Category

Planning Tools

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A recent study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that nearly 70% of adults over the age of 40 say they would prefer to prearrange their own funeral. However, only 17% had done so. If you are like most adults, you agree that preplanning and prepaying for your funeral wishes is a good idea, but you just don’t know how to get started. As with any financial decision, you probably have questions about the long-term benefits for you and your family. Planning ahead can be an incredible gift of love to those you care about, when it is done correctly. With that in mind, here are a few questions you might consider asking as you work with a licensed funeral planning specialist.

10 Questions to Ask When Prepaying a Funeral

1. How safe are my funeral funds going to be?

Your funds will not go directly to the funeral home. For your safety, the law requires that your payment(s) go to a third-party insurance company or trust account to manage the funds.

Before signing anything, look into the safety, stability, and performance of the insurance company or funeral trust account. Do they have a good rating by an independent rating company? Do they have a sound financial outlook? What is their reputation? Does it seem likely that they will be in business for years to come? You don’t want to commit to a prepaid funeral insurance policy or funeral trust unless you have confidence that your funds will be in safe hands. If you are not comfortable with the funding options available, request an alternate option.

2. Can I qualify for a prepaid funeral plan if I have health issues?

There are two standard ways to prepay for a funeral: a funeral insurance policy or a funeral trust. Most funeral insurance policies require you to answer a few basic health questions (funeral trusts do not ask health questions). Your answers to the health questions will determine the type of coverage you are eligible for. In most cases, your health status will not prevent you from setting up a prepaid funeral plan that is right for your situation.

To get specific details about the plans you qualify for health-wise, it’s best to speak with your funeral provider. They can give you more details about the funeral insurance policies that you are eligible to receive or how to set up a funeral trust. In general, some funeral insurance policies are easier to qualify for but offer no insurance protection in case death occurs before your payments are complete. Other plans offer limited insurance for accidental death only, but after a certain amount of time, the policy converts to a fully insured plan that covers the full cost of your plan should you die before payments are complete. Another possible option is a fully-insured policy that covers your plan 100% from day 1 and requires a few basic health qualifications to be met.

Again, your funeral provider can give you more details about funeral trusts, or the funeral insurance policy you are eligible to receive based on your honest answers to the health questions.

3. Can I cancel my funeral insurance policy or trust?

When planning ahead for funeral costs, it’s important to understand the terms of your contract should you decide to cancel at a later date. For a funeral insurance policy, in most states, there is an initial cancellation period. During this period, you can cancel your funeral policy for a full refund within a certain time frame, usually between 3 and 30 days. After the cancellation period passes, your ability to cancel will depend on whether the policy is revocable or irrevocable.

Revocable policies

With a revocable policy, you can cancel the plan at any time to receive the cash value of the policy. Keep in mind that depending on the type of policy you have, you may get back less than the amount you paid in. It’s a good idea to talk to a customer service representative at the insurance company to understand all of your options before canceling your plan.

Irrevocable policies

With an irrevocable policy, you cannot cancel the plan. An irrevocable funeral plan is usually used when an individual wants to spend down funds for Medicaid qualification by creating a Medicaid-exempt asset. Essentially, Medicaid does not consider an irrevocable plan as part of a person’s countable assets. To learn more about how irrevocable plans work, go to Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down with a Burial Plan.

Funeral trusts

You can also set up a funeral trust as an irrevocable plan to help you qualify for Medicaid. However, revocable trusts are a little different. If you decide to cancel a revocable trust, the amount of your refund will vary from state to state. In some states, a canceled trust may be subject to penalties and the funeral home may have the right to retain a certain percentage of the trust funds. In other states, the beneficiary is entitled to a 100% refund of principal and interest. Always be sure to speak to your funeral provider or a customer service representative before canceling a trust so that you have all the information you need to make a good financial decision.

4. Can the funeral home guarantee any prices in my funeral contract?

Many funeral providers offer guarantees on funeral goods, services, and merchandise provided by the funeral home with a prepaid funeral plan. This usually means that, according to your agreement, the funeral home accepts the death benefit as payment for the price of the items included in the guarantee at the time of death.

