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Plan Ahead

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

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

1. “I’m too young.”

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

2. “I don’t have the money.”

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

3. “I’m too busy.”

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

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

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

5. “Someone else will do it.”

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

The Value of Planning Ahead

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

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

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

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

Why is the Funeral Ritual Important?

Why Do We Have Funerals? (video)

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

Do Funerals Still Matter?

By | Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

We have had funerals since the beginning of time. No matter which culture you research, you will find evidence of funeral rites and traditions. Though the specific customs may have changed over time, the human need to acknowledge a life and process a death still remains. This innate human need is why we still need meaningful and healing funerals today.

Why Does It Matter?

But what is a meaningful and healing funeral? What do these terms really mean, and how do you create such an experience? Why does it matter? To begin, it’s important to realize that a funeral is not about closure. It’s not about “getting over” your grief; it’s about starting to grieve. According to nationally-respected grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, we don’t get over our grief, but in time, we become reconciled to it. He says, “Your feeling[s] of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent.  Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.

The end goal of a healing and meaningful funeral is to give people the opportunity to confront their emotions and begin the grief journey on the right foot. A meaningful ceremony is personalized. The ceremony itself accurately reflects the life of the one who has died and touches the hearts of those who mourn. And because the ceremony is meaningful, because it is personal, mourners experience healing. Out of the funeral, they start their own individual grief journey, which may take weeks, months, or even years, depending on the degree of loss. But it all starts with a personalized ritual – a healing and meaningful funeral or memorial service.

Creating a Meaningful and Healing Funeral

The 6 Needs of Mourning

Based on his years of experience companioning families through grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt has determined that mourners have 6 needs that should be met through the funeral service. If a funeral is personalized and meets these 6 needs, then mourners, “through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

1. Acknowledge the reality of the death

When we lose someone we love, our mind naturally rebels against the knowledge. But in order to heal, we must confront the truth. In some way, the funeral must acknowledge the reality of the death. This can be done in many ways. Perhaps there is a visitation with the body present or the officiants purposefully use the past tense or the urn containing the cremated body is set in a prominent place.

2. Move toward the pain of the loss

Dr. Wolfelt says, “I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.  Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.” A funeral service is an accepted venue to tap into and release our emotions. By its nature, the funeral service affords several inescapable opportunities for mourners to move toward the pain and begin to process it.

3. Remember the person who has died

In order to heal, we must shift our relationship with the one who has died from one of physical presence to one of memory. This is why it is so important to personalize the service. Many elements of the funeral allow people to come together and remember. The visitation, the eulogy, and the gathering are all opportunities to share our memories. And, according to Dr. Wolfelt, “the more we ‘tell the story’ the more likely we are to reconcile to the grief.” Create opportunities to share and to remember.

4. Develop a new self-identity

To some degree, our relationships give us an identity. Father, mother, sister, brother, friend, grandchild. You may have heard someone say, “I feel like a part of me died along with him.” This is because we gain some sense of identity from those around us. The funeral marks the beginning of a new identity. Perhaps we move from a wife to a widow or from a grandchild with living grandparents to a grandchild without living grandparents. No matter the change, the funeral marks a mental shift in identity.

5. Search for meaning

As part of the grief process, we naturally question the meaning of life and death. Why did this happen? Why now? What happens after death? It is these “why” questions that decide why we should go on living and contribute to our search for meaning. While the funeral itself does not facilitate this search, it does force us to confront a very real fact: we will die. And because one day we, too, will face death, it is appropriate to seek out the answers to these questions and find meaning.

6. Receive ongoing support from others

Lastly, the funeral provides a public place where others can offer their support to the grieving and the grieving can accept support. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a meaningful and healing funeral. We are not meant to walk through the trials of life alone. If we don’t have a service of some kind, we are communicating to others that we don’t need their support, and then, we’re on our own. Invite others in and find a group to support you throughout your grief journey.

How to Personalize a Funeral

The second part of a healing and meaningful funeral is personalization. A funeral should incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. Together, these seven elements create a meaningful service.

Each of these elements can be specifically personalized. The music reflects the tastes of the one who has died. The readings come from their most treasured quotes, songs, or books. The visitation may include a collage of photos or a memorial tribute video. The eulogy tells the tale of their life. The gathering allows friends and family to come together to share memories, to talk about how the one who has died impacted them, and to support each other. And actions invite mourners to put their grief into motion.

