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Plan Ahead

6 Reasons to Write Your Will Now

By Estate Planning

Perhaps unconsciously, we often think we have to own a lot of stuff or at least be in our 5th decade to write a will. This simply isn’t the case. In fact, the sooner you write a will, the better. A will is a legal document that offers certain protections. Without one, if something were to happen to you, the people you care about and the possessions or assets you’ve acquired might not be taken care of the way you would want them to be.

Rather than wait for the unexpected to happen, take charge. Decide how you want to provide for the people you love and distribute the things you care about. Not quite convinced? Let’s go over 6 key reasons why you shouldn’t wait another day to write your will.

1. Because you love your children

Have you thought about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you (and/or your spouse)? A legal will allows you to designate a specific guardian for your children, which ensures that the people you want raising your child will be able to do so. Without a designated guardian, the state decides who will raise your children. They may not choose the people you would have chosen. Additionally, if you want to leave possessions or property to your children, you protect their financial security by outlining your wishes in the will.

2. Because you should decide what happens to your worldly goods

Throughout our lives, we make cherished memories, we gather precious mementos, and if we’re able, we make our bank accounts grow. Whether it’s ensuring that a trust fund is created for a child or that your mother’s favorite set of dishes goes to your oldest daughter, a will gives you the ability to decide what happens to your worldly possessions. Without a will, your state laws will determine how your goods and assets are distributed, and those laws may not be in accordance with your wishes. Creating a will ensures that your wishes are known and followed.

3. Because you want to eliminate arguments

In many families, there’s often someone who creates strife or dissension amongst the group, either intentionally or unintentionally. To lessen the possibility of arguments or disputes, it’s best to clearly outline what you want done with your estate (e.g. home, car, funds, possessions, care of dependents, etc.). If no one knows your wishes, there’s room for dispute. While you may never be a super star (not many of us are), we only have to look at the cases of Prince, Aretha Franklin, or Sonny Bono to see just how complicated things can become without a will.

4. Because you are part of a blended family

Many blended families enjoy loving relationships, but not all. If you have parented children who are not your legal heirs, you may wish to add them into your will. If you have legal heirs that you do not wish to leave assets to, you may need to exclude them from your will. Either way, blended families can introduce a few challenges, so it’s better to write a legal will so that everyone is clear about your wishes.

5. Because you want to keep things simple for your family

So many things in life become needlessly complicated. The care of your dependents and distribution of your assets doesn’t have to be one of them. To keep things simple for those you love, put things in writing. With a will, your family can just get things taken care of. Without a will, state laws come into play and matters can become complicated very quickly. Keep things simple for everyone by making your wishes known.

6. Because our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing. None of us are promised tomorrow. By writing your will now, you can protect your family and ensure they are taken care of when you’re gone. If you are someone without a spouse or children at this time, think about whom you would want to benefit. Perhaps you’d give to friends, other family members, or a charity. No matter what you want, writing a will now can make a big difference in the lives of others.

To get started, it’s always best to speak with an estate attorney, especially if you have a large number of assets. However, if you can’t afford the services of an attorney, there are will writing services online. However, by doing it yourself, you run the risk of not addressing certain issues. This may unintentionally create problems for your family. If possible, ask a lawyer to review any document you draw up.

In addition to writing a will, it’s always good to consider whether now is the right time to put together advance care directives, powers of attorney, and advance funeral plans. In addition to a will, these documents create a net of safety and peace of mind for your loved ones.

No matter your age – recent college grad or grandparent – it’s never too early to write a will and ensure that your people and possessions are taken care of your way.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Service

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

Funeral and memorial services are about remembering and cherishing a loved one’s memory and honoring their life. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, author, and counselor, often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ceremony.” Meaningful ceremonies are reflective of the life that has been lived. They spark memories, help honor a legacy, and bring to mind the good times that were shared. Using photos is one important way we can personalize a funeral and reflect on a life well-lived.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true when you are sharing photos of a loved one’s life. Let’s talk about how you can use photos to create a tribute that will bring meaning, hope, peace, and comfort to those who are hurting.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Service

Photos are unique to a person, a time, a place, a memory. That’s why they are a perfect way to personalize a funeral or memorial service. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Add Photos to the Order of Service

For most funeral or memorial services, you will receive an “Order of Service” program. This pamphlet usually outlines the order of events that will occur at the service, including speakers, special songs, opportunities to share memories, etc. The Order of Service is a good place to incorporate photos. You can be as creative as you’d like, including your favorite photos or simply ones that capture your loved one’s personality.

