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Plan Ahead

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.

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Cremation is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, with just over 50% of those who died in 2016 selecting cremation for their final disposition. However, many families who choose cremation don’t realize that they can still have a healing and meaningful funeral experience, even if they choose this form of disposition. According to respected grief experts, the funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. And while cremation is a popular option for final disposition, it shouldn’t prevent individuals and families from the benefits of having a healing and meaningful funeral ritual.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service; only 11.8 percent associate it with a funeral that includes a viewing or visitation; and more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware that you can have a funeral/visitation/viewing with the body before cremation takes place. So, what do these statistics tell us? That when families choose cremation, they are likely missing out on the opportunity to memorialize and commemorate the life of a loved one.

That said, let’s review the basic service options for honoring a loved one who has chosen cremation.

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

First of all, choosing cremation does not prevent a family from having a traditional service with the body present. The family may choose to have a private family viewing or public visitation. They may even hold a full funeral service with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. A rental casket looks like a regular casket on the outside. The difference is that a rental casket holds a cremation container insert on the inside. After the service, the funeral home staff removes the cremation container and transports it to the crematorium. For family members, the main benefit of holding a service or viewing with the body present is having an opportunity to emotionally process the reality of the death, which is very important to the grief journey. In fact, one of the best ways to acknowledge that someone is no longer with us is to physically see them and say our goodbyes. With that said, for some it may not be possible to view the body. In that case, you can still say your goodbyes and acknowledge the reality of the loss in your own way.

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

A second option is to plan a memorial service to take place after cremation has already occurred. Like a traditional service, you can create a personalized event complete with all the elements of a meaningful service, tailored to honor the life of your loved one. The main difference is that at a memorial service the body will not be present. However, you can place an urn in a place of honor during the service. By planning a memorial service, you still offer mourners an opportunity to come together. They can offer support to each other and remember the life of someone loved. It’s important to honor a loved one’s life and show them the proper respect. Without a ceremony or service, this need may go unaddressed. And even if your loved one didn’t want to “make a fuss,” gathering together, supporting one another, and honoring life is a necessary part of the grief journey. Before you skip the memorial service, consider the effect on those who mourn if they don’t have the opportunity to come together to grieve.

3. Direct Cremation

A third option is direct cremation. Often, families choose direct cremation for one of three reasons. First, the one who has died didn’t want a “fuss” made over them after their death. Second, they were financially unable to select a different option. Or, third, they didn’t know they had other options. If your loved one chooses direct cremation and you agree with their choice, honor their wishes when the time comes. However, if your loved one sets their mind on direct cremation and you don’t agree with their choice, sit down with them. Talk about why you would like a meaningful service to accompany their cremation wishes.

As you make your end-of-life plans, carefully consider what is best for your loved ones and friends, what they will need as they mourn your loss. Each of these three options may be appropriate in different circumstances and situations. We all have different expectations for what a funeral service will entail and what we want it to look like. No matter which option you choose – cremation with traditional service, viewing, or visitation; cremation with memorial service; direct cremation; or a combination of options – find a way to balance your family’s needs with your own personal wishes.

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), cremation has continued to grow as a choice for final disposition. In fact, in the 2017 Cremation and Burial Report, the NFDA found that approximately half of Americans chose cremation in 2016. However, in spite of the growth of cremation in the U.S., many people don’t know about all the options available to them.

For example, families sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of cremation urns they have to choose from. You can narrow down your options by considering what you want to do with the urn. Whether you are putting together a complete advance funeral plan or planning for the death of a loved one, consider how you want the cremated body to be memorialized. Want to plant a memorial tree or rose bush? Choose a biodegradable urn. Want to keep the urn at home? Choose a decorative memorial urn. Want to scatter the ashes at sea? Choose a scattering urn. Form follows function, so think about the function first, then choose the form.

Another aspect to consider is setting up a long-term plan for permanent placement of the urn. While keeping the cremated body of a loved one at home is comforting to many, it’s important to have a plan in mind for a final resting place. It’s unrealistic to expect that, in 50 years, future generations will keep multiple urns of family members in their homes. Instead, make a plan – a personal and meaningful one – and execute it. In 10 years, you might scatter the ashes or bury the urn in an urn garden or place it in a columbarium. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which option you choose, simply that you have a long-term plan for the cremated remains of your loved one so that they will be cared for long after you are gone.