For example, let’s assume your funeral options today add up to $6,500. In 20 years, you can expect the cost of those same or equivalent options to have risen by an estimated 2% per year to approximately $9,000. With a price guarantee, the funeral home will accept the policy’s death benefit as payment in full, even if the benefits are less than the then-current funeral cost. And, if inflation doesn’t grow as expected, in most states, the family will receive a refund of any excess death benefits over the then-current price. Guarantees work differently from state to state, so be sure to check the terms of your contract to understand what will happen in case the death benefit is above or below the funeral prices at the time of loss.

Remember, not all states or funeral homes offer a guarantee and not all items are eligible for a guarantee. Additionally, some funeral homes include an added charge to guarantee items. Ensure that you understand what items, if any, are guaranteed and what items are not.

5. How often will I receive correspondence from my account administrator?

Before you sign a prepaid funeral contract, make sure that you read and fully understand the entire document. Once you’ve signed, you will receive a copy of the contract for your records. Also, when the administrating financial institution receives the funds, you will get an acknowledgment letter.

From there, the amount of correspondence you receive depends on the insurance company and/or financial institution and their practices. Some will send a privacy notice when you first sign up, though not all will do so. Some trust accounts will send you annual 1099’s on the growth of your account. In our technological times, the best way to keep up with your account is to register with the company’s website if possible and keep track of your payments there. Alternatively, if you request paper billing statements, you will see your balance on the statement when it arrives every month.

6. Are there any funeral expenses that cannot be included in my funeral contract with the funeral home?

Absolutely not, you can include anything in your plan. However, for Medicaid qualification purposes, only “normal and customary” funeral expenses will be considered exempt assets. Keep in mind, too, that certain items in your plan may involve a third-party provider and are not typically eligible for a price guarantee. These are usually referred to as cash advance items because the payment is advanced to a third-party providing a service, such as a cemetery, florist, newspaper, caterer, or police escort. Because a third party determines the cost of these items, the funeral home cannot typically guarantee them in a contract. However, you can set aside money within your plan for cash advance items. Or, you can let your family know that these expenses will not be covered within your plan. Communication with your family is the key to avoiding unexpected surprises during a time of loss.

7. If I move, can I transfer my funeral contract to another funeral home?

It’s important to understand what your options are if you move away or need to transfer your plan. In most cases, you should have no issues transferring a funeral insurance policy or funeral trust to another funeral home. However, any price guarantees or discounts from your original contract may not carry over. If you are interested in a transfer, ask the funeral home of your choice to review your policy.

8. What happens if my prepaid funeral plan hasn’t been paid in full at the time of death?

It depends. With a fully-insured policy, your family will typically receive full death benefits regardless of whether your plan was paid up. However, even fully-insured plans are contestable in the first two years. In cases of suicide or fraudulent information on the application, full benefits will not be paid.

In general, accidental death is fully covered even by limited benefit insurance policies. If the policy has no insurance coverage, your next of kin will receive the current death benefit of the plan. If any expenses still remain, the surviving family members must cover the cost. Funeral trust accounts do not have accidental death or full coverage benefits.

9. Is it possible to make changes to my funeral contract?

If your funeral contract allows it, you can make changes to the goods and services you originally selected. You cannot make changes to the final disposition (burial or cremation). Should you want to change your final disposition, you must cancel your contract and start over. If you want to make changes to your funeral contract, discuss which changes can be made with your funeral provider. Please note, changing your preferences on an irrevocable plan does not mean you can remove money from the plan.

10. How do I file a claim?

To file a claim, contact the funeral home listed on your agreement. The funeral home can proceed with filing the claim on behalf of your family. If your family wishes to transfer the policy or trust to another funeral home, that should not be a problem. If your family has questions, your next of kin may contact the administrator of your account for information.

