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

3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

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

A Brief Overview

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

Option #1 – Prepaid Funeral Plan

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

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

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

Here are a few additional benefits to consider.

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

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

Middle aged couple looking at laptop together and comparing options

Option #2 – Life Insurance Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option #3 – Final Expense Plan

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

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

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

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

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Insurance Option

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

Death certificate request form with pen on top

The Beginner’s Guide to Death Certificates

By Estate Planning, Planning Tools

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you know how overwhelming it can be. You’re grieving, but you may also be trying to take care of their affairs. As you navigate the complicated world of funeral planning, life insurance, Medicaid, and estate settlement, one item you’ll need for everything is a death certificate.

Death certificates are official documents that provide the name of the deceased, the date, time, and place of death, and the cause of death. Different states have their own requirements for death certificates, so other details may be included, like the deceased’s birth date, Social Security number, or their parents’ names. Basically, death certificates provide official confirmation of a person’s death.

While obtaining death certificates may seem like an extra hassle at a time when you’re grieving, they play a necessary role in estate settlement. Plus, they can help you and your family members accept the death of your loved one. Here are 3 things you need to know about these important documents:

Person filling out a form

1. Why You’ll Need a Death Certificate

As you work through your loved one’s affairs, you’ll likely need 5-10 copies of the death certificate. The funeral home or crematory you work with will need a death certificate to get a burial or cremation permit. You’ll also need a death certificate to claim life insurance, close accounts, and transfer ownership of any vehicles, real estate, or other property. If your spouse has died, you’ll also need a death certificate to manage their pension or Medicaid or if you plan to remarry. Some companies will accept a copy of the death certificate, but insurance agencies typically need an official certificate.

If your loved one was a veteran, you’ll also need a death certificate for the veterans’ burial benefits provided by the VA. Whether your loved one’s death was service-related or took place after they were discharged, your family will need to present the death certificate at the VA’s office when you request burial benefits.

But death certificates are more than just legal records. By officially documenting someone’s death and what caused it, death certificates can provide some closure for your family. If your loved one died unexpectedly, knowing the official cause of death can give you and your family peace of mind as you begin your grief journey.

Black awning for a funeral home

2. Who Supplies the Death Certificate

While states have different requirements about death certificate filing, funeral directors must file them within 72 hours of the death. When you speak with a funeral director after the death of your loved one, they’ll need certain information to submit the death certificate. A coroner, physician, or medical examiner will also need to sign the certificate before it’s filed to certify the cause of death.

To get copies of a death certificate, you’ll likely request them from the funeral home or your local vital records office. Some states also offer the option to request a death certificate on their website. Additionally, there are third-party websites you can use to request death certificates.

If you choose to request death certificates online, make sure to choose a reliable site. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re requesting an official copy of the death certificate. Some sites offer informational copies, unofficial certificates, or death verification letters, which aren’t official documents. If you’re unsure if a site is reliable, ask your local funeral provider or your state’s vital records office.

3. What Information You Need to Request a Death Certificate

Laws about requesting death certificates vary in different states. In many areas, only a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or legal representative can request a death certificate. To request a certificate, you’ll need to bring an ID and proof that you’re related to the deceased, like your birth certificate or your marriage license. Extended family members may be able to request a death certificate with written permission from an immediate family member.

To request the certificate, you’ll likely need the following information about the deceased:

  • Full legal name
  • Sex
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Father’s legal name
  • Mother’s maiden name

Some states may require you to provide other information, like their last known address, race, birthplace, or marital status. If you’re missing any of the above information, you may be able to request a birth certificate to find it.

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to request 5-10 copies of the death certificate so you have plenty on hand. Pricing differs in each state, but death certificates usually cost between $5 and $25. Some states offer discounted pricing when you order more than one death certificate at a time. For example, the initial certificate may cost $20, but you only pay $5 for each additional certificate.