Materials

An urn is simply a container for the deceased’s cremated body and can be made from almost any material. Urns can be made of:

• Plastic
• Cardboard (or other biodegradable material)
• Cast Resin
• Wood
• Ceramic
• Metal
• Marble
• Glass
• Clay
• And many other types of materials!

Types

Cremation urns come in all shapes and sizes, materials, and styles. You may want to talk with a funeral director, who has years of knowledge to impart, to help you make an informed decision. To get you started, here is a quick list of the different types of cremation urns available:

Keepsake Urn

Often small, a keepsake urn is used when either a small portion of the cremated body is kept and the rest scattered, or the ashes are split between more than one relative.

Decorative Urn

A family may choose a decorative urn to display at a memorial service, at home, or to use in a glass-front niche in a columbarium or to place in an urn garden.

Biodegradable Urn

An environmentally-friendly urn option, the biodegradable urn is becoming increasingly popular. This type of urn is commonly used for scattering, especially at sea. However, burial is also possible.

Religious Urn

This type of urn showcases the spiritual beliefs of the one who has died. In most cases, the scenes or verses on the urn are associated with the person’s religious background.

Companion Urn

The companion urn has two main types: a double or single compartment. Though not a requirement, it’s more common for couples to choose a companion urn. In the double compartment urn, each person’s ashes is separate but always together. With the single compartment urn, the ashes are intermingled.

Infant Urn

Usually smaller in size, an infant urn is most often used to hold the ashes of an infant or small child. In many cases, the family wants to keep the child close as they grieve, and the infant urn meets this need.

Sculpted Urn

Sometimes called an “art urn,” this type is a lovely mini-sculpture of your choice, modified to accommodate ashes. If you plan ahead, you can commission a special art urn that reflects your personal tastes.

Themed Urn

You can purchase a themed urn, and the possible variations are as limitless as your creativity. A few common types of themed urn are sport, hobby, art, and nature.

Picture Urn

Just like it sounds, this urn is shaped like a picture frame and allows you to display a favorite photograph of your loved one on the outside of the urn.

Military/Veteran Urn

If the military was a key part of a person’s life, you might consider selecting a veteran urn. The urn itself is designed to commemorate and honor the patriotism and sacrifice of veterans.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you plan to travel somewhere via airplane with cremated remains, make sure that you have an appropriate urn. If airline security is unable to see through the urn on the X-ray machine, they may need to manually search the urn. To prevent this, make sure to purchase a felt or non-metallic material for the urn.

As you can see, choices for cremation urns abound. Before making a decision, you may wish to talk to your family members and speak with a funeral professional. You may get even more ideas after discussing the topic with a knowledgeable person.

7 Steps to Telling Your Children About Your Funeral Plans

By | Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

You’ve made an important decision. By preplanning your funeral, you are giving your family a great gift: an expression of your great love and the gift of a mind at peace, knowing that everything has been taken care of. However, as important as your funeral plans are, it’s even more important that you share your funeral wishes with your loved ones and invite them into the preplanning process. During a time of loss, families are often stressed and may end up “emotionally overspending.” By telling them your plans ahead of time, you can save them stress and money.

Ideally, it’s best to have this conversation when you are in good health. Whether you have the conversation in person or over the phone, it’s important to prepare yourself. Children may be very uncomfortable discussing your mortality. They may try to brush the topic aside or protest that they will take care of everything; however, tell them firmly but kindly that you have specific wishes that you want them to know.

Here are seven steps to telling your children about your funeral plans:

1. Start off by talking about your health.

If you are in good health, reassure your children that everything is fine and that you are just thinking ahead. Perhaps mention that you’d rather have this discussion now than when you are ill. On the other hand, if you are already fighting an illness, let them know that you are thinking about them. Explain that you wanted to do this because you love them.

2. Acknowledge that the conversation isn’t easy.

Let them know that you don’t take this conversation lightly. Share with them how you have thoughtfully considered the best way to share this information.

