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Plan Ahead

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

1. Prepaid Funeral Plans

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

Preneed Policies

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

Funeral Trusts

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

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

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

2. Life Insurance or Final Expense Plan

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

Advance Funding

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

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

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

4. Credit Card or Funeral Loan

Another possibility to pay for a funeral is using a credit card or taking out a personal loan. Obviously, this is not the best option since it includes the possibility of paying interest on the funeral amount. Some lending companies offer families funeral loans, often with no interest for the first few months. Ask your funeral director about funeral lending companies, if interested.

5. Crowdfunding Website

If no financial plan in place at the time of need, families can use a crowdfunding website to pay for a funeral. Some of these websites are general fundraising platforms that can help you raise money for a funeral., in particular, has become a very popular way to campaign for a service. Other websites such as Funeral Fund are specifically tailored to funeral fundraising. These sites provide efficient ways to receive the financial support needed to craft a meaningful ceremony.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

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

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By Cremation, Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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


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

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


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

Keepsake Urn

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

Decorative Urn

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

Biodegradable Urn

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

Religious Urn

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

Companion Urn

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

Infant Urn

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

Sculpted Urn

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

Themed Urn

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

Picture Urn

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

Military/Veteran Urn

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

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

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

Healthy Practices for Your Later Years: 70s

By Living Well, Plan Ahead

Your 70s are here. Let’s make them great! While good habits benefit us throughout our lives, it’s never too late to make positive changes to your life. In addition to continuing good habits from your 60s, there are different challenges for those who have reached their 70s. Let’s go over 10 helpful and healthy practices to maintain your health and organize your affairs in your golden years.

10 Best Practices for Healthy 70-Somethings

1. Strengthen your Body

While exercise may look quite different now, it’s still incredibly important for your overall health and energy levels. Rather than engaging in high-intensity cardio sessions (unless your body is used to it already), look for low-impact cardio activities (i.e. walking, yoga, swimming, indoor cycling, etc.). Also include strength training (good for your bones) and stretching in your normal routine.

2. Manage Stress

All throughout our lives, we deal with stress. The same is true as you grow older – it’s just the specifics that change. If you’re on a fixed income, you may wonder if it will be enough. Or, you may worry about getting sick or losing friends to illness. These types of concerns can lead to stress, depression, or anxiety.

To combat stress, depression, and anxiety, try out a few easy tips:

  • Take time each day to focus on something you are thankful for.
  • Acknowledge and express your feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Embrace and find comfort in your spirituality.
  • Accept that some things are outside your control, and that’s okay.
  • Try to keep your sense of humor.
  • Continue to build relationships with people – you need them!

3. Engage Your Mind

While some degree of forgetfulness is normal with age, significant decline is not an inevitable part of aging. If you challenge your brain, it will function well throughout your lifetime. The key is to exercise your brain. A few ideas to get you started are:

  • Try new variations of familiar activities (new types of puzzles, new recipes, a different sport)
  • Learn something entirely new (a language, an unfamiliar topic)
  • Seek new experiences and make new friends
  • Continue eating a healthy diet and maintaining your physical activity levels

4. Eat Well and Drink Plenty of Water

Healthy nutrition has a few added challenges as you age. For instance, your sense of taste and smell can change a bit, which affects the appetite. Slower digestion and metabolism changes how your body processes food, and you begin to lose your sense of thirst, which can lead to dehydration. To combat these challenges, be intentional about your food and water intake.

Eat plenty of protein, calcium, and fiber, and drink lots of water. On average, people in their 70s drink less than four cups of water a day, and we actually need seven or eight! Try not to skip meals – you need all the healthy foods you can get to maintain your health and energy levels. If you’re having trouble maintaining a healthy diet, talk to a family member or your health care provider.

5. Rest Well and Deeply

You may think that you need less sleep now that you’re a little less active, but that’s not the case. Adults in their 70s still need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Of course, as an older adult, there are added complications to sleep, like insomnia, daytime sleepiness, health conditions, or aches and pains that keep you awake at night.

To achieve ample rest, it’s good to set good sleep habits in place. Make sure that your room is dark, quiet, and not too warm. Turn off the TV at least one hour before bed so that your mind has time to unwind and isn’t exposed to too much stimulation so close to bedtime. And especially if you suffer from insomnia, try to exercise during the day and avoid naps. This will help you feel tired when bedtime comes around. If you are still having trouble sleeping, speak to your health care provider.

