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3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a visitation when a loved one dies? Why don’t we just skip to the funeral? This article will share three key reasons why visitations are a crucial part of a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says that in order to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should intentionally incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Why Have a Visitation?

According to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of the funeral and visitation is to offer support for those who are grieving. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone, which is why the visitation is included in the seven elements of a funeral. The visitation is a time specifically set aside for friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to come pay their respects to the person who has died and to offer condolences and support to the grieving family.

While it is common for the body to be present at a visitation, it doesn’t have to be. If the body is not present, it’s best to have some kind of representation of the one who has died, such as a prominently placed portrait, urn, or some other personalized display.

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

As mentioned earlier, a visitation is one way to activate a community of support. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Funerals make a social statement that says, ‘Come support me.’ Whether they realize it or not, those who choose not to have a funeral are saying, ‘Don’t come support me.’” By including a visitation in your funeral plans, you give others the opportunity to show their love for you, support you, and offer words of kindness and sincerity. Who knows…someone may say exactly what you need to hear to find solace and comfort following the loss of a loved one.

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

Often, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances want to offer their support but may not be able to make it to a funeral in the middle of the day because of work obligations, especially on short notice. Because a visitation typically takes place in the evening, it offers your extended network of friends an opportunity to show their support, even if they can’t make it to the funeral.

3. A Visitation Can be the Most Meaningful Part of the Service

The visitation is often the first time extended family, friends, and immediate family members will be able to gather in one place after a loss. For many mourners, this time is special because they are able to see many people they haven’t seen in years. It is often like a family reunion that becomes the most meaningful part of the service for some mourners. The visitation allows time and space to talk about the loss, express emotions, and generally feel the outpouring of love from friends and family alike.

What Are My Visitation Options?

If you do decide to include a visitation in a service you are planning, there are typically two main options to choose from. However, keep in mind that they are not either/or options. You could choose both!

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

Your first option is to have the visitation the day or evening before the funeral service. By having the visitation the day before the service, you break up the length of the event, which may be helpful for the grieving family. Grief is exhausting, so splitting up the events of the funeral into more manageable chunks is often helpful. Also, people who may not be able to attend the funeral service still have the opportunity to show their support and pay their respects.

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

Your second option is to have the visitation just prior to the funeral service (usually the hour before). For some families, this option may work well because everything takes place on just one day. However, keep in mind, the day will be long for the grieving family. Because there is only one event to attend, everyone who would like to attend may not be able to come. Also, for those who can only stay for the visitation, it may feel awkward to leave before the funeral service.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. Both of these options will help activate the support system you will need for your journey toward healing and reconciliation. Weigh the pros and cons of each option. Talk to your family. Ask a funeral professional about what works well and what doesn’t. Then, with the knowledge you’ve gained, make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Veterans

Our veterans represent courage, honor, and sacrifice. Throughout our history as a nation, our military men and women have stepped up to face the opposition, protect our way of life, and preserve our freedom. Because we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, it’s appropriate that we honor them in special and symbolic ways upon their death. They served us in life; let us honor them in death.

The Department of Defense, through a program called “Honoring Those Who Served,” is responsible for providing military funeral honors. In most cases, the military personnel who participate do so on a volunteer basis. Keep in mind, military honors must be requested, so if you are in the process of planning a funeral for a veteran, work with a funeral director to make an official request.

Military funeral honors vary. A few factors that affect military honors are whether the armed forces member was active duty, retired, or a veteran; their rank; and the place of burial. For veterans buried in national cemeteries, the honors will have an added element of formality and include additional elements, such as a horse-drawn caisson for commissioned officers buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries will be less formal and include fewer elements.

For now, let’s review the most common ceremonial elements and why they are significant to our veterans.

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

If a family requests military honors, at least two honor guards will attend the funeral, one of which is currently serving in the same branch that the deceased veteran did. Depending on availability and the rank of the veteran, the honor guard may consist of more members. The honor guard will carry out the requested honors with precision and respect.

