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Casket surrounded by floral arrangements, including floral scarf of red and white flowers

6 Ways to Personalize a Casket

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

When planning a funeral service, the best way to create a truly unique, one-of-a-kind experience is to add personalized touches throughout the events. That might mean selecting special music, choosing a theme (like a certain color or pop culture reference), allowing family and friends to share memories, including hobby items or collectibles – there are so many options. But did you know that you can also personalize the casket itself? Let’s talk about 6 ways you can do it!

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

1. Choose a Color or Theme

If you have a specific vision for the perfect casket, all you need to do is speak with your chosen funeral home about your ideas. Whether you’d like a specific color (like purple, pink, or even zebra) or you’d like a specific theme (like space, John Deere tractors, or unicorns), the funeral director can work with you to ensure that your preferences are accommodated. You can also request custom head panel or lining fabric to complete the personalization.

2. Commission a Specific Shape

While the four-sided casket is the most popular choice in the United States, you can commission a specific shape. For instance, if you’d like a casket shaped like an M&M candy, a Viking longship, or even a pineapple, you can request it. Of course, it will take extra time and money to create a custom casket. With that in mind, speak with your funeral director to discuss the best way to move forward with a custom shape and how that may affect the timing of funeral services.

Bright blue casket with silver accents to showcase a custom casket idea

3. Add Etchings or Photos

Another option for personalizing a casket is to add etchings or photos to it. While photos are somewhat self-explanatory (you choose the ones you want to include), etchings may require a little explanation. With etchings, you can include any type of symbol you want – religious symbols, pop culture references, crests, anything you wish. You will work closely with the funeral director as you create the perfect design for your custom casket.

4. Place Special Items Inside the Casket

If you are looking for a way to personalize the casket without putting in a custom order, you can! Because the casket often has space along the sides or at the foot, it’s possible to bury a loved one with meaningful possessions. For example, you can include photos, special mementos, jewelry, stuffed animals, and other small items. If the person was a firefighter, you could include their helmet or a flag from their station. If they were a veteran, you can include any medals or special honors they received.

Casket draped with American flag at funeral service

5. Drape a Casket Blanket or Flag

When the casket is closed, you can always drape a casket blanket or flag over it to add personalization. A casket blanket is a beautifully designed floral arrangement that looks like a blanket and drapes over the casket. They are available in a variety of colors and create a truly stunning addition to the service. However, you can also use other items to drape over the casket. For example, you can drape a flag of any kind – an American flag, a sports team flag, an organization, etc. Also, if you’d like, you can also drape an actual blanket, like a quilt or throw. Whatever means the most to you and your family.

6. Select a Floral Accent

It’s quite common to accent a casket with a floral arrangement, but there are actually quite a few options to choose from. The casket blanket is one option, but you can also choose a casket spray, a floral garland, or a floral scarf.

  • Casket spray – most common; lays on top of the casket
  • Floral garland – flowers that are displayed at the hinge of an open casket; often constructed by binding together the arrangement with wire or tape until it is somewhat rope-like in appearance
  • Casket scarf – an arrangement that drapes over the top of the casket; displayed with fabric resembling a scarf

Casket surrounded by floral arrangements, including floral scarf of red and white flowers

As you can see, there are quite a few options for personalizing a casket. All you have to do is determine which ones make the most sense for your loved one and fit into your budget. At a time of loss, many families end up “emotionally overspending,” so before you commit to anything, speak with your funeral director about pricing and options.

Also, a quick note, it is possible to plan ahead for funeral wishes, so if you do want something specific for your casket, you can write those specifications down and set aside funds to pay for it. Set up a consultation with a funeral professional to learn more about how planning ahead for funeral wishes not only gives your family peace of mind, but it also gives you the opportunity to make your personal wishes known!

Person standing next to flag-draped casket, hand resting on top of casket

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

By Planning Tools, Veterans 3 Comments

With so many benefits available to veterans, it’s hard to keep track of all of them. To help you out, here’s a list of frequently asked questions about burial benefits and their answers!

veteran cemetery headstones with small American flags and floral arrangement

Q: What are my burial benefits as a veteran?