6. Be Aware of Elder Crime

Unfortunately, older adults are at risk for certain types of crime, particularly fraud (identity theft, fake checks, and various kinds of scams) and elder abuse. Most often, fraud is perpetrated by someone you don’t know, but elder abuse is a different story. Elder abuse can be physical or emotional/psychological and often involves neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation.

To guard against elder abuse, keep the people you trust close. Also, be on the lookout for these signs of an abusive caregiver: lack of affection, don’t allow you to be alone with others, are angry or aggressive toward you, don’t clean the home or help you with personal hygiene, speak about you as if you were a burden, or give conflicting stories to explain an incident. If any of these describe someone close to you, talk to someone you trust who can help you.

7. Prevent Falls

Now is a time to be especially aware of your bone health. Osteoporosis is a significant concern for those who are aging because it can cause bones to break more easily. By adding low-impact cardio, strength training, and calcium and vitamin D to your routine, you can increase your bone mass and decrease the likelihood of broken bones.

In addition to exercise, assess the potential risks in your home and identify any potential tripping hazards (throw rugs, cords, clutter, etc.). Consider removing these hazards completely. Also, if you are having trouble now, use a cane/walker when needed and wear supportive shoes. Above all, take your time. There’s no rush.

8. Pursue Good Eye, Ear, and Heart Health

As much as we wish it wasn’t true, the older we are, the more possible it is to develop health problems. It’s especially important to take special care of your eyes, ears, and heart.


While our eyes can change at any age, women in their 70s more commonly deal with dry eye. To help with dry eye, drink plenty of fluids and limit your time in front of a computer or tv. In general, go to regular eye exams and consider screenings for glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.


It’s commonly known that hearing loss can come with age. If you’re having a hard time hearing on the phone or in person, consider bringing it up to your health care professional. They can help you understand the best way to move forward.


For many older adults, heart disease is a concern. The good news is that heart disease isn’t inevitable – you can take steps now to protect your heart. Make sure to ask your health care professional about your heart’s current health, and then, eat nutritiously, sleep well, and get plenty of exercise (even brisk walking will help your heart). If you already have heart disease, take your medications, eat well, and exercise. These activities can still help your heart in the long run.

9. Plan Ahead

One of the best things you can do for your family is to get your affairs in order. The clearer and more organized everything is, the easier the process will be when you are gone. While we don’t like to think about our mortality, it’s best to take care of these important aspects of planning while you’re still in good health and able to make sound decisions.

The most important estate planning concerns to address are: a legal will, financial or medical power of attorney, a living will, advance care directives, and funeral planning. Feel free to bring your family members into any part of the process and get their valuable input. And once your plans are in place, designate at least two emergency contacts and make sure they have access to your information.

10. Find Joy in Each Day

As you grow older, it’s important to maintain your sense of purpose and to find joy in each day. Having a positive attitude will help you face each day with excitement and anticipation. Find things to be grateful for. Face any limitations you may have and keep a good sense of humor. Stay connected to others to increase healthy longevity. Pick up a new hobby, find ways to volunteer, spend time outdoors, join a club, or visit places you’ve always wanted to go. Continue to find ways to enjoy life and the people you love.

7 Steps to Telling Your Children About Your Funeral Plans

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

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

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

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

1. Start off by talking about your health.

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

2. Acknowledge that the conversation isn’t easy.

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

3. Share why you preplanned your funeral.

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

4. Present your plan.

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

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

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

6. Answer their questions.

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

7. Reassure them about your motivation.

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

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

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

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

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

6 Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead
Why do we have emergency contacts? Ultimately, it’s because we will all need—at one point or another—a trustworthy person to represent us if we are incapable of doing so ourselves. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse, adult child, or trusted friend.
If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. You can take a little time now to make things easier in the future.

