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Estate Planning for the Blended Family

By Estate Planning, Explore Options

In today’s world, it’s more and more common to be part of a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

For those who have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care should something happen to you?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. When you make your estate plans, do you need to include a former spouse in addition to a current spouse?
  6. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  7. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

It’s never too early to put together an estate plan. After all, our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed. So, no matter your age, review these 5 important estate planning documents and decide if any of them are right for you in your current season of life.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

For some families, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-relationship try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some of the estate planning challenges and are familiar with the five most important estate planning documents, start talking with the people closest to you about how to set things in place so that no matter what tomorrow brings, you’re prepared!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

The 5 Basic Steps of Funeral Planning

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

Thinking about planning a funeral may make you feel anxious, especially if you are arranging a funeral for a loved one who has recently died. The whole thing just sets your anxiety alarm bells ringing! If that’s you, you’re not alone. Being tasked with planning a funeral can feel very intimidating.

In large part, the anxiety comes from not knowing what to do, how to start, or what to expect. Most people only plan one or maybe two funerals in their entire lifetime, so it makes sense if you aren’t entirely comfortable with the process. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. But think of it this way: everything new is a little scary in the beginning. That first day of class. Your first day at a new job. Moving to a new place. Eventually, you find your groove and become comfortable. But it only happens with exposure and actively working to familiarize yourself with your surroundings.

The same line of thinking applies to funeral planning. It’s intimidating because you don’t know much about it. On top of that, funeral planning is about death and dying, a topic that most of us usually try to avoid thinking about as much as possible. All this to say, it is completely natural to feel apprehensive when thinking about planning a funeral.

One of the keys to overcoming anxious feelings about the unknown is to educate yourself about the new task or experience ahead of you. In this case, funeral planning. Let’s talk about the major aspects of planning so you can feel empowered and informed. Also, feel free to print this Funeral Planning Checklist to help you make sure that you’ve hit all the key steps.

Let’s get started.

The 5 Basics Steps of Funeral Planning

1. Choose the type of disposition you’d like

The first order of business when making funeral arrangements is choosing a disposition type. The two most common types of final disposition are traditional burial and cremation. There are other, less common options, like green burial, burial at sea, or anatomical donation. None of these are necessarily better than the others. It all comes down to what aligns most closely with your loved one’s and your family’s personal values.

2. Choose the type of remembrance service you’d like

Next, you need to decide what type of remembrance service you’d prefer. For those who choose traditional burial, it’s common to have a visitation before the funeral service so that friends and family have an opportunity to say goodbye to the one who has died and offer condolences to the grieving family. For those who wish to be cremated, you can still have a funeral service and/or visitation with the body present before cremation takes place. Alternatively, a memorial service can follow cremation. The most important thing is that you do something to honor and remember the life that was lived.

3. Choose options to personalize the funeral experience

Personalization is key to a healing and meaningful funeral experience. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says “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.”

To create a meaningful, healing, and personalized funeral, consider including the seven elements of a funeral, adding your own personal flair to each one. For example, if they were a huge fan of big band music, include that style of music. If they enjoyed making quilts, display those quilts. You can even allow specific mourners to take one of the quilts home as a remembrance. If they loved the beach, have a beachside service. The possibilities are endless. You may also want to prepare a personalized obituary, a touching eulogy, or other special remarks or readings that capture your loved one’s character and spirit.

4. Choose a place of final rest

It’s important to have a plan for a permanent final resting place. This may mean a burial plot, which is an option for those who are buried traditionally or for those who are cremated. The options available for cremation are many and varied, so it’s important to choose what works best for you. Some of the options for cremated remains include scattering and placement in a mausoleum or columbarium, among others.

Some families prefer to keep the cremated remains of a loved one at home for a time. This is perfectly fine – sometimes it’s necessary to help process grief. However, keeping an urn somewhere in the home is not a long-term solution. Instead, after a period of time has passed and the grief isn’t as sharp, select a final resting place for the cremated remains so that they are taken care of long after you are gone.

5. Choose a method of payment

If your loved one has preplanned and prefunded a funeral, then you will be in good shape. You may have to pay for a few items out of pocket that were not included in the original plan, such as catering, a reception hall, flowers, and possibly flowers or police escort. However, compared to many other families, you will not have much to cover in the way of funeral expenses.