A: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. These burial benefits include, at no cost to the family:

  • A burial space in a national cemetery. Burial spaces may not be arranged in advance but are offered to families as the need arises. In addition, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans. Be sure to check with your local state cemetery about any fees or charges that may apply.
  • Grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, and perpetual care (for those buried in a national cemetery)
  • A government-issued headstone, marker, or medallion (all eligible veterans)
  • One burial flag (all eligible veterans)
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate (all eligible veterans)
  • Burial and plot allowances (amounts determined by VA; only for veterans not buried in a national cemetery)

For more in-depth information about these benefits, contact your local VA office, go to, or speak with a funeral professional who is well-versed in veterans’ burial benefits.

Q: Will the VA pay for my funeral?

A: The VA does not directly pay for funeral or burial/cremation expenses, such as the cost of a casket, embalming, cremation, viewing, flowers, obituaries, or transportation of the remains. However, the person who paid for the funeral expenses of a veteran may be eligible to apply for a reimbursement or “allowance” for a portion of the funeral and burial/cremation expenses. You will find instructions on how to apply for a reimbursement here.

Person standing next to flag-draped casket, hand resting on top of casket

Q: What type of reimbursement or allowance does the VA provide for funeral expenses?

A: The VA offers an allowance to cover a portion of funeral and burial/cremation costs. If a veteran dies due to a service-connected cause, the family of a veteran may be eligible for an allowance of up to $2,000.  For a non-service-connected death, the VA will pay a specified amount to the family. Plot interment and burial/cremation and funeral allowance amounts are dependent on the date of death and whether or not the veteran was under VA hospital care at the time of death.

Q: What determines eligibility for VA burial benefits, allowances, and reimbursements?

A: To receive VA burial benefits, you must be a veteran of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard) with a discharge other than dishonorable. If a veteran has anything less than a general discharge, he or she may not qualify for burial benefits. Certain discharges other than honorable are considered on a case-by-case basis by the VA Regional Office to determine eligibility.

Reservists and National Guard members may qualify based on their retirement status and whether or not they died while on active duty or on official orders. Spouses and minor or disabled children of an eligible veteran may also be eligible for burial benefits. In some cases, parents of an eligible veteran may be eligible for burial benefits as well.

To determine your specific eligibility status, contact your VA Regional Office or visit for a complete list of eligibility requirements.

Next of kin receiving the burial flag from a uniformed service member

Q: What benefits will my family members receive?

A: Burial benefits are available to eligible spouses and dependents who choose burial in a national cemetery. Benefits include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death inscribed on the veteran’s headstone.

Q: How does my family request military honors?

A: Once you have a funeral home partner, your funeral director will contact the honor guard to request military honors. At the committal service, the service member will present one burial flag to the next of kin. Make sure to let your funeral director know to whom the flag should be presented.

Q: How can I ensure my family receives the benefits they are entitled to?

A: First, ensure that your family is aware of your veteran status and your desire for them to access your veterans’ burial benefits when you die. Second, to access your burial benefits, they will need a copy of your DD 214 form or an equivalent form. This form identifies the classification of discharge. If the DD 214 form is misplaced or lost, contact Veteran Affairs or your local Veteran Service Officer to request a replacement form. You can also find more information online here.

Administrative military service member providing DD 214 documentation, signing it

Q: What is the difference between a national cemetery and a state cemetery?

A: The main difference is that state governments manage state veteran cemeteries. However, in many cases, VA grants fund state veteran cemeteries, so they must adhere to federal eligibility requirements.

Burial benefits often include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, grave liner, and the setting of the government-furnished headstone or marker. Eligible veterans also receive one burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Please note, some state cemeteries may charge for interment of the veteran and eligible spouse or dependent children. Check with your funeral director to get more information about the state veteran cemeteries in your area.

Q: If I choose burial in a private cemetery, will I still receive benefits?