3. Share why you preplanned your funeral.

Highlight the reasons why you decided to preplan your funeral. Perhaps you wanted to ease some of the decision-making burdens they will feel when the time comes. Or, you wanted to have some sense of control over what your final disposition will be. It could also be that you want to save money and pay for the funeral costs over time rather than have the burden fall on your children.

4. Present your plan.

Make sure that you’ve written a fairly comprehensive plan before you share it with your family. Your children may have ideas that are different from yours, and you need to know which elements are non-negotiable so that you can stand your ground, if necessary. Don’t feel the need to expound on every small detail of the plan. Just make sure that they each know where to find it when the need arises.

5. Ask them if there is anything specific they’d like to contribute.

The funeral is for the living, after all. Check in with them to see if they have any creative ideas they would like to share. Thoughtfully consider how those ideas fit into your plan. You might want to look into resources such as the Talk of a Lifetime website to find ideas on what to discuss.

6. Answer their questions.

It’s natural for children to have questions. Listen to what’s on their hearts and minds, and be willing to change a few things on your funeral plan. If their responses seem negative, try to understand the fear that is motivating them, and address that fear directly.

7. Reassure them about your motivation.

As your conversation draws to a close, let your children know how much you love them. Reiterate that you have created a plan that you hope will bring them peace and comfort when you cannot physically be with them. If they disagree with each other on what their preferences are for your funeral, let them know you are just settling things for them ahead of time!

As you end the discussion, assure everyone that this is an ongoing conversation. If they have questions or concerns later, you are open to discussing this topic as much as they would like.

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing: none of us are promised tomorrow. The future is uncertain. We can make a difference in the lives of our loved ones by planning ahead and sharing those plans with them.

Even if they aren’t too wild about hearing that you’ve made funeral plans, in the end, they will be grateful that you are thinking ahead. On one of the most difficult days of their lives, the day they lose you, they can rest easier, knowing that all the big decisions have been made already.

Now that your funeral plans have been taken care of, consider taking the next step: getting all of your affairs in order. The more you can take care of now, the better it will be for your children in the future.

6 Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

By | Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

Why do we have emergency contacts? Ultimately, it’s because we will all need—at one point or another—a trustworthy person to represent us if we are incapable of doing so ourselves. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse, adult child, or trusted friend.

If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. You can take a little time now to make things easier in the future.

Conversation Tips

  • Set up a time to sit down with each emergency contact individually or bring them together at the same time.
  • Select a quiet, private place so that you can share freely.
  • Share your reasons for getting your affairs in order.
  • Tell them where you keep your important documents, and if you’ve completed a funeral plan, give them a copy.
  • Listen to any concerns they may have and answer questions.

The Six Things That Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies

Your emergency contacts need to know where to find important documents like your legal will, birth and marriage certificates, deeds, titles, insurance policies, powers of attorney documents, health care directives, funeral planning documents, and records of creditors as well as assets, including digital assets and passwords. If you don’t have a legal will, consider creating one, and be sure to regularly review your insurance policies and update your beneficiary information. Also, if needed, consider whether it is appropriate to give your emergency contacts power of attorney (medical and/or financial). This way they can handle your financial matters in case you are unable to do so. If you have questions, make an appointment with an attorney to review these legal matters.

2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts

Be sure to go over your will with your emergency contacts. This includes your wishes for the distribution of your assets, heirlooms, furniture, and keepsakes. To ensure that your wishes are honored, include as many of your assets in the will as possible. It is possible that you will appoint one of your emergency contacts as the executor of your will. Be sure to let your executor know the contents of your will so there are no surprises. If there are any belongings or assets that are not directly addressed in the will, be sure to cover your wishes with at least two of your emergency contacts, and put your wishes in writing. Additionally, you may also wish to set up trusts for your children or grandchildren with certain terms. Consider appointing one of your emergency contacts as trustee and discuss the terms of those trusts.

3. Your Wishes for Medical Care

Have you made your medical wishes known through an advance care directive? Have you given your emergency contacts medical power of attorney? These documents will protect you in case you are incapacitated and/or unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Be sure to talk to whomever you’ve appointed as your medical power of attorney about your wishes for medical treatment and life-saving measures.

4. Allergies and Blood Type

If you have allergies to foods or medications, your emergency contacts should know so that they can alert medical professionals if you are unable to do so. It is also a good idea to provide your emergency contacts with a record of your blood type in case of emergency.

