My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guest Blogger Post--Funeral Planning 101


Whether it is due to a superstition that if you discuss death it will happen,  a general feeling of discomfort when the subject of end of life comes up, or simply living in La-La Land we all put off having the discussion of what happens after our lives are over.  How will my family handle my final arrangements?  Will they be able to cover the expense? What are the governing laws on the handling of my remains?

Despite being an active participant in planning many a loved one’s funeral I have to admit I know no more about the subject than anyone else. Like so many of you my memories of the events are a haze of grief and despair over the loss. 

Yet it is an event we must all plan for, sooner or later, whether we want to or not.  Dave Ramsey gives pointers on leaving a Legacy Drawer for your loved ones to ease the loss, but he does not cover the protocols or costs of the final event of your life.

My father taught me if you have a question about something, research it, go to those who know it, listen and learn.  I’ve been blessed to become acquainted with Sharon Hudson, Georgia Mortician through the Dave Ramsey list on 

Over the years I have asked her a few vague questions off list and she has always been kind enough to respond quickly. With the recent passing of my Aunt Faye, new questions surfaced, because she was cremated and I had not a clue what that entailed.
 So I have asked Sharon to write the following post for my blog that perhaps will help us all with these delicate questions on funerals and cremation.  Thank you Sharon for your time

Funeral Planning 101

Let’s face it, planning our final arrangements isn’t something we rush to do, but it is a necessary part of life.  Better to be in control of the situation and make plans, than to be faced with critical decisions at a time when one might be emotionally unable to make rational decisions.  The greatest gift one can leave family and friends, is to have thought out and planned your own final journey.  The following few items are commonly asked questions I receive when people are comfortable enough around me to realize  although I’ve been in the funeral industry all my life, I’m approachable and very willing to share the ins and outs of my craft.

The number one question I am asked is: “Do I have to be embalmed?”  The answer to that is “no”, but that comes with a few caveats which, depending on the state you reside and might vary a little, state to state.   Generally, if anyone besides immediate family – spouse, children, parents, view your body embalming is required.  If you want to be shipped to another state for burial, embalming is required.    If you want a public funeral, embalming will be required.  Other than these three major issues, embalming is not necessary.    It is also a good idea to make this wish known as soon as possible to everybody involved.  Sometimes funeral homes just assume one wants to be embalmed and perform the procedure as a matter of routine.

Another big question is surrounding costs.  The biggest red flag in the funerary service is burial insurance.  In my 42 years of being in the industry, I’ve never seen a burial policy from any company actually pay for the burial of an individual.  There is always some obscure clause which renders the policy null and void so I would advise against investing in a burial policy.  I also don’t recommend pre-need payments to your local funeral home.   The economy the way it is, there is no guarantee that the funeral home you start making plans with will be in business by the time you need services.  Other funeral homes aren’t obligated to honor the price structure quoted or the payments already rendered.    I highly recommend life insurance and/or a dedicated savings account for this purpose.  Money you retain control over and have at your disposal, but earmarked for such a time. 

How much money you need is determined by the services utilized, so I highly recommend a pre-planning meeting with your local funeral director.   This is an opportunity to go in and have a conversation where you can express your wishes and understand the process from beginning to end.   Every price quoted by a funeral director must be on a contract, all prices should be posted for general viewing so that there is no appearance of impropriety or bait/switch tactics.  You will have access to a printed Funeral General Price List, which is free for the asking, and is completely yours.  You can use this list to compare and contrast several businesses in your community.  While visiting local establishments, you are able to compare and contrast the materials in the construction of various types of caskets (Minimum metal, steel, wood –no pine boxes aren’t actually used), You will get a quote at today’s prices for the use of funeral conveyances( hearses, limos, flower car(ts), professional services (embalming) and preparation of the body, the price of incidentals such as a public obituary in the local paper, floral arrangements, the mileage for use of funeral vehicles, fees for hairdressers, barbers (which you can send in, independent of using the funeral home’s staff), and professional staff.  An astute funeral director is starting a file for reference in your services making note of your wishes and desires and will ask question such as colors you like, any religious affiliations you might have, the selection which was available for you to view, which cemetery you would like to be interred, next of kin, who you would like to contribute to the planning.  Finally in this meeting, It should be disclosed, the interest rate and terms of any loans you take out and the percentage of down payment required to perform services.  Not all funeral homes will have an underwriter for loans so this is an expense you should be willing to pay upon death.  Funeral prices have an annual increase on average of three percent.  You can take the figures you’ve acquired from your visit and come up with a ball park figure of the amount of insurance or savings you need to lessen the burden on your loved ones.

