors to consider.

The Funeral’s Purpose

Before making a decision, explain what a funeral is to your child. Having never attended one, they won’t know its purpose. Use simple, but truthful, answers. For example, “Remember I told you that Nana died? The funeral is a time for everyone – all of her friends and family – to sit and talk together and to remember her and share stories about her. All of us miss her, and at the funeral, we talk about what we liked about her and what we will miss about her. What do you remember about Nana? What will you miss about her?

Breaking it down helps your child get an idea of what the funeral is so they can make an informed decision about whether to go or not. Don’t go into too much detail – keep it age appropriate and strive to use words that won’t scare them.

9 Tips for Helping Kids Through a Funeral

If your child decides to attend the funeral, it’s important to make sure they have the support they need. Remember, this is a completely new experience for them. Just as you sought to make the first day of school as easy and seamless as possible, do the same for a funeral. Talk through it and help them know what to expect.

Prepare them in advance

Just as adults feel more comfortable and better prepared when they know what to expect with a new experience, children do, too. Go through the process step by step. Discuss what your child will see (pews, religious symbols, flowers, casket, urn, the body of the deceased, black clothing, etc.). You don’t have to talk about everything at once – do it in small doses. The point is to put any anxiety to rest and prepare your child for a new experience. For more help with discussion topics, click here.

Explain what death is

Our natural desire is to protect our children from what we think could be harmful. Death is something each of us must come to understand, and it’s best for your child that the information come from you, their parent. Take your child’s age and maturity into account before having the discussion. Young children (under age 7) will understand basic concepts while an older child is able to understand more complexities. But in general, help them understand the physical aspect of death – the person’s body doesn’t work anymore, and they no longer need it. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you can talk about what happens to the person’s soul after death. Be clear and simple, using the words dead and died. It’s better not to use euphemisms – your child needs to understand the reality. They will learn societal nuances later.

Let them know that their feelings are okay

Explain to your child that they will see a wide variety of emotions at the funeral. Many people will be sad, and that’s okay. It’s natural to be sad after someone dies. People may be quiet at the funeral service but laugh and tell stories at the reception or gathering. Make it clear to your child that their feelings are okay. If they want to cry, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine, too.

Be attentive to their needs

Pay attention to their reactions and ask how they are feeling. While it’s important to let children learn how to process difficult events, it’s also good to give them the ability to escape. You (or a designated friend or relative) can take them outside or into the hallway for a quick break if the funeral or memorial service becomes overwhelming for them. Be attentive but let them go at their own pace. They may surprise you with how well they handle everything.

Ask if they want to remember the person in a special way

Depending on the relationship and your child’s temperament, it may be appropriate to ask if there’s a special way they want to honor the one who has died. Perhaps they might wear a certain color (the loved one’s favorite), tell a story, draw a picture to share or bury with the person, or bring an item that the loved one gave to them (like a toy, blanket, or article of clothing). Just as it’s important for us as adults to find special ways to honor the lives of those we love, it’s important for children.

Answer their questions

Answer their questions as best you can, honestly and without shaming them. By asking questions, they are processing the death and what it means. The questions will range from simple to more complex. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” or “Let’s find out.” This helps them know that you also don’t know all the answers, and you can learn and process together.

Don’t force anything on them

While we all strive to teach our children obedience and how to follow our household rules, it’s best not to force things on a child at a funeral. This applies to many things. Don’t force them to go up to the casket to view the body or to touch the body. Don’t make them feel that they must share stories at the gathering or reception. Instead, ask them. Give them the opportunity to participate and the grace to stand back and observe.

Discuss your own feelings

Funerals bring out a wide variety of feelings: sadness, anger, relief, shock. Even for adults, emotions are difficult, so as children identify them and learn about them, it’s important that they have a role model: you. Tell them how you feel about the person who has died. Assure them that your and their feelings are normal and natural. By watching you in your grief, they learn how to handle their own.

Debrief with them

After the funeral, over the next days and weeks, ask your child questions about their experience. Check in to see how they are feeling and if they need to talk through anything they witnessed or didn’t understand. Encourage them to share how they are feeling. Let them know that you care about them and their feelings and are there for them, no matter what.

Ultimately, it’s about preparing them and guiding them through the hard things in life, so they can deal with them on their own in a healthy way.

For more in-depth information on topics to discuss with your children before the funeral, make sure to read 7 Key Topics to Discuss with Children Before a Funeral.

Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Losing a loved one creates a painful hole in our hearts that we often don’t know how to fill. However, through the process of grief and mourning, we can come to grips with the loss we have suffered. At a funeral service, symbolic actions give mourners the opportunity to put their grief into action. Oftentimes, we don’t know what to do with our grief, so at times like these, we turn to the comfort of tradition and ritual. In this case, the ritual of a funeral. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author, and educator, “Funerals are made up of a number of ritualistic physical actions, all of which give mourners a way to literally move through the funeral process (and thus through this difficult time of grief).”

Symbolic actions include walking through a receiving line at the visitation, kneeling and taking communion during the service, participating as a pallbearer, soloist, or reader, or taking part in the funeral procession to the final resting place.