A: Veterans buried in a private cemetery may be eligible to receive a government-furnished headstone, marker, or medallion, one burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. The VA will not pay for cemetery plots or opening and closing of graves at private cemeteries. However, your family can apply for a reimbursement (called an “allowance,” as mentioned above). Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive any VA benefits.

Q: What happens if my non-veteran spouse or child dies first?

A: Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried in a national cemetery, even if they predecease the veteran. If you are interested in burial at a state veteran cemetery, contact the cemetery directly to find out their regulations on the burial of a non-veteran spouse or child.

Folded American flag lying on top of a granite headstone that says R.I.P.

Q: How does my family file a claim for burial benefits?

A: For information on how to apply for a burial allowance or plot allowance, click here. If you would like to request burial in a national cemetery, the easiest thing is to let your funeral director know. They can take care of most details for you. However, if you’d like, you can contact the National Cemetery Administration directly at 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

Q: As a veteran, can I be buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

A: Burials at Arlington National Cemetery are reserved for:

  • Service members who die on active duty
  • Military retirees
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, or Purple Heart
  • Burial is also available for eligible spouses and dependent children

Q: Does the VA cover the cost of transportation to a national or state cemetery?

A: If a veteran dies as the result of a service-connected disability, is under VA care at the time of death, or is receiving a VA pension or compensation, some or all of the costs for transporting the veteran’s remains to a national cemetery may be reimbursed. The VA will advise the next of kin or person making the burial arrangements on this matter.

Hopefully, the answers to these frequently asked questions have helped you get a better understanding of the veterans’ burial benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs. But of course, should you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the VA directly or contact a trusted funeral professional. Thank you for your service!

Portrait of a smiling man in his studio

11 Qualities to Look for in a Funeral Director

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

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

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

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

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

1. Caring

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

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

2. Supportive

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

3. Honest

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

4. Trustworthy

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

Business people discussion advisor concept

5. Knowledgeable

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

6. Strong Communicator

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

7. Good Listener

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

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

8. Creative

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

9. Patient

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

10. Empathetic

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

11. Organized

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

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

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

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

Understanding Half-Couch versus Full-Couch Caskets

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

What is a Half-Couch Casket?

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

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

What is a Full-Couch Casket?

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

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

Does It Matter Which I Choose?

Ultimately, it’s up to your personal preference.

Both options:

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

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

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

Man stands in front of casket paying his respects at funeral

Are There Any Specific Benefits to Each Type?

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


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


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

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

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

Does the Casket Type Affect Personalization Options?

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

What About Cost?

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

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

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

6 Ways You Can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

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

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

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

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

Young man wearing a gray sweater who is counting dollar bills

6 Ways You can Save Money with Funeral Preplanning & Prefunding

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

1. You Can Protect Your Funeral Funds Against Inflation

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

2. You Can Pay Over Time in Installments

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

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

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

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

4. You Can Preserve Assets through Medicaid Qualification

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

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

shows stethoscope with a small chalkboard that says Medicaid

5. You Can Save Life Insurance Proceeds for Your Family

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

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

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

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

6. You Can Remove Financial Burdens from Your Family

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

Keeps them from overspending

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

Keeps them from scrambling to pay for a funeral

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

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

So, What’s Next?

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

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

What is Advance Funeral Planning?

What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

9 Preplanning Mistakes to Avoid

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

3 Funeral Insurance Options You Should Know About

beautiful woman writing into her diary, in the park

4 Reasons Why Eulogies are Important

By Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Losing a loved one can be one of the toughest trials you face in life. And maybe the last thing you want in your time of grief is to stand before a large crowd and speak about what you’re feeling. You’re not alone in feeling that way. Your emotions may feel too raw to put into words and public speaking might make you uncomfortable.

It’s enough to make you wonder, “Why have a eulogy?”

But before you ask for someone else to be the eulogizer, you should know why eulogies are important and helpful for those who grieve. A eulogy isn’t just a speech summarizing someone’s life — it’s so much more. And not having a eulogy could slow the grieving process for many.