While navigating the world after your loved one’s death, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your local funeral provider can be a knowledgeable source of information. You can also speak with your attorney as you navigate estate settlements and life insurance. As you begin your grief journey, don’t be afraid to accept help from those around you and to take time to process your emotions.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. If you have questions about obtaining a death certificate, please contact a licensed funeral professional or local vital record’s office.

4 Reasons Why You Should Update Your Will

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

If you’ve written your will, you’ve already gotten a great start on your estate planning! But now that you’ve created a will, don’t just put it in a drawer and forget about it. As your life changes, your will should change, too.

A good rule of thumb is to update your will every three to five years. However, if something big changes in your life, you may need to update it sooner. Here are a few times you might need to update your will:

Woman taping a packing box shut

When your life changes

When something in your life drastically changes, you should check your will and see if anything needs updating. For example, you will definitely want to make changes if a loved one mentioned in your will dies. Other life changes may prompt a review, such as a big move or a significant change in health status. You might also take a look if you start a new business or job or get a new pet.

Since a will also discusses guardianship of minors, if you have a child or gain care of anyone under 18, you should update your will to provide for them and name a guardian to care for them in your absence. Otherwise, the court will appoint a guardian with no input from you. You should also update your will if you’ve been caring for a minor who is now a legal adult.

African American man putting a ring on a woman's finger

When your relationships change

As time passes, your relationships with friends and family members will shift. Relationships change naturally as family members get married, divorced, or have children. But also consider that conflict can change your relationships with others. Every new relationship – or lost relationship – doesn’t require an update to your will. However, if there is a change with someone you’ve named as a beneficiary, guardian, executor, or any other role in your will, a change may be necessary.

You should also update your will if your own marital status changes, whether through marriage, death, or divorce. All three of those events can cause upheaval in your life, and it’s easy to forget to update your will. Once you have space to think, be sure to set aside time to review your will. This is especially important if you have a blended family. You may want to make sure that children from your previous marriage are taken care of.

Additionally, if relationships between your beneficiaries or other family members become volatile, you may want to update your will to make it more secure. If you’re worried about someone challenging your will, you could include a no-contest clause. This clause would disinherit the person if they challenge the will in court. Make sure to consult a lawyer to learn about your state’s specific laws if you’re considering a no-contest clause.

hand stacking quarters in stacks that increase in height

When your financial situation changes

Since your will lays out your wishes for your property and assets, you’ll want to update your will when your financial situation shifts dramatically. This doesn’t mean you need to readjust your will every time your net worth fluctuates. But if you experience significant gains or losses, like if you inherit a large amount of money from another family member or suffer a large financial setback, you may want to take another look at your will. A change in your assets may make you reconsider how you distribute your belongings, or you may want to set up a living trust.

Also, pay attention to any specific pieces of property you’ve named in your will. Conflict might ensue if, for example, you’ve named your daughter as the heir to your antique desk, but you later sell it or give it to your son for his new house. Keep track of any specific items you’ve mentioned and update your will as needed.

Judge banging a gavel

When laws change

Just as life changes unpredictably, laws can change that affect your will. Estate tax laws directly affect the proceeds of your will, and as other laws are passed and amended, they could also impact your will. Plus, if you move to a different state or country, laws about wills may be different. Some states ask you to use a different number of witnesses or require you to include certain statements in your will. If you’re unsure what laws affect your will, ask your attorney if there are any changes you need to make.

While the events above are great signs that you should check your will, you don’t need a big life change to update your will. It’s up to you to decide how you want your assets distributed, so you can make changes whenever you wish, as long as you are of sound mind.

As you make changes to your will, make sure to exchange your updated copies for any out-of-date versions to avoid confusion. Your new will should make any old versions invalid, but it’s a good idea to destroy any copies of your original will. If you have your will on file with your lawyer or have given copies to any family members, make sure to give them the updated version.