Each of these elements is important and can be arranged however you wish. The most important thing is to honor and remember the life lived in what seems the best way.

For more information on ways to personalize a funeral or memorial service and to see how others have personalized funerals, click on the links below:

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Remembering Grandmother with Handmade Quilts

Honoring a Teacher’s Last Request

Harry Potter-themed Funeral for Cancer Victim

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

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

What is the Purpose of a Funeral?

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

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

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

Influences that Affect Our Understanding of Funerals

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

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

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

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

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

We value self-reliance.

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

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

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

We deny our own mortality.

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

We devalue life.

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

Meaningful and Effective Funerals Versus Efficient Funerals

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral…. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

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

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

Effective is better than efficient in every way.

7 Reasons to Help Parents Preplan for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

1. Ensures that you know and can fulfill their wishes

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

2. Saves money and prevents a future financial burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Gives you more time together later

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

Next Steps

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

A Few Questions to Consider

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

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

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

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

By | 1-19 Precare, Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

There’s no getting around the fact that estate planning is a necessary part of life, even though we may not feel ready to face it. It is especially important that older Americans begin this important part of planning. Five documents typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen a number of high profile people die without a will in place. Both Prince and Aretha Franklin fall into this category. Because they each died without a will, their families could be embroiled in court for years when a simple document might have prevented any confusion.

But you can get started now. It’s not too late, and it’s never too early. Let’s take a moment to review the 5 important estate planning documents, what they are, and why they are important.

Financial Power of Attorney

Definition

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.

Main Benefit

It is beneficial to have another person who can help you with financial needs, especially for the elderly and those who are suffering from memory loss. On the other hand, even if you are young, a power of attorney can be helpful if you are juggling a large amount of financial transactions.

Cost of Inaction

If you become incapacitated, 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.

Medical Power of Attorney

Definition

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.

Main Benefit

If you become incapacitated, a trusted individual can make decisions regarding your medical needs, and if you take time to share your medical or end-of-life care wishes, that person can ensure that your desires are followed.

Cost of Inaction

If you do become incapacitated, your family will be left with the burden of decision making, not knowing whether their choices align with your wishes or not. This lack of clarity can cause disagreements and strain among family members.

Before we move on…

Two final notes regarding powers of attorney

You can set up either document to be general or limited. With a general power of attorney, your appointed agent has full access. They can operate as if they are you. With a limited power of attorney, you restrict their access to certain functions.

Also, you can designate whether a power of attorney is durable. This means that it remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. In some states, “springing” is an option. This means that you can specify when the powers of attorney are in effect. Perhaps, they come into effect on a certain date or if you become incapacitated.

Living Will

Definition

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will. Despite what its name may imply, a living will pertains to your medical care. The document clearly outlines which medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. The list is extensive and addresses topics like resuscitation, dialysis, palliative care, and organ donation. As you make decisions regarding your future medical care, discuss your wishes with your doctor and family members.

You can change your medical directives at any time, but make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Main Benefit

Peace of mind for you and your family. If your desires are written down, you know that your wishes are known, and your family can be confident in any choices they (or your medical power of attorney agent) need to make regarding your care.

Cost of Inaction

Without a living will, your care preferences may not be known, especially in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

Legal Will

Definition

A will is a legal document that provides instruction for the distribution of your assets. After death, a will is considered public record once it has been registered with the probate court. 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. A will can be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

You ensure that your family knows your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Cost of Inaction

Without a will, your assets may not be distributed as you would desire. Also, in many cases, family members must go to court to determine the fate of your estate.

Revocable Living Trust

Definition

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills in that you transfer your property into the trust. Once the property is transferred, you become the trustee (naming a successor trustee to take over upon your death). The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes. A living trust is most beneficial to those who own a large amount of property and assets. A living trust can also be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

Most people choose a living trust because it avoids the possible complications of probate court. Additionally, a living trust is more difficult to attack in a court battle and is kept private (no public record).

Cost of Inaction

If you have a large estate, the lack of a living trust may make the distribution process lengthier and more complicated.  Again, not everyone will need a living trust. Speak to an estate planning attorney to determine if this route is best for you.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. There are a number of things you cannot do in a living trust, namely appointing guardians for minor children, designating an executor, and assigning a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now you know which documents are important to the estate planning process. As you work toward getting your affairs in order, you might also consider a few other areas of advance planning: funeral planning, getting all your important documents together, designating emergency contacts, and taking care of your digital estate. It’s never too early to start!