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

The flag-draped casket or urn is a prominent feature of a military funeral that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, it was tradition to cover the dead with a flag before removal from the battlefield. Today, the tradition continues to remind the living of that person’s service and sacrifice. With the American flag, the blue field spreads at the head, over the left shoulder of the casket. After services conclude, the honor guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Folding of the Flag

The honor guard at the funeral will also fold and present the flag. It takes 13 individual folding movements to create the ceremonial triangle, which is intended to represent the tricorn hats worn by George Washington and his men at the foundation of our country. After the flag is folded, the service member representing the veteran’s branch of service presents the flag to the next of kin and says:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Playing of Taps

In 1862, during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield, with the help of bugler Oliver Norton, revised an earlier bugle call into what is now known as “Taps.” Previously, the song signaled to troops that it was time to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, shortly after Butterfield’s revisions, captain-in-charge John Tidnall presided over a funeral. He asked his men to play Taps rather than firing the customary three volleys. At the time, three volleys conveyed to the enemy an intention to begin fighting again. To avoid sending this message, the bugler simply played Taps. Since that time, the song has been associated with military funerals.

At funerals today, if a bugler is available, Taps will be played live. However, if no bugler is available, a recording of the song will always be played.

Additional Elements

To review, the honor guard, draping of the casket, folding and presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps are the core elements of a military funeral. Depending on availability, families can incorporate other symbolic actions.

These elements include:

  • Three-volley salute
  • Color guard
  • Pallbearers
  • Horse-drawn caisson
  • Military flyover

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

In addition to the performance of these time-honored, symbolic actions, eligible veterans also receive other burial benefits. The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. For instance, eligible veterans receive a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available. This is at no cost to the family. Additionally, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

To learn more about your veterans’ benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov.

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As people, we are unique individuals. We may sometimes resemble each other or like similar things, but no other person on earth is exactly like anyone else. Because we are so different, because we have our own nuances and intricacies, it makes sense to personalize a funeral. Just as we personalize our weddings, our birthdays, or our anniversaries, the final celebration of our life should reflect who we are, what we value, and what we leave behind as a legacy to others.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-respected grief counselor and educator, tells us that “people who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a final tribute for a recently lost loved one, personalization is the key to creating a healing and meaningful experience that will meet the emotional needs of family and offer comfort throughout the grief journey.

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should include seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. You can personalize any one of these elements to fit your personality, beliefs, and core values. For example, the music can include favorite songs, no matter the genre. You could incorporate a release ceremony or share readings from a favorite book, song, or poet. If it’s something that will honor the life lived, and it will be meaningful, then that’s a way to personalize.

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

The first step is taking time to brainstorm the person’s likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs, their passions, hobbies, and pastimes. You can do that through asking yourself a series of questions and then deciding which ones capture the essence of the person who has died and reflect who they were.

  • What was my loved one passionate about?
  • What attributes were they known for?
  • Do you have any cherished memories of your loved one?
  • Did your loved one have any special achievements you’d like to recognize?
  • Was your loved one exceptionally talented at something?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one’s hobbies or special interests?
  • What was your loved one’s faith or spiritual belief?

Once you’ve pinpointed the answer to these questions, decide how to use them to personalize each of the seven elements of the funeral. You can weave a theme throughout the event or you can simply focus on a few aspects of your or a loved one’s life. As long as you are taking the time to truly honor a life, then choose whatever seems best for you and your family.

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

Even after a brainstorming session, it can be tough to get started. Here are a few personalization ideas to get your creative mind up and running. Feel free to use these or come up with your own ideas!

  • Include a memorial DVD
  • Add in a candlelight ceremony
  • Choose a special location for the service
  • Pick a color or clothing theme
  • Bring in special music
  • Share a meal that includes favorite foods
  • Incorporate cherished items
  • Establish a memorial together
  • Make a collage or timeline of life events
  • Give guests a token/item to take home as a remembrance
  • Consider a release ceremony (butterflies, balloons, lanterns, doves, etc.)

