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Person sitting at desk in front of a laptop, doing a Google search

Digital Estate Planning: Understanding Google’s Inactive Account Manager

By Educational, Estate Planning

With the introduction of the internet, estate planning became a smidge more complicated than it used to be. Why? Because now we must take our digital (online) estate into account when creating an estate plan. However, there are ways to keep it simple! Today, let’s talk about Google accounts, the Inactive Account Manager, and how you can set up your Google accounts to be accessible when the unexpected happens.

Person sitting at desk in front of a laptop, doing a Google search

What is the Inactive Account Manager?

The Inactive Account Manager allows you to give someone else access to your Google accounts if you become inactive. Generally speaking, if a Google account isn’t used for two years, then Google considers it inactive. At that time, Google will begin emailing you, and if there’s no response after a period of time, they will automatically delete your accounts.

However, if you set up “Trusted Contact(s)” (up to 10 people) through the Inactive Account Manager, they will get emails about your inactive account, have access to it, and can save any files, photos, videos, etc. that would otherwise be lost. During the set-up process, you will set permissions on what type of information each Trusted Contact can access.

What qualifies as a Google account?

Google is a big company, responsible for many types of accounts you may be familiar with. For example, do you have a Gmail email address? Do you have a YouTube account? Google Photos? Google Drive? There’s also Google Meet, Google Maps, or the Google Play Store. And this isn’t even the full list. So, if you use Google products, anything you have saved could be deleted should you become inactive.

Man at home at his desk working on the computer, hand on mouse

What does Google consider “inactivity”?

There are many actions you can take to let Google know that you are still alive and active. These include:

  • Reading or sending an email
  • Using Google Drive
  • Downloading an app
  • Sharing a photo or downloading from Google Photos
  • Watching a YouTube video
  • Searching on Google
  • Signing in to a Google account

As long as you complete an action like one of these, Google will consider you active. And your activity is tracked by account – not device. So, if you are active on your laptop one day and your phone the next, as long as both are signed into your Google account, it will be recorded as activity.

However, if you have more than one Google account, you’ll need to be active in each one individually to avoid inactivity alerts.

What if I’m inactive but not deceased?

Before emailing your Trusted Contact, Google will first attempt to contact you several times. If you are still alive and well, you can access your accounts to create some activity. Doing so will prevent any emails from being sent to your Trusted Contact(s). However, if there’s no response from you, Google will email your Trusted Contact(s).

Man and wife at kitchen table with laptop in front of them

What type of notification will my Trusted Contact(s) receive?

When you set up your Inactive Account Manager, you will be asked when you want Trusted Contact(s) to be notified. Google defaults to two years of inactivity, but you can choose a shorter time period, if you wish.

When that time period passes, your Trusted Contact(s) will receive an email notification. This email will contain a Subject Line and personal message written by you (during the set-up phase) as well as a footer explaining that Google is sending the email on your behalf. The email will also include a list of data that the Trusted Contact has access to view.

When your Trusted Contact(s) logs into your account, their identity will be verified before they are given access. And of course, let whomever you choose know that you have selected them as your Trusted Contact(s). This way, the email won’t be confusing to them or feel out of the blue.

Mature woman in blue shirt sitting on couch, working on laptop and writing down notes

What happens if I don’t set up an Inactive Account Manager?

First, Google will attempt to reach you by sending multiple emails to your Gmail address and to any recovery email you added when the account was created. If there’s no response from you, your Google accounts will be deleted, and any files will be lost. If that’s your preference, then there’s no need to set up an Inactive Account Manager.

However, if you’d like your family to have time to download any files, photos, or videos before they are deleted, then you might consider setting up an Inactive Account Manager. Or, on the flip side, if your family would like access to your files (even if you don’t care), it can be a big hassle for them to try to request access after your death. By being proactive about giving them access, you save a lot of time and headaches.

Why does Google delete old accounts?

It’s mostly for security reasons. Older accounts are more likely to become compromised, making them susceptible to spam or malicious intent. To prevent misuse, Google monitors activity and deletes inactive accounts.

Man in button-down shirt holding a tablet, focus on tablet

How do I set up an Inactive Account Manager?

When you create a Google account, the Inactive Account Manager function is dormant. You must set it up manually. This way you have control over who accesses your data if you become incapacitated or pass away.

To set up your Google Inactive Account Manager, get on one of your electronic devices (phone, tablet, laptop) and click Google will prompt you to sign in (if you aren’t already) and will walk you through the set-up process.

During the set-up process, you can expect to:

  • Choose an inactive period (instead of Google’s default of two years, you can choose a shorter timeframe to be contacted about inactivity)
  • Add relevant details, like your phone number, email address, and recovery email address
  • Add the name, email address, and phone number of your Trusted Contacts (up to 10 people; they do not have to have a Google email address)
  • Select which services each Trusted Contact has access to (you control what they can see)
  • Write out your custom auto-reply message (your Trusted Contacts will receive this message if your account becomes inactive)
  • Review and confirm your preferences

In the future, if you decide you’d no longer like to use the Inactive Account Manager and would prefer that Google just delete your account, you can go to the Inactive Account Manager page again and select “Turn off my plan” under the “Manage your plan” section. There’s also an “Edit” section if you want to update your auto-reply email or change your Trusted Contacts.