Conversation Tips

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

The Six Things That Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies

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

2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts

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

3. Your Wishes for Medical Care

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

4. Allergies and Blood Type

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

5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets

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

6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans

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

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

Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns

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

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

Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible

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

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

9 Funeral Costs That Are Often Overlooked

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

Some of the most commonly overlooked funeral costs are:

1. Death Certificates

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

2. Cemetery and Monument Charges

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

3. Obituary/Death Notice

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

4. Church or Venue Charges

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

5. Specialty Music

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

6. Officiant Honorarium

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

7. Flowers

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

8. Pallbearers

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

9. Police Escort

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

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


11 Meaningful Ways to Honor Your Loved One’s Ashes

By Cremation, Memorial, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

1. Burial

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

2. Columbarium

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

3. Scattering

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

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

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

4. Keeping the Ashes at Home

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

5. Cremation/Memorial Jewelry

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

6. Planting Ashes

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

7. Under the Sea

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

8. Launched into Space

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

9. Stained Glass or Hand-Blown Glass Keepsakes

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

10. Pressed into a Diamond

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

11. Hour Glass

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

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

What to Expect at a Funeral Arrangement Conference

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

None of us are ever truly prepared to lose someone we love. Whether the loss comes suddenly or has been long expected, you may experience a wide range of emotions: shock, denial, fear, confusion, guilt, regret, sadness. Numbness and shock are common in the first two days, which is usually when the arrangements occur. To help ease the burden you may feel so soon after a loss, it’s helpful to know what to expect when you head into an arrangement conference. Preparing ahead of time will help ease your mind and prepare your thoughts.

Why Do We Have Arrangement Conferences?

It may be best to start off with a definition. An arrangement conference is a time specifically set aside for a recently bereaved family to meet with a funeral director and discuss the details of a meaningful tribute and final disposition. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for the funeral director to get to know you better and learn how to best honor your loved one.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and counselor, says that the funeral ritual is incredibly important for our individual grief journeys. “Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.

With this in mind, the arrangement conference is a time set aside for you and the funeral director to work together to create a meaningful and healing funeral service. Most arrangement conferences take place in the funeral home, but if you are traveling from a long distance or can’t make it to the funeral home in person, you may also be able to work with your funeral director over the phone and via text, email, and other digital solutions.

Main Objectives

There are three main objectives for your time with the funeral director during the arrangement conference.

1. Gather the vital information of the person who died, which the funeral director will then use on your behalf to request death certificates, file for veterans’ burial benefits, and file life insurance claims.

2. Make your wishes known about how you want to remember and honor your lost loved one.

3. Select the most fitting funeral, cremation, and burial options.

Typically, the conference takes about 2-3 hours on the day of or the day after a death. The funeral director will guide you through the available funeral service and memorial options, music selections, coordination with a church and cemetery (or other desired location for the service), and much more.

What Questions Should I Consider in Advance?

The funeral director is your partner and your guide throughout this process. They have the experience and the knowledge to help you make informed decisions. Consider your funeral director a resource – they will explain all the options that are available to you as well as answer any questions you may have. Even though you will get a thorough explanation, it’s a good plan to come to the arrangement conference having considered a few key questions:

  • Where and when should the services be held?
  • Do you want to publish an obituary? If you do, who will write it? Where will you publish it?
  • In lieu of flowers, do you want to offer charitable contributions as an option for sympathy gifts?
  • Have you chosen a cemetery or other final resting place?
  • Do you need assistance with selecting a monument or grave marker?
  • What kind of funeral service is most appropriate? Simple? Elaborate? Public? Private? Religious?
  • What would you consider to be the best way to honor and memorialize your lost loved one?
  • Should there be a viewing, visitation, funeral service, committal service?
  • If there is a service, who will participate? Musicians, speakers, pallbearers?
  • Do you want floral arrangements present, and if so, what kind?
  • Will the final disposition be burial, cremation, or another type of interment?
  • Will the body be present at the funeral or memorial service?
  • If applicable, open or closed casket?
  • Do you know someone who will act as officiant, or will you need the funeral home’s assistance in this matter?

What Should I Bring?

The more information you bring, the smoother the meeting will be (and the less documentation you will need to bring back later). For a checklist of items to consider taking with you to an arrangement conference, print and review this Funeral Arrangement Conference Checklist. The list is fairly comprehensive and gives you an excellent place to start. However, the funeral home may ask you for something not included.

Some Final Tips

First of all, prepare as much as you can ahead of time. You can gather necessary documents, clothing and personal items, details for the obituary, and photos to be used in the service ahead of time.

Secondly, don’t feel rushed during the conference. Remember, the funeral director is there to help you with all your needs and is ready to serve you fully.

Thirdly, ask as many questions as you need. As you plan a tribute for your loved one, the funeral director is there to be a knowledgeable and available partner in a difficult situation. Make use of their experience and ask as many questions as you need.