5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets

Be sure that you have made provision for the care of your dependents should anything happen to you as the primary caregiver. The same is true for your pets. Let your emergency contacts know who you name as guardian and how you would like any insurance policy benefits, 401(k) funds, or other assets to be set up after your death to provide financially for your children. If you have a family member or friend who is willing to care for your pets, be sure to contact that person to let them know your wishes.

6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans

One way we can love and protect those we will leave behind is to put together a healing and meaningful funeral plan. The best way to do this is with a licensed funeral director at the funeral home of your choice. The funeral director can educate you about your options so you can make decisions that are good for you and your loved ones. Your local funeral director or advance planning specialist will ensure that your plan is practical, legal, within your budget, and ultimately, healthy for your grieving family. Be sure to give your emergency contacts a copy of your funeral plans and keep a copy on file at the funeral home of your choice.

IMPORTANT: After prearranging your funeral, it is very important to share your plans with your emergency contacts. If you don’t, you run the risk that your family will never learn about your plans and may do something you didn’t request. Not knowing your wishes, they may spend more money than you would have preferred. On top of that, if you’ve purchased burial insurance to pay for your funeral in advance and your emergency contacts don’t know about it, they may pay for the funeral out of their own pocket (when you have already paid for the funeral in full). If this happens, the amount you’ve already paid toward your funeral may go unclaimed. If the insurance company is unable to reach your family, the funds will go to the state’s unclaimed property office. While the state will continue to try to contact your family, this may take years and is subject to state laws. To avoid this possibility, it’s best to share your plans.

Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns

Depending on who your emergency contacts are, they may express some concern when you discuss your funeral plans. Some of the most common reactions include:

  1. Alarm. Any discussion about funerals can lead to feelings of alarm because the other person may wonder if you are okay, if something is wrong. Prepare to discuss your health situation with them. The most important thing is to be truthful.
  2. Denial. Funerals are a subject most people would rather avoid. So, children may say, “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of this later. Let’s not talk about it now.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that denial is not an effective strategy. The fact is, we are all going to die someday. The most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance.
  3. Disagreement. You may encounter some opposition to your plans if your emergency contacts are people who are very close to you. They may have ideas of their own on the topic. You will need to review your plans and determine if anything is up for debate or not.
  4. Confusion. Some of your loved ones may not understand or trust a prepaid funeral plan. Many of their fears can be addressed with a basic understanding of consumer protection laws, cost guarantees you may have received from the funeral home, and Medicaid asset protection. If they still are unsure about your plans, feel free to contact your local funeral director or an estate planning attorney who can answer their questions.

Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible

Lastly, put all of your important documents in a safe place. Make sure that your emergency contacts know where to find them. If you decide to keep your documents in a safe, share the combination with your emergency contacts. Some people may choose to use a safety deposit box. If you do so, coordinate with the bank to ensure that your emergency contacts have access to it, if needed. As an alternative, you might consider purchasing a watertight, fire-proof, easily transportable container. This way, your documents are safe and transportable if an unexpected event occurs.

For a complete list of information your emergency contacts need to know, download this helpful checklist: What Your Emergency Contacts Should Know. By gathering all these documents, you are taking the first steps to getting your affairs in order. Depending on how far along you are in this process, it may take some time to get all of this information organized. Be sure to consult trusted professionals, such as an estate planning attorney and your local funeral director, as needed. In the end, you will be glad you did!

9 Funeral Costs That Are Often Overlooked

By | Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Funeral costs can be a tricky thing to pin down if you are trying to plan ahead and protect your family by setting aside funds for a funeral in advance. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you may be overlooking a few items in your estimate. If you are planning a funeral or considering advance funeral planning, there are certain funeral costs that are actually often overlooked. With any funeral, there will be services that are not expressly provided by the funeral home. These third-party services go by the name of “cash advance items.”

To put it simply, a family will advance funds to the funeral home, who will then use those funds to pay for third-party services on the family’s behalf. Of course, the family will first approve these funeral costs. According to The Funeral Rule, set in place by the Federal Trade Commission, a funeral home can mark up the price for cash advance items, but they must disclose how much the service is marked up in their General Price List (GPL). As an additional protection for you, as the consumer, The Funeral Rule requires that a funeral home inform you if any refunds, rebates, or discounts applied to the cash advance items you requested.