There are 4 reasons we have eulogies at funerals: eulogies honor the life lived, offer healing with the grieving process, can help you start a healthy grief journey, and give you a chance to say goodbye. Let’s dive deeper into the importance of eulogies and see why they are a necessary part of a meaningful end-of-life ceremony.

1. Eulogies honor the life of the deceased

female hands fingering old photographs of 1950s, stack of photos on the table, concept of genealogy, memory of ancestors, family tree, nostalgia, childhood, remembering

Eulogies are most commonly known for helping honor and celebrate a loved one’s life. A thoughtful, well-crafted eulogy celebrates the life lived and explains why the deceased was loved. A eulogy should equally share the important moments of the deceased’s life and explain how they impacted others.

The eulogy is also an excellent opportunity to share the legacy of the loved one. It’s a time when questions like, “What did they value in life? Which virtues did they show? How did they respond when things got hard?” can be addressed and answered.

2. Eulogies offer healing to the grieving

Sad and lonely woman sitting alone on a park bench.

According to renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt, there are six universal needs of mourning. One of those needs is remembering the loved one who died. That’s where a eulogy can help guide those in pain toward healthy grieving.

The eulogy gives those who are still here a chance to think of how they wish to remember the deceased. Eulogies help recall warm memories, happy moments, and special stories that can provide needed comfort. Should you give the eulogy, your kind words can help ease the pain of loss for others.

Giving a eulogy can also be helpful for the eulogizer’s grief journey. As the eulogizer, you can find comfort throughout the entire writing process. Deciding what details to include and what themes to focus on will help you work through your own emotions and keep your loved one’s memory alive in your heart and mind. Peace and healing may come to you along the way.

3. Eulogies can start a healthy grief journey

One of the most important long-term benefits a eulogy can give is getting you started on the right foot of your grief journey. A eulogy or funeral can’t promise closure, but both can help you move closer to your pain, which will help bring you closer to healing. However, your grief journey is not a straight path.

During his time counseling families, Dr. Wolfelt found that there are certain paradoxes associated with mourning. One of those paradoxes is that before you can move on after a loss, you must first move closer to your pain.

“The truth, paradoxically, is that in grief, we have to go backward before we can go forward…Grief is not a train track toward acceptance. It’s more like “getting lost in the woods” and almost always gives rise to a mixture of many thoughts and feelings at once. (Grief) is often one step forward, two steps in a circle, then one step backward. It takes time, patience, and, yes, lots of backward motion before forward motion occurs.”

Click here if you’d like to understand more about Dr. Wolfelt’s teachings on the paradoxes of mourning.

4. Eulogies provide a last chance to say goodbye

Saying one last goodbye to your loved one is another service a eulogy can offer. This action can help symbolize your last act to the deceased as they were before you create a new relationship with them.

Saying goodbye is a common way most eulogies end, because saying goodbye can bring peace to the eulogizer and the audience.

Religion, death and dolor - man at funeral with white rose mourning the dead

Hopefully, you understand what a good eulogy can do for you and those who remain. It’s a truly special gift to be the eulogizer for someone you loved dearly, and there’s a reason you were chosen. Now that you know why eulogies are important and helpful, you can deliver a eulogy that will honor your loved one and help those who grieve.

Death certificate request form with pen on top

The Beginner’s Guide to Death Certificates

By Estate Planning, Planning Tools

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

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

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

Person filling out a form

1. Why You’ll Need a Death Certificate

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

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

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

Black awning for a funeral home

2. Who Supplies the Death Certificate

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

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

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

3. What Information You Need to Request a Death Certificate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful spread of ingredients to bake a cake

Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker

By Explore Options, Memorial, Planning Tools

When planning a loved one’s funeral or memorial services, personalization is key to creating an event that is both healing and meaningful. The same is true when you’re considering what to include on a memorial marker (e.g., headstone, grave marker, etc.). But thankfully, there are a lot of ways to personalize a memorial marker, and one of them is bringing joy to people! What is it? Gravestone recipes!

What are Gravestone Recipes?