In addition to these time-honored symbolic actions, the release ceremony has increased in popularity. Because funeral homes today work closely with families to create personalized, healing, and meaningful funerals, it is even easier to incorporate personal touches to funerals. These personalized elements leave family and friends feeling that their loved one was truly remembered and honored.

Many types of release ceremonies are possible. Below are the most common types:

Balloon Release

As part of a meaningful celebration of life, family and friends may wish to gather for a special time of remembrance with a balloon release. Releasing balloons helps us say goodbye, allowing us to experience greater healing as we “release” our emotions. To make it more personal, write messages of hope and love on the balloons before releasing them.

“There should be no fear of death, for the death of the body is but a gentle passing to a much freer life.” – Helen Greaves

Balloons are available in a wide range of colors, from elegant white to multicolored. Balloons should be biodegradable and safe for the environment.

Dove Release

Doves have always been a symbol of peace and hope. Many families choose to release doves at the graveside service, offering family and friends an image of the loved one’s spirit ascending to heaven. White doves remind us of the purity of the departed soul and the freedom of the spirit as our loved one returns home.

Death is nothing else but going home to God, where the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.” – Mother Teresa

During the service, a poem or scripture is read and a number of doves, representing angels, are released. Next, a selected relative releases a single white dove, which joins the angels and is escorted to heaven.

Butterfly Release

Releasing butterflies is a beautiful expression of the transformation of the soul as we go from one life to the next. When a humble caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, other earth-bound caterpillars no longer recognize it. In the same way, though we may no longer see our loved one, their spirit lives on.

“A caterpillar dies and a butterfly is born; nevertheless, the two are one.” – Anonymous

Butterflies can be released from a single decorative box at an opportune time during an outdoor service. As an alternative, it is possible to arrange for each individual person to release a single butterfly from an origami box.

Lantern Release

A lantern release is a loving expression of release and hope. In the Eastern tradition, mourners light and release paper lanterns into the sky, believing that the lantern will guide their loved one’s spirit to final rest. Alternatively, floating lanterns can be released in remembrance of a loved one. By writing special notes on them, mourners can send messages of love with their loved one’s spirit.

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lanterns are available in a variety of colors. You could select your loved one’s favorite color. Alternatively, you can make many colors available and ask guests to select one that is significant to them. Either way, the act will be meaningful to all who participate.

If you are preplanning your own funeral or are planning a funeral for a loved one and would like to incorporate a release ceremony, speak to your funeral director about your options. Some states may not allow certain types of releases. Your funeral professional will know how to proceed so that you can honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personalized, healing, and meaningful for all.

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A funeral is an important event for those who have lost someone loved. It’s a time to gather together, to honor the memory of the one who has died, to acknowledge the reality of death, to personally grieve, and to hopefully begin a healthy grief journey. Putting together a meaningful and healing funeral service is important to the grief process for those left behind and cannot be understated.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that your funeral is exactly what your grieving family will want and need. But perhaps you are skeptical about planning ahead. It may be something you’ve thought about doing, but you just don’t know how to get started. What does preplanning entail? Why should you do it? How does it benefit you or those you love? To learn more, let’s review ten reasons why you should consider planning ahead for your funeral wishes:

1. Planning Ahead Provides Peace of Mind to All Involved

Typically, the first few days after a loss are hazy and can feel like a dark cloud has descended. And in the midst of this emotional stress, the details of a funeral service are planned. Imagine if you could alleviate the burden that will fall on your loved ones to plan and pay for your funeral services. You can! Planning ahead is a gift of love that brings great peace of mind.

2. Planning Ahead Gives You Time to Create a Meaningful and Healing Celebration of Life

Planning ahead gives you and your family members (if you choose to invite them into the process) time to plan a meaningful funeral service. Without the time constraints associated with immediate need, you can thoughtfully plan and prepare a funeral service (burial or cremation) that will fulfill your wishes and meet the emotional needs of your family. A thoughtfully planned funeral service is a healthy first step for the bereaved on their individual grief journeys.

3. Planning Ahead Ensures That Your Wishes Are Known

If you have specific wishes for your funeral service, prearranging allows you to share those wishes with your family. And, if you elect to also pay for the funeral in advance (there are several ways), you are even more likely to ensure that your wishes are carried out. The funeral home will work with you to determine which options best fit your wishes, your budget, and your family’s needs.

4. Planning Ahead Saves You Money

It’s not uncommon for families to overspend when a loved one dies. Often, the family wants “only the best” for their loved one or their financial decisions are clouded by grief. This is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead. You make financial decisions with a clear, rational mind rather than one affected by emotional strain. In this way, you can control the ending budget for the cost of your funeral. By doing this, you can save your family money in the long run.

5. Planning Ahead Protects Against Inflation

Many funeral homes will guarantee in writing that the funeral services and merchandise that are itemized on your contract will be covered by your plan’s benefits at the time of death. Of course, this is only possible if you decide to prepay for your funeral expenses. If your funds are placed in a prepaid funeral plan, the growth on your plan could have certain tax advantages.

6. Planning Ahead Secures and Protects Your Funeral Funds

If you decide to prefund as well as preplan your funeral arrangements, you can ensure that the funds to pay for the funeral are secure and protected. The most secure way to protect the funds is through a prepaid funeral insurance policy, but there are other ways to prefund a funeral. There will be pros and cons to each one. As you research your options, you can determine which type is best suited to your individual needs.