If no prearrangements exist, your loved one may have had life insurance or a final expense plan set up to help pay for funeral costs. Talk to a funeral professional about how to use these types of funds to pay for a funeral. If the funeral was unexpected, there may be no funds available to pay for a funeral. If this is the case, you can ask family members to help pay for different parts of the funeral or to contribute in different ways, such as bringing food or sending flowers. Sites like youcaring.com or gofundme.com can assist with crowdfunding to help pay for a loved one’s services if money is tight. See 5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral or 7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Costs to review several payment options.

Now that you know these 5 major points of planning, you can talk to a funeral professional with more confidence. While the intimidation may not have entirely disappeared, you have tools in your belt now that will help you during the planning process. And for what you don’t know, funeral professionals are there to help. While you may only plan a handful of funerals in your lifetime, they have planned hundreds or even thousands. You aren’t on your own in this. Lean on them for their expertise and ask all the questions you want.

Consider the Benefits of Planning Ahead

Before we finish, did you know that you can take care of these areas of planning ahead of time? Planning ahead for funeral wishes can be extremely helpful to your loved ones when they themselves are faced with the unknown of how to plan a funeral. We all know that death is inevitable. It’s something we cannot escape, so why not make every effort to plan for it and maybe make things a little easier on our loved ones?  The more your family knows about your final wishes, the easier the funeral planning process will go for them after you’re gone. Many families are plagued by the question, “Did we do the right thing?” It would be so much easier if they knew exactly what you wanted. And that’s just one reason why planning ahead benefits your family. For a full list of 10 reasons why planning ahead benefits you and your family, read 10 Reasons to Plan Ahead. You can give your family a special gift of love by planning ahead today for peace of mind tomorrow.

3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a visitation when a loved one dies? Why don’t we just skip to the funeral? This article will share three key reasons why visitations are a crucial part of a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says that in order to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should intentionally incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Why Have a Visitation?

According to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of the funeral and visitation is to offer support for those who are grieving. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone, which is why the visitation is included in the seven elements of a funeral. The visitation is a time specifically set aside for friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to come pay their respects to the person who has died and to offer condolences and support to the grieving family.

While it is common for the body to be present at a visitation, it doesn’t have to be. If the body is not present, it’s best to have some kind of representation of the one who has died, such as a prominently placed portrait, urn, or some other personalized display.

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

As mentioned earlier, a visitation is one way to activate a community of support. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Funerals make a social statement that says, ‘Come support me.’ Whether they realize it or not, those who choose not to have a funeral are saying, ‘Don’t come support me.’” By including a visitation in your funeral plans, you give others the opportunity to show their love for you, support you, and offer words of kindness and sincerity. Who knows…someone may say exactly what you need to hear to find solace and comfort following the loss of a loved one.

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

Often, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances want to offer their support but may not be able to make it to a funeral in the middle of the day because of work obligations, especially on short notice. Because a visitation typically takes place in the evening, it offers your extended network of friends an opportunity to show their support, even if they can’t make it to the funeral.

3. A Visitation Can be the Most Meaningful Part of the Service

The visitation is often the first time extended family, friends, and immediate family members will be able to gather in one place after a loss. For many mourners, this time is special because they are able to see many people they haven’t seen in years. It is often like a family reunion that becomes the most meaningful part of the service for some mourners. The visitation allows time and space to talk about the loss, express emotions, and generally feel the outpouring of love from friends and family alike.

What Are My Visitation Options?

If you do decide to include a visitation in a service you are planning, there are typically two main options to choose from. However, keep in mind that they are not either/or options. You could choose both!

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

Your first option is to have the visitation the day or evening before the funeral service. By having the visitation the day before the service, you break up the length of the event, which may be helpful for the grieving family. Grief is exhausting, so splitting up the events of the funeral into more manageable chunks is often helpful. Also, people who may not be able to attend the funeral service still have the opportunity to show their support and pay their respects.

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

Your second option is to have the visitation just prior to the funeral service (usually the hour before). For some families, this option may work well because everything takes place on just one day. However, keep in mind, the day will be long for the grieving family. Because there is only one event to attend, everyone who would like to attend may not be able to come. Also, for those who can only stay for the visitation, it may feel awkward to leave before the funeral service.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. Both of these options will help activate the support system you will need for your journey toward healing and reconciliation. Weigh the pros and cons of each option. Talk to your family. Ask a funeral professional about what works well and what doesn’t. Then, with the knowledge you’ve gained, make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and 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.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As people, we are unique individuals. We may sometimes resemble each other or like similar things, but no other person on earth is exactly like anyone else. Because we are so different, because we have our own nuances and intricacies, it makes sense to personalize a funeral. Just as we personalize our weddings, our birthdays, or our anniversaries, the final celebration of our life should reflect who we are, what we value, and what we leave behind as a legacy to others.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-respected grief counselor and educator, tells us that “people who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a final tribute for a recently lost loved one, 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.