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. 

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

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

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

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

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

1. Participate in a Release Ceremony

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

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

2. Incorporate Keepsake Items

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

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

3. Set a Theme

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

4. Write a Message/Letter

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

5. Prepare a Meaningful Meal

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

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

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 62.5% of consumers feel that it is important to share funeral wishes with family members, but only 21.4% did so in 2017. That means that more than two-thirds of Americans acknowledge that preplanning is a good idea, but a majority of them never actually do anything about it. Why?

Usually, life gets in the way, and we get too busy. But none of us know the number of our days. Sometimes, we just have to make time for the important things, and this is one of those things. Make an appointment with yourself and your spouse to start getting your affairs in order, including your funeral plans.

There are many benefits to preplanning a funeral. A plan relieves your family of the need to make difficult decisions at a time of loss, saves money, and gives you time to plan a meaningful and healing funeral service. Most of us have never had to plan a funeral. This fact makes planning a difficult process when everyone is under stress and grieving a loss. That is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead of time – when you can consult with a funeral professional who can educate you on all the options available to you.

Once you’ve decided to plan ahead, you’ll want to avoid the most common pitfalls and mistakes people make. Here are the 9 most common mistakes to avoid as you put together a funeral plan.

Mistake #1 – Making a decision based solely on price

Price is important, but the old adage “you get what you pay for,” is also true. When you are comparing packages, make sure that you know what’s included and what’s not. In other words, make sure you are comparing apples to apples as you search for the best value. Understand that cemetery costs and third-party costs like flowers, obituaries, and police escorts are often not included in a funeral home’s package pricing. It is also good to remember that the best offer should include a reasonably-priced funeral in addition to caring, knowledgeable, professional staff. If you can, take time to tour the funeral home facility and meet the staff. While this isn’t always possible, you can thoroughly explore the funeral home’s website and give them a call to ask questions. Doing these things will help you understand some of the differences between your funeral home options. If you need a little guidance on what to look for in a funeral home, this article shares the top 10 things to look for.

Mistake #2 – Making a decision without enough information

Preplanning doesn’t have to be complicated. But without a funeral professional to walk you through the process, you may miss an important step. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know! To make the best preplanning decisions, you need to know about ALL the options available to you. This is why choosing a reputable funeral home and asking a funeral professional all your questions is so important. Another bonus to preplanning is that you can ask questions and explore options on your own time, without grief or stress. This way, you can have confidence that you’ve made the best choices for your particular needs.

Mistake #3 – Forgetting to balance everyone’s needs

A funeral service is more for the survivors than for the one who has died. It’s a time to reflect, to remember, to honor, to grieve, and to say goodbye. For this reason, when possible, it’s important to seriously consider what kind of funeral service to plan. While the wishes of the deceased are important, it is crucial to take the needs of family and friends into account as well. When only one group is considered, a funeral service may feel lacking rather than provide a meaningful and healing experience. To learn more about the 7 elements of a healing service, click here.

Mistake #4 – Procrastinating

Sometimes people wait too long. The best time to make decisions about preplanning is when you are healthy and can make decisions with a clear, rational mind. When illness comes, we often avoid anything related to death or do not have the energy or time to make plans. On top of that, sadness shrouds the entire planning process. When you are still young and strong, you can make your decisions without a cloud over you because you have continued life and enjoyment ahead of you. None of us knows what the future holds, so no matter your age or stage in life, it’s good to preplan now.

Mistake #5 – Not communicating your wishes to family

Some have missed the critical step of making their wishes known. For instance, some people put their funeral wishes in their will. However, no one reads the will until long after the funeral. Because of this, family members may miss any information that it contains about funeral wishes. Also, verbally sharing your funeral wishes with only a few people isn’t the best route either. Later, the people may disagree about what they each heard and create confusion. Be clear about your wishes and ensure that your immediate family knows what you want by writing it down. If you complete a funeral prearrangement, give them the name of the funeral home. This way, they know who to contact when the time comes.