That said, if you feel that the mark up is not commensurate to the task, you can always take care of arranging these third-party services on your own. However, keep in mind that in most cases, families don’t have the time or energy to take care of all the necessary details in a short amount of time. Instead, they rely on the funeral home to take care of these needs so that they can focus on spending more time with their loved ones.

Some of the most commonly overlooked funeral costs are:

1. Death Certificates

First of all, most people don’t realize how many death certificates they will need. Keep in mind, the state or municipality determines the cost of a death certificate, and it can change over time. As a general rule, purchase multiple copies – more than you think you will need. Copies of a death certificate are typically requested for life insurance policies, social security or veterans’ benefits, stocks, bonds, banks, or for any number of other documents or establishments.

2. Cemetery and Monument Charges

Whether you choose burial or cremation, you will likely need to consider cemetery costs in your plans. Cemetery charges would include the cost of a burial plot or a niche in a columbarium or mausoleum, plus any fees associated with opening and closing the grave. Also, consider the cost of a plaque or monument, along with a monument or plaque installment fee. The cemetery proprietor and monument or plaque company determine these fees because many funeral homes do not own a cemetery or monument company themselves.

3. Obituary/Death Notice

Many people are surprised at the cost associated with publishing an obituary or death notice in a newspaper, especially in a larger city. In most cases, the funeral home will publish an obituary to the funeral home’s website, but if you wish to post it elsewhere, the fee may be higher than you expect.

4. Church or Venue Charges

If you choose to have a funeral or memorial service outside the funeral home’s facility, the venue you choose may charge a fee to use the space. Be sure to set aside enough for the rental of a space for the funeral service, visitation, and reception after the funeral.

5. Specialty Music

If you elect to have special music, it is likely that an honorarium will be necessary. Additionally, the musician/group you choose to hire will determine the cost.

6. Officiant Honorarium

It is customary to offer an honorarium to the officiant or celebrant. In many cases, this will be a clergy person. A friend of the family may officiate for free if you agree to this arrangement in advance. However, be sure to communicate clearly with the clergy person who takes their time to prepare a personalized eulogy. Also, be aware that independent celebrants will set their own fee.

7. Flowers

Depending on the time of year, the cost of flowers will fluctuate. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to pin down an actual cost. Again, the funeral home is not likely to have its own florist (though some may). The funeral home can purchase floral arrangements on your behalf.

8. Pallbearers

In many cases, pallbearers are family members and friends. However, for some, it is difficult to find a full six to eight pallbearers. If you require assistance with pallbearers, the funeral home can help you hire the help needed. The pallbearers will expect payment for services rendered.

9. Police Escort

Finally, it is common practice to request a police escort for the funeral procession from the funeral home to the final resting place. With an escort, the funeral procession is able to move through traffic in an orderly way and without traffic delays. The cost associated with this service is determined by local rates.

While not all-inclusive, this list shares nine of the funeral costs that most people don’t usually consider. If you are interested in planning ahead, you can sit down with a funeral director or advance planning specialist. You may want to discuss getting an accurate funeral cost estimate that includes cash advance items. That way, you can carefully consider how much money to set aside for these expenses when the need arises. A funeral professional can help you determine an accurate amount based on local and customary rates.

 

11 Meaningful Ways to Honor Your Loved One’s Ashes

By | Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

If you are considering cremation, whether for yourself or for a loved one, it’s important to think about all the options available to you. As a term, “final disposition” refers to the body’s final resting place. It is important, no matter which option you choose, to decide on a permanent resting place for a person’s body. If traditional burial is chosen, the body is placed in a casket and respectfully interred in a cemetery. When cremation is selected, because there are many additional options, the decision isn’t quite so simple.

If you are looking for meaningful ways to honor the cremated remains of a loved one, this list may give you some ideas on where to start. Some are popular options; others are a little out of this world. Keep in mind that a loved one’s ashes can be divided so that some are used for one purpose and the rest for another. As you review this list, put careful consideration into your decision. Remember, it’s important to give family members and future generations a place to return to as they search for meaning. Many people desire to have a place to return to for a time of reflection.