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should include seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. You can personalize any one of these elements to fit your personality, beliefs, and core values. For example, the music can include favorite songs, no matter the genre. You could incorporate a release ceremony or share readings from a favorite book, song, or poet. If it’s something that will honor the life lived, and it will be meaningful, then that’s a way to personalize.

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

The first step is taking time to brainstorm the person’s likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs, their passions, hobbies, and pastimes. You can do that through asking yourself a series of questions and then deciding which ones capture the essence of the person who has died and reflect who they were.

  • What was my loved one passionate about?
  • What attributes were they known for?
  • Do you have any cherished memories of your loved one?
  • Did your loved one have any special achievements you’d like to recognize?
  • Was your loved one exceptionally talented at something?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one’s hobbies or special interests?
  • What was your loved one’s faith or spiritual belief?

Once you’ve pinpointed the answer to these questions, decide how to use them to personalize each of the seven elements of the funeral. You can weave a theme throughout the event or you can simply focus on a few aspects of your or a loved one’s life. As long as you are taking the time to truly honor a life, then choose whatever seems best for you and your family.

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

Even after a brainstorming session, it can be tough to get started. Here are a few personalization ideas to get your creative mind up and running. Feel free to use these or come up with your own ideas!

  • Include a memorial DVD
  • Add in a candlelight ceremony
  • Choose a special location for the service
  • Pick a color or clothing theme
  • Bring in special music
  • Share a meal that includes favorite foods
  • Incorporate cherished items
  • Establish a memorial together
  • Make a collage or timeline of life events
  • Give guests a token/item to take home as a remembrance
  • Consider a release ceremony (butterflies, balloons, lanterns, doves, etc.)

All of these are potential ideas, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are as unique as you are. Whether your loved one was a quilter, a collector, an artist, an animal lover, a teacher, a cowboy, a fisherman, a golfer, you can do something special to honor that person’s memory in a very unique and personal way.

No two funerals should be the same. Each one should be unique and personal. And with a funeral that is personalized, family and friends leave feeling that the service was healing, comforting, and meaningful. And above all, that the life lived was truly celebrated.

How to Personalize a Funeral When an Infant Dies

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” – A.A. Milne

Losing an infant or a small child is one of the most difficult situations to face as a parent. It feels wrong. Out of order. Unnatural. And yet, it has happened, and now it is time to grieve the loss of a life that could have been. But how do you go about creating a healing, meaningful, and personalized service for an infant?

If you are feeling at a loss for how you can celebrate a little life that has barely begun, your funeral director can help you find unique and personalized ways to create a service you will never forget that you can look back on for comfort in the years to come.

For example, let’s read about SuperGirl and her loving parents, as told by a caring funeral director.

Remembering SuperGirl

This week, I found myself sitting across the table from a young couple, who – until the day before – had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby. Sadly, the little girl had arrived far too early… bypassing a life in our broken world for a direct return to the arms of God.

The young couple was clearly in love but devastated and enduring tremendous heartache. The pair held hands and wept as we discussed how to create a meaningful funeral service to soothe their own pain, but also celebrate a little girl they would never have the chance to raise.

By asking a series of questions, I found out that they were planning to decorate their daughter’s room in pink and silver, and they often called her SuperGirl because “she kicked so hard when I was carrying her.”

In that moment, it became my desire to lay SuperGirl to rest in such a way that everyone would realize just how much this little girl meant to her family. I asked the family’s permission to borrow their SuperGirl idea for the service, telling them that I had a few ideas on how to make things extra special.

After they left, I quickly called up an artist friend of mine, who created custom vinyl graphics to adorn the tiny casket and a handful of small stickers to hand out to friends and family who attended SuperGirl’s service the following day. Our secretary also made memorial folders to match the theme, and once the family saw what had been done, they were overwhelmed with emotion.

In the end, we were able to transcend the “typical” funeral and create an experience worthy of a SuperGirl.

So, What’s Next?

As you can see, the personalized and meaningful touches included at their precious girl’s remembrance deeply touched SuperGirl’s family. For the rest of their lives, they can hold onto the knowledge that they took the time to grieve, to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate what she meant to them, even though she was gone too soon. But how do you get started?

