Funeral Planning: What is a “Green” Funeral?

In recent years, efforts to “Go Green” have affected everything from your choice of disposable cups (ditch the Styrofoam) to the types of cars we buy (so long Hummer).  Not everyone realizes, though, that even funeral planning has been affected by our renewed environmental consciousness.  There is a growing trend within the funeral industry, prompted by environmental activists, to move to “Green” funerals.

So what is a Green funeral?  Green burial is known by several different names: Conservation Burial, Natural Burial, and eco-burials.  The three most basic differences between a regular burial and a Green burial are:

  • Formaldehyde is not used as an embalming fluid
  • No vault is typically built within the gravesite
  • Coffins are made out of biodegradable materials

The most significant difference in the burial process when funeral planning for a Green burial is the removal of formaldehyde as an embalming fluid.  Studies have shown that formaldehyde is a health risk for those who are exposed to it for long periods of time (like funeral workers).  There is also concern about what happens over time when it seeps into our waterways as the result of cemetery burials and decomposition.

Contrary to popular belief, embalming is not required by most states, unless transportation of the body is required across state lines, or a significant delay in burial is necessary.  In most cases a body can be kept preserved in a cooler or on dry ice for as long as four days.  In the event that embalming is deemed necessary, there are non-toxic embalming fluids now available, like glutaraldehyde.

The use of concrete vaults in gravesites has also come under criticism.  Some estimates say that as much as 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete is used each year in the U.S. as part of the burial process.  The frustration for many Green funeral enthusiasts is that most cemeteries require the use of reinforced vaults within the gravesite to help eliminate the settling of the land around the burial plot over time, making cemetery lawn maintenance more difficult.

In reaction to these requirements, there are an increasing number of Green Burial Grounds being established around the country.  If you are a conservationist, you should definitely consider self-arranged funeral planning to help ensure that you leave the world in the same way that you have tried to live in it.

Coffins made from materials such as wicker, bamboo, jute, or cardboard each provide rapid, biodegradable options.  Some people chose to skip a coffin altogether, opting instead to use shrouds.

Another option is to choose to skip a burial entirely, choosing instead to be cremated.  You should be sure to ask the crematorium what they are doing to reduce crematory emissions.  Though there is cause for concern regarding cremation to the carbon emissions and worries over mercury pollution, cause by the burning of mercury tooth fillings, the fact of the matter is, for people who live in areas where Green burial cannot take place due to cemetery regulations, cremation is ultimately a more environmentally friendly choice.

Another means of “Greening” your funeral planning, is to include plans for creating a memorial landscape, using native trees and plants.  This is a wonderful way to create a beautiful, meaningful memorial spot for someone who was cremated.

If your funeral planning is to include plans for a Green funeral, be sure to research more about the process.   The Green Burial Council is a nonprofit organization that was found to help promote and support natural burial options.  The Green Burial Council also certifies cemeteries and their operators as ecofriendly businesses.  You can access their list of approved providers by visiting their website.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of funeral planning and how to sell cemetery plots.

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Funeral Arrangements: The Last Minute Details

Few people plan ahead for their own funeral or that of a loved one.  Some of us are stopped by superstitious fears that by making funeral arrangements while someone is still living is just asking for trouble.

However, there are practical and considerate reasons for choosing to make funeral arrangements before it is absolutely necessary.  When death greets us, we are rarely prepared – emotionally or from a practical standpoint.  Making funeral arrangements now will help those you leave behind be better prepared and feel more at ease with the funeral arranging process.

Much of the confusion and, frankly, spending that comes with funeral arranging for someone recently deceased occurs because loved ones are often too overwhelmed with grief to feel confident in their decision making abilities. Rather than taking the time and careful consideration that they want to be able to take, they feel pressured to prepare the “prefect” final farewell for the deceased.  This can lead to overspending and elaborate, unnecessary demonstrations of love for the recently passed.

The last minute details can be especially difficult.  Who will speak at the funeral?  Is there anything special or significant that the deceased would like to be buried with?  If it’s an open casket, is there an outfit picked out?  These and other small details are the ones that can become particularly confusing for someone overcome with grief.

By make your own funeral arrangements ahead of time, you can help limit the confusion for your loved ones.  It can also be a very therapeutic exercise to envision and plan your own funeral.