Mistake #6 – Paying the wrong way

If you decide to pay in advance, you have to make sure that you pay the right way: with a prepaid funeral insurance plan. With a prepaid funeral insurance plan, make sure:

  1. Your plan is structured properly for Medicaid if you think you might need to qualify for long-term care assistance from the government.
  2. You have an itemized list of expenses from the funeral home based on your preferences (so you know what you’re paying for).
  3. You are paying through a reputable insurance company or trust, not directly to the funeral home.
  4. The policy is covered by a state guaranty fund that is in place to protect policyholders in the event that an insurance company defaults on benefit payments or becomes insolvent.
  5. Your funds will grow over time to keep up with inflation.
  6. Your plan includes sufficient funds for cash advance items and other possible, unexpected expenses so that your family will not have to pay for much or any of these expenses out of pocket.

Mistake #7 – Not paying in advance

Keep in mind that funeral expenses rise at a relatively high rate. The cost of steel, materials, energy, and wages contribute to a steady rise in costs over the years. By paying for a funeral in advance, you can sometimes reduce the cost of the funeral and alleviate the stress of paying for a funeral at a time of loss and emotional stress. By prefunding a funeral, you can save hundreds, or even thousands. If you decide not to prefund your funeral, make sure that you or your family have enough life insurance and/or cash on-hand to pay for funeral expenses at the current cost. Keep in mind that even if you have a life insurance policy or a final expense policy in place, the proceeds will not be paid for 6-8 weeks (or even longer) after you put in your claim, which is long after the funeral takes place.

Mistake #8 – Taking care of cemetery needs but not funeral service needs

Purchasing a plot or columbarium niche at the cemetery is just one aspect of the preplanning process. Oftentimes, separate owners run the cemetery and the funeral home. This means that you can purchase space in a cemetery but have nothing planned for the funeral service. A funeral home will help you plan a personalized funeral service and select the merchandise (casket, urn, etc.) necessary to complete your final wishes. When the time comes, the funeral home will work in concert with the cemetery to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

It’s important to address all the details associated with planning a funeral. Working with a funeral home partner will help you stay on top of everything and accurately budget for all of the expenses. Unfortunately, some families miss a few details and end up under-funding the funeral service. Then, they have to hastily find additional financial resources to cover the costs. Planning ahead prevents this last-minute scramble.

Mistake #9 – Not preplanning at all

Whether you decide to pay for a funeral in advance or not, it’s always a good idea to preplan. This way, your family will know exactly what your wishes are. They won’t have to make difficult decisions on one of the hardest days of their lives. Instead, they can be together and grieve their loss. With a funeral plan in place, they can put your wishes in motion, confident in knowing that you will be honored in the way you desired. That takes a lot of stress and strain off the family. By preplanning, you give your family a gift of love – the peace of mind that everything is taken care of.

Grave Liners & Burial Vaults: What’s the Difference?

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

For many of us, the ins and outs of funeral planning are unfamiliar and confusing. We don’t know where to start or even what all of our options are. Should you go with cremation or burial? How do you go about personalizing the funeral? What is the value of a funeral, and what elements should you include? All of these questions are why we have funeral directors. They help those of us who aren’t funeral professionals understand and make sense of a whole new world of information.

But, of course, you should learn about and research the different aspects of funeral planning before you ever talk to a funeral professional. This will help you know what kinds of questions to ask when the day comes that you sit across the table from a funeral professional. Today, let’s discuss what outer burial containers are, why we have them, and what options you have regarding their use.

What is an outer burial container?

Simply put, an outer burial container is used when either a casket or an urn is buried. They typically come in two forms: the grave liner or the burial vault. We will discuss these two types in more detail below. Outer burial containers are most often made of reinforced concrete (they also come in plastic and metal). Though most states do not mandate them, most cemeteries do require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

Why do we have them?

A couple of reasons stand out. First, over time, a casket/urn will decay, and with that decay, the earth around the casket/urn will shift and resettle. By surrounding the casket/urn with a reinforced concrete barrier, when decay does inevitably occur, the earth around it will remain undisturbed. By preventing graves from caving in on themselves, the cemetery ensures that the cemetery grounds remain level and people who visit need not worry about falling, twisting ankles, or otherwise injuring themselves due to uneven ground. Secondly, by keeping the ground level, performing routine maintenance on the property is simpler, which keeps costs down for both the cemetery and the consumer. And finally, if the ground were to settle and shift substantially, headstones, grave markers, and monuments may shift and tip. If this happens, the marker must be fixed, which also raises the cost of maintenance.

