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Plan Ahead

scrapbook on a table with scissors

How to Create a Funeral Wishes Box

By Plan Ahead

A personalized funeral can be a very healing and meaningful experience for loved ones. But how can you ensure that they have that one-of-a-kind experience? The answer is by doing a little bit of planning and preparation in advance. Personal touches such as photos, family heirlooms, mementos, readings, and music can all come together to help your family and friends celebrate the life you lived together and the legacy you leave behind.

One way you can help your loved ones is by collecting these items and ideas in one place, like a memory box. This box can be specifically designed to help your loved ones plan a healing and personal funeral experience! While you can put anything in your funeral wishes box that’s meaningful to you, here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Photos and Videostwo family photos on a shelf

Photos and videos can be used to personalize a funeral service in many ways, like in slideshows or on memory boards. But it can be hard for families to know which photos to use. Many people have hundreds of photos from their lifetime, especially now that smartphones are everywhere. Sorting through these photos to find ones to share at the funeral can be an overwhelming task for loved ones when they are grieving. Plus, your loved ones might not know which photos are most significant to you. By selecting the photos ahead of time, you take away the guesswork and make things simpler for your family.

If you have physical photos you want displayed, you can set those aside in your box. You can also add a note identifying other people in the photo by writing on the back of the photos or adding a sticky note to the back. You can do the same with any videos on VHS or DVD. For digital photos or videos, you can copy them on a USB drive to add to your funeral wishes box or put them in a specific folder on your computer. If you leave the photos on your computer, make sure to leave instructions for finding them and logging into your computer in your box, which is something you should do for all of your digital assets.

Scrapbooksscrapbook on a table with scissors

Scrapbooks can make a wonderful addition to a funeral. Not only are they beautiful and personal, but they also share memories that you hold dear. If you’ve made scrapbooks in the past, including those in your funeral wishes box can provide a way for your family to highlight special moments in your life. But even if you don’t have a scrapbook already made, you can create one! If you have small items or keepsakes you want to treasure, you don’t have to make a whole scrapbook – you can just make a page or two. You could also use scrapbook pages to leave notes about specific photos or share the story behind a specific item, like a ticket stub, a pressed flower, or event programs.

Meaningful Mementos

items from hobbies, violin, frame, paint brushes, mask, camera, feather pen

Another great way to personalize a service is by incorporating items that are meaningful to you. These could be family heirlooms, like your favorite piece of jewelry, your antique pocket watch, or a quilt your great-grandmother made. You could also set aside souvenirs from trips you took or events you attended.

Other mementos you might want to include are items from your hobbies. What do you love doing? Think about ways you can incorporate your passions and interests. For example, if you like to make things, you could pick out a scarf you made or a chair you built. If you play a sport, you could set aside an old jersey or uniform to be displayed. If you want an item displayed that you’re still using, you can include a note in your box that mentions where the item is typically stored.

Favorite Songs

stack of records on a wooden table

Music plays a significant role in a funeral, setting the mood and tone for the entire service. Music expresses feelings and words that we may not be able to say ourselves and gives us an outlet to release and experience our emotions. Contrary to popular belief, the music at a funeral service doesn’t have to be sad songs or hymns. A favorite song you love to listen to, sing along with, or dance to can still emotionally impact your loved ones.

If you own digital versions of the songs you want to include in your box, you may be able to burn them onto a CD or upload them to a USB drive. You could also create a playlist on your favorite music service and include instructions about finding the songs in your funeral wishes box. Another option is to create a printed or handwritten list of your chosen songs.

Passages for Readings

open book in a library next to stacks of books

Readings are also an important part of a funeral service. Readings can honor or celebrate your life, help both readers and listeners grieve, or move mourners into a time of contemplation. The passages read can be anything, like a Bible verse, a poem, an excerpt from a book, or a meaningful quote. Think about written passages that mean a lot to you, changed your life, or reflect the way you try to live. Once you’ve decided on a few quotes, you can write them down, make a note of where they came from and who you’d like to read them, and add them to your box.

What to Do With Your Box

After you create your box, what do you do with it? First, make sure your loved ones know about your box and where to find it. It wouldn’t do much good to put your box together if your family doesn’t know about it when they’re planning the funeral! If you want, you can also share the contents with your loved ones as you put the box together, and if you’ve preplanned with a funeral home, you could even let them know about your box.

