Questions & Answers

As the cliche goes, the only stupid questions are those unasked. Most people have never planned a funeral, and it's a topic that many people avoid, even though they might be curious. I thought this page might help demystify funerals and funeral arrangements; it's my intention to provide candid answers to even your difficult questions. I've answered some of the more common questions we receive below, and I encourage you to send me any questions you might have about funerals, funeral directors, and services.  I look forward to hearing from you.


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This is not a formal question from someone but an issue we hear about several times a year. A family will have a terminally ill family member who is under Hospice care. The patient does not have any life insurance and has not made any plans on how to pay for their services. The family is left to wade through the situation, and often they don't have the funds to pay for it and don't know what they are going to do. I think what I find suprising in this scenario, is how many families wait until the death has occured before they attempt to figure out what they are going to do. I would encourage any family facing this difficult situation to start the dialogue early with a Funeral Director of their choice to get this worked out. I would tell the family not to wait until the time of death to start planning and asking questions about how they will pay for services. In this county, I would venture to say atleast once a month, a family waits until the time of death and starts making calls to Funeral Directors asking about services and cost. As you will see on a question below - very few Funeral Directors are going to "finance" a service. Then the family is put in a very difficult situation leaving their loved one in a hospital or hospice unit until details can be worked out. Often, if a family is dealing with these financial issues - the Funeral Director may suggest cremation to the family as a lower cost alternative - but even that can be a problem - because state cremation laws dictate who the responsible party or parties are who can legally sign for the cremation. I have seen more than a handful of these where the decendent had seperated, but never divorced their spouse - and now the spouse lives in Vise Grip, TN and no one has seen or heard from them in years. All of this causes more problems and delays that even a few days warning and good counsel can help avoid. So... if you know of anyone with a terminally ill loved one and they are facing these issues - they should start dialogue EARLY with a Funeral Director to see what options they have.

Along those lines, I also have a couple of people of year ask me about buying "burial insurance"... the common situation with these folks is that they are usually in their 70's or approaching that age. This is a difficult age to be buying monthly/quarterly/annual pay insurance because of the cost. Insurance should be bought at a younger age so it is affordable. It is my recommendation also that policies bought that have growth to them, or pay dividends. I have seen many folks purchase policies off of televsion, or elsewhere that had a death benefit that never grows. A $5000.00 death benefit policy looks good for a couple of years, but now when funerals are costing $7500 plus for an average - that "peace of mind" they bought falls short. My favorite thing to do is for a person to put funds in a bank trusted preneed with 100% of the money trusted - the growth at the bank isn't real terrific right now, but it is safe and has some growth. But I do run into people who want to purchase an insurance policy that has automatic coverage for them, but they can pay by the month or other term. The problem is, many times they are shocked at the premium amounts or can't pay the required amount on a retirement income. The bank portion is great if someone is paying in full the amount of the service, or can pay a significant portion at the signing of the contract. I also run into a few folks a year who bring to me an insurance policy they bought years ago (some with, some without growth) and want me to gurantee prices and do an inflation proof contract. Sorry, I can't do inflation proof contracts based on outside insurance providers. Many funeral homes have quit doing inflation proof contracts all together, I will do them but they have to be funded through OUR bank preneed or OUR chosen insurance provider. Atleast at the point of this writing in 2012 I am doing inflation proof contracts - but it, like anything else, is subject to change...

Don't you think it is easier on a family to have the visitation and service all the same day?