7. Planning Ahead May Help You Qualify for Medicaid Coverage

This is commonly called “Medicaid spend down,” and refers to the process of divesting your assets down to an amount that makes you eligible for Medicaid coverage for long-term care. If you place your burial funds (for services provided by the funeral home) and burial space items (merchandise and items associated with burial of the body) into an irrevocable contract, then whatever funds you place in the contract will be considered exempt assets for Medicaid purposes.

8. Prepaid Funeral Funds Are Available Immediately

If you decide to set up a prepaid funeral policy, the funds are immediately available when the need for them arises. The funds can be set up to transfer directly to the funeral home. By doing it this way, you avoid probate court and unexpected delays. If you decide to use a life insurance policy to pay for your funeral expenses, it may be six to eight weeks before the funds are available.

9. Consultations with a Preplanning Specialist Are Free

When you partner with a funeral home, a qualified funeral preplanning specialist will work with you to iron out all the details for your funeral wishes. They will educate you on all the options that are available to you. With their depth of knowledge and experience, they will help you make informed decisions regarding your plans. And best of all, their assistance is free!

10. Our Tomorrows Aren’t Guaranteed

We don’t know what the future holds. But we can be certain of one thing – none of us are promised tomorrow. Denying the reality of death doesn’t make it less true. 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 by planning ahead, you can make a difference in the lives of your loved ones.

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A recent study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that nearly 70% of adults over the age of 40 say they would prefer to prearrange their own funeral. However, only 17% had done so. If you are like most adults, you agree that preplanning and prepaying for your funeral wishes is a good idea, but you just don’t know how to get started. As with any financial decision, you probably have questions about the long-term benefits for you and your family. Planning ahead can be an incredible gift of love to those you care about, when it is done correctly. With that in mind, here are a few questions you might consider asking as you work with a licensed funeral planning specialist.

10 Questions to Ask When Prepaying a Funeral

1. How safe are my funeral funds going to be?

Your funds will not go directly to the funeral home. For your safety, the law requires that your payment(s) go to a third-party insurance company or trust account to manage the funds.

Before signing anything, look into the safety, stability, and performance of the insurance company or funeral trust account. Do they have a good rating by an independent rating company? Do they have a sound financial outlook? What is their reputation? Does it seem likely that they will be in business for years to come? You don’t want to commit to a prepaid funeral insurance policy or funeral trust unless you have confidence that your funds will be in safe hands. If you are not comfortable with the funding options available, request an alternate option.

2. Can I qualify for a prepaid funeral plan if I have health issues?

There are two standard ways to prepay for a funeral: a funeral insurance policy or a funeral trust. Most funeral insurance policies require you to answer a few basic health questions (funeral trusts do not ask health questions). Your answers to the health questions will determine the type of coverage you are eligible for. In most cases, your health status will not prevent you from setting up a prepaid funeral plan that is right for your situation.

To get specific details about the plans you qualify for health-wise, it’s best to speak with your funeral provider. They can give you more details about the funeral insurance policies that you are eligible to receive or how to set up a funeral trust. In general, some funeral insurance policies are easier to qualify for but offer no insurance protection in case death occurs before your payments are complete. Other plans offer limited insurance for accidental death only, but after a certain amount of time, the policy converts to a fully insured plan that covers the full cost of your plan should you die before payments are complete. Another possible option is a fully-insured policy that covers your plan 100% from day 1 and requires a few basic health qualifications to be met.

Again, your funeral provider can give you more details about funeral trusts, or the funeral insurance policy you are eligible to receive based on your honest answers to the health questions.

3. Can I cancel my funeral insurance policy or trust?

When planning ahead for funeral costs, it’s important to understand the terms of your contract should you decide to cancel at a later date. For a funeral insurance policy, in most states, there is an initial cancellation period. During this period, you can cancel your funeral policy for a full refund within a certain time frame, usually between 3 and 30 days. After the cancellation period passes, your ability to cancel will depend on whether the policy is revocable or irrevocable.

Revocable policies

With a revocable policy, you can cancel the plan at any time to receive the cash value of the policy. Keep in mind that depending on the type of policy you have, you may get back less than the amount you paid in. It’s a good idea to talk to a customer service representative at the insurance company to understand all of your options before canceling your plan.

Irrevocable policies

With an irrevocable policy, you cannot cancel the plan. An irrevocable funeral plan is usually used when an individual wants to spend down funds for Medicaid qualification by creating a Medicaid-exempt asset. Essentially, Medicaid does not consider an irrevocable plan as part of a person’s countable assets. To learn more about how irrevocable plans work, go to Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down with a Burial Plan.

Funeral trusts

You can also set up a funeral trust as an irrevocable plan to help you qualify for Medicaid. However, revocable trusts are a little different. If you decide to cancel a revocable trust, the amount of your refund will vary from state to state. In some states, a canceled trust may be subject to penalties and the funeral home may have the right to retain a certain percentage of the trust funds. In other states, the beneficiary is entitled to a 100% refund of principal and interest. Always be sure to speak to your funeral provider or a customer service representative before canceling a trust so that you have all the information you need to make a good financial decision.