Second, continue to add to and update your box. If you start a new hobby or go on a fun trip, you may want to include mementos from those. Maybe you take pictures with a grandchild at their graduation or with your child at their wedding. You can always add more items to your box or remove items that have lost meaning to you.

By putting together your funeral wishes box, you’ll provide an easier way for your family to personalize your funeral. With all of the items prepared, your loved ones can display your photos and scrapbooks, create a slideshow with your favorite photos, videos, and songs, read the passages you selected, and decorate the location with mementos from your hobbies and interests. These personal touches will make the service even more meaningful for your loved ones and help them begin their grief journey on the right foot.

Young man standing in front of casket with his hand resting on it as he says goodbye

130+ Questions Your Family Will Have to Answer After a Death

By Estate Planning, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Most people don’t realize just how many questions surviving family members will need to answer following the death of a loved one. That’s why advance preparation is so important. From prearranging your funeral plan to gathering all your estate planning documents, you can lessen the burden your family will feel at a time of loss. When they are feeling numb, sad, confused, shocked, it will be a true comfort to know that everything is already organized and complete. It’s a final gift to them.

But what kinds of questions will they have to answer? Here’s a sampling of more than 130 questions that your family will need to answer (and there will likely be even more!).

Vital Statistics & Obituary Information

Older man in blue button-down shirt sitting at table at home, completing forms

  1. What is the deceased’s full name (first, middle, last)?
  2. What is the deceased’s complete home address?
  3. What is the deceased’s telephone number?
  4. What is the deceased’s sex?
  5. What is the deceased’s race?
  6. What is the deceased’s date of birth?
  7. What is the deceased’s place of birth?
  8. What is the deceased’s marital status?
  9. If married, what is the spouse’s name?
  10. What is the deceased’s highest level of education completed?
  11. Is the deceased a veteran (if yes, see additional questions below)?
  12. What is the deceased’s citizenship (American, Canadian, Mexican, etc.)?
  13. What is the deceased’s father’s full name?
  14. What is the deceased’s father’s birthplace?
  15. What is the deceased’s mother’s full name, including maiden name?
  16. What is the deceased’s mother’s birthplace?
  17. What is the deceased’s Social Security number?
  18. How long did the deceased live at any current/former residence(s)?
  19. What was the deceased’s occupation, job title, and work history?
  20. How many years was the deceased employed at each job?
  21. What is the address of the deceased’s last workplace?
  22. What is the telephone number for the deceased’s last workplace?
  23. How long has the deceased lived in the community?
  24. What is the deceased’s date and place of marriage?
  25. Who preceded the deceased in death?
  26. Was the deceased involved in the community? If so, which organizations?
  27. Was the deceased a member of a church or religious organization? If so, which ones?
  28. Did the deceased have any hobbies, interests, or passions to highlight in the obituary?
  29. Are there any favorite family memories, life lessons, or treasured accomplishments to include in the obituary?

Veterans & Servicemembers

Older veteran saluting the American flag

  1. What name did the deceased serve under (full name)?
  2. What branch did the deceased serve in?
  3. What is the deceased’s serial/service number?
  4. What was the deceased’s rank at discharge?
  5. What was the deceased’s date and place of enlistment?
  6. What was the deceased’s date and place of service?
  7. What type of discharge did the deceased receive?
  8. What was the date of discharge?
  9. Do you have a copy of the discharge certificate (DD 214)?
  10. Who will contact the Veterans Administration to report the death?
  11. Would you like to request military honors at the service?
  12. Will interment take place in a state-owned or national veterans cemetery? If yes, which one?
  13. Would you like to receive a presidential memorial certificate in honor of the deceased’s service?
  14. Would you like to request a government-issued headstone?
  15. Would you like to request a government-issued flag to drape over the casket or urn?
  16. Have you talked with the VA about the burial benefits the deceased may be eligible to receive, including monetary assistance?
  17. Are there any special requests or elements you’d like to include at the final tribute in honor of the veteran’s military service?