All of these are potential ideas, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are as unique as you are. Whether your loved one was a quilter, a collector, an artist, an animal lover, a teacher, a cowboy, a fisherman, a golfer, you can do something special to honor that person’s memory in a very unique and personal way.

No two funerals should be the same. Each one should be unique and personal. And with a funeral that is personalized, family and friends leave feeling that the service was healing, comforting, and meaningful. And above all, that the life lived was truly celebrated.

7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Expenses

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

When a loved one dies, the last thing you want to do is think about how to pay for the funeral, especially if funds are tight and the death is unexpected. Sadly, this is sometimes the case. In a recent survey, research shows that only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. This means that many families won’t have the personal finances available to cover the unexpected cost of a funeral.

If this is your situation, you aren’t alone, and you do have some options. Be aware that most funeral homes require payment upfront, but a good funeral director will work with you as much as he or she can to help you access benefits that may be available and stick to your budget.

Let’s discuss 7 practical options available to you when it comes to paying for unexpected funeral expenses. You may find that a combination of these options helps you and your family create a plan that honors your loved one and meets your needs for a healing and meaningful service.

1. Use life insurance or a final expense plan

If your loved one had a current life insurance or final expense plan in place at the time of their death, talk to your funeral director about using a life insurance policy for the funeral expenses. You may also check with your loved one’s employer, as sometimes employers offer life insurance policies through the workplace. Often, a funeral home will file the claim on your behalf. Depending on how much the policy is worth, the beneficiary may even receive excess funds above the cost of the funeral. Also, both kinds of policies can have unexpected complications, and even if your policy is problem free, be aware that it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment. Some funeral homes use a third party assignment company to expedite payment on verified benefits, which usually involves a small fee.

2. Choose an affordable option

First and foremost, choosing affordable options is the best way to reduce the overall cost of a funeral. Typically, cremation costs trend lower than burial costs, but be sure to look into both options before you jump to conclusions. Sometimes a direct burial is nearly the same cost as cremation. And keep in mind that choosing cremation or direct burial doesn’t mean you have to skip a healing and meaningful service. Often, a very inexpensive memorial service can be arranged to honor and celebrate your loved one’s life, even if it’s an informal gathering just for family.

3. Apply for free benefits (based on eligibility)

Next, look into any benefits that your family may be eligible to receive from the government. For instance, if your loved one was a veteran, they may be entitled to certain burial benefits, including monetary assistance and possibly a free burial space in a state or national cemetery and a grave marker. Also, the Social Security Administration pays out a small, one-time survivor’s benefit at the time of death. And finally, look at nonprofits, charities, or churches. For example, the Little Love Foundation assists families who have lost an infant with funeral costs.

4. Tap into personal funds

While this option is not ideal, it can help to consider liquidating any assets that you may have access to. Is there anything you can sell, such as non-retirement stocks or bonds, collectors’ items, or an unused vehicle or RV? Or, you may have a bit of personal savings set aside that can be combined with other sources of funding. Tapping into your personal assets and savings could help you avoid having to take on debt to pay for a funeral.

5. Recruit friends and family to help

More often than not, people will try to help each other out. While you may feel embarrassed at first, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. First, ask any family members – siblings, cousins, children, aunts, uncles – to contribute to the funeral expenses. After that, you may consider asking any close friends whom you think would want to support you and your family in this way. With all the funds gathered, you can then choose an affordable option for your loved one.

6. Set up a crowdfunding campaign

If no financial plan is in place at the time of need, you 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 create a meaningful ceremony for your loved one.

7. Use a credit card or funeral loan

The final possibility you may consider 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.

The Value of Planning Ahead

Ultimately, the best way to save money and prevent future headaches for your family is to plan ahead. If you are dealing with a death right now, this advice comes a little too late, but it bears keeping in mind for the future. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral provider, ask to speak with a funeral prearrangement specialist. Most funeral homes offer free advance funeral planning services to their communities. Take advantage of this opportunity to understand your options and take care funeral costs in advance.

