Preparing for the Hereafter

Assist your loved ones in funeral planning

Yudelka Sterrett vividly remembers when the call came that her 43-year-old father had been in a car accident. Just days later, hospital administrators asked the family if they could harvest her father’s organs, since there was nothing more they could do to save him. Because her family had no idea of her father’s wishes, they denied the request. A short time later, Sterrett’s father died. While no money had been set aside for funeral arrangements, the family picked up the costs. The experience prompted Sterrett’s family to put some mechanisms in place for the future. “Since my father’s death, my family has purchased nine plots,” she comments. “We’ll be more prepared next time.”

Have you properly prepared your loved ones for the inevitable? Probably not. At best, you may have written a will or started the estate planning process, but that won’t address your family’s immediate concerns. Unfortunately, the person responsible for making your final arrangements will be forced to make major decisions and purchases within 48 hours of your death. While you can’t alleviate the stress your survivors will experience, you can assist them by having a plan outlining your funeral wishes.

“Preplanning your funeral allows you to decide the method of disposition you wish, the kind of services you want and allows your family to focus more on grieving and recovery,” says Kelly Smith, public relations manager for the National Funeral Directors Association. Preplanning also allows you to make important decisions with a clear head. “From an emotional standpoint, people tend to make more rational and logical decisions when they preplan,” advises Carolyn Whigham, owner of the Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, New Jersey.

Whigham suggests you begin the process by visiting various funeral homes in your community and deciding where you think your family would be most comfortable. Then, have an open discussion with the licensed funeral director at that facility about your choices. “You can do it yourself privately or bring some family members with you,” she adds.

Those you choose to make your final arrangements should be aware of your choices and informed about any bereavement entitlements. Vietnam veterans, for example, qualify for a free burial at a national cemetery, a free grave marker and other services. Some union and fraternity members also receive death benefits.

Although religious or moral convictions will probably dictate your final arrangements, preplanning ensures these preferences are effectively communicated to your family. Your plan should focus on the type of memorial or funeral service you desire, a method of disposition (earth burial, entombment or cremation) and location. Here are some general guidelines to start your preplanning process:

  • Determine your method of disposition. In funeral planning, it’s best to start with the last step and work backwards. Your final resting place will influence how your body is prepared, what products or services are required, and how much your arrangements will cost. Most Americans are buried underground. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, earth burials averaged $4,700 in 1996 excluding cemetery plot or monument expenses, which
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