Funeral Service Information

Young man standing in front of casket with his hand resting on it as he says goodbye

Service Details

  1. Did the deceased complete a prearranged funeral plan? If so, which funeral home?
  2. If the deceased did not prearrange funeral plans, do you have a preferred funeral home?
  3. Who are the primary contacts for funeral arrangements?
  4. Does the deceased prefer burial or cremation?
  5. Would you like a private ceremony (family only) or one open to the public?
  6. What funeral events would you like to include (funeral service, memorial service, committal service, reception, visitation, viewing, Mass, etc.)?
  7. Once you have determined what funeral events you’d like to include, what dates and times would you like to request for these events?
  8. What clothing would you like the deceased to wear at any open-casket events?
  9. Would you like any food served at the funeral service or a gathering afterward?
  10. Who will serve as pallbearers?
  11. Where would you like the funeral service to take place (funeral home, church, residence, organization, outdoors, etc.)?
  12. What type of service would the deceased prefer (religious, fraternal, military, etc.)?
  13. Are there any reasons to delay the service?
  14. Who will deliver the eulogy? Will there be other speakers?
  15. Would you like an open or closed casket service?
  16. Who would you like to officiate the service (clergy, family member, celebrant, etc.)?
  17. How many death certificates would you like to order (ask funeral director for best practices)?
  18. Would you like to include a framed portrait of the deceased at any services?
  19. How will you pay for the funeral expenses?

Personalization Preferences

Still of an old camera sitting on photos, representing a photographer's life

  1. What music would you like to include at the service? Do you want live music from a musician or vocalist?
  2. Do you want floral arrangements at the service or around the casket/urn?
  3. If so, which florist would you like to use?
  4. Have you written an obituary, or would you like the funeral home to do so?
  5. Do you want a death notice published in a newspaper?
  6. Would you like memorial items available at the service, such as programs, register book, and memorial/prayer cards?
  7. What photos or text would you like to include on any memorial items?
  8. What readings would you like read at the service (poems, religious texts, lyrics, etc.)?
  9. Do you prefer that well-wishers send flowers?
  10. Do you prefer that well-wishers give charitable contributions to a certain organization? If so, which organization?
  11. If there is a gathering or meal after the service, is catering required? If yes, which restaurant?
  12. Are there any personal items you’d like to display at the service or gathering to personalize the event?
  13. Would you like a memorial tribute video with photos/videos from the deceased’s life?
  14. Do you want to include a time for friends and family to share their most precious memories?
  15. Do you have pictures, music, or personal items you’d like to include at the visitation, service, or gathering?
  16. Is there a unique hobby or interest that you’d like to include at the service (firetruck, tractor, motorcycle, quilts, artwork, favorite horse, etc.)?
  17. Are there any favorite foods you’d like include at a gathering or reception?
  18. Are there any activities you’d like to include in the service (singing a favorite song, lighting candles, releasing doves, writing down memories, etc.)?

Cemetery & Committal/Graveside Service

Young woman wearing black dress visits grave and leaves beautiful flowers

  1. With burial, what kind of casket do you prefer?
  2. With cremation, what kind of urn do you prefer?
  3. What kind of headstone or monument do you prefer – plaque, upright, customized, engraved?
  4. What inscription would you like engraved on the headstone?
  5. Does the deceased own a cemetery plot? If yes, where is the deed or proof of ownership?
  6. What is the cemetery lot’s section, lot number, and space number?
  7. Do you know the cemetery name and phone number?
  8. If there’s no cemetery plot, where would you like the deceased to be interred?
  9. For cremated remains, would you prefer urn burial, scattering, columbarium niche, or something else?
  10. What type of outer burial container would you prefer?
  11. Would you like to use the funeral car to transport the family to the committal service?
  12. Would you like to use the flower car to transport floral arrangements to the committal service?
  13. What kind of cemetery property do you want (companion, individual, mausoleum, columbarium, etc.)?
  14. Are there any personal touches you’d like to include at a committal/graveside service (certain music, speakers, military honors, release of butterflies or doves, etc.)?

