Sunday, January 15, 2006

funerals, planning arrangements and expenses of

A funeral can be one of the larger expenditures of a lifetime. Some surveys identify funerals as people's third highest investment, ranking behind a home and a car, and equaling a wedding. Those older individuals who plan their own funerals may do so because they wish to convey particular meanings about themselves or about death; they may wish to spare family members the burden of the arrangements during a time of grief; or, they may simply consider themselves in the best position to avoid excessive funeral costs. These individuals take the responsibility for choosing a type of service, musical selections, who will preside, whether to have an underground burial or a cremation, and so forth. Because space near cities may be scarce and burial plots quite distant and expensive, people in some areas are buried in tiers in above-ground vaults. Ground burial in most cemeteries now requires additional expense for a concrete tomb liner to provide the solid surface necessary for perpetual care and mowing of grass by heavy equipment. Rules vary by state, but embalming is generally required when: a person's body is to be transported for some distance; death is from a contagious disease; a body is to be placed on view; or, burial can not take place within 72 hours.
Some individuals will their bodies to medical schools for purposes of research, or donate their body organs for the benefit of other people. If an older individual has specific wishes of this type, they should be written down and put in an agreed upon place so that family members will be able to locate and execute them when needed. Many older people do not preplan their funerals, and in such cases the bereaved family may be forced to make decisions and purchase merchandise and services while undergoing emotional distress. It is perfectly normal for the bereaved in such circumstances to experience feelings of guilt and confusion about planning the funeral. Because decisions are numerous, detailed, and can have costly consequences, a clear-thinking friend can sometimes assist and so help to relieve these problems. There are a few fundamentals to keep in mind when making funeral arrangements.
• Although the person making the funeral arrangements may be experiencing profound emotion and a lowered capacity for good judgment, it is essential to remember that funerals are a business and must be approached in a businesslike way. In fact, business considerations offer an important reason to plan funerals before the event of an older person's death, at a time when one is less likely to exercise poor judgment or be influenced by emotion. As a general rule, a funeral is like a big wedding-it should be planned well in advance.
• There are lower cost alternatives, such as cremation, rental of a casket for viewing purposes only, and burial in a less expensive coffin.
• There is misinformation about embalming. Embalming does not prevent decomposition of the body over a period of time. Not all states require it, but people commonly believe it is mandated by law.
• Airtight and watertight caskets do not prevent decomposition.
• Funeral homes that are unwilling to make price information available are required to present it if asked-and it makes sense to ask and perhaps even do some shopping.
Memorial societies offer another type of lower cost funeral alternative. These are nonprofit membership groups organized and run by volunteers who seek contracts with cooperating funeral services to arrange set prices for members. Traditionally, memorial society members have preferred cremation, but some now offer a choice of a simple traditional funeral in place of cremation. Most memorial societies prefer people to join in advance, but some accept enrollment of a deceased person by family members after a death has occurred. Traditional funerals involve several expenses.
In addition to the costs of caskets and burial vault, these may include honoraria for clergy and sacred music, and charges for obituary notices, the death certificate, a cemetery plot, opening and closing of the grave, flowers, and funeral home charges for staff, use of facilities and funeral coaches and limousines. Costs for each of these items should be obtained when planning a funeral. If quoted prices seem too high, one needs to make a specific request for alternatives, because some funeral directors will describe options only if asked. Quoted prices may include extra charges, such as family cars, flower cars, motorcycle police escort, and a host of other items that can be eliminated without loss of dignity and meaning in a funeral event.
Means of payment are important matters to consider when making funeral arrangements. Financial assistance for funeral expenses are available under some circumstances. One such is a Social Security payment of approximately $250, available to a surviving spouse or entitled child. This can be paid directly to a funeral home or to the eligible dependent. Another form of assistance is the veteran's burial benefit available to veterans who were receiving, or were entitled to receive, a Veterans Administration pension. This benefit may include a $300 funeral allowance and a $150 burial allowance for a non-service connected death. Payment of veterans' benefits are made to the person who pays the funeral expenses, and for this reason the benefit is not available for completely prepaid funerals. To ensure collection of the full benefit, the custom is to prepay a veteran's funeral expenses up to, but not including, the amount of the death benefit. Because the full expense has not been paid, the benefit can be collected by family members who pay the balance when the veteran dies.
Veterans and their immediate families are entitled to burial in a national cemetery or in the nearest veterans' cemetery-space permitting. Families of deceased veterans may also obtain a flag to drape over the casket during the ceremonies and may keep the flag after the event. The funeral expenses of qualified indigent people are often covered by death benefits available from state or local government and social service agencies. Death benefits may also be available from certain companies, railroads, civil service departments, and fraternal organizations.
Deedy J. Your Aging Parents. Chicago: The Thomas More Press, 1984.
Gillies, J. A Guide to Caring for Coping with Aging Parents. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981.
Nelson, T. C. It's Your Choice. Glenview, Ill.: AARP, 1983.

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