After you’ve updated your will, don’t forget to check your other estate planning documents! Your powers of attorney, emergency contacts, and funeral plan might need to be updated, too, so take a look at your documents and see if anything has changed.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

Using Color to Personalize a Service

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Creating a personalized funeral or memorial service is the first step toward finding the healing and reconciliation you need after a loss. Why? Because if the service details truly reflect the hobbies, interests, personality, and quirks of the person who has died, then it feels like a true tribute – something with meaning, purpose, and poignancy. Using color can be a simple way to uniquely personalize a service – let’s look at a few examples.

4 Simple Ways to Use Color to Personalize a Service

While the color black has traditionally been associated with mourning in the western world, it’s not a hard and fast rule. In fact, in other areas of the world, white, red, purple, gray, and even gold are considered colors of mourning. With the increase in personalized services, it’s become much more accepted to use different colors, especially if that color has special significance.

Beautiful pink tulips

1. Select Specific Flowers

If you are decorating with flowers or accepting flowers as sympathy gifts, you could request a specific color. To be the most meaningful, select a color that is special in some way – either to you or to the one who has died. Or, if the deceased person loved pumpkins, succulents, or even tiny cactus plants, you could encourage well-wishers to give those, instead. Imagine how sweet it would look and feel to see a loved one’s service filled with the color that brought them so much joy in life.

Decorating with seashells and the color ivory

2. Decorate with Intentionality

Another option for using color to personalize is by choosing your decorations intentionally. If you choose to focus on a specific color, you can use it in a multitude of places. For example, you could display photo frames in that color. At the gathering or visitation, use tablecloths or centerpieces in that color. Place themed decorations on memorial tables. Provide a keepsake to mourners that showcases the theme color. The options are endless. Think on what the person loved and use that information to create something one-of-a-kind.

Four men wearing matching polka dot socks

3. Request that Mourners Wear a Certain Color

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to incorporate color into a service is to ask mourners to wear it. This way, when people attend the service, there’s a sea of pink, green, orange in honor of your loved one. If you’d rather focus on a theme than a color, you can. For instance, you could ask that mourners wear a certain team’s jersey, Star Wars gear, something with unicorns, or whatever is most appropriate. You can include the color/theme when you announce service details, whether that’s through the funeral home or a personal announcement on social media.

Bright green casket

4. Customize the Urn or Casket

Urns today come in many shapes, sizes, and hues. If you plan to have a memorial service after cremation, you can select an urn of a specific color. Simply speak with your trusted funeral home or go online to review your urn options.

As for caskets, there are a few different personalization options. First, you could request a certain color for the casket lining and pillow top. Second, you could customize the casket itself. Rather than selecting one of the standard colors or wood types, you could commission a casket of any color. Third, you can ask that the interior or cap panel (the rectangle of space just above the deceased when the casket is open) be customized. You could select a specific hue, or alternatively, some funeral homes can place a photo in this space.

If any of these options appeal to you, contact your trusted funeral home. They will help you get the answers you need.

What If I Don’t Know What Color to Choose?

If a color doesn’t immediately come to mind, that’s okay. You can either personalize the service in other ways, or you could even choose a color based on its meaning.

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

  • Red – Energy, passion, strength, love, sincerity
  • Pink – Love and romance, caring, tenderness, acceptance
  • Beige – Calm and simplicity
  • Ivory – Quietness and pleasantness
  • Yellow – Joy, happiness, imagination, hope, friendship
  • Blue – Peace, tranquility, trust, harmony, loyalty
  • Purple – Spirituality, transformation, wisdom, honor
  • Lavender – Femininity, grace, elegance
  • Orange – Enthusiasm, warmth, vibrancy
  • Green – Renewal, generosity, service
  • Brown – Stability, hearth & home, comfort, reliability
  • Gray – Security, intelligence, dignity, modesty
  • White – Purity, peace, innocence, goodness

Ultimately, color is just one option for creating a meaningful service. Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a loved one’s services, you have options. If you have a specific idea of what you’d like to do or you need a little help, your local funeral home can help. They can brainstorm with you, offer ideas and solutions, and help you create a tribute that feels right and good.

If you’d like to learn about other ways you can customize a service to create something truly unique, go to Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral for inspiration.