Estate Planning Assistance

Mature couple sitting at table together as they work on estate planning documents

  1. Did the deceased have a legal will? If so, where is it, and what does it say?
  2. Did the deceased have a power of attorney on file? If so, who is the appointed agent?
  3. Do you have access to all usernames and passwords needed for online accounts?
  4. Where is the deceased’s birth certificate?
  5. Is there a living trust that outlines any special wishes?
  6. Do you have a copy of the deceased’s marriage license?
  7. What is the deceased’s attorney’s name and contact information?
  8. Are there any current or urgent bills to pay?
  9. Are there any medical bills to pay?
  10. Do you have copies of any insurance policies (life, health, accident, property, auto, home, etc.)?
  11. Is all beneficiary information up to date?
  12. Are there any active disability claims for the deceased?
  13. Do you have the deceased’s banking information?
  14. Did the deceased have a safety deposit box? If so, do you have access to it?
  15. Do you have access or information on any other financial accounts in the deceased’s name?
  16. Do you have the correct tax identification number (if applicable)?
  17. Do you have the ability to cancel any direct deposit payments?
  18. Do you have contact information for any creditors, such as mortgages, personal loans, credit card companies, etc.?
  19. Do you have a copy of all property deeds?
  20. Do you have documentation of all vehicle titles or bills of sale?
  21. Do you have access to the deceased’s income tax returns?

Who to Contact After a Death

Young woman making phone calls from her home

  1. Are there any relatives you should inform of the death?
  2. Are there any friends or neighbors you should inform?
  3. Are there any community members you should inform?
  4. Are there any employers or co-workers you should inform?
  5. Who will call the deceased’s employer (if applicable)?
  6. Who will inform the attorney of the death?
  7. Who will inform the accountant of the death?
  8. Who will inform the financial planner of the death?
  9. Who will inform the executor of the death?
  10. Who will inform credit card companies of the death?
  11. Who will call the Social Security Administration to report the death?
  12. Who will call the VA to report the death (if applicable)?
  13. Who will call any necessary insurance companies?
  14. Are there any religious, fraternal, or civic organizations to inform of the death?

As you can see, the list is extensive and includes a wide range of personal and financial topics. Can you imagine trying to answer all these questions in a short period of time? It’s overwhelming, but with a little preparation, you can ensure that everything is easier and smoother for those you love.

For more resources, check out:

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

Getting Your Affairs in Order

How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

What Are My Burial Benefits as a Veteran?

6 Items You Shouldn’t Include in Your Will

By Estate Planning

No matter what age you are, creating a will is a great way to prepare for the future. A legal will is a document that lays out your wishes for your estate. Without a will, your family may not know your wishes after your death, and your estate will be distributed according to your state’s probate laws, which may or may not fit with your wishes.

Depending on the size of your estate and your wishes, your will may be simple or very complex. But how do you know what you should and shouldn’t include in your will? Speaking with your attorney is a great way to learn about your state’s regulations, but here are 7 items you should avoid putting in your will.

Time-sensitive wishes

red clock falling through the air

After someone dies, it can take weeks or even months before the will is read. Because it can take a while before the contents of your will are known, you shouldn’t include time-sensitive details in your will, especially about your end-of-life care. For example, medical decisions, like Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders or organ donations, should be on file with your physician or included in a healthcare power of attorney, not your will.

You should also avoid including your wishes for funeral arrangements in your will. Most funerals typically happen within a week of the death. By the time your will is read, your funeral will likely have already occurred. Instead of discussing your funeral wishes in your will, you can create an advance funeral plan with your local funeral service provider. Let your family know that you have a plan in place with that funeral home. Your funeral service provider will ensure that everything is taken care of just how you want.

Assets with named beneficiaries

When you set up life insurance, a retirement account, a living trust, and other accounts, you may name a beneficiary. The beneficiaries named on these accounts supersede your legal will. If you originally named your son as the beneficiary of your life insurance, you won’t be able to give it to your daughter through your will. If your wishes about who should receive the proceeds from a specific account have changed, you should update your beneficiaries directly in the account, not in your will.

Joint property and accounts

Two people shaking hands

Jointly-owned bank accounts and properties have specific laws and regulations about what happens when one of the owners dies. Some joint accounts or jointly-owned properties allow you to pass the property to the heir of your choice in your will. But if your joint account or property is labeled “with rights of survivorship,” your share in the property will go to the other owner or owners at your death. Property or accounts with rights of survivorship should not be included in your will. If you’re unsure what type your jointly-owned account or property is, please check with your attorney or bank.

Specific accounts

Front of a bank building

When writing your will, it’s best to avoid naming wishes for specific accounts, like your checking or savings account. This is because your situation may change over time. You may close out accounts or open new ones, or the amount in your accounts may change drastically. If you name a specific account in your will, you’ll need to update your will every time your account changes. Instead, you can bestow a specific amount of money or a percentage of your estate on your chosen beneficiary.