Memorial markers generally include the name, birth date, and death date of the person who has died. Often, the memorial marker also includes an inscription, like a sweet sentiment or kind phrase. However, some families have taken to personalizing the inscription in a new way – adding the recipe for that person’s most well-known dish.

Let’s look at a few examples!

Mom and adult daughter making cookies in the kitchen together, daughter learning from mother

Naomi’s Spritz Cookies

At a cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, Naomi Miller-Dawson’s memorial marker bears the recipe for her spritz cookies. While the memorial marker includes the ingredient list and no instructions, you can use the traditional method for spritz cookies to give you a good start on how to bake the cookies.


  • 1 cup butter or margarine⁠
  • 3/4 cup sugar⁠
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla⁠
  • 1 egg⁠
  • 2 1/4 cups flour⁠
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder⁠
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Kay’s Fudge

Before her death, Kay Andrews of Logan, UT, requested that her memorial marker include her go-to fudge recipe. A woman of encouragement, she often took fudge to friends and family as a gift of love and support. Thankfully, Kay’s family honored her request, and now, we all get to enjoy Kay’s fudge and remember her for her kindness.


  • 2 squares chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Melt chocolate squares with butter on low heat.
  2. Stir in milk until incorporated and bubbling.
  3. Sift in sugar and salt.
  4. Add vanilla and stir.
  5. Continue stirring overheat until the mixture reaches 273 degrees F.
  6. Remove from heat and pour onto a marble slab.
  7. Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
  8. Cut and serve.

Mother and young daughter baking together, making memories

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

In Cascade, IA, a sweet remembrance marks the final resting place of Maxine Menster. When her husband and daughter wanted to add something special to Maxine’s memorial marker, they both thought of her cookies. Handed down through generations of family, Maxine made them every Christmas, leaving her home filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies and her family with precious memories.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup oleo (margarine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cream


  1. Cream the sugar and oleo.
  2. Add two beaten eggs and vanilla to the mixture.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt into separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient alternately with 1 cup cream.
  5. Chill and roll out with flour.
  6. Bake 350 degrees oven and frost.

Father and adult daughter making homemade bread together

Connie’s Date & Nut Bread

For registered nurse Constance Galberd, date & nut bread must have been an important part of saying she cared. Mother of three, Connie died in 2008 and was buried in Highland Mills, NY. While it might have seemed a small remembrance, who can really say how many people have been blessed by her date & nut bread long after her passing? It’s a personalization that keeps bringing joy even today!


  • 8 ounces dates, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts


  1. Pour boiling water (where 2 teaspoons of baking soda have been dissolved) over dates and raisins. Cool.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix well.
  3. Add 2 eggs, well beaten.
  4. Gradually mix in 4 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts. Beat thoroughly.
  6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour.
  7. Bake in tin cans (one batch = 13 cans)*

*During the Great Depression (1929-1939), families often baked with tin cans. You can make this recipe using a regular loaf pan.

Father and young daughter baking together, holding a heart made of dough in their hands

What a Sweet Personalization

In so many ways, food is an integral part of many of our core memories. Grandma’s special cake. Dad’s famous BBQ. The family-famous trimmings that only come out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We all have these special foods in our lives, and a lot of times, they are associated with a special person.

If you are looking for a sweet way to personalize the memorial marker of someone who loved spending time in the kitchen, a gravestone recipe inscription might be a good fit. That way, you and so many others can celebrate and appreciate your loved one’s life for years to come.

If you’d like more inspiration for personalizing a memorial marker, go 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker for ideas!

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

Using Color to Personalize a Service

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

4 Simple Ways to Use Color to Personalize a Service

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

Beautiful pink tulips

1. Select Specific Flowers

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

Decorating with seashells and the color ivory

2. Decorate with Intentionality

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

Four men wearing matching polka dot socks

3. Request that Mourners Wear a Certain Color

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

Bright green casket

4. Customize the Urn or Casket

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

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

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

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

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

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

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

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

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

Cover of a casket with a white rose laid on top

Understanding Embalming & Your Options

By Planning Tools

Embalming may not be something you’ve given much thought to – other than a mild interest in Ancient Egyptian mummification practices. Thankfully, embalming today is much less complicated than in Ancient Egypt, but it’s still a process. Let’s take a moment to dive into what embalming is, the process behind it, and what your options are when embalming makes the most sense for your funeral planning needs.

man and woman at funeral, his arm around her shoulder in a comforting way

What is embalming?