2. Make a Photo Collage or Timeline

A photo collage or timeline allows you to tell your loved one’s life story. The big moments, the small ones, the ones that mean the most to you and your family. You can highlight weddings, births, vacations, milestones, hobbies, childhood photos, and so much more. Then, as people view the collage or timeline at the service, conversations will spark. Memories will become fresh. Hearts will be comforted.

3. Put Together a Memorial Photo Album

Sometimes there’s something special about a tangible object. Just like some people prefer physical books over electronic books, there are those who prefer the sturdy presence of a photo album to any amount of digital storage. If you are one of these people, you might consider putting together a memorial photo album or bringing your old family photo albums to the gathering or visitation. Holding the book and flipping through the pages often evokes a strong feeling of connection. By allowing friends, family, and guests to look through the album, you create an opportunity to remember special times and learn new things about the one you love.

4. Create a Memory Board

Similar to a photo collage, a memory board intentionally leaves space open for family, friends, and other guests to add photos of their own or to write personalized messages on the board. By inviting people to participate, you do two things. First, you allow others to mourn, that is, put their grief into action. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside, and mourning is when you express that grief outside of yourself. Mourning is grief inside out. [It] is showing and doing.” Secondly, by inviting others to add their own thoughts and memories, you create a lovely keepsake that gives a full, vibrant picture of your loved one’s life.

5. Use Photos to Personalize the Gathering/Reception

Many families decide to include a gathering or reception following the funeral or memorial service. Doing this allows family, friends, and others an opportunity to share memories and offer support to one another. The gathering/reception is also a great time to add personal touches to the funeral experience. You might string a clothesline in one area of the room and invite friends and family to a bring a photo to hang. Or, you could use photos to decorate the tables – as centerpieces or even as a table runner. Alternatively, if you are having an outdoor event, you could decorate a tree with photos of your loved one and add mason jars with candles to add softness to the display.

6. Make a Tribute Video

With a tribute video, you can use photos, audio clips, video clips, favorite quotes, and so much more to create a truly personal account of your loved one’s life. A tribute video adds a meaningful element to the service, allows guests to reflect on their memories, comforts family and friends, evokes laughter and tears, and can be a special keepsake that can be watched for years to come.

7. Invite Mourners to Bring a Favorite Photo

Another option you might consider is inviting mourners to bring a favorite photo of your loved one. You could ask people to write a favorite memory on the back and leave the photo with the family as an encouragement. Alternatively, you could create a collective collage. By requesting that everyone bring a 4×6 photo, you can create pre-made spaces where people can add their photos to the collage. Or, you could simply ask mourners to look at the photo and remember your loved one as the eulogy is spoken. A visual reminder – especially one that means something – will help each person connect with their own feelings and begin the grief journey on the right foot.

8. Make a Memory Wreath

Another way to use photos in a unique way is to create a memory wreath. This special wreath will not only serve as a special focal point for any gathering or reception, it can also be re-used in your home afterward. Photos are a great way to remember our loved ones. They connect us to the past; they remind us of the stories of our lives. Sometimes, they even express emotions better than words.

9. Ask Someone to Take Photos at the Funeral

While it may sound odd, you might consider asking someone to take photos at the funeral or memorial. Not necessarily of your loved one – but of the events and the people who have gathered. Photography is about capturing the important moments in life, and the passing of a loved one is significant. Photos taken at any point of the service (funeral, reception, graveside, etc.) will all show a variety of emotions – sadness at the loss, joy at seeing living loved ones, happiness at sharing cherished memories. Who knows, you may find that one of these photos becomes a cherished favorite.