Illegal or unethical conditions

In most cases, you can provide specific conditions that must be fulfilled before your beneficiaries receive their inheritance. For example, you can provide a specific inheritance to your granddaughter for when she graduates college. However, there are limits to what you can ask of your beneficiaries. For example, you can’t include instructions requiring someone to marry a specific person, get divorced, or change their religion. You also can’t make someone do something illegal to receive their inheritance, like using property to grow illegal substances or committing a crime.

Reasons for bequest

Person holding a handwritten letter

While it’s not illegal to include the reasons for bequests in your will, providing reasons for each gift can add unnecessary length to your will. If you want your beneficiaries to know why you’re giving them a specific piece of property, that’s great! Instead of adding that to your will, you can include separate letters with details. A separate letter can also give you the space to share the history behind a specific item, like a quilt your great-grandmother made or your great-uncle’s pocket watch.

Before creating your will, please consult a licensed attorney to ensure you follow your state’s regulations. As you document your wishes in your will, try to keep it as clear and concise as possible. If your wishes are clear and uncluttered, it will be easier for your executor to carry them out. And as life changes, don’t forget to regularly update your will.

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

Shaking hands with a friendly professional

11 Qualities to Look for in a Funeral Director

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

Losing a loved one can bring pain, grief, uncertainty, and confusion. A loss can also leave you with the responsibility of planning a funeral, requiring you to answer questions that you may have never considered. This combination can make you and your family feel lost, overwhelmed, and in need of a helping hand. A caring funeral director can be that helping hand.

Most funeral homes have funeral directors who are a source of assurance for families. Funeral directors are meant to be a comforting guide during the funeral planning process. However, if you’ve never had to plan a funeral before, how do you know which funeral director is best for your family?

One of the easiest ways to determine whether a funeral director is right for you and your family is by recognizing certain qualities they possess. From how they first greet you to how they check on you after the funeral, you deserve a caring professional who makes things easier during your time of pain.

Here’s a list of 11 qualities you look for in a funeral director who will best care for you and your family.

1. Caring

When you need the services of a funeral home, you’re likely experiencing one of the saddest seasons of your life. You need to know that the funeral professional serving you and your family deeply cares about your well-being. A caring funeral director will make you feel welcome, express their sorrow for your loss, and will let you know that everything will be taken care of. Listen to your instincts during your first interaction with a funeral director, as a genuine caring heart is easy to identify.

Adult daughter comforting old mom strokes holds her hand close up view.

2. Supportive

There are so many unique and special ways to celebrate the life of your loved one. So, you’ll want to work with someone who is supportive of your wishes. The right funeral director will encourage your choices and do everything possible to make your wishes a reality all while respecting your budget. Most funeral directors like to say that no request is too great and no detail is too small. That is the perfect mindset for someone who is eager to serve you.

3. Honest

An honest person can make the funeral planning process simple and easy. There are so many decisions that go into planning a funeral. You need an honest funeral director who will be upfront with you about your options, costs, logistics, and other important details. Honesty and transparency will make you feel at ease and confident throughout the funeral planning process.

4. Trustworthy

Similar to honesty, the right funeral director will never give you a reason to doubt their motives or promises. You can trust they will keep their word to you, no matter what. Chances are that problems will arise during the funeral planning process. However, a good funeral director will keep you informed and updated on any changes or issues.

Business people discussion advisor concept

5. Knowledgeable

If you’ve never had to plan a funeral, you may not know all the options available to you. That’s why it’s important to have a knowledgeable funeral director by your side who can help you plan a funeral that will honor the life of your loved one. They can suggest what a funeral should include and what details will best serve you and your family. Plus, the right funeral director will have experience in creating memorable funerals, and their knowledge will serve you well.

6. Strong Communicator

A funeral director who puts your needs first will always keep an open line of communication – especially if there are changes to the funeral plans. They will communicate new information quickly and accurately. They should also offer multiple ways for you to contact them (office phone, cell phone, email address, etc.) Most funeral directors want to make it easy for you to contact them, so find a funeral director that makes communication a priority.

7. Good Listener

You deserve to be valued and heard in your time of grief. A funeral director who listens just as well as they communicate will do just that. You will have many conversations with the funeral director, so it’s important that your words don’t fall on deaf ears. The right funeral director will listen to you and value any and all information you can give them.