Can You Name the 4 Different Types of Cemeteries?

By Explore Options, Memorial, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

traditional upright headstones with flower arrangements

What are the 4 main types of cemeteries?

1. Public Cemeteries

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

Government-run public cemeteries

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

Privately-run public cemeteries

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

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

cemetery outside a beautiful old church

2. Private Cemeteries

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

Family burial ground

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

Religious cemeteries

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

Examples include members of a certain:

  • Church
  • Fraternal/sororal group
  • Ethnicity
  • Lodge

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

Veteran cemetery with white headstones and small American flags

3. Veteran Cemeteries

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

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

tree with heart marker, representing natural burial

4. Green or Natural Cemeteries

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

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

Do cemeteries have special features?

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

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

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

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

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

Bench overlooking a cemetery on a beautiful day

Is there a cost difference?

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

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

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

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

Young couple reviewing official documents with advisor

4 Reasons to Keep Your Beneficiaries Up to Date

By Estate Planning

Wouldn’t it be great if estate planning was a “one and done” type of task? If life came without change, then it could be, but we all know change is inevitable. That’s why it’s so important to update your estate plan needs over time, too. While it may seem like a hassle, failing to update your beneficiaries can actually have long-reaching effects that you’ll want to avoid. If you’re not convinced, let’s go over 4 key reasons why keeping your beneficiaries up to date is so valuable!

Older man and woman signing documents

What is a Beneficiary?

Before we jump into the reasons why it’s so important to update your beneficiaries, let’s first review what a beneficiary actually is. To define the term, a beneficiary is the person or entity that will receive the proceeds of your accounts upon your death. You may name a beneficiary on:

It’s always good to name both a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. That way, if the primary beneficiary were to die before you, the contingent beneficiary would inherit in their place.

Now that you have an understanding of what a beneficiary is as well as what types of accounts they are associated with, let’s talk about why it’s essential to keep your beneficiary information up to date!

Young couple reviewing official documents with advisor

4 Reasons to Keep Your Beneficiaries Up to Date

Reason #1 – Your Relationships Are Going to Change Over Time

If one thing is certain, the relationships in your life are going to change. Whether you’re a young person who hopes to marry one day or you’re an older adult who may eventually face the death of a spouse, things are going to change, and most likely, your listed beneficiaries will be affected.

When you go through a major life change, like marriage, birth of a child, death of a spouse, divorce, etc., make sure you update your beneficiaries. If you don’t, your family may face unintended consequences. Let’s look at a few examples.

Marriage

If you marry and don’t add your new spouse as a beneficiary, your spouse may not inherit anything. Of course, it all depends on who your beneficiaries are. If you are a young person and have always named your parents as beneficiaries, they will hopefully make sure that your spouse is taken care of. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, especially with estranged relationships. The best route is to update your beneficiaries to include your new spouse.

Divorce

Let’s say you marry in your twenties. You have two children and set up a life insurance policy, naming your then-spouse as beneficiary. Fast forward 20 years. You have divorced and re-married, and now, you have a child with your new partner. If you never updated your beneficiaries on your policy, your ex-spouse would inherit, leaving no proceeds for your current spouse or any of your three children. By updating your beneficiaries as needed, you can avoid this unpleasant situation. For more helpful tips on estate planning for a blended family, click here.

Deceased Beneficiary

In some cases, you may name a beneficiary who happens to die before you. If you don’t update your beneficiary to someone new, it can cause complications down the line and may require your family to go to court to straighten things out. And in some cases, you can’t untangle things, and your family won’t receive your assets.

Even after only a few examples, it’s easy to see how complications creep in quickly. By staying on top of your beneficiary updates, you can ensure that everything goes smoothly for your loved ones.

Two people reviewing official documents together

Reason #2 – Your Beneficiary Designations Supersede Your Legal Will

Did you know that the United States Supreme Court ruled that beneficiary designations supersede the provisions of a will or trust? What does that mean? It means that keeping your beneficiaries up to date is more important than ever before.