Beyond the basic funeral arrangements of preferred method of burial (don’t feel obligated to pre-pay for burial space, though), location of funeral services, religious officiate and type of service, etc.  you should also leave directions for the smaller details as well.

Here are some examples of other funeral arrangements that need to be addressed as well:

Music

Is there particular music you would like played prior to the service, after the service, or even hymns sung during the service?  Create a song list with specific instructions for when you would like the music played.

Speakers

Are there people you would like to have speak at your funeral?  Keep in mind that asking someone to speak at your funeral may be difficult for some, primarily because of their fear of speaking in front of large groups.  If this is the case, you may decide to pick out a poem or passage from a religious text that means a lot to you.  You should discuss your wishes with the person when you are pre-planning your funeral arrangements so that they are not taken off guard during their time of grief.

Ambiance

Some people don’t want their funerals to be sad or morose affairs.  Instead they hope to have celebrate their time here with an upbeat and positive memorial service.  If this is the case for you, then try to think of things that will help create that ambiance for your loved ones.  Perhaps you can ask that everyone wear clothing supporting your favorite sports team, or everyone wears your favorite color.  Or perhaps you choose a location for the services that is not typically associated with death and dying – like a local park.

A Message From You

A wonderful demonstration of your love for those you will leave behind is to leave a note or letter with your funeral arrangements to be read by someone during your funeral services, or included in the funeral program so that everyone can keep a copy of it.  This should be a warm and compassionate memento, letting each person know how much they meant to you, and also providing an uplifting message that helps them come to terms with your loss.

It’s the small funeral arrangement details that are often the most difficult for loved ones to plan.  Pre-planning your own funeral is a demonstration of your love and care for them, even after you’ve passed on.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of the planning of funeral arrangements.

Cemetery Plots for Sale: Seller Beware

For those who may own unwanted cemetery plots, understanding how to turn that unused burial property into a financial investment can be confusing.  Though it seems that selling burial property should be the same as selling anything else you may own, the sale of cemetery plots are is an entirely different kind of transaction.

People come to own unwanted burial property for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve relocated with no intentions of moving again, but still own a burial plot across country. Another common way to acquire unwanted burial property is having it bequeathed to you at the time of a family member’s passing.  However you have come to own the unwanted property, it is important that you are aware of some common misconceptions or mistakes concerning the selling of your cemetery property.

How long does it take to sell cemetery plots?

The short answer is: forever.  Burial property is unique to any other sales transaction in that though cemetery plots are in high demand, they are only sold as needed and very quickly when the demand is present.  The only way to ever sell your burial property is to register it with a reputable and experienced cemetery registry. Once it’s registered, you will most likely have to wait months or even years until someone needs your property.  Once they do, though, the sale will happen within a few days, so you will need to have all of your paperwork ready to go.

Where do I sell my burial property?

There are several ways to sell your burial property.  Perhaps the most effective means is to register your property with an online cemetery registry.  These online databases host many other cemetery properties for sale, which means they will attract the most potential buyers.  Buyers won’t want to have to search hard for burial property.  They will want to have several options available to them when choosing a burial lot.  Having your burial lot listed with other lots will give more visibility to your property than if it was listed somewhere with few other cemetery lots.

The other advantage to having your burial property registered online is that you will have a global market potentially searching for a burial lot just like yours.  More and more families are living far apart, which means that often family members are forced to try to make funeral arrangements for loved ones who are thousands of miles away.  They won’t look in the classified section of your local newspaper for burial property.  They will go online to try to find cemetery plots there.

A Word of Caution

When considering where online to register your property, you must be careful of Cemetery Brokers who require a listing fee plus commission on the sale of your property.  These fees can become very steep, especially if they ask for advertising fees, too.  Also, because it can take months or years to sell your burial property, any listing service that requires you to constantly pay to maintain your listing will quickly drain any value out of the sale price of your property.  There are top quality online cemetery registries that only require one-time registration fees.

Patience will certainly be rewarded when it comes to selling your unwanted burial property.  Though it could take months or years to sell your property, there are no sales taxes on the sale of your burial property, and the value of the lot will always increase over time, so your patience truly is an investment that pays.

