Facts You Should Know When Planning a Funeral or Cremation Service
We compiled this list in order to answer many of the questions which arise when planning a funeral or cremation service. These are some of the most important decisions you will ever make and we believe factual information common as well as difficult concerns, is the first step in making intelligent and rational choices. Whether you are experiencing the immediate loss of a loved one or you are assuming personal responsibility for your own arrangements, the more information we can provide you, the more you will be able to achieve. These are sensitive matters and we would like to assist you in the most appropriate manner possible. Once you have made the necessary selections, we are the instruments to see them through to completion with care, compassion and dignity. This information also tells you why many people find prearranging a funeral or cremation service a sensible decision.
#1 Funeral or cremation service arrangements need to be documented.
Many people think they have taken care of everything by writing a will, establishing a living trust or even purchasing their cemetery plot. That's not the case. A will simply leaves instructions for the handling of an individual's financial affairs, while a living trust usually only clarifies certain general wishes regarding medical treatment. The funeral or cremation service itself still remains to be planned. You should make sure that your wishes are shared in writing with several people you can trust - family members, friends and your funeral counselor.
#2 Find out what government benefits are available.
Unfortunately, most government benefits are severely limited. Regardless, these benefits should be collected. However, most people find the additional funding is necessary for the type of funeral or cremation service they find appropriate. To find out exactly what Social Security benefits are available to you, call 1-800-772-1213 or go to http://www.ssa.gov/. In certain circumstances, a monetary burial allowance is available from the Department of Veterans Affairs. For assistance please call 1-800-827-1000 or go to www.cem.va.gov/benvba.htm.
#3 Decide the final disposition.
Burial, mausoleum entombment or cremation is a very personal decision, influenced by an individual’s faith and beliefs. It should be specified in the will, or prearrangement document, as well as clearly discussed with family members and loved ones. Whatever your decision, there are government forms to be processed, fees to be paid, and a memorial service to be planned. For maximum convenience, choose a funeral home, such as Hockaday Funeral and Cremation Service, that offers both burial and cremation service arrangements.
#4 Be informed about the choices available.
At a time of loss, there are many practical decisions to be made. Unfortunately, this is often the time when we’re least able to approach the subject rationally. That’s why you should find a funeral director you can trust, someone you feel is absolutely the right person to handle the arrangements. And the best time to do this is before it becomes a necessity.
#5 Incorporate the wishes of family member if appropriate.
A funeral or cremation service is an important part of the grieving process. For family members and loved ones alike, the funeral or cremation service allows them an opportunity to express their sadness, share memories, and pay their last respects. A funeral or cremation service is a time when the opinions of the family should be considered. Prearranging is an excellent way to discuss and resolve these issues. Ultimately, however, this is a personal decision and should be made by you. This is one instance where you can have it your way.
#6 A prearranged funeral or cremation service and Medicaid assistance.
If you’re planning on applying for Medicaid assistance, for yourself or a loved one, a prearranged funeral agreement can be extremely beneficial in meeting your needs. In many states, a prearranged funeral or cremation service may be treated as an exempt asset for Medicaid qualification purposes. This allows you to prearrange the funeral or cremation service you desire while maintaining assistance eligibility. Many states have no maximum limit to the cost of a prearranged funeral or cremation service. Please consult with your attorney before applying for Medicaid assistance to learn more about your state’s requirements.
#7 Don't be afraid to ask about prices.
The costs of arranging a funeral or cremation service can vary considerably from funeral home to funeral home. Be careful to choose a funeral home which presents its prices – the cost of the service, cemetery plot or cremation, memorialization, and so on – clearly and simply. Unfortunately, funeral or cremation service costs are also subject to inflation. Making your own prearrangement allows you to compare prices and freeze the cost against inflation.
#8 Why final expense insurance may not be enough.
Insurance provides a lump sum benefit. Keep in mind, however, that even with this insurance in place, the actual funeral or cremation service itself still needs to be planned and coordinated, and this can be a complicated task, especially if not thought through in advance. Also, final expense insurance does not protect against inflation. It is just an insurance policy designed to deliver a predetermined lump sum.
#9 Consider planning and prepaying arrangements.
Planning a funeral or cremation service can take care of the details. It also relieves loved ones of the worry of making assumptions about the deceased’s wishes. But only prefunding can take care of the actual expense of the funeral or cremation service. And it’s a sensible financial decision. If you decide to plan and prepay for funeral or cremation service arrangements, be sure to let your family know. Also, keep your prearrangement documents in a safe place. Check with your bank before placing copies in a safety deposit box to make sure that the box is not sealed at the time of death.
#10 Talk with a local funeral director.
Arranging a funeral or cremation service can seem complicated, but there’s always someone who can help you. Funeral directors are trained professionals who can be a vital and supportive resource for you. With years of experience, they can explain all the options available and help you make informed decisions. They can also guide you through the process.
#11 What is the purpose of a funeral?