When you plan ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options that you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options that you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. So, if you are young and in good health, planning ahead can potentially save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. There are several safe and secure payment options available for advance funeral planning. Speak to your local funeral professional for more information.

How to Write a Great Obituary

By Planning Tools

After the loss of a loved one, family members are often overwhelmed by all of the decisions that have to be made in the midst of their grief. One of the details that has to be taken care of is the writing of the obituary. If you have recently lost a loved one and don’t know where to start with the obituary, you may find the following tips useful. This information will walk you step-by-step through the process of writing a great obituary.

Announce the death

Start off the obituary by announcing the death of the loved one. Provide the name and a very brief description, the age of the deceased, and the day of passing. You can probably squeeze all of this information into one sentence. For example:

On Monday, September 4, 2017, John Doe, loving husband and father of four children, passed away at the age of 74.

Provide general biographical information

Include some biographical information such as birth date, upbringing, education, marriage information, accomplishments, and work history. Be compact and precise with your wording. Try to get as much meaning into as few words as possible.

John was born on July 31, 1943 in Houston, TX to Bob and Jane (Smith) Doe. He received his law degree from the University of Texas in Austin in 1971, and he practiced business law for 31 years in Houston. On May 28, 1975, he married Grace Ann Lewis. They raised two sons, Nick and Joel, and two daughters, Alice and Lisa.

Make it personal

To write a great obituary, it’s important to capture the spirit of the loved one who has passed. Compose a paragraph that describes not only what your loved one did, but also what your loved one was like. For example, focus on hobbies, passions, and personal characteristics. Remember, newspapers will charge you by line, word, or inch (depending on the publication), so don’t write more than you can afford. A short, factual obituary might be all you need. But if you want to write a special, personalized obituary, include details like this:

John had a passion for painting. He also loved to bird watch, and he combined his two favorite hobbies to create extraordinary art. His paintings of various birds were much admired not only by friends and family, but also by all who frequented the coffee shops where his paintings were displayed. He was also an avid music lover and a collector of Beatles memorabilia. He was known for his quick wit, his infectious smile, and his kind and compassionate spirit.

Listing the family members

While you don’t have to mention every nephew and cousin by name, it’s important to write a general overview of the family members who passed away before the loved one as well as the surviving family. Close family members can be listed by name, and other relatives can be referred to more generally.

John was preceded in death by his father, Bob, and his mother, Jane. He is survived by his wife Grace, his four children, Nick, Joel, Alice, and Lisa, his brother Paul, and several cousins, nieces, and a nephew.

Funeral information

Provide the date, time, and location of the funeral. Also include information regarding donations, flowers, or condolences.

A funeral service will be held on Thursday, September 7th, 2017 at the Church of Christ on Main Street at 1 o’clock p.m. Flowers or donations may be sent to 1234 St. Houston, TX.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a complete obituary.

                                                                          Sample Obituary

On Monday, September 4, 2017, John Doe, loving husband and father of four children, passed away at age 74.

John was born on July 31, 1943 in Houston, TX to Bob and Jane (Smith) Doe. He received his law degree from the University of Texas in Austin in 1971, and practiced business law for 31 years in Houston. On May 28, 1975, he married Grace Lewis Doe. They raised two sons, Nick and Joel, and two daughters, Alice and Lisa.

John had a passion for painting. He also loved to bird watch, and he combined his two favorite hobbies to create extraordinary art. His paintings of various birds were much admired not only by friends and family, but also by all who frequented the coffee shops where his paintings were displayed. He was also an avid music lover and a collector of Beatles memorabilia. He was known for his quick wit, his infectious smile, and his kind and compassionate spirit.

John was preceded in death by his father, Bob, and his mother, Jane. He is survived by his wife Grace, his four children, Nick, Joel, Alice, and Lisa, his brother Paul, and several cousins, nieces, and a nephew. A funeral service will be held on Thursday, September 7th, 2017 at the Church of Christ on Main Street at 1 o’clock p.m. Flowers or donations may be sent to 1234 St. Houston, TX.