Cemetery Plots for Sale: How to find burial property

No one ever wants to think about death or dying.  However, facing death – either our own or the death of a loved one – is a fact of life.  Few people stop to think about what death entails beyond the loss of life.  There will be final arrangement details that may seem superficial compared to the loss of your loved one during your time of grief, but will be of utmost importance to attend to.

If the departed has pre-planned their own funeral arrangements, your job will simply be to make sure all of the details that were laid out ahead of time are followed.  More often, though, the loss of life is sudden and without warning, meaning you will need to make decisions quickly and efficiently. One of the first steps you will have to take is deciding how to handle the internment of the deceased.

In the U.S., traditional burial in a cemetery is still the first choice for final arrangements of the departed.  If your loved one did not already have burial property, this means you will need to find cemetery plots for sale.  Hardly anyone ever gives any thought to how cemetery plots are sold, so the idea of trying to locate one quickly – usually within only a few days time – is unimaginable.  Here are some suggestions of where you can start your search.

Funeral Homes

If you choose to use a funeral home and funeral director to help you with funeral arrangements, he or she will be able to assist you in locating burial property.  This is an easy and convenient means of finding burial space, but be sure to ask for several options of lots.

Online Cemetery Registry

An online Cemetery Registry will provide listings for burial property in your area.  There are registries that will also have listings for cemetery plots in other states if you need to plan a funeral for someone not living near you.  The nice thing about an online Cemetery Registry is that you will easily be able to see many options for what is available within the area or cemetery that you would like to make the final resting place for your loved one.

Religious Affiliates

Local religious leaders may have information about burial plots for sale, especially if you are in need of burial space within a certain religious cemetery property.

Veterans Administration

If the deceased was a veteran he or she may be able to be buried in a military cemetery.  You can check with the local veterans administration for information and availability.

Anyone Who Assists in Estate Planning

If the deceased had a will or trust, the consultant for that will or trust may know of available cemetery property.  Likewise, accountants, attorneys, estate planners – anyone who plays a role in taking care of matters surrounding death may have knowledge of available burial property.

A Word About Cost

Cemetery property is much like housing real estate in that location affects the price of the lot.  Not only does each cemetery affect the value of the property, but also the location within the cemetery.  One way to save money is to decide if you need to have a premium location for your loved ones final resting place.  Though lots located on hilltops and by waterways are nice, consider how often friends and family will visit the gravesite before making your final decision.  It’s a good idea to have someone less affected by the loss of your loved one accompany you when making the cemetery plot purchase.

Funeral Arrangements: Choosing a Memorial Marker

Part of your funeral arrangements planning may include the selection of a grave marker, also referred to as a headstone, gravestone or monument.  The selection of the burial marker is perhaps the most important choice you will make, aside from the actual location of the burial site.

The burial marker will be a permanent, lasting impression of your loved one.  This is not the time for hasty decisions. Don’t worry about having the monument ready for the actual day of the funeral.  Many families choose to place the marker at a later date, and may include a separate, private memorial service at that time.

There are several different types of grave markers from which to choose.  Here is a brief description of each of the most common choices:

Headstone

A headstone is the most popular type of grave marker selected during funeral arrangements planning.  It is important to check with the cemetery to find out about any height restrictions, material limitations, etc.  The headstone will usually have an epitaph, the name of the deceased, and birth and death dates.  Some headstones are very simple in design, while others may include shaped carvings, sculptures, statues, or etchings.  Be sure to research and ask for recommendations for reputable companies to ensure the quality and price of your headstone.

Flat Markers

Due to maintenance costs and limitations, some cemeteries (most commonly referred to as Memorial Parks) do not allow the use of headstones, instead requiring flat markers that allow for easier plot care.  Though simpler in design, much can be done with fonts, etchings and flat carving on these markers.

Bronze Memorial

Very much like the flat marker, bronze memorials lay flat with the ground and are the preferred choice of some cemeteries.  Bronze memorials can be made in various sizes and design.  Typically they are mounted to either a cement or granite base.

Monuments and Statues

Monuments and statues are typically larger memorial markers than most, and therefore also are more expensive choices.  It is important before choosing this type of memorial marker that you check with the cemetery to verify any size, design or material limitations.