Even if you write a legal will, whoever is listed as your beneficiary on the individual accounts is the person who will inherit. So, if you write in your legal will that your spouse should inherit the proceeds of your investment account, but your parent is named as the beneficiary on the account, your parent will inherit, if they are still living. If they aren’t living, things get more complicated from there, and your spouse may need to go to court to receive any proceeds at all.

In situations where there is divorce and re-marriage, it’s essential to update beneficiary information. If you don’t, an ex-spouse may receive support you intended for a current spouse. By keeping things as current as possible, you can prevent headache and heartache for those you love.

Reason #3 – You Eliminate Confusion and Avoid Probate Court

Reflecting back on what we’ve already discussed, it’s easy to see how quickly things can get confusing with your estate plan and beneficiary selection. By keeping your beneficiaries up to date and accurate, you eliminate unnecessary confusion for your loved ones.

By matching up your beneficiary information with your legal will, you can make sure that your intentions are crystal clear. With everything clear-cut and in agreeance, your family can avoid the costly expense of probate court and receive the financial benefit of your accounts much sooner.

Older woman signing official documents while seated with spouse and advisor

Reason #4 – You Ensure Your Loved Ones’ Financial Security

Without the correct beneficiaries listed on your financial accounts, the wrong person may receive the proceeds of your hard work. To ensure that your loved ones receive everything you want them to, it’s best to stay on top of your beneficiary information. The last thing your loved ones need after your passing is to untangle your legal affairs and possibly go to court to ensure their own financial security. And even in court, they may not win because many beneficiary mistakes are irreversible.

What’s Next?

Now, it’s time to go check your accounts and make sure that your beneficiary information is accurate and up to date. Has your beneficiary moved or died? Have phone numbers changed? Are your relationships different now? Would like someone else to inherit? All of these things could trigger the need to update your beneficiary information.

While it would be great if you could do everything once and be done, life isn’t always that straightforward. Consider reviewing your beneficiary information every two – three years (or whenever you have a significant life change), so that you don’t fall into this common estate planning mistake. Instead, you will protect your family’s interests and well-being, both today and in the future.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state. 

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

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

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

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

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

1. Vital Statistics

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

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

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

2. Funeral Preferences

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

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

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

3. Personalization Preferences

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

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

Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”

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

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

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral 

4. Veterans’ Burial Benefits

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

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

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

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

5. Funding Options

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

Here are some resources to help you:

Understanding Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policies

The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

10 Questions to Ask Before Your Prepay Your Funeral

What’s Next?

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

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

Shows couple talking to funeral professional about their funeral plans

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

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

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

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

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

1. Advance Planning Gives Peace of Mind

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

2. Advance Planning Helps Prevent Family Disagreements

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

Shows a couple creating a meaningful service

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

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

4. Advance Planning Saves Money

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

Prevents emotional overspending

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

Shows older couple making a plan

Protects against inflation

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

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

Helps you qualify for Medicaid coverage

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

Shows couple talking to funeral professional about their funeral plans

How to Get Started

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

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

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

Older man and woman using calculator to add up costs

Understanding Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policies

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

We all know the value of being prepared. We buy car insurance, fire insurance, health insurance, life insurance – all just in case. When you stop to think about it, why do we buy these policies? Answer: Because the future is unknown. We don’t know if we will be in a fender bender, if hail will damage the roof, or if a health issue will arise. While most aspects of the future are unknowable, we can be sure of one thing – we will all face death someday. So, if we prepare for events that might occur, doesn’t it make sense to prepare for an event that will occur?

Advance funeral planning is writing down your funeral wishes so that your family knows how you would like your life honored when that day comes. By doing this, you take the mystery out of your wishes. Your family doesn’t have to make decisions in a cloud of grief, uncertain about what you would have wanted. Instead, with your wishes in hand, they can make decisions with confidence and certainty.

Older man and woman reviewing paperwork with professional

However, you can take things one step further and also protect your family financially by preparing for the cost of a funeral. At this time, you may be planning to use a life insurance or final expense policy to pay for any final services. While it’s better than having no plan at all, check out The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses and Myth Vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans to get a fuller look at what using these policies will mean for your family.