As you decide what questions to ask, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) is also an excellent resource. On their website, they list the important components to look for when signing a prepaid funeral contract. To learn more, click here.

*Also, keep in mind: your next of kin can make changes to the funeral contract after your death in order to meet the needs of surviving family members, unless your state law prevents such changes.

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

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

1. “I’m too young.”

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

2. “I don’t have the money.”

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

3. “I’m too busy.”

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

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

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

5. “Someone else will do it.”

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

The Value of Planning Ahead

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

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

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

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

Why is the Funeral Ritual Important?

Why Do We Have Funerals? (video)

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

The Importance of a Memorial Tribute Video

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the ‘before’ to the ‘after’ is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

At the beginning of every healthy grief journey is a healing, meaningful, and personalized funeral service. As you plan a funeral, consider how you can make the experience one that meets the emotional needs of family and friends left to mourn. The more personal a funeral service is, the more meaningful it will be, and one of the most important ways you can personalize a funeral is through a tribute or memorial video.

How Tribute Videos Can Bring Comfort and Healing

Captures the uniqueness of a lost loved one

First and foremost, a tribute video is an excellent way to capture the uniqueness of the one you love. You have the opportunity to share their life story – the daily moments, the milestones, and the people who made it all worthwhile. You can use photographs, video clips, audio recordings, favorite quotes, and more to make the video a fitting tribute to your loved one. By doing this, you draw others into your loved one’s life story and stimulate their own memories.

Adds a meaningful element to the service

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that “funerals are most meaningful when they are personalized tributes to the unique life and relationships of the person who died.” A video tribute allows you to personalize the funeral service. You can use favorite songs to accompany the photos, video clips, and other features you choose to utilize. This is an opportunity to invite mourners to engage with their emotions, remember your loved one, and acknowledge the pain of loss.

Allows everyone time to reflect on their memories

Not only does a tribute video showcase the uniqueness of your loved one and provide a meaningful element to the funeral service, it also allows mourners to reflect on their own memories. This is an important aspect of making a funeral a healing experience. As Dr. Wolfelt stated, “we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief…we must journey all through it.” A tribute video opens the door for others to reflect on and engage with their own memories.

Comforts surviving family members and friends

A tribute video can offer comfort in much the same way that a treasured possession, an article of clothing, or a photograph would. Just as we may have a go-to book or movie when we want to be comforted or feel close to someone or something, a video can serve a similar purpose. In those moments when you need to feel close to your loved one, to see their face, to remember their life, you can watch the video as you grieve their absence.

Doubles as a keepsake for family and friends

Practically speaking, a tribute video makes a simple but meaningful keepsake for family and friends. At some services, the attendees are invited to take a token in remembrance of the one who has died. This action allows each mourner to feel strongly associated with the one they have lost. By giving a tribute video as a token, you provide an opportunity for them to continue to explore their feelings of loss and relive their cherished memories even after the funeral.

Offers a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations

Lastly, a tribute video provides a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations. You will likely have children and grandchildren who will want to know about your life and the people you loved who have already gone. When the questions arise, a tribute video can supplement the tales that you tell and give them a picture in their minds of the life your loved one lived. This may be an especially important exercise for children who’ve lost a parent.

Whether you decide to utilize a tribute video or not, you can plan a meaningful and healing funeral. The tribute video is just one way that you can personalize a funeral. For more ideas on how to personalize a funeral, take a moment to read 6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral. This article will give you some ideas, but only you know the best way to create something truly beautiful that reflects your loved one’s life, values, relationships, and ideals.

7 Reasons to Help Parents Preplan for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

1. Ensures that you know and can fulfill their wishes

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

2. Saves money and prevents a future financial burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Gives you more time together later

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

Next Steps

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

A Few Questions to Consider

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

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

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

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

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

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

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

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

1. Participate in a Release Ceremony

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

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

2. Incorporate Keepsake Items

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

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

3. Set a Theme

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

4. Write a Message/Letter

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

5. Prepare a Meaningful Meal

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

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

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

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

Mistake #1 – Making a decision based solely on price

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

Mistake #2 – Making a decision without enough information

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

Mistake #3 – Forgetting to balance everyone’s needs

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

Mistake #4 – Procrastinating

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

Mistake #5 – Not communicating your wishes to family

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

Mistake #6 – Paying the wrong way

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

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

Mistake #7 – Not paying in advance

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

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

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

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

Mistake #9 – Not preplanning at all

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

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

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

What is an outer burial container?

