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Important Things You Should Know about Planning Ahead

Losing a loved one is always difficult and emotional. At this stressful time, family members are suddenly forced to make many important decisions alone. Experiencing a death, along with the need and want to make good decisions within a short period of time, may leave families feeling overwhelmed. This is only one reason why it may be important for families to consider planning their funeral ahead of time.

1. Why do people pre-plan their funerals?

Making provisions for one's death should not be considered morbid or fatalistic. That's why wills are made, inheritances arranged, estates planned. It is no less appropriate to pre-arrange some or all of the details surrounding your death.

It is important to recognize that death often places unanticipated burdens on survivors. Without advance guidance, the surviving family spouse or children may not know the right or "expected" thing to do. Making arrangements in advance may lessen survivors' burdens at a difficult time and ensure that your wishes will be carried out.

At the same time, a pre-arranged funeral should not be forced upon anyone; it's always a matter of individual choice. Pre-arranging your funeral should be done with the same care and consideration that you used when writing your will, planning your wedding, or buying your home.

2. What common mistakes do people make when pre-planning?

The most common mistake that people make is failing to get the advice of a Funeral Pre-planning Specialist. Many people are afraid to talk to a Funeral Pre-planning Specialist because they are not comfortable talking about their own mortality. Friends, family, and other professionals are important sources of information, but as with most things, the best advice comes from those who work in their area of expertise every day. Failing to discuss their plans with their loved ones is another common mistake. As a rule, funeral planning should not exclude loved ones whether the planning is done in advance or at the time of death. Assisting in the funeral planning process helps loved ones come to terms with the realities of death in a healthy and natural manner. Many people assume that by planning ahead to skip the funeral process, it allows families to skip the grieving process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of the funeral, which can be as conventional or unconventional as you prefer, is to allow the survivors a time and place to grieve their loss.

3. Should I involve my family in the pre-arrangement process?

Yes, by all means. Consider the wishes and feelings of the family. Frequently an honest desire to spare survivors of the "painful" task of making funeral arrangements has a reverse impact because loved ones are removed from the process. Instead, permit loved one when possible to be active participants in the pre-arrangement process. However, do not force your family into any discomfort they may feel as a result of making pre-arrangements.

Funerals are for the survivors. The funeral serves as on-going testimony that a life has been lived. It serves as a last act of recognition, honor, respect, and reunion of heartfelt memories. It is also a gathering of social significance. Publicly, love is both expressed and received. The funeral serves the survivors emotional needs; expressing grief is one of those needs. The advantage of involving loved ones in pre-arranging also brings the formerly "taboo" subject of death into the open. Planning ahead with family helps ensure that the funeral will be meaningful to the participants, while still reflecting your individual preferences.

4. Will my pre-arrangements be followed?

When possible, yes. However, pre-arranging does not absolutely guarantee that all arrangements will in fact be carried out as planned. There is no advance way of knowing exactly when, where, how, and under what circumstances death will come, or what services or merchandise will be available in the future. These unknown factors can alter original plans. Still, pre-arranging a funeral is a sound tentative plan that will be carried out to the fullest extent possible as allowed by law.

If the merchandise that I pre-paid is not available at the time of death, your funeral provider must provide goods and services similar in style and at least equal in quality. The person responsible for arranging the funeral has the right to choose the goods or services to be substituted.

5. Whom do I contact?

Advice of a Funeral Pre-planning Specialist is absolutely essential, and they do not charge you anything to do so. No one else is equipped, by experience and training, to give you a thorough understanding of all facets of pre-arranging. A Funeral Pre-planning Specialist is well versed in all types of funerals, and is knowledgeable about the laws regarding funerals and final disposition, trusts, insurance and Medical Assistance pre-funding rules.

6. Why do people pre-fund their funerals?

Pre-payment or pre-funding of a portion or all funeral costs is a growing trend. There are both emotional and financial benefits to pre-funding.

The facts that we are mortal and that funerals cost money should not surprise anyone. Yet, Funeral Pre-planning Specialists meet daily with next of kin who are not prepared to deal with the financial impact of a loved one dying.

Indeed, the funeral establishment's charges are important to consider and plan for, but many people fail to plan adequately for all the other expenses involved with a loved one dying. For example, there are cemetery expenses, marker or monument expenses, and travel and lodging expenses. There are also expenses for flowers, food, music, obituaries, and other items. All these expenses occur at a time when the decedent's income has stopped and life insurance benefits are not yet paid. Many people say they feel better after they've completed their pre-arrangements, knowing this burden has been removed from their loved ones.

7. What common mistakes do people make when pre-funding?

The most common mistake people make when pre-funding their funeral is failing to follow through. Most people would agree that it is a good idea to ensure that this inevitable expense is taken care of. Yet, many of the people who get started with the process fail to act on pre-funding until it is too late. Medical problems that are common with advancing age can erode one's finances and affect one's eligibility for a complete slate of pre-funding options.

Handling the pre-funding without the help of a Funeral Pre-planning Specialist is another common mistake. The law is very clear about what constitutes a pre-paid funeral plan. Attempting to finding ways to pre-fund a funeral without the help of a Funeral Pre-planning Specialist can lead to the worst-case scenario: your funds won't be there at the time of your death. So-called burial plans, or final expense plans, typically do not provide to you ALL the benefits and protections that you deserve when planning for your funeral expenses.

8. What happens to the funds?

In the case of funeral trusts, the money goes into an interest-bearing, government backed account in your name at a bank, savings and loan associations, or credit union. The interest is taxable to you. The financial institution issues IRS Form 1099 to you at the end of each year. In the case of "pre-need insurance," you purchase a life insurance policy or annuity with a face value sufficient to pay for the funeral. Such a policy should be an increasing benefit ("growth") policy, so the death benefit grows to keep pace with inflation, just as the interest on a funeral trust will grow to counter inflation. The growth on a life insurance policy typically is tax-free, and the growth on an annuity policy is generally tax-deferred.

9. Do I have to pre-fund when I pre-plan?

No. You may pre-plan without pre-funding, or pre-fund without pre-planning. Your funeral provider will work with you to pre-plan your funeral to the level of detail that you wish. You may choose to pre-fund your plans fully, partially, or not at all. Your funeral provider will also explain how your choices may influence your eligibility for Medical Assistance or other programs.

10. What about going on Public Assistance?

Public assistance laws change periodically, but they typically take into account that at least some, if not all, funeral expenses may be pre-paid. Determining which rules apply depends upon which public assistance program you are applying to (Medical Assistance, SSI, General Assistance, etc.) and your particular circumstances.

To receive the maximum exemption, careful consideration needs to be given to the type of pre-funding mechanism that is selected. Particular attention needs to be paid to the timing of the pre-funding and to the exact circumstances of the applicant so as not to disqualify the applicant from public assistance programs. Your Funeral Pre-planning Specialist can expertly guide you through this process.

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