What are my options?

Grave Liner

A grave liner partially or entirely encloses the casket/urn but only offers minimal protection from the elements. Because is it not sealed, soil, moisture, water, and other elements can make their way inside over time. Though typically made of concrete, plastic and metal are available as well.

There are two types. The first type features a removable lid. The second type, on the other hand, is bottomless and only covers the sides and top of the casket/urn. The grave liner is often less expensive. While it is not water-resistant, it does prevent the grave from settling or caving in on itself.

Burial Vault

A burial vault seals and entirely encloses the casket/urn. In addition to a water-resistant seal in the lid and walls, a burial vault (except those made of plastic) contains an interior liner. This liner works in tandem with the sealant to prevent soil, water/moisture, and other elements from reaching the contents.

In most cases, a burial vault is more expensive than a grave liner. This is due to higher manufacturing costs, the use of more expensive materials and finishing techniques, and if desired, various personalization options.

Green or Natural Burial

Both green and natural burials do not require the use of burial vaults or grave liners. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial and maintained without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows for vault-free burial.

Now, you should have enough information to get you started, whether you are simply curious, are in the process of planning a funeral for a loved one, or are interested in planning ahead for your own funeral wishes. No matter which category you fall into, when the time comes, make sure to partner with a reputable funeral home that has your best interests in mind and is willing to work with you to create a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

By | Estate Planning, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Paying for a funeral in advance doesn’t have to be a difficult task. All you really need is a knowledgeable funeral professional who thoughtfully educates you on all the options available and the differences between them. With an informed partner, making a decision that works best for you and your budget should be much easier.

There are four common ways to pay for funeral expenses. They are: 1) with a life insurance policy, 2) with a final expense policy, 3) with a prepaid funeral plan, and 4) with personal funds. For more information about using a life insurance policy for end-of-life needs, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses to review the pros and cons.

For now, let’s focus on final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans. Important note: a prepaid funeral plan is funded by an annuity, a trust, or an insurance policy. While many use life insurance for funeral expenses, its primary purpose is to replace any income lost by the death of a loved one. On the other hand, most people choose final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans specifically to help offset end-of-life expenses.

Let’s Start Off with Definitions

Final Expense Insurance

Final expense insurance is a type of insurance that covers funeral expenses and/or outstanding bills after death. In terms of insurance, the coverage offered is relatively low, proportionate to the expense of your desired funeral and whatever amount a family may need to cover outstanding bills at the time of death. Final expense policies are usually easier to qualify for than traditional life insurance, and typically, the older you are, the higher your monthly premium will be. With this type of insurance, you usually pay a premium every month until your death, at which time the policy benefits go to your named beneficiary. However, keep in mind that your named beneficiary is not technically (or legally) required to use your final expense funds to pay for funeral or medical expenses.

Prepaid Funeral Plan

Prepaid funeral plans typically offer greater protection. Typically, you will meet with a funeral planning professional to itemize a prearranged funeral contract, including all your desired services and merchandise, and fund the contract using a prepaid funeral insurance policy, annuity, or trust. You may choose to make a prepaid funeral plan revocable or irrevocable. With an “irrevocable” policy, you waive your right to cancel the plan, which offers an added benefit if you need to qualify for Medicaid to cover nursing home expenses at a later date.

Myth vs. Fact

Final expense plans are often touted as the best solution when planning ahead for funeral expenses. However, prepaid funeral plans offer several advantages over final expense plans:

1. Asset Protection for Medicaid

Properly structured prepaid funeral plans can be set up as exempt assets for Medicaid so that those funds are protected from going to the nursing home. On the other hand, under Medicaid rules, a final expense plan qualifies as a limited asset (not exempt). Additionally, the capped amount is usually $1,500—not nearly enough to cover a dignified funeral or cremation service.

2. Plan Is Paid in Full

You can pay for a prepaid funeral plan in full in one lump sum or set up for a specific number of payments. Once you’ve finished paying the total amount of premiums, the plan is considered paid in full. This is a huge benefit considering that many seniors live on a fixed income later in life. Meanwhile, most people with final expense policies must pay premiums throughout their lifetime.