Finally, take notes. You will receive a lot of information during the arrangement conference, and it’s unlikely you will be able to remember it all. Take a notepad with you and make sure to write things down.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

If your loved one has made arrangements in advance, many of these questions will be answered for you. With the answers already in hand, the arrangement conference will go very smoothly. Often, the only question left to answer is the date and time for the service to be held! If your loved one has not planned ahead, you now know how difficult it can be to make dozens of decisions under a cloud of stress and grief. Once you are back into your routine, you might consider planning ahead for your own funeral wishes. By doing this, you can spare your family the stress of making decisions at an incredibly emotional and stressful time.

The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

It’s not uncommon for families to expect to pay for a funeral with life insurance benefits.

Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it?

The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications with life insurance policies. Some are no longer valid because no one has paid on them in years, and they have now lapsed. Some have beneficiaries named who are no longer living, which means delays and complications with getting your claim paid. The policy may have a lien on it. Or, the date of death or cause of death could limit the death benefit. Listing an ex-spouse or a minor as beneficiary is also a very common issue. In some states, an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary will receive nothing unless the divorce decree specifically states that they should. More delays and complications. Any of these “red flags” could prevent you from using your policy for funeral expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Additionally, have you carefully considered the amount of your life insurance policy? Aside from funeral expenses, what else do you want your loved ones to be able to pay for? Is your life insurance beneficiary a co-signer on your credit card bills, and therefore, liable to pay them? Would you want to pay off the mortgage on your home so your surviving spouse can stay there? Or, pay off vehicles or other large items? If your family members rely on your income, will they have enough to cover basic expenses until your income can be replaced? If you incur high medical bills before you pass away, they will be paid for by your estate (assets). Is your insurance policy amount enough to fill the potential loss in your estate’s worth? If you have not considered these secondary expenses, your family may have a hard time covering all the potential costs.

So, a simple plan isn’t so simple anymore.

Here are a few solutions that may help avoid complications with life insurance at the time of death:

Review Your Policies.

If you plan to use life insurance benefits to cover your funeral, check the policy and make sure it is still valid. If you have any questions, contact an elder law attorney. They will help identify any “red flags” in your policies and assist you in correcting them. Or, if you are in the midst of planning a funeral for a lost loved one, you can direct your questions to the funeral home. Please contact your life insurance company for specific questions about your policy.

Make Sure the Policy is Assignable.

When you review your policy, make sure it is “assignable.” You must be able to assign the benefits to go to a third party who will file the claim for you (the funeral home, or an assignment company). The type of policy you signed up for and the life insurance company determine whether a policy is assignable. Funeral homes generally accept a life insurance policy in lieu of payment for a funeral, though it’s best not to assume that they will. Remember, if they do accept a policy as payment, it must be assignable. Retirement benefits and 401(k) benefits are not assignable. If the policy is not assignable, families will be unable to use life insurance to cover funeral costs. This is in large part because insurance companies can take at least 6 to 8 weeks to process a claim. Typically, this is long after the funeral has taken place.

Use an Advance Funding Company.

Some funeral homes partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company). Similar to a tax return advance you might get from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. In short, an assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. Funds are advanced within 24-48 hours once the verification process is complete. The best part is, your claim is filed for you, and any funds in excess of funeral expenses can be advanced right to you. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

If you are interested in finding out more about assignment companies, one reputable assignment service company is CLAIMCHECK. Take a few moments to look at the website. Think about whether an assignment company is an option you’d like to pursue. If it is, contact the funeral homes in your area to find out if they partner with an assignment company. Please note, you must go through the funeral home in order to use an assignment company. This option may not be available in your area, so ask the funeral home for their best solutions. They are knowledgeable and will have helpful suggestions for you.

Take Care of Any Issues Before Death Occurs.

It’s hard to deal with the financial assets of a lost loved one. If there is no clear heir, the courts will likely probate the estate. When an estate is probated, it means that the court system must approve the validity of a last will and testament and confirm the appointment of the executor. This process can sometimes be lengthy and incur additional costs. You will make it much easier for your heirs to inherit your assets according to your wishes if you create a will and update the beneficiary information on your policies regularly.

Preplan Your Funeral.