Funerals are the customary way to recognize death and its finality. Funerals are rituals for the living to show respect for the dead and to help survivors begin the grief process.
#12 What do funeral directors do?
Funeral directors are caregivers and administrators. They make the arrangements for transportation of the body, complete all necessary paperwork, and implement the choices made by the family regarding the funeral and final disposition of the body. Funeral directors are listeners, advisors and supporters. They have experience assisting the bereaved in coping with death. Funeral directors are trained to answer questions about grief, recognize when a person is having difficulty coping, and recommend sources of professional help. Funeral directors also link survivors with support groups at the funeral home or in the community.
#13 Does a funeral director have to assist in burying the dead?
In most states, family members may bury their own dead although regulations vary. However, most people find it very trying to be solely responsible for arranging the details and legal matters surrounding a death.
#14 Why have a public viewing?
Viewing is part of many cultural and ethnic traditions. Many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is encouraged for children, as long as the process is explained and the activity voluntary.
#15 Is burial space becoming scarce?
While it is true some metropolitan areas have limited available cemetery space, in most areas of the country, there is enough space set aside for the next 50 years without creating new cemeteries. In addition, land available for new cemeteries is more than adequate, especially with the increase in entombment and multi-level grave burial.
#16 What is the purpose of embalming?
Embalming sanitizes and preserves the body, retards the decomposition process, and enhances the appearance of a body disfigured by traumatic death or illness. Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, thus allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.
#17 Is embalming a legal requirement?
No. Most states, however, require embalming when death was caused by a reportable contagious disease or when remains are to be transported from one state to another by common carrier or if final disposition is not to be made within a prescribed number of hours.
#18 Is cremation a substitute for a funeral?
No, cremation is an alternative to earth burial or entombment for the body's final disposition. Cremation offers a variety of choices, from a simple gathering to an elaborate, traditional ceremony.
#19 Is cremation as a means of disposition increasing?
According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), cremation was the disposition of choice in about 27% of all deaths in the United States in the year 2001. It is projected that the percentage will rise to about 36% in 2010 and 44% in 2025. These figures represent the United States as a whole; individual states may have lower or higher rates of cremation.
Percentage of Deaths Resulting in Cremation
1975 - 2000 and 2010 - 2025 (Projected)
Data courtesy of Cremation Association of North America
#20 Why are funerals so expensive?
When compared to other major life cycle events, like births and weddings, funerals are not expensive. A wedding costs at least three times as much; but because it is a happy event, wedding costs are rarely criticized. A funeral home is a 24-hour, labor-intensive business, with extensive facilities (viewing rooms, chapels, limousines, hearses, etc.), these expenses must be factored into the cost of a funeral. Moreover, the cost of a funeral includes not only merchandise, like caskets, but the services of a funeral director in making arrangements; filing appropriate forms; dealing with doctors, ministers, florists, newspapers and others; and seeing to all the necessary details. Contrary to popular belief, funeral homes are largely family-owned with a modest profit margin.
#21 How much does the average funeral cost?
According to the National Funeral Director's Association, the average cost of a funeral in the year 2003 was $5,374. This total included professional service charges, transfer of remains to the funeral home, embalming, other preparation, use of viewing facilities and facilities for ceremony, transportation and a casket. It did not include vault, cemetery, monument or marker, or miscellaneous items such as flowers, burial clothing or newspaper notices.
Comparison of Average Funeral Costs
Years 2000 - 2003
Data courtesy of National Funeral Directors Association
#22 What recourse does a consumer have for poor service or overcharging?
Funeral service is regulated by the FTC and state licensing boards. In most cases, the consumer should discuss problems with the funeral director first. If the dispute cannot be solved by talking with the funeral director, the consumer may wish to contact the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program. FSCAP provides information, mediates disputes, provides arbitration, and maintains a consumer guarantee fund for reimbursement of services rendered. (To contact FSCAP, call 800-662-7666 or visit their web site.
#23 Is it right to make a profit from death?
Funeral directors look upon their profession as a service, but it is also a business. Like any business, funeral homes must make a profit to exist. As long as the profit is reasonable and the services rendered are necessary, complete, and satisfactory to the family, profit is legitimate.
#24 Don't funeral directors mark caskets up tremendously, at least 400%?
No. Talking about the mark up on caskets is really not the point. Most items--clothing, furniture, jewelry--are marked up as much or more than caskets. The real question is whether the funeral director is making an excessive profit, And that answer is "No." Profits run around 12.5% before taxes -- not excessive by any standard.
#25 Who pays for funerals for those who cannot afford the expense?
Other than the family, there are veteran, union, and other organizational benefits to pay for funerals, including, in certain instances, a lump sum death payment from Social Security. In most states, some form of public aid allowances are available from either the state, county, or city or a combination. Most funeral directors are aware of the various benefits and know how to obtain them for the indigent. However, funeral directors often absorb costs above and beyond what is provided by agencies to insure the deceased a respectable burial.
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