I find that many people are unaware that you will have to pay something out of pocket when making loved one’s final arrangements.  Life insurance policies in full effect, there is still a good faith outlay of cash required while waiting on the policy to pay out.  Now might be a good time to clear up another terrible practice which sadly some of my cohorts practice.  This notion that a body can be held ransom until payment – sometimes in full – is rendered.  The funeral business is probably the only business where the funeral home has to conduct its services to completion while in consultation with interested parties for payment.  If a funeral home accepts your loved one, they must either be willing to transfer your loved one to another funeral home or complete the funeral and burial in a timely manner regardless of complete payment. Though you should never think a funeral home is a lender, this ploy to hold a body ransom is in my opinion extortion.  Practical conversation should be had between staff and responsible family members.

What happens if I die away from home? Will I have to be buried there?  Certainly not, but family will have to work with two separate funeral homes and an airline or train (in a select few instances) on returning their loved one home.  There will be many more steps to bring you home, including an autopsy being performed to determine your cause of death-mandatory as you aren’t a resident of that state.  Your body will be embalmed by the funeral home – cannot ship remains which haven’t been clinically preserved and those fees along with transportation of your body from the morgue to the first funeral home, and on to the airport are due the first funeral home, and are expected at the time services are rendered. Shipping fees to the airline or rail company are due and payable immediately and directly to the vendor.  Fees on the receiving end will include picking your body up from the airport and professional services rendered for your funeral at home.

I’ve not talked about burial expenses-physical digging up the ground at the local cemetery as those fees are generally dictated by the cemetery personally.  Most are willing to send a representative to the funeral home so that you can have a planning conference in totality.  There are some terms to familiarize you with such as grave opening and closing, vault, and plot size.  In its simplest terms purchasing a plot is a real estate transaction, and other fees will include services such as perpetual care. 

Cremation is another topic which I get a lot of questions from.  I don’t claim to be well versed on all religions, but I’ve fielded questions on whether or not a particular religion agrees with the practice.   I’ve not come across a religion which has opposed cremation as a proper disposal technique for human remains, however Judaism has tenants regarding burial in the earth which scholars debate when it comes to cremation or even a mausoleum.  Cremation is a more affordable option for families and therefore it is becoming more mainstream.  People want options with cremation as well and funeral homes are more accommodating in this area.   One option is direct cremation – This means the immediate family would be offered a private viewing within a day of death and then the body would be cremated.  The remains are returned to the family usually within 2 days of death at which point a memorial could be held.  Another option is to have a funeral service and then be cremated.  With this option, it’s important to talk to the funeral home about casket renting.  Yes…. Casket renting!  Just as it sounds, you can rent a casket for the service, after which it is returned to the funeral home and the body is then cremated and put in an appropriate burial container.   Cremains can be interred in a cemetery.  This is not something you can go and do on your own.  For instance, grandfather dies first, grandmother has decided that she wants to be cremated and placed as close to grandfather as possible.  You just can’t take grandmother’s cremains and sprinkle them upon grandfather’s plot, or even bury them there.  You must go through the cemetery to honor these wishes.

Donation of human remains to science/Organ donation – last but not least, what happens to your loved one when their body is donated to science, or for organ or tissue donation?  From a funeral standpoint, there is no difference in how one is treated.  We are mandated to provide a service for the body we receive.  Any changes to the body are done prior to the funeral home accepting remains.  As with any death, there might be instances where cremation is a necessary recommendation will assure that one will rest in peace.  Depending on where you donate your body to science, remains may be returned to you, in a cremated state after time, and this cremation is covered under the terms of the contract you have with the scientific entity.  This would be stipulated in any contract you would sign.  If remains aren’t returned, a clause will outline how remains are treated in a dignified manner and where a burial plot or final resting place will be located for family and friends to commemorate.  It is important to ask questions when entering into contract with any scientific entity on the dignified disposal of human remains after a reasonable length of time.

If you have any funeral related questions, please feel free to e-mail me, I’ll be more than happy to answer: Sharon Hudson –


  1. Thank you Jan for the opportunity to share with a wider audience.

    1. Thank you for helping us all to understand more about the details of end of life planning.

  2. This is very good information a really nice blog. keep it up!!!

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