Person sitting at table at home with laptop and cup of coffee

I’ve set up my Inactive Account Manager – what’s next?

Now, as with any part of your estate plan, it’s time to write down what you’ve done and update things when needed. Circumstances and relationships are constantly changing, so whether it’s your legal will, your beneficiaries, or your Inactive Account Manager, visit your selections every few years to make sure you still agree with your previous choices.

Additional Estate Planning Resources

In addition to looking after your Google accounts, you most likely have other online accounts that should be considered when setting up an estate plan. To help you through the process, here are a few additional resources you may find beneficial.

How Preplanning Eases Emotional, Financial & Legal Burdens After a Death

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

After a death, there are three main types of burdens left behind for surviving family members to deal with: emotional, financial, and legal. For those who have planned a loved one’s funeral or closed out an estate, you know how complicated things can get. However, with a little preplanning, you can create a plan for both your funeral and estate, ensuring that everything goes much smoother for those left behind.

Let’s talk about each of the three burdens and how advance planning can ease the stress family members may feel after a death.

Young Asian couple who are experiencing emotional stress, sitting on the couch at home

1. Emotional

While nothing will stop family and friends from feeling grief after the death of a loved one, advance planning can decrease emotional stress. By recording your funeral wishes in writing and putting together a legal will, you give your family a roadmap to your specific wants and desires. In other words, they won’t have to guess what you want and then stress over whether they made the right choices.

Without a clear plan, families may overspend on a funeral or argue with each other over the best way to plan the service or distribute the estate. Both of these situations may increase emotional tension and create unfavorable experiences for everyone. To reduce the possibility of these emotional stressors, take time to put your preferences in writing, so no one can dispute your wishes.

To learn more about the benefits of planning ahead for your funeral wishes, check out these helpful articles:

What is Advance Funeral Planning?
5 Emotional Benefits to Funeral Preplanning
What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment
How to Get Started with Funeral Preplanning
10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

Person putting coin in a piggy bank, preplanning and saving up for future financial needs

2. Financial

Another big burden after a death is financial. For those who do not preplan or pre-pay for their burial or cremation plans, the emotional and financial burden will fall on surviving family members. And for many families, the cost of a funeral can be heavy, especially if they don’t have extra funds readily available.

However, you can remove this burden from your family by preparing in advance. For your funeral plans, you can either set aside funds in your bank accounts to be used when needed or you can set up a prepaid funeral insurance policy. Many people also choose to use a life insurance policy to pay for a funeral. However, keep in mind, it could be 6-8 weeks before the money is available. This means your family will still need to come up with the funds on their own and be reimbursed by the insurance company later.

To learn about prepaying for a funeral or setting aside funds, check out these resources:

6 Ways You Can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding
3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About
Understanding Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policies
The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses
10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

Shaking hands with an attorney

3. Legal

The final burden relates to legal matters, particularly surrounding a lost loved one’s estate. Some estates are simple while others are very complicated. But no matter which one is you, having a plan in place will only make things easier for your successors. Perhaps the most important document is a legal will, which outlines how you want your estate distributed. Without this document, it falls to the state to decide what happens to your property. If that happens, your property and assets may not go to the people you want.

So, to prevent future headaches and heartaches for your loved ones, talk with an estate planning attorney. With a professional by your side, you can put together a comprehensive plan that protects your assets and ensures that everything goes to the right people.

To learn more about estate planning and how to get your affairs in order, read the following articles:

How to Make an Estate Planning Checklist
Getting Your Affairs in Order
The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents
Estate Planning for the Blended Family
4 Reasons to Keep Your Beneficiaries Up to Date

Mature African American man makes phone call from his home; prepping for preplanning

What’s Next?

The death of a loved one brings many different challenges with it. By preplanning in a few key areas, you can reduce the emotional, financial, and legal burden your family may feel. And remember – you won’t be on your own during this process.

For any funeral needs, choose a trusted funeral home in your area. The funeral staff will help you understand what details to plan and how to pre-pay (if you wish). And for estate planning, always consult an attorney licensed in your state. They can ensure that all the right documents are created to your specifications and meet state requirements.

With your funeral and estate plans in place, your family will be set up for success and will have an easier time after your passing.

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

young woman sitting on a bench, smiling with her elderly parents

5 Reasons to Discuss Your Funeral Wishes with Your Family

By Plan Ahead

Planning a funeral after someone has already died can leave family members with many questions and add stress to an already difficult time. But while thinking about your own death can be uncomfortable, planning ahead for your funeral wishes can lift a huge burden off your family’s shoulders.