10. Print Your Favorite Photos as Remembrance Tokens

Finally, for many of us, specific items have great value and significance to our memory. “I bought this painting when we went to France,” or “This scarf always reminds me of my grandmother.” Photos can do the same. Consider printing out some of your favorite photos and giving them to guests as a remembrance token. You might add a quote, scripture verse, or poem on the back. As each person takes a photo, they have a physical reminder of your loved one, something they can hold onto and contemplate on as they walk through their grief journey.

What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

After a loss, we feel both a deep sense of loss and an innate desire to honor the memory of the person we love. We want to remember them for who they were. Recall the times when they spoke truth to us, comforted us, or simply made us laugh. This desire to honor and remember our loved ones is why it’s important to personalize a funeral – so that there is a unique and special tribute for the one you love.

One unique way to honor a loved one is through burial at sea. While burial at sea is not as common as burial or scattering on land, it is still an option worth considering, especially if your loved one had a special connection to the sea.

What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea

Burial at sea has a long history and is one of the oldest types of funeral ceremony. Throughout history, we see it used by the Greeks, Egyptians, and the navies of various nations.

Today, there are two ways to request burial at sea: through the U.S. Navy or through a civilian charter company. Each one has its own regulations, though both will provide your family with the date, time, and longitude/latitude of your loved one’s committal.

Naval Military Vessel

With the Navy, the committal ceremony is performed while the ship is deployed. This means that the family cannot attend, though the commanding officer will send a letter to the family sharing the exact date, time, and location where the committal ceremony took place in addition to any photos that may have been taken.

Only eligible veterans and their dependents can request burial at sea with the Navy. Following the death, your trusted funeral professional contacts the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs Office on your behalf and begins the coordination and transportation process.

You will need several documents to request naval burial at sea:

  • Photocopy of the death certificate
  • Burial transit permit or cremation certificate
  • Copy of the veteran’s DD214, discharge certificate, or retirement order
  • Completed “Burial at Sea Request Form”

As with shore burial, veterans will receive the proper military honors, including the playing of Taps and the closing of colors. An American flag will fly at half-mast during the committal ceremony. If the family provides the flag, it will be returned; if not, the Navy will provide one.

Civilian Vessel

For those who are not veterans, you can charter a vessel through a burial at sea provider. By going through an official provider, you ensure that the vessel is Coast Guard inspected for comfort and safety and that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations are followed. Additionally, you can select a vessel intimate enough to accommodate only close family, or if you wish, you can charter a larger vessel to allow additional family and friends to take part in the committal service.

The EPA states that the vessel must journey to a distance of at least 3 nautical miles and to a depth of 100 fathoms (600+ feet) before any kind of burial can take place. Additional state laws may apply. Also, any materials placed in the water must readily decompose, so plastics and metals are not allowed. To learn more about the EPA’s guidelines, click here.

If you wish to bury a full body at sea, a licensed funeral director must be present to oversee the care and custody of the body until final interment. If possible, ask that preparation of the body be done with non-toxic chemicals. Any casket or burial cloth must be biodegradable.

The most common form of burial at sea is scattering of the cremated body. For this, you do not need a funeral director present. The family can facilitate a private service onboard, followed by scattering the ashes and placing wreaths or flowers in the water.

Whether you choose full-body burial at sea or scattering, the charter company will provide a certificate marking the exact coordinates of your loved one’s final resting place.

Helpful Hints for Civilian Vessels

  • Dress casually with a wind breaker and non-slip shoes.
  • Bring a camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, and other desired personal possessions.
  • Report any known or potentially unknown medical conditions to the captain before disembarking; this includes pregnancy, back or neck pain, or susceptibility to sea sickness.
  • If you are susceptible to seasickness, it’s for the good of all that you remain on shore. Many charter companies will provide binoculars for viewing and will call your cell phone when the committal ceremony begins. If you choose not to remain on shore, consider using motion sickness aids.

Planning Ahead for Burial at Sea

If you or a loved one are interested in burial at sea, it’s best to make your wishes known now. You can do this either by communicating your wishes to your family or by sitting down with a knowledgeable funeral professional who can walk you through the process of preplanning the funeral. The more information you provide, the easier the funeral planning process will be on your loved ones. Also, because burial at sea is a specialized service, it’s best to prepare everyone ahead of time to ensure that all the details are taken care of according to your wishes.