Today, let’s talk about a type of policy you may not know much about: prepaid funeral insurance policies.

What is a Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policy?

Definition

In a nutshell, a prepaid funeral insurance policy is an insurance policy based on a contract between you and your chosen funeral home. You select a funeral home and make an appointment to talk about your final wishes. Then, you make your selections – burial, cremation, casket, urn, service, visitation, etc. – and the funeral home will draw up an itemized contract. Once you know the cost of your selections, you can make adjustments or move forward with what you have.

Once your selections are determined and the contract is drawn up, it’s time to open a prepaid funeral insurance policy in the amount of your contract. You can do all of this without leaving the funeral home. However, please note: You will not pay your premiums to the funeral home, but to the insurance company that backs the prepaid funeral insurance policy. Go to 10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral to see a few other questions to ask before signing anything.

Person signing contract

You can draw up a contract at any age, regardless of health. However, when you submit the paperwork for a prepaid insurance policy, the insurance company will ask health questions. In most cases, these health questions won’t prevent you from opening a policy. However, your answers may affect the type of plan you are eligible to sign up for.

When you sign the contract, your down payment and all other payments will be kept in escrow with the funeral insurance company (not the funeral home) until the time of death. The insurance company ensures that your funds are available for use by your family when they are needed.

A Step-by-Step Breakdown

  • Select a funeral home partner.
  • Sit down with an Advance Planning Specialist to learn about all your options.
  • Write down your funeral wishes.
  • Once your wishes are determined, review an itemized list of the cost of the funeral (based on the funeral home’s pricing).
  • Once the pricing is set, the funeral home will submit your contract to their insurance company partner.
  • Based on your answers to a few quick health questions, the insurance company will determine which plan types you are eligible for, review your payment options, and finalize the policy.
  • Now, all that’s left is to pay for the plan. You can pay in one lump sum or make payments over a set period of time. Most companies allow early payoff options, if desired.
  • When you have completed your payments, your policy is paid in full!

Man wearing white shirt and woman wearing blue shirt reviewing contract

Revocable vs Irrevocable

There are two types of prepaid funeral insurance policies available: revocable and irrevocable. The only difference is that you cannot cancel an irrevocable policy to receive its cash value. The main reason to choose an irrevocable policy relates to Medicaid eligibility. Essentially, because you cannot access funds in an irrevocable account, Medicaid considers them an exempt asset. For more information about using an irrevocable prepaid funeral insurance policy to help you qualify for Medicaid, please read Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down With a Burial Plan.

One more note regarding revocable and irrevocable accounts. Most funeral insurance companies have a “grace period” where you can revoke your policy, no matter which type. But, after that time frame (different for every insurance company), you can only cancel revocable plans.

Guaranteed vs Non-Guaranteed

In some states, funeral homes offer a guarantee on the goods and services you select for your prepaid plan. This means that you can lock in today’s prices for certain items. However, not all items and not all states offer guaranteed prices. If the prices are not guaranteed, the cost for goods and services is determined at the time (date/year) that the funeral takes place.

If the funds set aside in your prepaid funeral insurance policy are not enough to cover the end cost of the funeral, your family will be responsible for paying the difference. However, in most cases, the funds in the policy are more than enough to pay the total cost as they usually grow over time to offset inflation.

Mature couple walking together, smiling at camera

How Do You Benefit from a Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policy?

There are so many ways that both you and your family benefit from both preplanning and prepaying for funeral wishes. Here are a few:

  • Affords you control over your end-of-life plans. Because your wishes are written into the contract, the funeral home will follow them precisely. (If  needed, your surviving family members do have the ability to make adjustments.)
  • Protects your family from having to make difficult decisions at an emotionally stressful time.
  • Guarantees that the funds necessary to pay for a future funeral are available right away.
  • Grants you the opportunity to spend down your assets for Medicaid purposes (irrevocable only).
  • Covers the cost of inflation due to growth in the fund over time.
  • Gives your family more money because life insurance policy funds aren’t reduced for funeral costs.
  • Gives you time to consider all your options and make sound, financially responsible choices.
  • Spares loved ones the financial burden of paying for funeral or memorial services.
  • Allows your family to simply grieve during a time of loss rather than focus on funeral or memorial details.
  • Saves you money in the long run. As with everything, the cost of a funeral continues to go up. Planning now will only help your family in the future.