As you begin to put your wishes down in writing and talk to your funeral director, don’t forget to discuss your wishes for your funeral with your family. While starting the conversation about this sensitive topic may be difficult, the discussion will benefit everyone. Here are 5 reasons you should talk about your funeral wishes with your family:

1. Make Your Wishes Known

young woman sitting on a bench, smiling with her elderly parents

Whether you choose to talk to your family when you start planning or after you already have something on file, they need to know that you’ve thought about what you want for your funeral.

If your family is unaware of your wishes, they may not know which decisions to make. That can lead to emotional overspending, where a family spends more because they want to get “only the best” for their loved one. When you talk to your family about your wishes, they can make more confident decisions during the planning process.

By sharing your wishes with them, you ensure that you’re all on the same page. Your family will know exactly what you want, and you’ll know that your wishes will be carried out.

2. Get Another Opinion

elderly african american couple smiling and hugging outside

In some cases, you may not know exactly what you want. Maybe you know you prefer burial but don’t know where you’d want a service to be held. Or maybe you just need a second opinion from someone you trust.

When answering tough questions like these, discussing your wishes with your family members can be helpful! Your family members are often the people who know you the best, and their suggestions could help you make decisions. Plus, by talking with them as you create your plan, they’ll better understand the reasoning behind your wishes.

However, if you think your family members might object to some of your wishes or influence you to make decisions you don’t want, don’t feel pressured to discuss your wishes with them before you have everything set! You can always wait and let them know after your wishes are on file.

3. Prepare Your Family

older couple playing with their young grandson outside

Whether you include your family in the planning process or not, discussing your wishes with them will help them understand what you want and make sure they aren’t surprised by your wishes, like if you choose to donate your body to science or have an outdoor service instead of one at your church.

In addition, as you discuss your wishes with your family, you’ll need to let them know where your funeral wishes are on file. What funeral home did you plan with? Who is the funeral director you talked to? Where are the important documents they’ll need, like your birth certificate, will, or other estate planning documents?

By letting your family know about your wishes, they’ll be ready to answer questions at the arrangement conference. Plus, they’ll know where to go and who to talk to!

4. Avoid Disagreements

large family with grandparents celebrating a birthday

After a loved one dies, emotions can run high. Family members are grieving, and they often have different ideas about what should be done to honor that special person’s life. This difference of opinion can lead to heated disagreements when there are no clear answers about what the deceased wanted.

When you clearly discuss your wishes with your family, you can eliminate confusion and give your family a guide to your wishes. And since what you verbally tell your family could be forgotten or misremembered, it’s important to also record your wishes and put them on file with your chosen funeral home.

5. Give Everyone Peace of Mind

young man hugging elderly mother

One of the best parts of sharing your wishes with your family is the peace of mind that everyone gains. When you tell your family you have a plan in place, you lift the burden of planning a funeral off of their shoulders and eliminate the unknowns.

And if you choose to prepay for your funeral, you also remove the financial burden for your family. They’ll know that everything is taken care of; they won’t have to find a way to pay for the funeral or wait for life insurance.

By answering the many questions that arise while funeral planning, you give your family one less thing to worry about. Plus, you’ll gain peace of mind, knowing that your family is taken care of and your wishes will be followed.

As you talk to your family about your funeral wishes, give them time to process and think through what you’ve shared. Because we often avoid talking about death, your family members may react in different ways. Be patient and know that your preparation will make things easier for everyone.

More Information About Planning Ahead

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

5 Emotional Benefits to Funeral Preplanning

How to Get Started With Funeral Preplanning

6 Ways You Can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

group of people of mixed ages, races, and gender, smiling with a positive mindset

Living Better: How Positive Thinking Can Improve Your Life

By Estate Planning, Living Well, Plan Ahead

As we get older, we tend to reflect on our lives and examine how we’ve lived. Did we live a meaningful life? Have we left behind a legacy that we’re proud of? While everyone has a different idea of what a “meaningful” or “good” life looks like, making small, positive changes, like creating a positive mindset, can help you feel more fulfilled and healthier.

group of people of mixed ages, races, and gender, smiling with a positive mindset

One way to make changes and create a positive mindset is to build a habit of positive thinking! Studies suggest that positive thinking can significantly improve physical and mental health. It’s not always easy to view the glass as half full, but with practice and persistence, you can cultivate a state of mind that will make you more appreciative of the good in life and more accepting of the bad.

Here are a few ways to build a positive mindset and improve your life!

Practice Contentment

Older happy couple sitting in a green field of dandelions

What does it mean to be happy? Most people don’t find happiness in a stable job, a large paycheck, or even fulfilling their biggest goals. Instead, the most significant factor that influences true happiness is contentment, being satisfied with your current situation.

Maybe you don’t have as much in your retirement savings as you would like. Maybe you never got to work at your dream job. Or maybe you’re experiencing more physical pain as you age. All of these things can be genuinely frustrating, but choosing acceptance and contentment can help you build a more positive perspective.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have or dwelling on “If only” or “I wish” statements, try to find ways to be content with where you are. Adversity and hardship are a natural part of life, and learning to accept those negative experiences can help improve your health and create a more meaningful, enjoyable life.