Permanent Placement Options for Cremated Remains

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

These days, it’s not uncommon for the family to keep the cremated remains of a loved in an urn at home. While keeping a loved one nearby can be helpful during the grief process, it’s important to have a permanent plan for your loved one. It’s unrealistic to expect family members to continue to amass a larger and larger number of urns through the years, so in order to ensure that your loved one is cared for after you’re gone, it’s best to put together a permanent plan.

You have many options for permanent placement of cremated remains. And you don’t have to make up your mind at the time of loss. You can keep your loved one close for a few years, and then visit the idea of where you want to inter them as a final resting place.

Reviewing the Options

Urn Burial

The first option is burial. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those used for traditional burial. If you choose a burial plot, the cremated bodies of multiple people can be buried together. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container.

Another form of urn burial is green burial. The main difference from traditional burial is that the urn must be biodegradable, and the cemetery must be specifically set aside for green burials. The number of green cemeteries in the United States is limited, so you may need to travel a distance to lay your loved one to rest. One thing to remember: an outer burial container is not needed for green burial.

Columbarium

An above-ground structure, the columbarium is filled with niches (wall spaces) where urns are placed and interred. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, listing the name, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-size niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Scattering

Scattering is the act of taking a loved one’s cremated remains to a special place (or places) and scattering them. The possible locations for scattering are numerous. You could elect to go to a scattering garden, which is a designated, beautiful space attached to a cemetery that is simple and environmentally friendly. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical memorial like a plaque or grave marker.

Alternatively, you can go to the ocean, the mountains, or some other place that is special to you and your loved one. If you do decide to scatter your loved one somewhere other than a cemetery, make sure that you check the laws and regulations for that place.

Should you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it is an emotional shock to realize that everything remaining of a loved one is gone.

Planting a Memorial Tree

It is now possible to plant a loved one’s ashes so that a memorial tree will grow. The cremated remains don’t actually cause the tree to grow. Instead, you will place a special, biodegradable urn in the ground. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together. There is a separate section underneath for the cremated remains. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down to the cremated remains, and everything mingles together. This option is inexpensive, and afterward, you can visit the memorial tree anytime you wish.

Options at Sea

Underwater Mausoleum

Off the coast of Florida, you can have a special urn placed in an underwater mausoleum (similar to a columbarium). With different options available for memorialization, it’s an option for those who love the ocean.

Barrier Reef

Another option is to mix the cremated body with concrete to create an artificial coral reef. These artificial coral reefs assist in the repair and conservation of natural coral reefs by positively impacting the ocean’s habitat. As a memorial to your loved one, consider affixing a plaque to the artificial reef.

Burial at Sea

When we think of burial/scattering at sea, we often think of military personnel. However, scattering at sea is an option for civilians as well. While the Navy will work with a veteran’s family to arrange an official scattering at sea, services are available to civilians for an eco-friendly sea burial per US Coast Guard guidelines.

Launched into Space

It is now possible to send a person’s ashes into space. If your loved one adored space and all its mysteries or was always looking for the next big adventure, you might consider this option. Of course, there will be regulations and stipulations to follow, but this option is surprisingly affordable.

No matter which option is most appropriate, make a decision on providing a permanent home for cremated remains. Keeping the urn at home may be just what you need in the beginning. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up something permanent. A permanent home will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.

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.

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Veterans

Our veterans represent courage, honor, and sacrifice. Throughout our history as a nation, our military men and women have stepped up to face the opposition, protect our way of life, and preserve our freedom. Because we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, it’s appropriate that we honor them in special and symbolic ways upon their death. They served us in life; let us honor them in death.

The Department of Defense, through a program called “Honoring Those Who Served,” is responsible for providing military funeral honors. In most cases, the military personnel who participate do so on a volunteer basis. Keep in mind, military honors must be requested, so if you are in the process of planning a funeral for a veteran, work with a funeral director to make an official request.