4. Can the funeral home guarantee any prices in my funeral contract?

Many funeral providers offer guarantees on funeral goods, services, and merchandise provided by the funeral home with a prepaid funeral plan. This usually means that, according to your agreement, the funeral home accepts the death benefit as payment for the price of the items included in the guarantee at the time of death.

For example, let’s assume your funeral options today add up to $6,500. In 20 years, you can expect the cost of those same or equivalent options to have risen by an estimated 2% per year to approximately $9,000. With a price guarantee, the funeral home will accept the policy’s death benefit as payment in full, even if the benefits are less than the then-current funeral cost. And, if inflation doesn’t grow as expected, in most states, the family will receive a refund of any excess death benefits over the then-current price. Guarantees work differently from state to state, so be sure to check the terms of your contract to understand what will happen in case the death benefit is above or below the funeral prices at the time of loss.

Remember, not all states or funeral homes offer a guarantee and not all items are eligible for a guarantee. Additionally, some funeral homes include an added charge to guarantee items. Ensure that you understand what items, if any, are guaranteed and what items are not.

5. How often will I receive correspondence from my account administrator?

Before you sign a prepaid funeral contract, make sure that you read and fully understand the entire document. Once you’ve signed, you will receive a copy of the contract for your records. Also, when the administrating financial institution receives the funds, you will get an acknowledgment letter.

From there, the amount of correspondence you receive depends on the insurance company and/or financial institution and their practices. Some will send a privacy notice when you first sign up, though not all will do so. Some trust accounts will send you annual 1099’s on the growth of your account. In our technological times, the best way to keep up with your account is to register with the company’s website if possible and keep track of your payments there. Alternatively, if you request paper billing statements, you will see your balance on the statement when it arrives every month.

6. Are there any funeral expenses that cannot be included in my funeral contract with the funeral home?

Absolutely not, you can include anything in your plan. However, for Medicaid qualification purposes, only “normal and customary” funeral expenses will be considered exempt assets. Keep in mind, too, that certain items in your plan may involve a third-party provider and are not typically eligible for a price guarantee. These are usually referred to as cash advance items because the payment is advanced to a third-party providing a service, such as a cemetery, florist, newspaper, caterer, or police escort. Because a third party determines the cost of these items, the funeral home cannot typically guarantee them in a contract. However, you can set aside money within your plan for cash advance items. Or, you can let your family know that these expenses will not be covered within your plan. Communication with your family is the key to avoiding unexpected surprises during a time of loss.

7. If I move, can I transfer my funeral contract to another funeral home?

It’s important to understand what your options are if you move away or need to transfer your plan. In most cases, you should have no issues transferring a funeral insurance policy or funeral trust to another funeral home. However, any price guarantees or discounts from your original contract may not carry over. If you are interested in a transfer, ask the funeral home of your choice to review your policy.

8. What happens if my prepaid funeral plan hasn’t been paid in full at the time of death?

It depends. With a fully-insured policy, your family will typically receive full death benefits regardless of whether your plan was paid up. However, even fully-insured plans are contestable in the first two years. In cases of suicide or fraudulent information on the application, full benefits will not be paid.

In general, accidental death is fully covered even by limited benefit insurance policies. If the policy has no insurance coverage, your next of kin will receive the current death benefit of the plan. If any expenses still remain, the surviving family members must cover the cost. Funeral trust accounts do not have accidental death or full coverage benefits.

9. Is it possible to make changes to my funeral contract?

If your funeral contract allows it, you can make changes to the goods and services you originally selected. You cannot make changes to the final disposition (burial or cremation). Should you want to change your final disposition, you must cancel your contract and start over. If you want to make changes to your funeral contract, discuss which changes can be made with your funeral provider. Please note, changing your preferences on an irrevocable plan does not mean you can remove money from the plan.

10. How do I file a claim?

To file a claim, contact the funeral home listed on your agreement. The funeral home can proceed with filing the claim on behalf of your family. If your family wishes to transfer the policy or trust to another funeral home, that should not be a problem. If your family has questions, your next of kin may contact the administrator of your account for information.

As you decide what questions to ask, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) is also an excellent resource. On their website, they list the important components to look for when signing a prepaid funeral contract. To learn more, click here.

*Also, keep in mind: your next of kin can make changes to the funeral contract after your death in order to meet the needs of surviving family members, unless your state law prevents such changes.

5 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Life is full of to-do lists, errands, activities, hobbies, and gatherings. While many of these things bring us great joy, some of them simply need doing. While we may not relish taking 10 minutes out of our day to fill up the gas tank, it must be done. For many, planning ahead for funeral wishes is one of those things we just keep putting off. Based on a recent survey by the FAMIC (Funeral and Memorial Information Council), 89% of Americans (40+ years old) feel that a discussion about their end-of-life wishes would be meaningful, but only 17% had actually made arrangements. So, what is it that keeps us from planning ahead for funeral wishes?

5 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes

1. “I’m too young.”

While it is true that you may be in your prime and have many years left to enjoy and fill with lasting memories, this is not a good reason to put off planning. After all, none of us actually know the number of our days. Even if you don’t sit down with a funeral professional to go over all your options or set up a prepaid funeral plan, you can: 1) write down your wishes and let an emergency contact know where they are, and 2) start saving now for when the need arises. We have not yet found a way to live forever, and unless we do, one day your family will need to know your wishes.