Create a Habit of Gratitude

Young woman looking out a window and writing in a gratitude journal

Contentment is the ability to deal with life’s negative events, and gratitude is the flip side of that: the ability to focus on and cherish positive events. Studies suggest that practicing gratitude can reduce stress, lessen anxiety, and improve overall health, thereby increasing quality of life.

But often, it’s easier to focus on the negative aspects of life instead of the positive aspects, especially during hard times or when you’re grieving. Thanks to this negativity bias, practicing gratitude can be a struggle. However, if you build up a habit of gratitude by finding something to be thankful for every day, you can find positivity on even the most challenging day.

How can you build a habit of gratitude? One way is to spend a few minutes each day writing in a gratitude journal. You could also set aside time to say what you’re grateful for, like when you’re doing the dishes or driving to work. Whether you have big or small things that you’re thankful for, taking a few minutes to appreciate them can help you create a positive mindset.

Choose Your Thoughts Wisely

Young african american man thinking with his eyes closed and a smile on his face

What you think has great power. The thoughts you focus on affect your words, actions, and overall mindset. While we can’t always choose the thoughts that enter our minds, we can control what we do with those thoughts. When a negative thought about your appearance, personality, or past enters your mind, do you internalize it and dwell on it? Or do you dismiss it, shift your focus to positive attributes, or take time to remind yourself of what’s important?

In the same way, you can shift your inner dialogue to focus on positivity. When you catch yourself being overly critical of yourself or others, pause and evaluate your thoughts. Is your inner voice being helpful or just judgemental? Is there something more beneficial you can think about? The answer is usually yes!

This doesn’t mean that you try to suffocate negative thoughts and emotions. Negative feelings are a natural part of life, and letting yourself experience them is essential. But as you build a positive mindset, you can learn to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy thoughts.

Of course, having a positive mindset is not the only way to a better quality of life. Eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding destructive habits are also important for your well-being. But by training your brain to think positively, you can get so much more out of life – and enjoy it more, too!

Close up view of a veteran's arm in uniform with American flag badge and flag in the background

Everything You Need to Know About Government-Issued Veteran Headstones

By Plan Ahead, Veterans

Whether you’re planning a funeral for a loved one who was a veteran or planning ahead for your own funeral, it’s important to learn about the burial benefits available to eligible veterans. One benefit that many veterans qualify for is a government-issued headstone, grave marker, or niche marker.

Permanent memorials, like headstones and markers, play an essential role in the grieving process and give loved ones a place to remember and honor the deceased. Depending on the level of personalization and the size of the memorial, the costs of a headstone can add up, which makes this veteran benefit worth exploring.

Veterans cemetery with government-issued headstone

But who is eligible for a headstone, and what types of headstones and markers does the government provide? Let’s look at the basics of veteran headstones!

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible for a government-issued headstone or marker, veterans or active-duty service members must meet specific requirements. Veterans or service members who did not receive a dishonorable discharge or who died on active duty may be eligible to receive a government-issued headstone if they either died on or after November 1, 1990 or are buried in an unmarked grave. National Guard members and Reservists may also be eligible but have different requirements.

Close up view of a veteran's arm in uniform with American flag badge and flag in the background

The government can provide memorial headstones or markers for veterans or active-duty service members “whose remains are not recovered or identified, are buried at sea, donated to science or whose cremated remains have been scattered” (National Cemetery Administration). Additionally, a veteran’s spouse or dependent children may be eligible for a government-issued headstone or marker.

If a veteran, active duty service member, or military spouse was buried in a private cemetery and already has a privately purchased headstone, the VA may provide a medallion. However, veterans must meet specific requirements, and a local cemetery official may need to approve the addition of a medallion.

A veteran does not need to be buried in a veterans’ cemetery to be eligible for a government-issued headstone or marker. Find the complete list of eligibility requirements on the VA’s website here.

Types of Headstones and Markers

Folded American flag on a table

The VA offers a variety of headstones, grave markers, and medallions for eligible veterans and active-duty service members. If you choose one of these government-issued options, remember that there are specific guidelines about cleaning government-furnished headstones and markers. Also, inscriptions and personalization options are more limited (see Inscriptions section below).

Additionally, check with your chosen cemetery to see if they have specific requirements for headstones and markers before submitting your request. If your chosen cemetery is a veterans cemetery, they may also place the order on your behalf.

Upright Granite or Marble Headstone

Often used at national veterans cemeteries, upright government-issued headstones are 13″ wide and 4″ thick. In private cemeteries, lithichrome, a type of stone paint, may be used to darken the lettering on the headstone. However, national cemeteries typically do not use lithichrome so the headstones look consistent as they age and weather.

Flat Granite or Marble Grave Marker

These stone grave markers weigh about 130 pounds and are 24″ x 12″. The government typically doesn’t use lithichrome on these markers, and the marker’s color may vary depending on the type of stone chosen.