Black female funeral director taking notes during an arrangement conference with female client.

8. Creative

A creative funeral director will give you unique ideas in helping you create a personalized tribute for your loved one. They can offer suggestions on how to properly honor the life of your loved one, no matter how traditional or contemporary of a funeral you want. This process usually starts with you telling the funeral director what made your loved one special and what their interests were. From there, a creative funeral professional can help you create a memorable goodbye that will showcase the special life of your loved one.

9. Patient

With grief consuming most of your thoughts during the funeral planning process, feeling overwhelmed is a perfectly normal reaction after losing a loved one. In those moments, you need someone who will calmly and patiently work with you as a friend and guide. You don’t need someone rushing you into decisions that you’re not comfortable with. Working with a patient funeral director will make you feel like you’re their sole priority and not just another funeral to schedule.

10. Empathetic

Empathy is one of the most important qualities to find! This characteristic can help build a bridge of lasting trust and confidence between you, your family, and the funeral director. You might wonder how funeral directors remain empathetic after helping so many grieving families. But that’s what makes the heart of a funeral director so special. The right person will show you that they truly understand the pain you’re feeling. This kindness can lead you to be more willing to place your faith in them and their ability to properly honor your loved one.

11. Organized

As we’ve discussed, planning a funeral takes time and requires a lot of decisions. You need a funeral director that won’t let any detail slip through the cracks. No matter how elaborate or simple your funeral is, the right professional will make sure everything is accounted for and that nothing goes overlooked. Additionally, an organized person will make sure that every member of your family is on the same page and that – to the best of their ability – everyone is happy with the funeral.

Funeral director's hand pick up Stack overload document report paper with colorful paperclip, business and paperless concept.

A funeral director who exhibits these qualities can give you and your family confidence, calmness, and assuredness during the funeral planning process and beyond. There are other qualities that make a great funeral director, but make sure they exhibit these qualities.

After all, a funeral director’s greatest calling is to be there for you when you need them most. They’ll be eager to prove that they are worthy of caring for you.

Understanding Half-Couch versus Full-Couch Caskets

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

After losing a loved one, a viewing or visitation can be a sweet moment of remembrance and an opportunity to say a final goodbye in person. As you put together this meaningful event, one thing you will need to decide is whether to use a full-couch or a half-couch casket. But what’s the difference between them? Let’s talk about it.

What is a Half-Couch Casket?

If you live in the United States, you are likely most familiar with a half-couch casket. This means that there’s a seam in the middle of the casket, which splits the lid into two different pieces. This design element allows you to open just the top or the bottom of the casket. At many viewings, the head section is open, so that mourners can see the face and torso of the person who has died. The lower half of the body remains covered by the bottom section of the lid.

Shows example of a half-couch casket with top half of lid open

What is a Full-Couch Casket?

While less common, full-couch caskets are also used across the United States. For example, singer James Brown was laid to rest in a full-couch casket after a viewing open to the public. The only difference from a half-couch casket is that the lid is one solid piece. When you open the casket, you see the entire body, though often the legs are covered with a blanket of some sort.

Shows example of a full-couch casket with the lid fully open in one piece

Does It Matter Which I Choose?

Ultimately, it’s up to your personal preference.

Both options:

  • Will facilitate an open- or closed-casket viewing or visitation
  • Are appropriate for burial in a cemetery
  • Are available in a variety of styles and materials

In some areas of the country, one type may be more popular than the other, but again, it boils down to preference. For closed-casket services, the full-couch offers a more “complete” look (no middle seam), which is important to some. However, since the lid completely closes on both types, either could be chosen for a closed-casket event.

If you’re on the fence and just aren’t sure which to choose, speak with a funeral professional about their experience helping other families. They can give you an insider’s view on the pros and cons of each type.

Man stands in front of casket paying his respects at funeral

Are There Any Specific Benefits to Each Type?

While the main difference is the lid, there are subtle benefits to each type you may want to consider.


  • Brings the focus to the deceased person’s face
  • Some caskets cost less because the foot portion is less detailed (it won’t be seen)
  • With a particularly tall person, the half-couch style can disguise the need to bend the knees to fit the body into the casket (oversized caskets are more expensive)


  • Allows full view of the deceased’s body, which may be important for the family
  • May meet religious needs or cultural norms for your area
  • Commonly used when there is no viewing

As you can see, the only strong factor to pull you to one casket or the other is whether you have specific regional, cultural, or religious needs. Otherwise, you can select either option and get everything you need.

silver gray casket with casket spray of red roses lying on top

Does the Casket Type Affect Personalization Options?