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

Why do we have them?

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

What are my options?

Grave Liner

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

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

Burial Vault

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

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

Green or Natural Burial

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

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

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

1. Prepaid Funeral Plans

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

Preneed Policies

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

Funeral Trusts

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

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

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

2. Life Insurance or Final Expense Plan

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

Advanced Funding

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

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

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

4. Credit Card or Funeral Loan

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

5. Crowdfunding Website

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

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

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

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

Materials

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

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

Types

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

Keepsake Urn

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

Decorative Urn

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

Biodegradable Urn

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

Religious Urn

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

Companion Urn

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

Infant Urn

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

Sculpted Urn

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

Themed Urn

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

Picture Urn

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

Military/Veteran Urn

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

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

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

5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

When we lose someone we love, our feeling of connection to them continues, even though they are no longer with us physically. It is this connection that contributes to our feelings of loss, that makes it so difficult to process death and move toward healing and reconciliation. And today, as cremation continues to rise as a preferred method of final disposition, one very important element of the healing process is being forgotten: the need for a permanent memorial.

In some areas of the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of families that keep the cremated remains of a loved one in their homes. While this is not bad in and of itself, it may create unforeseen difficulties down the road. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for cremated remains to be misplaced, accidentally knocked over and spilled, or even found in the trash or unknowingly donated to thrift stores.

That said, here are 5 reasons why you should consider establishing a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one:

1. It provides a place for people to mourn.

By establishing a permanent memorial, you provide a place to mourn. If a loved one dies, and one person keeps the cremated remains, it may be difficult for other family members to find a place to go to remember and honor their lost loved one. After all, everything that remains of the person may be inaccessible without inconveniencing the one who possesses the ashes. A permanent memorial allows any person access to the one who has died. Because everyone grieves in different ways and at different rates, a specific place is beneficial for individual grief journeys.

2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with the one who has died.

Additionally, a permanent memorial provides an established location for non-family members to mourn. For example, if the best friend of the person who has died wants to connect with them, to talk with them, they may have no place to go where they feel as strong a connection as a permanent memorial would provide. In this same vein, it’s not uncommon to see permanent memorials for those who have died due to acts of violence or vehicular accidents. We do this because we have a need to remember, to remind, and to honor the life lived.

3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.

Cemeteries, mausoleums, or cremation gardens will exist for many years to come. The oldest maintained cemetery in the United States is in Massachusetts, where several voyagers from the Mayflower are buried. People show great interest in their origins, and because of this curiosity, cemeteries will receive visitors consistently. They provide a permanent place for families to reconnect with their ancestors, even those who died long before they themselves were born.

4. It is practical for the family.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-known author, speaker, and grief expert, tells us that establishing a permanent memorial is a practical choice for the family. “Families can rest easy knowing that the cremated remains [of their loved one] are being taken care of in perpetuity. …Having to pass along urns to the next generation or amassing more and more urns on a shelf…is not a viable long-term solution.”

5. It ensures respect for the dead.

Keeping the cremated remains of a loved one at home can be an important part of the healing process. It all depends on what the mourner needs. But, out of respect for the one who has died, to ensure that nothing unfortunate happens to them when you are gone, it’s best to consider how you can permanently memorialize them. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “It’s about respect for the dying and the dead. Permanent memorialization is one of the most important ways in which we as a culture can ensure that respect [is carried out] ….”

It’s perfectly fine to wait to set up a permanent memorial. For some, it’s necessary to have a loved one nearby during the healing process. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up a permanent memorial. It will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.