Flat Bronze Grave Marker

Much like the granite and marble grave markers, the bronze grave marker measures 24″ x 12″. A base for the marker isn’t included, but bolts, nuts, and washers will be provided.

Bronze Niche Marker

For those who choose cremation and display their urn in a niche, the VA may provide a bronze niche marker. The niche marker will be 8.5″ x 5.5″, and mounting bolts and washers are supplied.


As mentioned above, the VA also offers medallions for eligible veterans with a privately-purchased headstone. There are two types of medallions: bronze or Medal of Honor. Each option has different size options to choose from and can be affixed to a headstone.

Read more details about government-issued headstones, markers, and medallions on this page.

Inscriptions on Government-Issued Headstones and Markers

government-issued headstone with flowers

When requesting a government-issued headstone or marker, remember that any inscriptions must adhere to the VA’s guidelines. The mandatory inscription will include the veteran’s legal name, years of birth and death, and branch of service. If the veteran is buried in a state or national veterans cemetery, the headstone will have the section and grave number.

Other than those mandatory items, you can add other inscriptions, like nicknames, unit designations, highest rank attained, awards, or information about war service. You can also request specific “emblems of belief.” However, these additions must be provided by the veteran’s next of kin or an authorized representative and approved by the VA. For more details on accepted inscriptions and how to request them, please visit the National Cemetery Administration Inscriptions page.

As you consider your options for a veteran’s headstone, monument, or marker, think about what’s most important to you. There are many government-issued choices, but you can always explore other memorial options if you would rather have something unique and highly personalized.

For other questions about government-issued headstones and markers, please see the VA’s FAQ page.

Learn More About Veterans’ Burial Benefits

Woman with a gray fuzzy sweater holding a small green bird and smiling

Protect Your Pet: 4 Steps to Create an Estate Plan for Your Pet

By Estate Planning, Pets

When creating an estate plan, most people think about caring for their families after they die. But what about your pets? How do you know that your pet will continue to be cared for?

There are plenty of crazy stories about the rich setting aside millions for their pets, but you don’t have to be a millionaire to make sure your pet is cared for after your death. Follow these 4 steps to create a plan to protect your pet!

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

1. Choose a Caretaker

Woman with a gray fuzzy sweater holding a small green bird and smiling

Who do you want to care for your pet when you’re gone? Picking a caretaker is an important first step.

Do you have a responsible friend or family member who gets along well with your pet? While you look for a possible caretaker, talk to the people you trust to see if they would be interested. Some people may have other pets, small children, or demanding jobs that could make them unwilling or unable to take on the extra responsibility.

If you don’t know anyone who can care for your pet, there are other options. Pet legacy programs around the world work to connect pets with loving families after they lose their owners. You could also leave your pet with a local no-kill animal sanctuary or rescue organization that will find it a new home.

2. Add Your Pet to Your Estate Plan

Small fluffy brown dog running in green grass

Once you’ve chosen a caretaker, you have several options for ensuring your pet goes to them. The most common ways to leave your pet to your chosen caretaker are with a non-legal arrangement, a clause in your will, a trust, or a pet power of attorney. Before deciding, consider whether there may be a conflict about your pet’s care among your family or any extra provisions you want to make, like setting aside money for your pet’s care (see point #4).

As you consider the best option for you and your pet, talk to your estate planning attorney. They can provide you with extra information regarding your state’s specific regulations and help you set up a plan that fits your needs.

3. Share Your Pet’s History

Vet holding a black and white bunny

Even if your caretaker is someone you know, they’ll need extra information about your pet’s history. To help with that, you can create a document with the necessary information. Consider adding details about your pet’s:

  • Vaccination history
  • Current and past medications
  • Medical issues (past and present)
  • Adoption papers
  • Any American Kennel Club or other breed registration information
  • Special dietary needs

Make sure to keep the document up-to-date when things change with your pet.

4. Set Aside Funds

Older woman petting a peaceful cat on her lap

Because pets are legally considered property, you can’t leave them money in your will. However, you can set aside funds to help pay for their food, care, and medical expenses as they transition to their new caretaker. One of the most common ways to do this is by setting up a pet trust.

If you choose to set aside funds for your pet’s care, consider the typical cost of their food, medical expenses, etc. By providing these funds for your chosen caregiver, you can lighten the burden of caring for your pet and ensure that your pet is cared for in the way you want.