Military funeral honors vary. A few factors that affect military honors are whether the armed forces member was active duty, retired, or a veteran; their rank; and the place of burial. For veterans buried in national cemeteries, the honors will have an added element of formality and include additional elements, such as a horse-drawn caisson for commissioned officers buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries will be less formal and include fewer elements.

For now, let’s review the most common ceremonial elements and why they are significant to our veterans.

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

If a family requests military honors, at least two honor guards will attend the funeral, one of which is currently serving in the same branch that the deceased veteran did. Depending on availability and the rank of the veteran, the honor guard may consist of more members. The honor guard will carry out the requested honors with precision and respect.

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

The flag-draped casket or urn is a prominent feature of a military funeral that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, it was tradition to cover the dead with a flag before removal from the battlefield. Today, the tradition continues to remind the living of that person’s service and sacrifice. With the American flag, the blue field spreads at the head, over the left shoulder of the casket. After services conclude, the honor guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Folding of the Flag

The honor guard at the funeral will also fold and present the flag. It takes 13 individual folding movements to create the ceremonial triangle, which is intended to represent the tricorn hats worn by George Washington and his men at the foundation of our country. After the flag is folded, the service member representing the veteran’s branch of service presents the flag to the next of kin and says:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Playing of Taps

In 1862, during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield, with the help of bugler Oliver Norton, revised an earlier bugle call into what is now known as “Taps.” Previously, the song signaled to troops that it was time to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, shortly after Butterfield’s revisions, captain-in-charge John Tidnall presided over a funeral. He asked his men to play Taps rather than firing the customary three volleys. At the time, three volleys conveyed to the enemy an intention to begin fighting again. To avoid sending this message, the bugler simply played Taps. Since that time, the song has been associated with military funerals.

At funerals today, if a bugler is available, Taps will be played live. However, if no bugler is available, a recording of the song will always be played.

Additional Elements

To review, the honor guard, draping of the casket, folding and presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps are the core elements of a military funeral. Depending on availability, families can incorporate other symbolic actions.

These elements include:

  • Three-volley salute
  • Color guard
  • Pallbearers
  • Horse-drawn caisson
  • Military flyover

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

In addition to the performance of these time-honored, symbolic actions, eligible veterans also receive other burial benefits. The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. For instance, eligible veterans receive a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available. This is at no cost to the family. Additionally, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

To learn more about your veterans’ benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov.

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.

Healthy Practices for Your Later Years: 60s

By Estate Planning, Living Well

You’re in your 60s now, and if you’re intentional, it’s going to be an amazing decade for you. Now’s the time to reinvent your lifestyle and make decisions about what the next 20-30 years are going to look like. Life may still be a bit hectic. You may be looking forward to retirement. Your adult children may have moved back in while they ground themselves. You may be caring for aging parents. You may want to travel or spend time with all the grandkids. No matter what your goals, you need healthy habits and practices to get you there.

Just remember that no matter what your lifestyle looked like before, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can change your lifestyle to reflect your new goals in life. It just takes time and determination. How you age – whether well or poorly – is almost entirely up to you and the habits you cultivate. Now, let’s talk about 10 helpful and healthy practices you can cultivate in your 60s that will lead to better physical health, mental health, and aging well.

Kick Bad Habits

We all have bad habits, but it’s never too late to kick them to the curb. Some of the most common medical concerns – obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer – are directly related to lifestyle choices. So, take steps to quit the habits that may be hurting your body.

For example, quit smoking, lose excess weight, drink alcohol in moderation, increase your activity levels, and reduce your sugar intake. In addition to these, you may have a few more bad habits you’d like to leave behind. Write a list of your new goals and make a realistic and actionable plan for how to accomplish them.

Exercise Regularly

As you grow older, focus on strength training, aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Building up your muscles will help you maintain strength, increase bone density, and boost energy levels. If you use weights or resistance bands, start with lighter weights and work your way up. Weight-bearing exercise will help to increase bone density and keep you active longer into your later years. Adding in aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart rate up – will increase your heart health and help with weight management. And finally, flexibility works in tandem with your exercise regime and is vital to developing strong muscles and bones.