Older man and woman using calculator to add up costs

Some Important Details

If you do decide to purchase a prepaid funeral insurance policy contract, there are a few important things to remember:

1. Give a copy of the contract to several people you trust and keep a copy with your other important documents. It is the family’s responsibility to contact the funeral home you have partnered with regarding your final wishes. Make sure they know who to contact.

2. Often, a prepaid plan does not include cemetery costs (unless the funeral home you partner with also owns a cemetery). You will need to coordinate any burial needs with a cemetery of your choosing.

3. Make sure that the insurance company backing your prepaid funeral insurance policy is reputable. Look into the company and their business practices before signing your contract.

4. Regarding revocable plans. If you decide to cancel, you are not guaranteed to receive back everything you have paid in so far. You will receive back a certain percentage but not a full refund. Some people treat an revocable contract like a bank account. This is not the case, so don’t make the same mistake.

5. Make sure that the contract states:

    1. The name and address of the funeral insurance company
    2. How the funds will be invested (to grow the fund and account for inflation)
    3. What happens if the total amount in escrow is more or less than the final cost of the funeral at the time of death
    4. Whether you receive a yearly statement of the money in your account

No matter how you decide to pay for the funeral, take the steps necessary to ensure the burden doesn’t fall entirely onto your family’s shoulders. Planning ahead is a gift you can give those you love and one they will always be grateful to have received.

Older couple standing next to car looking lovingly at each other

Protecting Your Family If Death Occurs Away from Home

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

If you’re like many of us, you spend quite a bit of time traveling out of town. You may not be getting on a plane every time you travel, but you are probably traveling away from home frequently on the weekends and holidays, in addition to vacations. Perhaps you visit family, take day trips, go to out-of-town medical appointments, or head to the big city for a day of shopping. But what if something unexpected happened while you or a family member were out of town? Would your family be prepared to handle everything if death occurs away from home?

Older couple standing next to car looking lovingly at each other

Challenges Your Family May Face

An untimely and unexpected death can bring many challenges for loved ones, especially if that loss is complicated by having to work with out-of-town funeral providers to get your loved one back home. Here are just a few of the challenges that loved ones may face:

1. Out-of-Pocket Transportation Costs

When a family calls to notify the funeral home that a loved one has died, a funeral home staff member could travel a specified distance to pick up the deceased without charge. However, the distance and possible fees will depend on the funeral home. If a loved one dies hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from home, the family will have to pay for transportation of the body, which can add up quickly, even if prearrangements have already been made for burial or cremation.

2. Missed Opportunities for a Full Funeral Experience

With the added cost to transport a loved one home, families in this situation may be forced to make choices that change the meaningful celebration of life or memorial service they had planned to have. The proceeds from a prearranged funeral plan may even need to be reallocated to cover transportation costs, which means that other areas of the plan would have to be reduced to offset the added costs.

Because the funeral or memorial service is essential for helping loved ones grieve and receive love and support from their community, when a service is omitted, everyone – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors – misses out on the opportunity to pay their respects and say that final farewell.

3. Lack of Closure if Cremation Takes Place Away from Home

To save on costs, a family may be tempted to cremate the body at the place of death. While this may feel like the best option at the time, it may not be the best decision because it can rob the family of the opportunity to see a loved one’s body one last time before burial or cremation. A cremation without a viewing prior can leave some family members feeling a lack of closure.

Older couple sitting in a convertible smiling at the camera

So, What Can You Do to Protect Your Family?