While thinking about what will happen to your pet after you’re gone can be sad, remember that planning ahead can make the transition easier for them. Once you make decisions about your pet’s future, trust yourself and your choices. You know your pet best, and once you have an estate plan for your pet in place, you can rest easy knowing that they’ll be well cared for.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

Do You Know About These 8 Cemetery Expenses?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

When you buy a car or plan a vacation or throw a 50th anniversary party, you take time to consider your options and review your budget. If you’re planning to purchase a cemetery burial space – whether now or in the future – it’s always a good idea to follow the same practice. While purchasing a plot or niche may seem straightforward, there are some expenses that you may not know about. Today, let’s talk about 8 cemetery expenses to consider as you financially prepare to purchase a burial space in your chosen cemetery.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

1. Burial Permit

By law, there are certain rules and regulations around the proper care and disposal of a human body. Before a person can be buried, the funeral home must apply for and obtain a burial permit. Without this document, burial cannot take place, so it’s an important step in the process. Your funeral director will apply for the permit on your behalf, so there’s nothing you will need to do. However, the burial permit does come with a fee. The amount will vary from state to state, so if you’d like to know the cost in your state, make sure to ask your funeral director.

Woman wearing black dress holding gray granite urn close in her arms

2. Casket or Urn

This next one is a bit self-explanatory. If you have opted for full-body burial, you will need to purchase a casket. There are many different types available in a variety of price ranges, so you should find something that works for your specific needs. If you’ve opted for cremation, you can either place the cremated remains in a niche or bury them in a plot. Either way, you will need an urn to house the ashes. Speak with a funeral director to get a good sense of the cost of urns and caskets in your area. They can explain the pros and cons of the different materials and types.

Cemetery worker overseeing arrival of an outer burial container

3. Outer Burial Container

When a casket or an urn is buried, it is placed in an outer burial container. This container (often made of concrete) prevents the ground from shifting too much as the dirt around the grave settles. There are long-term benefits to preventing the ground from settling unevenly. For example, the cemetery grounds remain level (fewer tripping hazards), routine maintenance is easier and less expensive, and headstones are less likely to shift and tip over time. Unless it’s a “green” cemetery, most burial grounds require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

There are two types of outer burial containers: grave liners and burial vaults. To learn more about them, read “Grave Liners & Burials Vaults: What’s the Difference?

Wall of cremation niches with flowers

4. Plot or Niche

And here’s another obvious expense – the plot or niche itself. The offerings at every cemetery will be a bit different, and costs will vary depending on where you live. Additionally, certain sections of the cemetery may come with a higher price tag. It’s also likely that if you want a plot close to a water feature, bench, or something similar, the cost may go up. The best way to nail down what a plot or niche costs is to speak with cemeteries that service your area. Then, with the information you’ve gathered, you can select the cemetery and plot option that best fit your specific needs.

Opening of a grave at a cemetery

5. Opening & Closing of the Grave

If you have chosen casket or urn burial for your final disposition, then you will also need to consider the cost of opening and closing the grave. But what does it mean to open and close the grave? This fee includes digging the grave itself, preparing the ground around the site for the graveside service, back-filling the ground once services are complete, and then landscaping the area to restore and preserve the beauty of the burial space. The cemetery employs maintenance and grounds staff to ensure that this necessary function is done well and correctly for each family.

Well-maintained headstones and graves in a cemetery

6. Headstone or Grave Marker

There’s one thing you will always find at any final resting place – a headstone or grave marker. Grave markers come in a variety of types, so there are quite a few options to consider. Do you want a more traditional headstone made of granite? Or do you prefer a flat, bronze marker? Do you need a simple plaque for a cremation niche? Would you like to add custom details to the grave marker, like a gravestone recipe or an inscription or image? The cemetery or funeral home can direct you to a reputable monument company, who will work with you to create a marker that commemorates a loved one’s life for generations to come.

Close-up of red rose resting on a grave marker

7. Headstone Installation

Related to the grave marker, there may be an additional expense to properly install the headstone once it’s complete. When you are speaking with cemetery personnel, make sure to ask if they have an installation fee and if it varies depending on the type of grave marker. For example, it may cost less to install a single grave marker than to install one that includes multiple names. Having this information will help you make decisions regarding what type of headstone you want to commission for a loved one’s grave.

Person pulling weeds around a grave

8. Perpetual Care

One final cemetery expense to consider is perpetual care. But what is perpetual care? Basically, this fee is paid into the cemetery maintenance fund. The fund is then used for groundwork, security, and other tasks like mowing, weeding, or maintaining pathways and signage. In this way, the grave is looked after and cared for regularly for years to come. Sometimes the service includes headstone maintenance, but often, it does not. Generally, perpetual care is a one-time fee that is 5-15% of the burial plot’s price. However, it can vary, so make sure to ask the cemetery for more specifics.

Outdoor mausoleum wall with memorial flowers

What Next?

There’s a lot of information out there about average costs for burial, but it’s best not to rely too much on generalities. It’s true that if you live in Arkansas, your burial costs are going to be lower than if you live in California. However, within California, burial in one area of the state may cost less than another. The best way to figure out average burial costs in your area is to speak with a few cemeteries where you live. That way, you can get a good sense of the average.

Before we go, it’s worth noting that you may want to purchase a cemetery plot early. Planning ahead for funeral and cemetery wishes is an easy process and can save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run. By taking time now to speak with a funeral home and a cemetery, you can remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders and ensure that everything meets your wishes and stays within your budget. You can reach out to a trusted funeral home to learn more about the benefits of planning for funeral wishes in advance.