2. “I don’t have the money.”

Did you know that it costs you nothing to preplan for funeral wishes? If you choose a funeral home partner, a knowledgeable staff member will sit down with you, free of charge, to review all of your options. As you review your options and determine what’s right for you and your family, you can get an accurate idea of what the funeral will actually cost. (However, keep in mind, costs will increase over time.) This information will help you when you determine how the funeral will one day be paid for. Even if you decide not to pre-pay for a funeral, ask a funeral professional about their offerings. You may find a better deal than you expected!

3. “I’m too busy.”

Life does have a tendency to pull us in many different directions. As with many things, we just have to make time for the things that matter. If we see the value in something, we make time for it. Take exercise or higher education or work. We see the value in them, so we make time for them. Planning ahead for funeral wishes is a valuable use of your time. It gives you a chance to figure out how you want to be remembered while also giving your loved ones a special gift of love – the knowledge that they have honored and remembered you as you desired. Knowing your wishes takes a lot of pressure off surviving family members during a time of pain and distress.

4. “I don’t want to think about my own death.”

This may be more of a subconscious reason. In our everyday lives, we don’t really want to think about death, and that is perfectly natural. However, we can’t avoid the inevitable. Someday, each of us will die. Isn’t it better to be prepared? We plan ahead for many life events – weddings, parties, vacations, family visits, and so on. Many of us even prepare for the possibility of unexpected things by purchasing auto, home, or fire insurance. Doesn’t it make sense to plan ahead for an event that you know will happen? Especially if, by recording your funeral wishes, you can give your family members peace of mind that everything is taken care of?

5. “Someone else will do it.”

This is true. Someone else could do it. You could leave everything to your surviving family members. But, ultimately, you’re the one who knows you best and can make the best decisions. Do you have a preference for burial or cremation? Will your loved ones highlight the stories that you would want highlighted? If you do prefer cremation, would you prefer urn burial or scattering or some other option? Making all of these decisions while also mourning a loss puts an emotional strain on surviving family members. On top of that, they will never know if they did the right thing. Yes, someone else could do it, but doing most of the decision-making for them is a much better option.

The Value of Planning Ahead

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-recognized grief counselor and educator, has walked alongside thousands of grieving families. Because of this experience, he knows the value of the funeral and the impact it has on those left behind to mourn. He has found that there are six needs of mourning, and the funeral is the key to beginning the grief journey on the right foot.

In his own words: “The reconciliation needs of mourning are the six needs that I believe to be the most central to healing in grief.  In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

The reality is that by putting together a full plan – or just by putting your general wishes in writing – you increase the likelihood that your family will find peace of mind during a trying time. Not only that, but you create a personalized service that honors your life the way you want. After all, one of the key aspects of a healing and meaningful funeral is personalization. Your life is unique and worth remembering. Help your family do it well. It’s never too early to plan ahead, though it could be too late.

For more information on how to create a meaningful and healing funeral, take a few moments to read the following articles:

Why is the Funeral Ritual Important?

Why Do We Have Funerals? (video)

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

The Importance of a Memorial Tribute Video

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the ‘before’ to the ‘after’ is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

At the beginning of every healthy grief journey is a healing, meaningful, and personalized funeral service. As you plan a funeral, consider how you can make the experience one that meets the emotional needs of family and friends left to mourn. The more personal a funeral service is, the more meaningful it will be, and one of the most important ways you can personalize a funeral is through a tribute or memorial video.

How Tribute Videos Can Bring Comfort and Healing

Captures the uniqueness of a lost loved one

First and foremost, a tribute video is an excellent way to capture the uniqueness of the one you love. You have the opportunity to share their life story – the daily moments, the milestones, and the people who made it all worthwhile. You can use photographs, video clips, audio recordings, favorite quotes, and more to make the video a fitting tribute to your loved one. By doing this, you draw others into your loved one’s life story and stimulate their own memories.

Adds a meaningful element to the service

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that “funerals are most meaningful when they are personalized tributes to the unique life and relationships of the person who died.” A video tribute allows you to personalize the funeral service. You can use favorite songs to accompany the photos, video clips, and other features you choose to utilize. This is an opportunity to invite mourners to engage with their emotions, remember your loved one, and acknowledge the pain of loss.

Allows everyone time to reflect on their memories

Not only does a tribute video showcase the uniqueness of your loved one and provide a meaningful element to the funeral service, it also allows mourners to reflect on their own memories. This is an important aspect of making a funeral a healing experience. As Dr. Wolfelt stated, “we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief…we must journey all through it.” A tribute video opens the door for others to reflect on and engage with their own memories.

Comforts surviving family members and friends

A tribute video can offer comfort in much the same way that a treasured possession, an article of clothing, or a photograph would. Just as we may have a go-to book or movie when we want to be comforted or feel close to someone or something, a video can serve a similar purpose. In those moments when you need to feel close to your loved one, to see their face, to remember their life, you can watch the video as you grieve their absence.