In general, you can decorate and personalize however you want with both types. With flowers, the spray can either lay across the middle with a full-couch or on the lower portion of the half-couch (when the lid is open). For veterans, the U.S. flag will be placed in a slightly different location depending on whether you select full-couch or half-couch. Any other items you want to place on or around the casket can be arranged with the funeral professionals assisting you.

What About Cost?

All caskets – full-couch and half-couch – are available in a variety of styles and materials. This means that there’s going to be a range of prices. As an extreme example, if you get a gold-plated casket, it’s going to be expensive whether you choose full-couch or half-couch. If cost is a determining factor for you, then use that to guide whether you choose full- or half-couch. There are affordable options with both types, so you will be able to find something that meets your budget.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the differences between full-couch and half-couch caskets. If you’d like to know more about wood, steel, and eco-friendly caskets, take a minute to read “How to Select a Casket.”

Older man sitting on couch with laptop sitting on coffee table in front of him, thinking and writing on pad of paper

6 Ways You Can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A recent survey revealed that while more than 50% of participants said they were likely to preplan their own funeral, only 7% of had actually done it. Many people understand that preplanning their funeral is a good idea, yet they are unsure of the steps to take and if they can afford it. However, preplanning and prefunding your funeral wishes can actually help you save money in the long run. This article will discuss 6 reasons why preplanning your funeral is a wise financial decision.

Older man sitting on couch with laptop sitting on coffee table in front of him, thinking and writing on pad of paper

First, why should you consider preplanning and prefunding a funeral?

Think about it. If you were to die suddenly and unexpectedly, what would your family have to do? They probably don’t know your wishes, so they will be worried about what to do. They may not have the funds to pay for a funeral out of pocket, so they will be worried about finances. On top of that, they will likely be in shock and a cloud of grief, making it hard to make decisions. Funeral preplanning takes care of all of these worries and fears by documenting your wishes, and just about every funeral home offers this service for free! With your wishes in writing, your family will know what you want so they can make decisions with confidence and certainty.

Then, if you take the next step and prefund your funeral plan, you are protecting your family financially by taking care of the cost of a funeral ahead of time. This relieves your family of the financial burden that comes with a loss. So, with a plan in place for both your wishes and finances, you remove most of the burdens that usually fall on loved ones during a time of loss. All they need to do is gather together, comfort one another, and mourn. For more information on why funeral preplanning is a great idea, take a moment to read 10 Reasons to Plan Ahead.

Young man wearing a gray sweater who is counting dollar bills

6 Ways You can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding

Now that you understand what funeral preplanning and prefunding is and why it matters, let’s talk about the ways that it can help your family save money – both now and in the future.

1. You Can Protect Your Funeral Funds Against Inflation

Inflation is one of those facts of life. Simply put, prices always tend to go up, and that includes the cost of a funeral. However, when you prefund with a funeral insurance policy, the policy is specifically set up to grow over time so it can offset the effects of inflation. This means that the earlier you prefund your funeral plan the better because prefunding protects your purchasing power over time, and that’s a big plus!

2. You Can Pay Over Time in Installments

Another big perk to prefunding with a funeral insurance policy is that it makes a funeral much more affordable. Instead of having to pay for everything all at once, you can set up monthly payments that fit into your budget. That can be especially important to those living on a fixed income. Plus, once the policy is paid in full, it’s paid off! You don’t have to make any further payments, which isn’t true of life insurance policies or final expense policies.

Man sitting at coffee table with calculator, adding up the cost

3. You May Be Able to Lock in Today’s Pricing

In some states, when you plan ahead, funeral homes offer a guarantee that “locks in” their pricing at today’s prices. That means that even if your funeral is 20 years from now, your family won’t have to pay the difference on rising funeral and merchandise costs. This can be a huge benefit, especially when we don’t know what the economy (or the price of a casket) will look like in 20 years. This benefit isn’t available at every funeral home or in every state, so be sure to contact your funeral home to check into the specifics or to find out what other affordable options they provide.