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting on couch at home, reviewing documents together

5 Ways to Save Money When Funeral Planning

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools No Comments

Across all businesses and industries, prices are going up. Gas prices, groceries, housing, transportation, manufacturing, and yes, even funeral costs. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2021, the average cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848 while the average cost of a funeral with cremation was around $6,971. In the coming years, these numbers will continue to increase, so the question is…is there a way to save money on a funeral?

Perhaps the most effective way to save money is to plan ahead for your funeral wishes. This is called “advance funeral planning” or “preplanning.” But before we talk about why preplanning is the best option, let’s discuss a few other avenues to consider when trying to save money on funeral expenses.

1. Choose a Preferred Funeral Home Partner

Two men in suits shaking hands

Funeral services and merchandise prices vary greatly even within the same general vicinity. Every funeral home is required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule to present you with a complete price list upon request that is yours to keep. They must also give you price information over the phone if you ask for it. Do a little investigating before deciding on your funeral home of choice to find the right fit for you.

Some funeral homes offer package pricing, but make sure you understand what’s included in the package and what’s not. Also, consider the quality of the facilities and the staff when making a decision. The adage “You get what you pay for” is very true when choosing a funeral provider. Sometimes, spending a little more to receive better service, quality products, and attentive staff may be worth it.

2. Look into Veterans’ Burial Benefits

Next of kin receiving a folded flag during a veteran funeral

If you or your spouse is a veteran, you can save money on a funeral by applying for veterans’ burial benefits. If you meet the VA’s requirements, you (and your spouse) may be eligible to receive a free burial space at a state or national cemetery, a burial vault or grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, and a government-furnished headstone. These benefits can save you thousands of dollars in burial costs. To learn more, you can speak with a local funeral director or go directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs and speak with a Veteran Services Officer. You can also learn more by reading Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ.

3. Select Options that Fit into Your Budget

Dark wood casket with funeral spray resting on top

When you’re planning a funeral or memorial service, the funeral director is there to discuss your options and guide you through the planning process. But every decision is up to you. And if you are concerned about the cost, let your funeral director know. They will work closely with you to offer affordable options that meet your needs and fit your budget.

In general, cremation may save you the cost of a casket, full burial space, opening and closing of the grave, and a vault. However, you may still opt for a lower-cost cremation niche or burial in a cremation garden so that loved ones have a permanent memorial to visit after the death.

Another option that can offer some savings is a natural (or green) burial. Green burial options are not only easier on the environment, but they can also be easier on your wallet. Generally, green burial involves a biodegradable casket made of wood, bamboo, or wicker, no burial vault, and minimal or no embalming. However, green burial is not available everywhere, so ask your funeral director about the availability in your area.

Silver urn at a memorial service, man lightly touching the lid in remembrance

Keep in Mind, Sometimes Cutting Corners May Not Pay Off

Many families think that opting for a cremation with no service is their best option for saving money. It’s true that a direct cremation is probably the least expensive option, but you should also consider the emotional cost of not having a funeral or memorial service.

Nationally respected grief expert Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt believes that the funeral or memorial service is an essential part of the healing process. The funeral is a rite of passage, like a graduation or wedding ceremony. Skipping a loved one’s funeral or memorial ceremony can leave the bereaved feeling isolated and frustrated by unexpressed grief. If you are leaning toward cremation, be sure to allow an opportunity for friends and family to gather together. The experience will be a meaningful time of reflection and mutual support.

To learn more, take a moment to read Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony.

4. Do Some Things Yourself

Funeral program with red rose resting on top of it

There may be certain aspects of the funeral arrangements that you can do yourself or ask your social network to help you with.

For example, you may ask family members to bring potluck dishes to save on the cost of a caterer. If you want a tribute video, you may know someone who is good with video editing who can assist you. You could design and print your own programs. And if you want, you can even purchase a casket or urn online. Remember, anything you do on your own must be coordinated with the funeral home to ensure the best possible experience.

While you may want to do some things yourself, the funeral home staff is there to alleviate any or all of these burdens for you. Remember, your time is valuable, too.

5. Plan Ahead for Your Funeral Wishes

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting on couch at home, reviewing documents together

Finally, the best thing you can do to save money on funeral expenses is to plan ahead. If you are dealing with a death right now, this advice comes a little too late, but keep it in mind for the future. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral provider, ask to speak with a prearrangement specialist. Most funeral homes offer free advance funeral planning services, so take advantage of this opportunity to understand your options.

When planning ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. On top of that, you can sign up for a prepaid funeral insurance policy, which can grow over the years and cover the cost of inflation.

Mature husband and wife sitting at home reviewing funeral options with funeral director

To learn more about advance funeral planning and prepaid funeral insurance policies, check out these resources:

As you can see, there are several different ways to save when planning a funeral. If you are planning a funeral or have a loved one who may pass away soon, be open with your funeral director about your financial situation. The vast majority of funeral directors deeply care about your needs and situation and will help you identify the options that work best for you. And if you aren’t currently planning a funeral, consider doing a little advance preparation. By doing so, you not only save money, but you also protect your family from future stress and worry.