Doubles as a keepsake for family and friends

Practically speaking, a tribute video makes a simple but meaningful keepsake for family and friends. At some services, the attendees are invited to take a token in remembrance of the one who has died. This action allows each mourner to feel strongly associated with the one they have lost. By giving a tribute video as a token, you provide an opportunity for them to continue to explore their feelings of loss and relive their cherished memories even after the funeral.

Offers a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations

Lastly, a tribute video provides a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations. You will likely have children and grandchildren who will want to know about your life and the people you loved who have already gone. When the questions arise, a tribute video can supplement the tales that you tell and give them a picture in their minds of the life your loved one lived. This may be an especially important exercise for children who’ve lost a parent.

Whether you decide to utilize a tribute video or not, you can plan a meaningful and healing funeral. The tribute video is just one way that you can personalize a funeral. For more ideas on how to personalize a funeral, take a moment to read 6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral. This article will give you some ideas, but only you know the best way to create something truly beautiful that reflects your loved one’s life, values, relationships, and ideals.

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

At some point in life, we’ve all attended a funeral or memorial service that seems to leave us feeling empty or numb. Why? Usually, it has to do with whether the funeral was truly personalized to reflect the life of the person who died. The less personal a funeral is, the less meaningful it usually is for mourners. Often, people skip personalization details in the interest of efficiency. They choose options that are quick and expedient, but not very effective. As a result, some families are missing out on this experience because they are mistaking efficiency with effectiveness.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral?

In today’s world, we don’t really understand the purpose of the funeral. In many ways, we are losing the importance and healing significance of ritual. Part of the reason for this trend is because we no longer understand the purpose of a funeral. So, let’s briefly talk about what a healing and meaningful funeral achieves:

  1. Sets the stage for a healthy grief journey.
  2. Acknowledges the reality of the death.
  3. Helps us move toward our pain so we can begin to process it.
  4. Remembers and honors a life lived.
  5. Helps us develop our new identity after a loss.
  6. Allows us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.
  7. Activates a community of support for mourners.

To learn more about this important topic, read Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s article Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important? A respected grief counselor, educator, and author, Dr. Wolfelt believes in the healing power and impact that a meaningful funeral service has on the grief journey. In Dr. Wolfelt’s view, a funeral includes a visitation/viewing (if possible), a funeral or memorial service, and a gathering/reception with personalized elements included at all three.

Influences that Affect Our Understanding of Funerals

In addition to not understanding the purpose of the funeral, other factors have influenced our wants and needs over time. Dr. Wolfelt has done extensive research into the purpose of the funeral, and he has identified a number of influences that affect our collective mindset concerning funerals.

We live in the world’s first death-free generation.

In large part due to medical advances, we now live in a world where people can reach their third or fourth decade before experiencing a close personal loss, which is vastly different than previous generations. According to Dr. Wolfelt, “In the early 1900s…most children had been to many funerals by the age of ten. Aging, illness, and death were an everyday part of family life.” While medical advances are incredible, they also distance us from aging, illness, death, and grief. This cultural shift has led to a break in our understanding of the importance of funerals.

We live in a mobile, fast-paced culture and are disconnected from each other.

Because it is now much more common to live greater distances away from family and friends, sometimes we don’t make the extra effort to return home for funerals. And even in the areas where we live, we don’t connect. A recent study found that only 19% of the Americans polled knew the names of all of their neighbors. The mindset of our culture has shifted so that the focus is on efficiency and instant gratification. Sadly, with this mindset, the funeral becomes about simply getting things done (efficiency) rather than meeting the emotional needs of friends and family (effectiveness).

We value self-reliance.

The nature of the funeral involves relying on others and allowing them to see the pain we suffer. Vulnerability with others, admitting that we may need help, is difficult for us because we are taught to be self-reliant from a young age. But in times of grief and loss, we shouldn’t be on our own all the time – we need a community to surround us with love and support. One of the main purposes of a funeral is to activate a community of support around us, and with an efficient funeral, we often miss this critical part of the funeral ritual.

We avoid spirituality and don’t understand the role of pain and suffering.

In many ways, we are moving away from a spiritual view of life and death toward a more secular view, which can have a negative effect. When we remove the spiritual aspect, we often remove the hope that comes from seeing our loved ones as spiritual beings who continue to live on and watch over us. In addition, we tend to avoid facing our own pain and the pain and distress of others. In many ways, we misunderstand the role of pain and suffering and try to hide our feelings. But grief, mourning, and pain are a natural part of life. A meaningful funeral helps us begin to process what we feel and sets the healing process in motion.

We deny our own mortality.

With the lengthening of lifespans, we don’t attend as many funerals as we might have 100 years ago. With that change comes a misconception: that we are invulnerable. The more we avoid death and pain, the more likely we are to forget that we are mortal. One reason we avoid the funeral is because it reminds us that we are mortal, and one day, our life will end. But, in actuality, we need this reminder, so we strive to live well.

We devalue life.

One side effect of efficient funerals is that we end up devaluing the life that was lived. As a culture, we have grown desensitized to death by national media, and we also lead busy lives–so much so, that we think we don’t have time to slow down to emotionally process a personal loss. But life is sacred and worth remembering. From the beginning of time, the funeral has functioned as a time that helps us to slow us down so we have a chance to honor, remember, and celebrate the lives around us.