Familiarize Yourself with the Seven Elements of a Funeral

First, familiarize yourself with the seven elements of a funeral: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, when used together, these seven elements create a personalized, meaningful, and touching ceremony that will help bring healing to hurting hearts. When an infant dies, because their personality was still developing, these elements may be a bit more personalized to the parents and their desires, prayers, and dreams for their baby.

In SuperGirl’s case, because she was lost before birth, it was the parents’ wishes and plans that were used to personalize the service. This made the service meaningful to them and to their cherished memories of their little girl.

Brainstorm Together How to Make the Service Special and Unique

After you’re familiar with the elements of a funeral, you can begin looking for ways to personalize these seven aspects of the service to create a meaningful and healing experience. To help you as you get your thoughts together, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What special memories do you have of your child?
  • What were your hopes and dreams for your child?
  • When you think of your baby, what do you think of?
  • Were there any special mementos that you might want to include?
  • Did you give your baby a special nickname?
  • Depending on the age of your child, did they have favorite toys or activities?
  • Do your loved ones have special memories of your child that you might want to include?

Identify Ways to Personalize the Service

Here are a few ideas for ways that you can make the service personal to you and to the memory of your infant. These are just to jumpstart your own thoughts. Try to make the service truly unique to you, your child, and your needs.

  • Consider incorporating a release ceremony. For example, you can do a balloon release ceremony with appropriate-colored balloons and invite mourners to write messages on them. When released, the balloons disappear into the sky, almost like sending a message to heaven.
  • Consider using a theme. You might include special items, like a blanket made specifically for the baby, shoes, or other items. If you had a color theme for a nursery, you could incorporate those colors into the service.
  • Consider inviting others to give of their time or resources to a charity in honor of your child’s legacy. If you have miscarried, invite mourners to give to a foundation that supports mothers going through miscarriage. If your child died because of a certain illness, provide details of how to give toward a cure. Choose whatever organization you feel is appropriate to honor your child’s memory.

  • Use music that was special to you as a parent and reminds you of your infant in the ceremony. Whether that’s music you listened to throughout the pregnancy or something your child went to sleep to, you can select what is most meaningful to you and your family.
  • Write a letter to your baby, expressing all your hopes and dreams and wishes for what should have been. This will help you as you grieve but may also be a beautiful tribute to share at the funeral service.
  • Consider establishing a memorial in honor of your little one, whether it is a physical memorial, charitable donation fund to a special cause, or memorial website or blog chronicling your journey.

Take Time to Grieve

After the ceremony, it may be a little more difficult to feel supported for as long as you need. Because support for infant loss is usually not as present as it is for other types of loss, seek out caring counselors, mentors, support groups, and friends when you need help processing through your emotions. You can also start a grief journal that expresses all your feelings about the loss–good, bad, and everything in between. So often, grieving the loss of an infant can feel like a very lonely road. When you are able, you can also bring significance to the life of your little one by helping others who have gone through a similar loss.

Whatever you choose to do, your child was beautiful and is worth remembering in a sweet, meaningful, and personalized way. Don’t worry about “making too much of a fuss.” That is the last thing you should worry. Every life deserves honor, remembrance, and celebration, no matter how briefly they graced our world.

What Are My Interment Options?

By Explore Options

For many of us, the ins and outs of funeral planning are unfamiliar and confusing. We don’t know where to start or even what all of our options are. Should you go with cremation or burial? As you do your research, you may come across unfamiliar terms, like interment, columbariums, mausoleums, crypts, vaults, niches, and more. This article will explain what these terms mean and how you can make decisions ahead of time that give peace of mind to your loved ones at a time of loss, knowing that they are following your wishes for your place of final rest.

Definition

First of all, let’s define interment. Usually, the term refers to burial, typically with funeral rites. However, with the increase in cremation, interment now means “final resting place.” In other words, it’s the place where a person is laid to rest permanently, whether they are buried or cremated.

Interment Options for Burial of the Body

If you choose burial of the body as your preference, you have many options available for both in-ground or above-ground burial. Not all options are available everywhere, so check with your funeral professional to determine which ones are available in your area.

Traditional Burial

With traditional burial, the body remains intact and is usually embalmed to allow for a viewing or visitation prior to the funeral and committal services. Prior to burial, the grave is excavated at the cemetery and either a grave liner or burial vault is placed in the grave (the family decides which one). Later, after the committal service, the cemetery grounds crew will lower the casket and fill the grave with soil. Eventually, a grave marker with epitaph is added to the location as a memorial.