Mature woman sitting down with female doctor, reviewing paperwork together

Developing Your Advance Care Directive

By Educational, Estate Planning, Planning Tools

Have you recorded your preferences for medical care through an Advance Care Directive? Most people remember to write a will and put their funeral wishes in writing, but it’s also a good idea to lay out your wishes for medical care. By creating an Advance Care Directive, you give your family valuable insight into what type of medical care you prefer. That way, if you ever become incapacitated, they know what decisions to make regarding your health. Let’s take a deeper look at the Advance Care Directive – what it is and how to plan for it.

Mature woman talking with her doctor about her medical preferences

Advance Care Directives Explained

An Advance Care Directive (ACD), also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive (AHD), ensures that your medical wishes will be followed when you cannot speak or are no longer in a mental state to make decisions. By planning out your wishes in writing ahead of time, you provide healthcare professionals with important guidelines for medical care.

Three key documents make up the Advance Care Directive: the living will, the healthcare power of attorney, and the DNR/DNI order.

What is a Living Will?

The living will is the most common type of ACD. Not to be confused with a Last Will & Testament, which deals with decisions to be carried out after your death, the living will is written to explain the kinds of medical care you wish to receive and those you do not. It helps doctors and your family make important decisions regarding tests, medicines, surgeries, blood transfusions, CPR, and feeding tubes.

Paperwork for healthcare power of attorney and living will

What is the Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A living will does not technically allow you to designate a person to make decisions for you. For this, you will need to turn to a healthcare power of attorney. However, you can combine these two forms into one document. The person who represents your wishes is often referred to as a healthcare proxy, and their authority will be limited to decisions of a medical nature. Legal and financial choices do not fall under their jurisdiction. Choose someone you trust to follow your wishes and make decisions with your best interests in mind.

What are DNR and DNI Orders?

Though DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and DNI (Do Not Intubate) orders may be included in the living will, they don’t have to be. A DNR prevents a medic from performing CPR, and a DNI prevents the use of breathing tubes.  You can also verbally communicate these orders to your physician, who will put them in their medical records.

Man sitting down with this doctor, talking together

7 Tips for Developing Your Advance Care Directives

According to the National Institute on Aging, more than one in four Americans will have medical decisions made when they are incapacitated. That means more than 25% of us will need loved ones to make medical decisions on our behalf. Without an ACD, this can be a very stressful time for physicians, friends, and family members.

To ensure you receive the care you want and make things easier for your family in a medical emergency, consider filling out your advance care directives.

Mature woman sitting down with female doctor, reviewing paperwork together

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Consider your family’s medical history

By examining the medical issues that run in your family, you can construct a good genetic map for determining potential health problems. For example, suppose older family members have suffered strokes. In that case, you may spend some time researching strokes to determine the kinds of decisions that would need to be made if this ever happened to you.

2. Determine your values

What is most important to you? Would you like to be kept alive by any means necessary? If so, provide clear instructions for doing so. Or are there specific issues that would reduce your quality of life so completely that you would rather not have your life prolonged artificially? If feeding tubes and breathing machines are out of the question for you, make this known so that physicians and loved ones don’t have to worry about making the wrong decision.

Two people sitting across from each other at table, touching hands, focus on hands

3. Talk to your loved ones

Once you have started considering the medical decisions you would like to make, bounce your ideas off the people closest to you. Ask for feedback from family members to see what they think of your plan. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s your plan, and you don’t want to change your directives to conform to the will of others. But it can be useful to get the opinions of people you trust.

4. Research your state laws

As is the case with most medical issues, rules and regulations on advance care directives vary to a certain degree from state to state. Research your state’s laws ahead of time so that you ensure all of your wishes are interpreted or documented in a legally valid way. A lawyer can be helpful in this area, but it’s not required.

5. Seal the deal

Consult with your doctor and talk through your wishes together. Your doctor can help you identify any gaps in your medical preferences. Then, fill out the required forms according to your state’s laws.

Man and his elderly father looking at medical documents together

6. Keep it handy

Once you have completed your ACD, make sure that it is readily accessible. Provide copies for your doctor and your family members. Also, keep copies of your directives in a readily accessible location. It may be a good idea to put a copy in your wallet or the glove compartment of your car for quick and easy access.

7. Reviewing your ACD

If you change your mind about any issue, don’t worry. You can always update it to reflect more current wishes. If you do this, destroy all previous copies to avoid future confusion. Also, don’t forget to give copies of your new directives to family members.

Start Planning Today

While older adults most need ACDs, people of all ages can benefit from a little preparation. After all, tomorrow is never promised. A sudden onset of an illness or an accident could force your family and physician to make some tough decisions. Consider taking these precautionary steps. That way, you can rest assured that your family and healthcare team will know how to proceed.

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.

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