Another way you can help your loved ones is by planning the details of your funeral in advance. This actually helps your family save money because they know your wishes. When family members are grieving, it can be hard for them to make decisions. Sometimes there is a tendency to overspend because people want “only the best” for Mom or Dad. But buying with this mentality leaves less money in the proverbial pot. Will there be enough for living expenses, debt repayment, and maybe even college for the kids? A prepaid funeral plan offers several surprising benefits above and beyond what a simple life insurance policy can do. See the chart below for a few of the benefits of a prepaid funeral plan.

Though it is sometimes a challenge, the funeral home will work with families to discover solutions for funeral payment. Sometimes a death comes quickly and unexpectedly, and people are not always prepared for such a great expense. Determine your plan before tragedy strikes. By doing so, you can relieve your loved ones of money worries on one of the worst days of their lives.

What is the Average Cost of a Funeral?

By Plan Ahead

Similar to a wedding, a funeral is a very significant event, commemorated by a gathering of family and friends and a ceremony, followed by a reception. The funeral fulfills a necessary role in our grief journeys and helps us find comfort surrounded by loved ones. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief expert, counselor, and author, says, “The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.”

So, how can we prepare for the cost of such a significant life event? After all, there are no do-overs for a funeral! For reference, in the United States, the average cost of a wedding in 2021 was $34,000 (including the engagement ring), according to a survey of 15,000 couples. Additionally, the overall cost was vastly different depending on what state you married in: $47,000 for a wedding in New Jersey while it was $17,500 for a wedding in Utah. Many times, a similar type of variance will exist in regard to funeral costs and planning simply because it is a very similar type of event.

Keep in mind that just as every wedding is different, every funeral is different. Because of this, the final costs will vary based on personal preferences and the needs of the family, as well as their budget. Some will choose cremation over burial, a funeral service over a memorial service, a flat grave marker over a monument. Each of these individual choices will affect the overall cost.

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the world’s leading and largest funeral association and a trusted leader in the funeral service profession, regularly conducts a survey tracking the average cost of a funeral. Their most recent survey looked at the average cost of a funeral in 2021 as compared to 2016 (5-year span). Two types of funerals were surveyed (both pertaining to adults): 1) a funeral with viewing and burial, and 2) a funeral with viewing and cremation.

1. Funeral with Viewing and Burial


2. Funeral with Viewing and Cremation


Most of the items listed are fairly self-explanatory, but you may be wondering what the “basic service fee” includes. Generally, basic service fees cover a proportionate amount of overhead, which includes the services of the funeral director and staff, facility maintenance and utilities, equipment and inventory cost, taxes and insurance, and other administrative expenses.

3. Direct Cremation/Direct Burial

The total cost of direct cremation or direct burial will be lower than the figures listed above. This is mainly because direct options do not typically include a memorial service. But again, the fees will vary depending on what state you reside in and which funeral home you choose. It’s important to make sure you are comparing apples to apples if you find what looks like a good price or special offer. Ask questions, and be sure that the package includes everything you and your family are looking for in a cremation or burial plan.

Get an accurate cost estimate from a funeral home near you

Remember, the average cost does not reflect the highest or lowest prices. Since prices can vary by region, you can get a more accurate picture of the cost of a funeral in your area simply by asking. Every funeral home is required by law to provide you with a General Price List upon request. With this resource in hand, you can look for the options that best fit your needs and budget and gain a more accurate picture of the cost of funerals in your area.

Food, flowers, and obituaries

Please note that the average cost of a funeral outlined above does not include services that are not provided by the funeral home. Most funeral homes refer to these costs as “cash advance items.”

However, these items can usually be coordinated by the funeral home and included in the funeral contract. “Cash advance items” may include, but are not limited to:

  • Church or venue charges (if you decide not to use the facilities available at the funeral home)
  • Flowers
  • Officiating clergy honorarium
  • Specialty music (should you decide to bring in a musician who requires payment)
  • Obituary/Death notice in a newspaper or online
  • Police escort to gravesite
  • Cemetery charges (the cost of a plot or niche and the opening/closing of the grave)
  • Grave marker charge
  • Reception venue
  • Catering
  • Clean-up services
  • Copies of the death certificate

As you can see, the answer to the question “What is the average cost of a funeral?” is difficult to pin down. In the end, the total cost will depend on many factors, including which funeral home you choose, where you live, how elaborate or simple you want the service to be, etc.

Once you have an accurate cost estimate, your next step is to consider how you want to pay for the funeral. Paying in advance can often lock in the funeral costs at today’s prices. This will help your family to save money in the long run.

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