Review for mistakes

Check, check, and check again. Once you are satisfied with the finished product, pass it off to a friend or a dispassionate third party for review. Since obituaries are composed during a time of grief, it’s not always easy to keep a clear mind when writing one. It’s always good to get multiple perspectives. When you are sure that the obituary is as good as it can be, send it off for publication.

For examples of unusual and inspirational obituaries, visit these pages:

This Incredible Obituary May Be the Best Thing You Read All Week

Betsy Cohen

Seattle Author’s Powerful Self-Written Obituary Goes Viral

94-year-old’s obituary is what every mom hopes her kids will write for her

6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Funeral Goods and Services

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Most of us will only plan a handful of funerals in our lifetime, and because it is so infrequent, we often don’t know what to do, how to do it, or how much it should cost. Fortunately for us, funeral directors are here to help. When you walk into a funeral home, you don’t have to have everything figured out. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. However, while you don’t have to know everything, it’s always good practice to prepare as much as you can in advance. Today, let’s talk about a few things you probably didn’t know about funeral goods and services.

1. What is the General Price List (GPL)?

A General Price List (GPL) is an itemized list of the goods and services provided by the funeral home, including their associated cost. The GPL allows you and the funeral professional to openly talk about the goods and services that are best for you and your family. The GPL includes the cost for many different items and services, including but not limited to:

  • Basic service
  • Preparation of the body (embalming, dressing, casketing, etc.)
  • Use of facilities and staff for various types of funeral services
  • Transportation
  • Burial options
  • Cremation options
  • Memorial packages
  • Urns
  • Outer burial containers (sometimes on a separate list from GPL)
  • Caskets (sometimes on a separate list from GPL)

2. What is the Funeral Rule?

In the funeral profession, funeral homes abide by the Funeral Rule, set in place by the Federal Trade Commission. These regulations allow the funeral home to provide you, the consumer, with certain rights and privileges. The Funeral Rule allows you to:

Choose what goods and services you want.

Personalization is key to a healing and meaningful funeral, and funeral professionals are willing to work with you to select the options that are best for you and your family.

Call for pricing information.

Sometimes you just don’t know which funeral home you want to partner with, so you call around. While the price is important, you should also take other factors into consideration, like location, reputation, facilities, and the services available. To learn more about choosing the best funeral home partner for you, read Top 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home.

Review an itemized statement before payment.

Transparency is important. Both the GPL and the itemized statement are ways for the funeral home to open pathways for clear communication with you. After you choose which goods and services you want, they will provide you with an itemized statement so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Take home a price list for caskets and outer burial containers.

Before you make any decisions on a casket or outer burial container, you can peruse all the options available at the funeral home. Then, you can ask questions and discuss the best options with your family before making a decision.

Select an alternative container for cremation.

No longer must you use a casket for cremation. Now, you can use an alternative container, often made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard. Just talk with your funeral professional for more details.

Purchase a casket or urn on your own.

While purchasing a casket or urn from the funeral home is the most convenient option and ensures that you receive a quality item, you can purchase these items from other places.

Elect to forego embalming.

With direct cremation or immediate burial, embalming isn’t necessary. If you select other services, speak with your funeral professional to determine if embalming is the best way to fulfill your wishes.

3. What is a basic service fee?

Simply put, the basic service fee is a set charge for the professional services of the funeral director and staff. This fee includes services provided by the funeral home, including conducting the arrangement conference, planning the services, obtaining permits and death certificates, preparing notices, and seeing to cemetery or crematory arrangements. This fee may also include overhead that hasn’t been allocated elsewhere.

4. What are cash advance items?

Cash advance items are funeral-related goods and services that must be purchased from a third-party vendor. In other words, a service that is not expressly provided by the funeral home. A great example is the publication of an obituary in a newspaper. It is the newspaper, not the funeral home, that determines the cost to print. For more information on cash advance items, make sure to read 9 Funeral Costs That Are Often Overlooked.