Lawn Crypt

Essentially, a lawn crypt is a type of underground mausoleum. It’s built deeper into the ground and can house multiple caskets. Often made of concrete, a lawn crypt possesses a drainage system, which protects the grave’s contents from the elements. In some cases, families are all buried together, but it’s not a requirement. Make sure to ask a cemetery representative if they use individual grave markers or just one for everyone buried in the lawn crypt.

Mausoleum

A mausoleum is an above-ground memorial building for housing casketed remains. They offer personal ways to commemorate your loved one, including name carvings, plaques, and vases for flowers. A mausoleum typically offers single or companion crypts and protects the remains from the elements. Both community and private mausoleums exist. In most cases, a private mausoleum is much more expensive. A mausoleum is a great option for families who want to be interred together.

Natural (or Green) Burial

Another option for full-body interment is natural or green burial. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows it.

Interment Options for the Cremated Body

Columbarium

Moving into interment options for the cremated body, a columbarium is a popular option. Columbaria consist of many small compartments, called niches, that each hold an individual urn. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, identifying the names, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-sizes niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Urn Burial

It is also possible to bury an urn rather than to place it in a columbarium niche. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those for traditional burial. A traditional plot can hold the cremated bodies of multiple people or may even hold a casket and an urn, depending on the cemetery regulations. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container. A third option for urn burial is green burial. You can place the urn in a green burial ground without an outer burial container.

Scattering

You can take your loved one’s cremated body to a special place (remember to check the laws and regulations for that place) or you can go to a scattering garden, a designated, beautiful space often attached to a cemetery. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical marker so that family and friends feel more connected to their lost loved one. If you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it can come as a shock that all that was left of a loved one’s body is suddenly gone.

Other Interment Options

A few lesser-used interment options are:

As you can see, there are several interment options available to you, and you can choose the one that best fits your wishes and your family’s needs. No matter which option you choose, remember that it’s important to designate a final resting place so that friends, family, and future generations have a place to visit, remember, and honor the life that has been lived.

7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Expenses

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

When a loved one dies, the last thing you want to do is think about how to pay for the funeral, especially if funds are tight and the death is unexpected. Sadly, this is sometimes the case. In a recent survey, research shows that only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. This means that many families won’t have the personal finances available to cover the unexpected cost of a funeral.

If this is your situation, you aren’t alone, and you do have some options. Be aware that most funeral homes require payment upfront, but a good funeral director will work with you as much as he or she can to help you access benefits that may be available and stick to your budget.

Let’s discuss 7 practical options available to you when it comes to paying for unexpected funeral expenses. You may find that a combination of these options helps you and your family create a plan that honors your loved one and meets your needs for a healing and meaningful service.

1. Use life insurance or a final expense plan

If your loved one had a current life insurance or final expense plan in place at the time of their death, talk to your funeral director about using a life insurance policy for the funeral expenses. You may also check with your loved one’s employer, as sometimes employers offer life insurance policies through the workplace. Often, a funeral home will file the claim on your behalf. Depending on how much the policy is worth, the beneficiary may even receive excess funds above the cost of the funeral. Also, both kinds of policies can have unexpected complications, and even if your policy is problem free, be aware that it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment. Some funeral homes use a third party assignment company to expedite payment on verified benefits, which usually involves a small fee.

2. Choose an affordable option

First and foremost, choosing affordable options is the best way to reduce the overall cost of a funeral. Typically, cremation costs trend lower than burial costs, but be sure to look into both options before you jump to conclusions. Sometimes a direct burial is nearly the same cost as cremation. And keep in mind that choosing cremation or direct burial doesn’t mean you have to skip a healing and meaningful service. Often, a very inexpensive memorial service can be arranged to honor and celebrate your loved one’s life, even if it’s an informal gathering just for family.

3. Apply for free benefits (based on eligibility)

Next, look into any benefits that your family may be eligible to receive from the government. For instance, if your loved one was a veteran, they may be entitled to certain burial benefits, including monetary assistance and possibly a free burial space in a state or national cemetery and a grave marker. Also, the Social Security Administration pays out a small, one-time survivor’s benefit at the time of death. And finally, look at nonprofits, charities, or churches. For example, the Little Love Foundation assists families who have lost an infant with funeral costs.

4. Tap into personal funds

While this option is not ideal, it can help to consider liquidating any assets that you may have access to. Is there anything you can sell, such as non-retirement stocks or bonds, collectors’ items, or an unused vehicle or RV? Or, you may have a bit of personal savings set aside that can be combined with other sources of funding. Tapping into your personal assets and savings could help you avoid having to take on debt to pay for a funeral.