1. Set Aside Funds for Funeral and Transportation Costs

If your family is able, start setting aside funds now for the “just in case” situations. If you want to travel to your heart’s content without worries, putting aside money for both your final tribute and any associated costs (like possible transportation) will give both you and your loved ones peace of mind. Just make sure that the funds are easily accessible to your next of kin should you die unexpectedly. If you do not, your family may not be able to use your assets for funeral expenses until after probate.

2. Plan Ahead for Your Burial or Cremation Wishes

Another big thing you can do to protect your family is to plan ahead for your final wishes. By putting your wishes in writing, you give your family a roadmap to understanding how you want your life honored and remembered.

So many families feel lost and uncertain after the loss of a loved one because they have no idea what their loved one wanted. Burial or cremation? Visitation? Gathering? Families often have more questions than answers, and they may even disagree with each other on what to do. These disagreements can make an already stressful time even harder. By putting your wishes in writing, you remove the mystery and the chance of disagreements.

Mature man and wife sitting at table signing documents

Additionally, it’s valuable to take it one step further and talk with a funeral home about a prepaid funeral plan. By doing so, you ensure that you’ve covered the cost of the service you want, and your family won’t have to worry about a thing. Then, if death does occur away from home, they only have to consider transportation costs.

NOTE: You may be planning to use a life insurance policy to pay for final expenses, but please know, a life insurance company may not pay the policy in time for the funeral. Click here to learn more.

3. Consider a Travel Protection Plan

To provide your family with the highest level of protection, you should consider two things: 1) preplan and prepay for your funeral wishes, and 2) sign up for a travel protection plan.

Companies like APASI (American Pre-arrangement Services, Inc.) offer travel protection plans for an extremely reasonable price (often just a few hundred dollars). With a travel protection plan like this one, no matter where death occurs, the company will cover the cost of embalming and transporting the body back home, and your family won’t have to pay a cent.

NOTE: If you elect to sign up with APASI or a similar service at a different company, make sure to familiarize yourself with their policies.

People standing in line at the airport

By doing these three things (or a combination of them), you can dramatically reduce the financial burden and added stress your family would feel if death occurs away from home.

4. Don’t Forget about Bereavement Flights

If a death occurs away from home, loved ones may need to fly in to take care of service details and attend the funeral or memorial. Most last-minute fares are expensive, and seats can be full so close to the departure date. However, some airlines offer bereavement flights, which give a greater level of flexibility to those traveling due to loss.

Person packing a suitcase

Bereavement Flight Details 

Please note that a bereavement fare may not be the best deal out there. First, check out the current cost of a standard flight. This will give you a ballpark for how much a flight would typically cost. Then, armed with that knowledge, call the different airlines to determine if a bereavement fare is actually a better deal for you. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

A few things to remember:

  • Each airline has their own policy for what qualifies as a bereavement. In most cases, the person who has died must be an immediate family member (the specific airline determines this definition). For some airlines, it may include aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews, but for others, it may not.
  • Be prepared to provide documentation that shows proof of the death (death certificate, obituary, etc.).
  • And finally, you must book a bereavement flight over the phone to make arrangements.

With these items in mind, let’s review the airlines that still currently offer bereavement fares.

Airport waiting area with big window and view of the plane

Air Canada: Call 1-888-247-2262. You can read Air Canada’s full bereavement policy here.

Alaska Airlines: Call 1-800-252-7522. You can read Alaska Airlines’ full bereavement policy here.

Delta Airlines: To book a domestic flight, call 1-800-221-1212. For international flights, call 1-800-241-4141. You can read Delta Airlines’ full bereavement policy here.

WestJet: Call 1-888-937-8538. You can read WestJet’s full bereavement policy here.

Lufthansa: For those with family members living in Europe, Lufthansa may be a good option to pursue. To find out more details, contact Lufthansa directly at 1-800-645-3880.

With this information in hand, you can make the decisions that make the most sense for your family. Put a plan in place today that will protect your family and ensure that they are taken care of – financially and emotionally – after you’re gone.

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