Cremation Memorials

With the increase in the number of people choosing cremation, there has also been the creation of cremation memorials so that loved ones have a place to visit the deceased and as a physical remembrance of the life they lived.  Some memorials are very similar in style to grave markers.  There are also some cremation memorials that are in the style of benches, plaques or memorial gardens.

When making funeral arrangements for the recent passing of a loved one, be sure to take your time to thoroughly research the many options available to you for grave markers.  Remember that though this is one funeral expense that will have a lasting impression throughout time, there are still ways to try to be as cost-effective as possible.  Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of in your time of grief.  Have another family member or friend assist you in your selection process.

Additionally, when making your own funeral arrangements, it is possible to pre-order a grave marker.  The marker will be left blank until your passing when your vital information will be completed on it.  This is a good way to secure current market prices for grave markers. Much like cemetery property the costs of grave markers rises each year. Be sure to leave instructions with your pre-planning materials as to any additional epitaph or design you wish to have added.

The Funeral Planning Guide: How to Personalize The Funeral or Memorial Service of a Loved One

The funeral or memorial service of a loved one is surrounded by emotion.  The service presents the opportunity for friends and family to offer a final farewell and demonstrations of love and respect for the departed.  Planning the perfect final goodbye can be both cathartic and offer you a sense of closure and acceptance of your loss.  But knowing how to personalize a funeral or memorial service can be overwhelming at a time when your grief may have you reeling.  Final Arrangements Network is here to help you find ways to create the perfect goodbye service for your loved one.

The Music

You will want to select songs to be played softly as background music during various portions of the funeral service.  You will need music for the gathering of friends and family prior to the services beginning, some people like to include a special song that may even be performed live by someone known by the departed during the service, and then you may want to have music planned to be played during any post-funeral gathering (known to many as “the wake”). When choosing what music to play, you should first consider any songs that were particular favorites of the departed or associated with him by family and friends.

Music is important because it will set the overall tone of the funeral or memorial service.  Some people may choose all religious or classical music, which will provide an elegant atmosphere to the service.  Other people choose to select more secular or uplifting music, which creates a sense of celebration and thanksgiving. The choice is largely determined by what best exemplifies the personality of the departed and the preferences of those loved ones involved in the planning.

Photos and Video

A wonderful way to add a personal touch to the funeral or memorial service is to display photos or play video of the departed during the gathering times prior to the service or after the internment.  It’s especially touching if you can find pictures of the departed from various important milestones in life – as a baby, a child, graduations, her wedding, etc.  You should also try to find pictures and/or video of the departed that includes others who will be at the service.  This is an extra special touch that honors the relationships between the departed and the funeral guests.

The Flowers

It is traditional that the immediate family or person who is closest to the deceased provides the casket spray, or in the event of a cremation service, a standing spray or cross.  A florist will be able to help you with the design and flower choices.  The most popular flowers used in funeral arrangements are chrysanthemums, carnations, calla lilies, lilies, and roses.  With perhaps a few exceptions, you are free to choose other types of flowers, though.  If you know the departed had a favorite type or color of flower, then a wonderful way to personalize the floral arrangement is by requesting the display use that flower or color as the focal point.

Try to find peace and comfort as you make these personalizing decisions for the funeral or memorial service of your loved one.  Your attention to detail will not only help you feel some solace, you will also be providing a wonderful final memory for the other service attendees as well.

Death and Tax Dancing in America

As someone once said there are only two things in life you can count on “death and taxes”. Americans got the tax dance steps down but no one bothers to learn the death steps until the music has already begun to play and they are thrust out on the dance floor without a clue as to even the beat of the tune being played.

Many Funeral Directors are hesitant to take up their rightful place as important experts on one of the most significant events any human ever experiences, a death in the family. Few others, save doctors and clergy, are called upon at such important life changing events in the course of human existence, as are the funeral director. Yet industry reserve continues to keep these professionals reluctant to assert their rightful authority when it comes to telling Americans they need to see them not just when a death occurs but long before that.

Companies like The Final Arrangements Network have taken up the gauntlet and begun to associate funeral homes with cities and cemeteries both for people dealing with an immediate need and on a pre-need and informational basis.