Warning: There are a few squeamish details here, so be prepared or skip to the next section.

Following the Civil War (1861-1865) and the death of Abraham Lincoln, embalming became widely accepted in the United States. After seeing how lifelike Abraham Lincoln appeared during his lying in state period, people all across the nation selected embalming after death. This widespread approval led to the practice becoming a cultural norm, which continues to this day.

But how does embalming work? Well, embalming occurs in stages. Let’s do a quick (and abbreviated) rundown.

Stage 1

The body is disinfected and prepared (this includes massaging stiffening joints, shaving, sewing the jaw shut, etc.)

Stage 2

After the body is prepared, small incisions are made and the blood is replaced with a solution that preserves the body for a period of time.

Stage 3

After the blood is replaced, the body cavities must be embalmed as well. This includes allowing any gas or fluid contents to drain from the organs and the abdomen.

Stage 4

Now that the body is fully embalmed, the cosmetic part of the process begins (washing the hair and body, applying make-up and clothing, etc.).

Once these stages are complete, the body is ready for a viewing or visitation, depending on what the family has planned for final services.

Why do we embalm?

Different people have different reasons for choosing embalming, and ultimately, it comes down to personal choice. For some, embalming and seeing the person who has died is an essential part of the grieving process. Let’s look at a few reasons why people choose embalming.

  1. You want to have a funeral service with an open casket.
  2. You want to give far-away family members time to travel to the location of the service, so embalming will preserve the body for a longer period of time.
  3. The body needs to travel a great distance for burial (like in a national cemetery or in another state).
  4. You want to donate your body to medical research.
  5. You want to see the person you love one last time. For some people, when tragic accidents occur, it’s important to have a chance to see the body one final time. Also, it’s during the embalming process that any restorative work occurs, to repair any physical damage incurred by the cause of death.

If any of these ring true for you, then embalming may be the right choice for your needs.

Woman dressed in black standing next to casket with one hand on the casket and the other holding white lilies

What are my embalming options?

Whether you are planning ahead for your funeral wishes or planning a funeral for a loved one, it’s always beneficial to understand your options. If your family would like to have a viewing or visitation that will allow friends and family to see the deceased person one final time, then embalming is a good route for you.

It will ensure that the body is in good condition for whatever services are planned to honor the person’s life and allow the living to say their goodbyes. Currently, there are two options available for embalming: traditional embalming and green embalming. Let’s talk about each one in turn.

Traditional Embalming

With traditional embalming, a formaldehyde-based solution replaces the blood, acting as a preservative. It helps restore the skin’s natural color and appearance. This type of embalming is available widespread as it has been a common practice for more than 100 years. With traditional embalming, burial at most cemeteries is possible. The only ones that do not allow this form of embalming are green or natural cemeteries.

Green Embalming

As an alternative to the formaldehyde-based solution, some funeral homes now offer green embalming. Essentially, the process is the same, but the solution consists of non-toxic chemicals and plant-derived essential oils. While its effects do not last as long as traditional embalming, it still restores the body’s natural coloring and appearance. All cemeteries, including green or natural cemeteries, accept green embalming.

Cover of a casket with a white rose laid on top

Is embalming required?

In most cases, embalming is not required. In fact, it’s often only absolutely necessary in special cases. For example, officials may require embalming when a body needs to cross state lines or moves from one place to another via public transportation (like on an airplane).

For the most part, embalming is a choice, and families select it because they want the body to be present for the meaningful services they have planned.

Keep in Mind

Before we go, keep in mind that green embalming is fairly new. Not all funeral homes offer it at this time. If having a more eco-friendly option is important to you, the best thing to do is contact your local funeral home and see what they offer. Then, you can make the decision that makes the most sense for your family and your needs.

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