5. Recruit friends and family to help

More often than not, people will try to help each other out. While you may feel embarrassed at first, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. First, ask any family members – siblings, cousins, children, aunts, uncles – to contribute to the funeral expenses. After that, you may consider asking any close friends whom you think would want to support you and your family in this way. With all the funds gathered, you can then choose an affordable option for your loved one.

6. Set up a crowdfunding campaign

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

7. Use a credit card or funeral loan

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

The Value of Planning Ahead

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

When you plan ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options that you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options that you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. So, if you are young and in good health, planning ahead can potentially save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. There are several safe and secure payment options available for advance funeral planning. Speak to your local funeral professional for more information.

Remembering Our Loved Ones Through Photos

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss

When you photograph a face… you photograph the soul behind it.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Today, we can’t imagine a world without photographs. They capture the moments of our lives – both the special and the mundane – and create a record for years to come. They help us remember what has come before, and they elicit powerful emotions.

In actuality, photography is a relatively new invention. The first photographic process was introduced in 1824 by Nicéphore Niépce. Building on his initial work, many other scientists and inventors improved photography over the years. However, it was George Eastman who first brought the camera to the individual. In the 1910s, the first 35mm camera became available to the public, and people began to go “Kodaking” (spending the day taking pictures with friends).

We have come a long way from glass plates, daguerreotypes, and negatives. Now, most of us carry a camera with us everywhere we go because they are built into our cell phones. That’s quite the innovative leap, especially since it’s been just over 100 years since the first camera became available to the public.

But despite its relative newness, we are fascinated with photography. Photographs have found a place of prominence in our lives. They give us something that the generations before us didn’t experience in the same way. They give us a unique way to remember our loved ones after they’re gone and recall the memories we shared.

So, How Do Photographs Benefit Us?

1. They connect us with our past.

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” – Karl Lagerfeld

Looking at photos of loved ones often elicits a sense of connection. With people we know, we remember the person in the photo and how they made us feel. With people we never met – like ancestors – there’s something special about looking at family even though you never met. After all, without them, you wouldn’t exist.

2. They remind us of people, places, feelings, and stories.

The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed.” – Anne Geddes

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it captures a very specific memory. Whether the photo is of friends, that crazy family vacation, or your high school graduation, it will remind you of people you’ve met, places you’ve gone, and feelings you’ve felt. Every picture tells a story. And in some cases, you’ve forgotten the story until the picture gives it life again.

3. They help keep a certain memory sharp.

With my father’s passing, I realized just how important images of him are to me. The photo[s] also made me think, what do my children have to remember me by?” – John Wineberg

Oftentimes, when we lose someone we love, we fear that we will forget them. That’s one reason why photos are so precious – they give our loved one’s face and any cherished memories a sharper focus in our minds. With a photo, we are less likely to forget what a loved one looked like. We are less likely to forget some of our favorite memories. In a way, a loved one lives on through the pictures we have of them.

4. They remind us that there were good times in the midst of the bad.

The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” – Andy Warhol

In life, unexpected things happen. A spouse leaves. A best friend moves away. A loved one dies. Photos capture a single moment in time. Perhaps, when that best friend moved away, things became difficult, and it took a while to find a new friend. But just the same, any pictures you have with that friend are precious. Despite the changes in life and people, photos remind us that good is interwoven with the bad.

5. They express emotions that words cannot.

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt

Sometimes words are just not enough. They don’t adequately capture the essence of what you feel. But for many, a photo can do just that. It expresses what your lips can’t articulate and helps you say what’s in your heart. And on the other side of that, photos elicit deep emotion from us. They remind us of something or someone we love and just how precious memories are.

How Can Photos Help Us Honor Our Loved Ones?

A healing and meaningful funeral is about honoring and remembering a life lived. Pictures are an excellent way to tell a loved one’s unique story. There are a variety of ways that you can utilize your favorite photos in a final tribute:

  • Put together a memorial DVD (or ask the funeral home to do it).
  • Create a collage or timeline.
  • Print off some of your favorites and give them as a remembrance token at the funeral.
  • Make your own memory wreath.
  • If there is a gathering or reception, place photos in prominent places or use as centerpieces.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Think on it. Whatever will honor your loved one’s memory most, do it. Every picture you have captures a moment of your loved one’s life. And that life is worth celebrating.

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.