1. Burial

Typically, a cremated body is buried in either a plot (grave) or in an urn garden. Cemeteries can often accommodate either request. If you purchase a plot, most cemeteries will allow you to bury the cremated remains of multiple people in one plot, if you desire. One thing to remember: if you do purchase a plot, you will likely need to purchase an urn vault as well. By placing the urn in an urn vault, you protect it from the pressure of the soil. Also, in the event that the urn begins to deteriorate, the vault will keep the soil around it in place, protecting the cremated body inside. Regarding urn gardens, some cemeteries have an area dedicated to the garden while others inter the remains in the landscaping, perhaps in a fountain or a bench.

2. Columbarium

An above-ground structure, the columbarium functions expressly as an interment location for cremated remains. It is filled with niches (wall spaces) in which urns are placed and interred. A bronze plaque with an epitaph will be placed on the exterior of the niche.

3. Scattering

Scattering is the act of taking a loved one’s ashes to meaningful places and scattering them. This could be by the ocean, in the mountains, specific countries or places. If you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a special place, make sure that you are following all the laws and regulations associated with that place. If you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it is a shock to realize that everything remaining of a loved one is literally gone.

Another option is a scattering garden. This is a designated, beautiful space often attached to a cemetery. The scattering garden is simple and environmentally friendly. If you select a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical marker so that family and friends feel more connected to the lost loved one.

A final option for scattering is an ossuary. An ossuary is a community resting place for cremated remains, often underground, with a memorial plaque nearby. It is often a less expensive option.

4. Keeping the Ashes at Home

More people are beginning to keep the cremated body of a loved one at home. Most often, the family selects an urn to house the ashes. This option is definitely viable, but something to consider if you decide to keep the ashes at home: make sure that you indicate in your will what should be done with the cremated body when you die. After your own death, whoever handles your estate may not know about your loved one’s urn and may dispose of it unknowingly. So, if you do keep a loved one’s cremated body in your home, make sure that you communicate a plan for their care after you are gone.

5. Cremation/Memorial Jewelry

Another popular option is to place a small amount of a loved one’s ashes in cremation jewelry. Often cremation jewelry design includes a small interior space (like a locket) where the ashes are placed. You can choose from various styles, metals, and types (e.g. necklaces, rings, pendants, etc.).

6. Planting Ashes

It is now possible to plant a loved one’s ashes so that a memorial tree will grow. The tree does not actually grow because of the cremated body. Instead, you will place a special, biodegradable urn in the ground. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together. There is a separate section underneath for the ashes. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down the ashes, and everything mingles together. There are a number of companies that specialize in this practice, if you are interested.

7. Under the Sea

There are now options available at sea. One option is to have a special urn placed in an underwater mausoleum (similar to a columbarium). Another option is to mix the cremated body with concrete to create an artificial coral reef. These artificial coral reefs assist in the repair and conservation of natural coral reefs by having a positive impact on the ocean’s habitat. As a memorial to your loved one, consider affixing a plaque to the artificial reef. Also, in many cases, it’s possible to be present as the reef is placed in the ocean.

8. Launched into Space

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

9. Stained Glass or Hand-Blown Glass Keepsakes

Another possibility is to have the ashes of a loved one infused with glass to create beautiful pendants, paperweights, orbs, and other glassware. During the creation process, layers of hot glass encase the ashes. The process fuses the two (glass and ashes) together permanently. As with memorial jewelry, this option requires only a small portion of the cremated body.

10. Pressed into a Diamond

A growing trend is to forge a cremated body into diamonds, which are made of crystallized carbon. This is possible because the second most abundant element in the human body is carbon. After the diamond-making process is complete, the family can create memorial jewelry or other items of significance to remember someone loved.

11. Hour Glass

Essentially, this is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than purchasing an urn, you can purchase an hour glass for a loved one’s ashes. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and you can mix in colored sand if you want. They also have the added benefit that you can choose to place a specified amount of ashes in the hour glass and then place the remainder somewhere else, such as in an urn or scattering garden.

As you can see, there are many ways to honor the cremated body of someone dearly loved. The most important thing now is to determine which will be the most meaningful for you and your family. And keep in mind – these are only some of the options. There may be something else out there just right for you.