5. Why does the cost of a funeral vary so widely across the nation?

While there are many reasons, one of the primary reasons is the cost of real estate and property taxes. In some areas of the country, the cost of overhead is higher, and similar to how housing prices differ across the nation, so do funeral costs. Another factor is that costs are dependent on what merchandise you choose. An item that is made locally will cost less than an item that must be shipped across the country.

6. What do I need to know about cemetery costs?

First, you should know that funeral costs and cemetery costs are often separate. This is because, for the most part, funeral homes do not also own and operate cemeteries, unless they are a combination operation. If the cemetery is run by a different proprietor than your funeral home partner, the costs are separate.

Second, it’s helpful to know what cemetery costs typically entail. On the whole, cemetery costs will include the purchase of a plot, niche, or other designated final resting place on the cemetery grounds. In addition to the final resting place, the cost will also include the opening and closing of the grave as well as a fee for the perpetual care of the gravesite.

Taking the Next Step

Now that you have more information about funeral goods and services, the next step is deciding what to do with all that you’ve learned. More and more families have found that planning ahead for funeral wishes saves time, decreases stress, and allows families to spend more time grieving together at a time of loss. If you are interested in learning more about how to plan ahead, take a few minutes to check out the following articles:

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

What Vital Statistics Should I Bring to a Funeral Arrangement Conference?

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

When a loved one dies, the emotions of grief can hit hard. These feelings range from person to person and may include sadness, shock, anger, or anxiety. It is during this time of emotional distress that an arrangement conference takes place and a funeral is planned, unless funeral arrangements were taken care of ahead of time. Whether the funeral was planned in advance or the planning is imminent, the funeral home will ask for certain vital statistics about your loved one.

Why does the funeral home need these vital statistics?

Throughout the funeral planning process, the funeral home staff acts as your representative in many ways. They coordinate between third parties, like the florist, clergy, musicians, Veterans Affairs, etc. Also, with the vital information provided, they obtain permits for burial or cremation; in some cases, help prepare the obituary; and submit a request for a death certificate to the county. And if your loved one was a veteran, they coordinate with the Armed Forces for any military honors you may request for your loved one. These are just a few of the details they take care of, but to accomplish these, the funeral home staff needs to know your loved one’s pertinent information.

What vital statistics should I bring with me to the arrangement conference?

If possible, it’s best to prepare this information before you attend the arrangement conference. By doing so, you will make the arrangement conference much smoother and more efficient for yourself and your loved ones.

Be sure to bring these vital statistics to the funeral arrangement conference for your loved one:

  • Full legal name
  • Address
  • Race and gender
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death (city and county)
  • Age
  • Social Security Number
  • Occupation (kind of business or industry)
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s name (if applicable)
  • Maiden name (if applicable)
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Education information
  • Armed Forces information (including DD-214)
  • Name of surviving spouse and family members

Is there anything else I should bring?

It is always helpful to come prepared with obituary information (or an already written draft of the obituary). Additionally, the more you think about the service details, the easier the conversation will go. So, consider what kind of service you want for your loved one, what personalized touches you will add to make the ceremony unique to your loved one, and where will you lay them to rest permanently.

The more information you take with you to the arrangement conference, the better. But no matter what, the funeral home staff will work with you to make sure that, together, you create a ceremony that is healing, meaningful, and uniquely tailored to your loved one’s life and spirit.

If you would like more information on planning a funeral, the following articles may be helpful to you:

Funeral Planning Checklist

Quick Start Resource Guide: Planning a Funeral

What Are My Burial Options?