Meaningful and Effective Funerals Versus Efficient Funerals

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral…. 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.

An efficient funeral gets things done but doesn’t beautifully and lovingly honor life. Efficient funerals leave us feeling numb and unchanged, but meaningful and effective funerals do the opposite. They help us acknowledge the reality of the loss and move toward the pain we feel so that we can process it. They help us remember and honor the life and memory of our loved one through personalization. It is personalization that really makes the difference in whether a funeral is simply efficient or meaningful and effective. To learn more about how to create a meaningful service, please read the 7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral.

A meaningful and effective funeral doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And believe it or not, you have many options to choose from. Cremation or burial. Memorial service or funeral service with body present. Scattering or cremation jewelry. Casket or urn. Ultimately, the final result is up to you, but take the time to be intentional and create a funeral experience that will honor your loved one and meet the emotional needs of surviving family and friends.

Effective is better than efficient in every way.

7 Reasons to Help Parents Preplan for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Life is busy, and many things demand your attention. In the midst of everything – daily chores, kids, work, friends, extracurricular activities – caring for an aging parent takes a special kind of grace. And when the need for long-term assistance becomes clear, things get even more complicated.

So, what if you could get one important task taken care of and off your plate? You can help your parents partner with a funeral professional to plan ahead for funeral, memorial, or cremation services in advance. By talking with your parents now, you can ensure that any decisions you make together are not clouded by grief and stress but are decided upon with a clear mind. While talking with your parents about their funeral wishes may not be something you’ve considered doing, there are several benefits to taking this important step.

How Planning Ahead Can Help Your Family Both Now and in the Future

1. Ensures that you know and can fulfill their wishes

More than anything, talking with your parents about preplanning will give you information you likely didn’t have before. For families who never discussed funeral wishes, uncertainty may linger. Did Mom want to be cremated? Would Dad have preferred this song over that song? Would they want an upright or flat headstone? So many questions come up during the funeral planning process, and if you already know your parent’s wishes, you can answer with confidence and ease.

2. Saves money and prevents a future financial burden

Most of the time, when people need to plan a funeral, it’s a first-time experience for them. Because of this, they don’t know the best ways to keep costs from ballooning. Sometimes, they end up with a pretty pricey funeral, which they pay for with a credit card or by dipping into savings. However, if you sit down with your parents and discuss exactly what their wishes are, your entire family could save a considerable amount of money by avoiding unnecessary spending.

Also, if your parents need to qualify for Medicaid coverage for long-term care, you may be trying to think of smart ways to help them spend down their assets. Burial plans can be set up as exempt assets so that they are not counted when applying for Medicaid coverage. This way, you are able to preserve some assets that your family will need one day. Click here for more information.

3. Provides peace of mind, knowing everything will be taken care of

Have you ever completed a big project and just felt a weight lift off your shoulders? That’s what it feels like when you finally take that step and plan ahead for funeral wishes. Not only does it bring you and your parents peace of mind, it can also bring comfort. You can rest easy, knowing that when the awful day comes that you lose one of your parents, the difficult decisions are already made. Instead of hammering out the details of a funeral, you can focus on being with your family.

4. Prevents possible family disagreements (due to differing opinions)

The loss of a loved one is a very emotional time, and if a family is torn about which options to choose, emotions can run high. Even when a general consensus is reached, family members can sometimes continue to feel anxiety, doubt, and regret about the decisions that were made and how they were made. However, if you sit down with your parents now to determine exactly what they want, everyone will experience greater peace in the future, knowing that their final wishes are honored.

5. Gives you time to create a meaningful and healing tribute, with both your own and your parents’ input

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief educator, says that the best funerals help us “remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. [We] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” Taking the time to lovingly personalize a celebration of life will allow you and your parents to create something truly beautiful that reflects their lives, values, relationships, and ideals.

6. Allows you to consider all the options and make knowledgeable decisions

Funeral planning involves a lot of options, and without time constraints, you and your parents can make the most educated decisions for your personal needs. Burial or cremation? Funeral service with body present or memorial service? If cremated, should the cremated body be buried, scattered, or kept at home for a time? Will there be a permanent memorial? At present, you and your parents may not know the answers to these questions. Together, visit a reputable funeral home and get some answers.

7. Gives you more time together later

When we lose someone we love, the last thing we want to do is spend several hours at a funeral home making arrangements. But if there is a plan already in place that outlines your parent’s wishes for a final tribute, your family is able to spend more time together, offering comfort, support, and love to one another at a time when they need it most. You won’t need to make ALL the decisions when you just want to grieve. Instead, it can be as simple as selecting the day you want services to occur.

Next Steps

For an overview of how to get started, take a few moments to read How to Get Started with Funeral Planning. After that, it’s time to chat with your parents. The most important thing to remember is to keep the discussion open, to explain the benefits of planning ahead, and to pay attention to their feelings. If they seem stressed or anxious, let them have time to think about the idea, and bring it up again later. There’s no big rush if you begin the conversation while everyone is still healthy.