3. Protection from Inflation

Prepaid funeral plans grow over time by design. The growth protects the value of your dollar and helps your funds keep up with inflation. On the other hand, final expense plans do not generally grow over time, meaning that they lose value every year due to decreasing purchasing power.

4. Stay Within a Budget

The amount you pay toward a prepaid funeral plan is directly related to the choices you make regarding your final wishes. So, if you choose cremation with memorial service, the costs associated are itemized, put into a written plan, and your payments set. In the end, you control the cost of the funeral. With final expense insurance, you select an estimated amount that you believe will be enough to cover a funeral. Additionally, in the long run, a prepaid funeral plan is less expensive. While your monthly payments may be a bit higher, you will only make a set number of installment payments. With final expense plans, you will pay monthly premiums for the rest of your life.

5. Plans are Portable

Some people think that final expense plans are more convenient because you can use them at any funeral home. The same is true of prepaid funeral plans. Widely accepted as a method of payment, prepaid plans are transferable to other funeral homes. Moving away or changing your mind are two reasons why you might transfer your plan.

6. When Funds Are Available

Funds from a prepaid funeral plan are typically available within 24-48 hours of submitting your claim. Your family will be able to move forward with payment and funeral arrangements almost immediately. With final expense insurance, it can take up to six to eight weeks to process a claim.

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Many people do not realize that payment for a funeral is due prior to services being rendered. So, having a financial plan in place to pay for a funeral is essential for every adult. There are many ways to pay for a funeral, in advance or at the time of need. However, not all payment methods are created equal. Each method has its own risks and benefits, so it is up to you to decide which payment method is right for you.

1. Prepaid Funeral Plans

Many people choose to pay for a funeral in advance with a prepaid funeral plan. Funeral plans with a special “preneed” contract funded with an insurance policy, trust, or annuity offer several benefits. Some funeral providers will offer a guarantee that “locks in” the cost of the selected funeral goods and services at the current price. If you expect to live another 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years, this type of contract could save your family money.

Preneed Policies

Preneed policies can be paid in full or set up on installment plans with a set number of payments that fit into your budget. The funds go to a specialized insurance company and offer growth with certain tax advantages. The plans are also transferable to another funeral home should you move away.

Funeral Trusts

Funeral trusts also offer the benefit of some growth, depending on the underlying investment, so they are a popular option for those planning ahead as well. Some states require funeral homes to deposit 100% of funeral funds, and other states require only a percentage. Be sure that you clearly understand the terms of your funeral trust before entering into a contract, and pay special attention to the portability of your trust funds should you move.

Irrevocable prepaid funeral plans can also be set up as Medicaid-exempt assets to help an individual qualify for Medicaid later in life.

In the case of using an insurance policy to fund a prepaid funeral plan, it’s best to speak with a preplanning consultant who can review all of your options and answer any questions you may have.

2. Life Insurance or Final Expense Plan

Families often plan to cover funeral expenses with a life insurance policy or final expense policy. The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications. To learn more about these complications, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Advanced Funding

Some funeral homes will agree to file the life insurance claim on your behalf, or they will partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company) to help families access life insurance policy benefits faster. Similar to a rapid refund on a tax return that you might receive from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. The assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. You will receive funds within 24-48 hours of verification of the policy. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

3. Personal Account/CD/Pay-on-Death Account

Some families choose to set up a pay-on-death account with a named beneficiary. This option allows your assets to be available to your heirs without having to go through probate. However, there are a few disadvantages to maintaining a personal pay-on-death account. With each year that goes by, the purchasing power in your account actually goes down. In addition, these types of accounts do not generally offer a sufficient amount of interest to offset inflation over time. Personal accounts are also not considered Medicaid-exempt should you require long-term care assistance. Personal accounts are also at risk of being used or seized due to civil judgments, bankruptcy, or divorce.

4. Credit Card or Funeral Loan

Another possibility to pay for a funeral 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.

5. Crowdfunding Website

If no financial plan in place at the time of need, families 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 craft a meaningful ceremony.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

With any option that you choose, you must weigh the risks and benefits of each. On one end of the spectrum, you have fully-insured prepaid funeral plans. These plans offer the highest amount of protection. On the other end of the spectrum, you have personal accounts. These offer the least amount of protection for funeral funds. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which option is the best for you and your family.