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Or, if you would like more information on planning ahead and getting your affairs in order, go to:

Getting Your Affairs in Order

How to Get Started with Funeral Planning

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

6 Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A funeral is an important event for those who have lost someone loved. It’s a time to gather together, to honor the memory of the one who has died, to acknowledge the reality of death, to personally grieve, and to hopefully begin a healthy grief journey. Putting together a meaningful and healing funeral service is important to the grief process for those left behind and cannot be understated.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that your funeral is exactly what your grieving family will want and need. But perhaps you are skeptical about planning ahead. It may be something you’ve thought about doing, but you just don’t know how to get started. What does preplanning entail? Why should you do it? How does it benefit you or those you love? To learn more, let’s review ten reasons why you should consider planning ahead for your funeral wishes:

1. Planning Ahead Provides Peace of Mind to All Involved

Typically, the first few days after a loss are hazy and can feel like a dark cloud has descended. And in the midst of this emotional stress, the details of a funeral service are planned. Imagine if you could alleviate the burden that will fall on your loved ones to plan and pay for your funeral services. You can! Planning ahead is a gift of love that brings great peace of mind.

2. Planning Ahead Gives You Time to Create a Meaningful and Healing Celebration of Life

Planning ahead gives you and your family members (if you choose to invite them into the process) time to plan a meaningful funeral service. Without the time constraints associated with immediate need, you can thoughtfully plan and prepare a funeral service (burial or cremation) that will fulfill your wishes and meet the emotional needs of your family. A thoughtfully planned funeral service is a healthy first step for the bereaved on their individual grief journeys.

3. Planning Ahead Ensures That Your Wishes Are Known

If you have specific wishes for your funeral service, prearranging allows you to share those wishes with your family. And, if you elect to also pay for the funeral in advance (there are several ways), you are even more likely to ensure that your wishes are carried out. The funeral home will work with you to determine which options best fit your wishes, your budget, and your family’s needs.

4. Planning Ahead Saves You Money

It’s not uncommon for families to overspend when a loved one dies. Often, the family wants “only the best” for their loved one or their financial decisions are clouded by grief. This is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead. You make financial decisions with a clear, rational mind rather than one affected by emotional strain. In this way, you can control the ending budget for the cost of your funeral. By doing this, you can save your family money in the long run.

5. Planning Ahead Protects Against Inflation

Many funeral homes will guarantee in writing that the funeral services and merchandise that are itemized on your contract will be covered by your plan’s benefits at the time of death. Of course, this is only possible if you decide to prepay for your funeral expenses. If your funds are placed in a prepaid funeral plan, the growth on your plan could have certain tax advantages.

6. Planning Ahead Secures and Protects Your Funeral Funds

If you decide to prefund as well as preplan your funeral arrangements, you can ensure that the funds to pay for the funeral are secure and protected. The most secure way to protect the funds is through a prepaid funeral insurance policy, but there are other ways to prefund a funeral. There will be pros and cons to each one. As you research your options, you can determine which type is best suited to your individual needs.

7. Planning Ahead May Help You Qualify for Medicaid Coverage

This is commonly called “Medicaid spend down,” and refers to the process of divesting your assets down to an amount that makes you eligible for Medicaid coverage for long-term care. If you place your burial funds (for services provided by the funeral home) and burial space items (merchandise and items associated with burial of the body) into an irrevocable contract, then whatever funds you place in the contract will be considered exempt assets for Medicaid purposes.

8. Prepaid Funeral Funds Are Available Immediately

If you decide to set up a prepaid funeral policy, the funds are immediately available when the need for them arises. The funds can be set up to transfer directly to the funeral home. By doing it this way, you avoid probate court and unexpected delays. If you decide to use a life insurance policy to pay for your funeral expenses, it may be six to eight weeks before the funds are available.

9. Consultations with a Preplanning Specialist Are Free

When you partner with a funeral home, a qualified funeral preplanning specialist will work with you to iron out all the details for your funeral wishes. They will educate you on all the options that are available to you. With their depth of knowledge and experience, they will help you make informed decisions regarding your plans. And best of all, their assistance is free!

10. Our Tomorrows Aren’t Guaranteed

We don’t know what the future holds. But we can be certain of one thing – none of us are promised tomorrow. Denying the reality of death doesn’t make it less true. In many ways, the most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance. The future may be uncertain, but by planning ahead, you can make a difference in the lives of your loved ones.

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. For example, do not give a blank check to any agent. Your payments should go directly to a third-party rather than an individual.

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