“We could see that the consumer isn’t familiar with who to turn to when they have a death. They ask us and we are not the experts. The Funeral Director or Cemetery Manager is.” Offered Lori Campbell, Corporate Communications Director for The Final Arrangements Network. “It was for that reason that our new Internet portal, The Cemetery Registry, now carries links from the Registry’s Cemetery and City listings to local funeral homes, if any have asked to be listed.” Campbell said.

“The problem we see for funeral homes is that more and more people who are responsible for funeral arrangements are either very naïve about what to do or are having to do this long distance and haven’t a clue who to turn to in the city they have to make the funeral arrangements in. We expect over the course of the coming months we will even be able to link people directly to a funeral home’s website if they have and more and more funeral homes are developing them.” Campbell offered.

According to Campbell, the Final Arrangements Network is so committed to this funeral home linking system for its visitors they, FAN, will even help or completely develop a web page for a funeral home if they don’t have one and house it at their sites. Costs are minimal compared to those incurred when a funeral home has to set up their own site or use a web design or funeral home hosting service now.

“Our interest is not gouging funeral homes with high creative or hosting costs, nor getting into the web hosting business. We are only interested in making The Final Arrangements Network and The Cemetery Registry the most visited portals on the Internet for death care and estate planning information. If we do that right everybody wins and we think we will create a value that will justify the small fees we do charge.” Stated Campbell.

What The Final Arrangements Network and The Cemetery Registry seem to be trying to accomplish is to raise the presence of mind of death care in the US. With the death rate expected to increase from its current 2.4 plus million to over 3.5 million over the next decade that educational goal is daunting indeed.

“If the public can so enthusiastically be concerned about taxes and more and more realize they need to turn to an expert, how much more should they be willing to learn about the other major event in their lives, death and where to go for that specialized expertise.” Ward added.

Americans think nothing of spending hundreds if not thousands for a tax return that may or may not give them a few hundred or thousand dollars back. They pack storefront tax “expert” offices across the country and are willing to write checks to these experts for whatever it takes to get that return.

They buy software packages hawked on TV as godsends of found money, some even believing the software is actually creating the money out of whole clothe. They tell all their friends how much they made on their return by being so smart as to buy that software or see that “expert” in his or her cubicle at what last month was a vacant hole in an obscure strip shop location right next to the local Laundromat.

These same so-called smart people will sit dumbfounded and thoroughly confused when they get the call that Uncle Joe just died. Unlike taxes, they have no idea where to turn or who to call. They never thought that whatever that tax refund was is nothing compared to what Uncle Joe’s final arrangements may cost. Yet they have given no comparable effort to such an occurrence happening to their family.

“It is almost inconceivable the number of Americans who have no clue what would have to be done and who to turn to when a death occurs. All most know is that there are these places called funeral homes with these people called funeral directors, you are supposed to call.” Stated Campbell.

As Readers Digest said in its treatise on the subject in its book “Consumer Adviser” published way back in 1989, “Few consumers would ordinarily admit to spending $5,000 or more on something that they knew little or nothing about. Yet everyday thousands of Americans do just that when a family member dies. On short notice, with their judgment often clouded by grief or guilt, they turn to the nearest funeral director to tell them what to do.”

Since that publication the price has risen to over $6,000 on average and yet nobody has paid attention. You don’t hear TV or Cable news talking about it, yet it will affect the real lives of more Americans this year than Martha Stewart or Michael Jackson will ever significantly affect them, no matter how long these so called dramas take to finally fade from the screen.

There is something Americans can and should do about this lack of knowledge concerning what needs to be done when someone dies. It is simple and doesn’t cost a dime, unlike that “tax expert” at the tax store will. Every American who has responsibility for a family of any size and especially those who are now or in the future expect to have some responsibly for their parents well being needs to have a sit down with a licensed funeral director.

They need to learn what is involved, not if but when someone in their family dies. What will it cost? How is it started? What information needs to be gathered? Which types of services are available? How would the funeral home work with that family? Are there things they can do now that will make such a catastrophic occurrence somewhat less burdensome?

“We just want to be the conduit through which the dialogue between funeral director and family begins. If we can make that connection and help make the anxiety, fear and confusion a little less stressful for our clients, we will be satisfied we did our part. We hope the funeral industry will see the merit of our effort and help make more information available to us so we can give it to the consumer.” Concluded Campbell.