To begin, find an activity you like and stick with it. Invite a friend to join you. Yoga, swimming, golf, and walking are all great ways to stay strong and active. Experts say to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. If needed, you can break the time up – two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions. Whatever works best with your schedule and lifestyle.

Eat Healthy & Hydrate Often

Of course, we all know that what we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how well our bodies function. So, consider adding more fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, lean meats and proteins (e.g. chicken, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and good fats (e.g. avocado, cheese, dark chocolate, whole eggs). Then, as much as you can, avoid eating too many sugary and processed foods.

As for hydration, did you know that as we age, we begin to lose our sense of thirst? That’s why so many older people suffer from undetected dehydration. Be intentional about drinking water, even if you think you don’t need it. The water will hydrate you, increase your metabolic rate, and keep you from feeling as fatigued after exercise.

Get Regular Check-ups, Screenings, and Diagnostic Checks

While regular check-ups, preventative screenings, and diagnostic tests may not sound like much fun, wouldn’t you rather know if there’s an issue so you can take steps to correct it? Visit with your doctor and discuss which screenings they recommend to keep your body healthy and strong.

And don’t be afraid to ask questions – research shows that patients who don’t ask questions or don’t understand their medical condition or prescriptions are at increased risk for complications. So, make sure you fully understand what’s going on with your health.

Pay Attention to Your Bone Density

Our bones are incredibly important to overall health. Bone mass builds rapidly until the age of about 25, and then, without proper care, our bones begin to grow weaker over time. This is one reason why older people are more likely to develop osteoporosis or to fall and break or fracture bones. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will suffer from a fracture due to osteoporosis.

But it’s not too late. You can build up your bones even now. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D but also exercise. Both strength training and weight bearing, like jumping or marching, can help to improve bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

Keep Your Brain Healthy

You may be approaching retirement and looking forward to taking it easy. Enjoy your time – you’ve earned it. Just remember to keep your brain supplied with new challenges. As we age, our brains produce less serotonin (mood), acetylcholine (memory, learning, and concentration), and dopamine (movement, motivation, and learning). This means that we need to keep the brain active to keep it healthy. Don’t just sit on the couch, catching up on the last 30 years of TV shows. Instead, keep your brain healthy by taking courses, learning new things, or adding to your skillset.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

In a culture that glorifies youth, it isn’t easy to accept aging. But time marches on for us all, and to age well, it’s best to accept it and make the most of it. In fact, according to research, you can add up to 7.5 years to your life just by cultivating a positive attitude about aging. Additionally, adults with a positive attitude toward aging are less likely to develop dementia. Adults who carry a gene that poses the strongest risk for dementia are 50% less likely to develop dementia. That’s huge! It goes to show the power of perception and positivity to our bodies and minds.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Whether or not you’ve hit retirement yet, be intentional with your time. But especially after retirement, many of us are more likely to become sedentary. In fact, the average retired person spends over 4 hours a day watching TV. That’s time that might be better spent doing things that are healthy for your brain and body. Exercise, socialize, volunteer, cook new things, travel, explore your creativity, or all of the above. Those things that you said you’d do once you had time – do them! Seek meaningful activities and relationships. You won’t regret it.

Maintain a Social Life

We all need relationships. Interacting with those we like boosts our overall health because they help us manage our emotions, reduce our stress, and hold us accountable for maintaining good habits. Perhaps you feel that you have less energy now that you’re a little older, but still, take time to be with others. But make sure that those you spend time with actually add value to your life. If there are people in your life who just drain you, limit your interactions with them and focus on the relationships that bring joy. For your own well-being, you may need to forgive those who have hurt you in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a part of your normal social circle.

Get Your Affairs in Order Now

Getting your affairs in order can seem like a daunting task. Maybe you’ve considered organizing all the necessary documents and making all the right calls, but you just aren’t quite sure where to begin. Now is a great time to start. Have you written a legal will so your family knows how you would like to disburse your assets? Have you considered preplanning your funeral, so you can save money and provide your loved ones with a plan? Have you talked to your family or doctor about advance care directives, so they know what kind of medical care you want? All of these are important questions to answer and best done when you are still healthy. Now is a great time to start putting your affairs in order so that you can live with greater peace of mind for years to come.

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.