A Few Questions to Consider

When you get to the point where you are ready to plan, here are some questions to ask your parents. Finding a reputable and knowledgeable funeral home partner is the first step. Once you’ve found someone you trust, there will be questions to answer at a prearrangement conference (a meeting with a funeral service professional to discuss your wishes). The more answers you have prior to the meeting, the smoother and more quickly everything will go. Here are a few things to consider before speaking to a funeral professional:

  • How would you like people to be notified of your passing? Newspaper obituaries? If so, which newspapers? Online obituary? Phone call?
  • Do you prefer burial or cremation?
  • Is there a certain place you’d like a funeral or memorial service to be held?
  • If you prefer burial, where would you like to be buried?
  • If you prefer cremation, how would you like your ashes to be honored?
  • What meaningful elements should be included in the funeral or memorial service? Readings? Special music? Eulogy?
  • Who should participate in the service? Pallbearers? Readers? Officiant?
  • If buried, is there a particular set of clothing you’d like to be buried in?
  • Do you want to include a gathering after the service for family and friends?
  • If people want to give money in your memory, what charity/organization do you want to support?
  • How do you plan to cover the cost of your funeral expenses?

Click here to download a Funeral Planning Checklist to help you as you plan with your parents. And don’t forget – the funeral professionals at your chosen funeral home are your best advocates and educators. They will discuss all the options available to you and help you make decisions that best meet your needs.

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Throughout history, many things have changed, but one thing that has endured is the funeral ceremony. At some level deep down, we all know that a funeral is important. It’s a time to say goodbye to someone we love and to start down the path toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we’ve suffered. The elements of a funeral have perhaps changed over time, from one culture and civilization to the next. However, according to grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, personalization remains an important key to healing and meaningful funerals.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that there are 7 elements to consider as we endeavor to create a meaningful funeral experience. With these 7 elements, it’s possible to personalize a funeral so that it perfectly fits the person who has died and honors the life they lived. The 7 elements are: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions.

Today, let’s focus on 5 actions you can incorporate into a funeral that will invite mourners to put their grief into motion. Grief is an internal emotion – the way we feel about a loss – but mourning is getting our grief outside ourselves by participating in activities that allow us to outwardly express what we feel. In order to heal, we need to act. If we never do something about our grief, it remains inside, and over time, begins to fester and cause us great distress. However, by inviting others to join in a specific, perhaps symbolic, action at the very beginning of the grief journey, you allow them the opportunity to say goodbye properly and begin their grief journey on the right foot.

1. Participate in a Release Ceremony

You may want to include a special time of remembrance with a release ceremony. A few popular release options are doves, butterflies, paper lanterns, or balloons (make sure they are biodegradable and without ribbon). The act of release helps us say goodbye in a unique way. It allows us to experience greater closure and healing as we “release” a loved one’s spirit as well as our emotions and grief. If you select balloons or paper lanterns, you can take it one step further by writing messages of hope and love on the balloons or lanterns before releasing.

Of course, you should always make sure that taking part in a release is allowed by your city. For instance, if you live in a particularly dry area that’s susceptible to fire, you won’t want to choose a lantern release. The funeral director can help you determine which type of release ceremony is most appropriate for your wishes while still meeting legal requirements.

2. Incorporate Keepsake Items

As human beings, we often place value on material objects. The object doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the things we value the most are often not monetarily valuable – they are sentimental. Two ways you can invite mourners to take action involve these types of keepsake items. First, if your loved one owned a large number of something – let’s say your grandmother loved knitting scarves – you can bring them to the funeral ceremony and invite guests to take a scarf in remembrance of her. This can be done with any number of items. However, in order to be meaningful, the items must be special and specific.

Another option is to invite the guests to bring a keepsake item from home that reminds them of the person whose life is being remembered. And if you plan the ceremony accordingly, you can allow guests the opportunity to briefly share about the object they brought with them, how it relates to the one who has died, and why the keepsake means so much. These types of actions engage our minds and our emotions, encouraging us to tap into what we feel and provides an opportunity to express it.

3. Set a Theme

Did your loved one have a favorite color? Or perhaps a favorite book or movie? You can set a theme and invite mourners to take part in remembrance through participation. By selecting specific items of clothing related to the theme, everyone is invited to recall their own specific memories of the one who has died and think about how they can individually honor the life lived. And then, as many arrive dressed according to the theme, there is a sense of communal mourning and sharing. Everyone is there for the same reason – to honor and remember the one who has died.

4. Write a Message/Letter

The written word is powerful, and as a tool for expression, it’s effective. Consider inviting everyone, prior to the funeral, to write a letter addressed to the one who has died. Then, at the service, place these special messages inside the casket to be buried or cremated with the body. Some families provide cards, a large banner, or a canvas for mourners to write on. In some cases, the family may choose to keep the messages, banner, or canvas, and later on, these items become keepsakes that bring comfort to the family.

5. Prepare a Meaningful Meal

Nationally respected author and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” It’s a common practice to organize a gathering after the funeral, and even though the official ceremony is over, the meaningful and healing elements don’t have to cease.

By setting up a meal after the funeral where guests (especially family members) can gather, you invite further personalization. Did your loved one deeply appreciate a good crawfish boil? Did they delight in ice cream and an excellent spread of sundae toppings? Or did they love a particular restaurant? In a meaningful setting, guests have a chance to talk with each other, to remember and share memories about the one who has died, and to discuss the impact of a life lived.