4. You Can Preserve Assets through Medicaid Qualification

Do you think you will need to qualify for long-term care assistance through Medicaid at some point? Then prefunding can help you preserve assets for your family. With Medicaid, you can’t qualify until you have depleted your savings (often to around $2,000). Let’s say you have $50,000 in savings. You will be expected to spend $48,000 on your own long-term care before Medicaid will kick in. However, a properly structured prepaid funeral plan is one of only a handful of ways you can preserve assets for your family!

In other words, you can use some or all of that $48,000 to pay for your own funeral wishes, and in many states, you can pay for funeral items for a spouse, child, and even siblings or parents. This way, your $48,000 will benefit your family and not go toward paying nursing home costs! To learn more about this way to save money, go to Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down with a Burial Plan.

shows stethoscope with a small chalkboard that says Medicaid

5. You Can Save Life Insurance Proceeds for Your Family

Roughly 40% of people choose to use life insurance funds to pay for a funeral at the time of loss. But did you know that there are actually some drawbacks to this plan?

  • Life insurance claims take 6-8 weeks to process. Your family will likely pay out-of-pocket expenses until the claim is paid.
  • If life insurance funds are used to cover funeral expenses, there may not be much left over for other expenses that life insurance was intended to cover (living expenses, lost income, medical bills, credit cards, other debts, etc.)
  • Over time, as prices go up, your purchasing power goes down, meaning your family will pay more for the funeral if it’s not prefunded.

On the other hand, if you prefund with a funeral insurance policy, the funds will be available right away and none of your life insurance proceeds will be depleted for funeral costs. That puts more money in your survivors’ hands and relieves the financial stress that comes after a death.

Shows carefree multi-generational family walking outside together and having fun

6. You Can Remove Financial Burdens from Your Family

By preplanning and prefunding ahead of time, you give your surviving loved ones a loving gift and protect them during a time of loss. Here’s how:

Keeps them from overspending

During times of grief, judgment can become clouded, and it’s hard to make decisions. In addition to walking around in this grief-induced mental fog, if your family has no idea what kind of funeral you want, they may opt for choosing “only the best.” That means they may spend a lot more money than you would have wanted them to spend. You can protect them from overspending by recording your funeral wishes in advance.

Keeps them from scrambling to pay for a funeral

Having no plan in place is a plan…but it leaves your family in a tough spot. It means they are left scrambling and worrying about how to come up with funeral funds in a hurry. They may have to take out a loan, use a credit card, or launch a GoFundMe campaign. This leaves them with a financial burden that they may not be prepared to carry. By preplanning and prefunding ahead of time, you can remove that burden from them entirely!

Father, son, and grandson sitting on a couch, looking at a laptop together while smiling

So, What’s Next?

Now that you know how you can save with funeral preplanning and prefunding, it’s time to take the next step. You can start by contacting a reputable funeral home in your area. They will listen to your thoughts and ideas and help you create a funeral plan that meets your needs and fits comfortably into your budget.

If you’d like to learn more about funeral preplanning, here are some helpful resources:

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About

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

3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead

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

A Brief Overview

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

Option #1 – Prepaid Funeral Plan

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

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

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

Here are a few additional benefits to consider.

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

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

Middle aged couple looking at laptop together and comparing options

Option #2 – Life Insurance Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option #3 – Final Expense Plan

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

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

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

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

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Insurance Option

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

Death certificate request form with pen on top

The Beginner’s Guide to Death Certificates

By Estate Planning, Planning Tools

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

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

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

Person filling out a form

1. Why You’ll Need a Death Certificate

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

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

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

Black awning for a funeral home

2. Who Supplies the Death Certificate

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

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

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

3. What Information You Need to Request a Death Certificate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Reasons Why You Should Update Your Will

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

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

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

Woman taping a packing box shut

When your life changes

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

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

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

When your relationships change

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

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

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

hand stacking quarters in stacks that increase in height

When your financial situation changes

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

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

Judge banging a gavel

When laws change

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

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

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

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

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

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

Using Color to Personalize a Service

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

4 Simple Ways to Use Color to Personalize a Service

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

Beautiful pink tulips

1. Select Specific Flowers

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

Decorating with seashells and the color ivory

2. Decorate with Intentionality

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

Four men wearing matching polka dot socks

3. Request that Mourners Wear a Certain Color

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

Bright green casket

4. Customize the Urn or Casket

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

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

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

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

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

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

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

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

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

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