It depends on the family's needs and wishes. I am not a big fan of same day visitations, but that comes from a Funeral Director's perspective, not a consumer perspective. IF, the visitation is going to be SMALL, and if there is sufficient room in a church or fellowship hall to make it work - they work okay - but in my opinion that is about a quarter of same day visitations. Here's the issues I see: if everything is the same day, it will cut some folks out who absolutely can't make it that day for some reason - how many of us have considered a friend's visitation one day, and service the next day - and had to pick one based on a doctor's appointment or obligation we can't get out of? Even a small visitation can wear the average person out to a degree, if the time is spread over 2 days, it seems easier (especially on older family members) that one day is a 2-3 hour responsibility to be present, and the next day is a 2-3 hour responsibility to be there for the service, rather than one day with a 4-5 continous run in one day. The nighttime visitation or day before allows for more freedom to spend longer times with friends and family members and not feel like there a rush to condense time down because there is a time deadline coming up for a service.  What are we supposed to do when the visitation runs over into the announced service time? some families have had us shut the visitation line down (and that gets us into trouble with the public for something we can't help...) or the visitation gets extended into the service hour - and that can be an issue too - many friends have come based on an allowed break from work, ministers involved many have other appointments and places to be, police escorts are held up and can even be lost when the time goes on too long, so the question of whether the service starts on time is a sticky situation. Some of the churches are set up well for the traffic flow for a visitation and some are nightmares...  I would say that I encourage families - especially on the weekend, to be creative with visitation hours - over the years we are seeing the increasing trend of people coming early for visitations. A Sunday afternoon visitation from 2 to 4pm will yield a good crowd... a Saturday 4 to 6 pm will also work well.  Sometimes I think when I get the question, "don't you think it's easier on the family?", they are asking if it is easier emotionally on a family - and I don't know that it could be proven that helps either - grief comes in one size - extra large - and having visitation and service all in one day, rather than over 2 days, is not going to alter the grief process much is my guess. If they are asking if it is physically harder, that is a decision for the family - as occasionally it involves an issues of a wheelchair or walker bound family member getting out of an extended care facility - so that comes down to a case by case basis of what works. 

"My grandfather died and I was suprised when the funeral home brought a van to pick him up. Do you do that?"

Yes and no, there are Medical Examiner transporters, out of town funeral homes we may have to call on in another area, and long distance transporters that commonly use vans that I don't have direct control over. It has also been popular to do that in big cities for a long time. But I am a bit old fashioned, and in 1981 when I started in the business we always used a hearse to pick people up. I have had some funeral directors tell me that the hearse is a ceremonial vehicle, meant for the service. But we have had some deaths (especially at homes) where our going to the home and getting the person - ended up having a ceremonial element to it. We had one minister who used to line the family up in a line outside the house from the front door to the hearse door when possible, and he would read scripture as we exited. This to me was the beginning of the ceremony that would continue for days. I have good friends who own funeral homes and use vans commonly and it is accepted in the their communities. Part of our issue is also that there are 6 hearses that belong to the business here, and though one is committed to pretty much working services - the others go to the airport, the crematory, and any death call locations.  Why would we want to use a van to do that part of the service when we have plenty of vehicles on the property to give the proper dignity to the task at hand? There are some families (and certainly facilities) who like the discreet nature of an "undercover" van. But it seems like those families are few in number, and sometimes I am afraid we have a death denying society...  So, for this old funeral dinosaur, and in this small town, we still get the hearse out of the garage when we are called to serve.

"How much does a funeral cost these days?"

Whew. I get that a lot and have a hard time getting folks to understand that we need a very good idea of what services are important to you to get you a good estimate. Through federal and state mandate, funeral homes are to itemize their prices so the family can select only the services they need and delete what they don't need. With so many options available for services, the General Price List can look very nitpicky. That said, we are not only following the law but also (and most importantly) ensuring that the family receives only the services they feel they need. So, when someone wants to know what a funeral costs, they need to have an idea about whether they would like cremation or an earth burial? Will there be a visitation? If so, will the visitation be the night before or immediately before the service? Will there be a church or chapel service, or will services be held graveside?

There are so many variables on the service itself; add in casket prices and selections, outer container selections, and it gets even more confusing. In addition, certain charges are considered "cash advances," which are items that AREN'T our charges but often end up on our bill (for example, state sales tax, death certificates, paid obituary charges, and opening and closing of the grave). These charges can easily add up to $800 or more and are not part of the funeral home's normal charges.

Basically, in order to provide you with a good estimate of funeral costs, we (or any other funeral home, for that matter) need a good idea of the services you need and the merchandise you want.

Each funeral home values their services and merchandise differently.
Some funeral home's value their services more and have a pricing fee that is based more on the overhead to operate their funeral home, and some funeral homes feel their merchandise is worth more than the services they are providing. That is why I am suggesting you always get an accurate picture of costs - you need to select services, merchandise, cash advances, sales tax, etc. to get an accurate reflection of costs at a funeral home. The Federal Trade Commission requires that we list a schedule of our charges on our General Price List. We abide by those costs as quoted. I have never felt that it was fair to charge full price for those who pay in good faith and never question fees, but discount fees for "shoppers" who call on funeral homes to "get the best deal".
Occasionally, a funeral home will engage in dropping their prices to compete against another funeral home's charges. This is a good sign that their prices are too high too start with if they are able to lower charges like that, and it is a statement that they have two sets of prices - one for "shoppers" and one set for everyone else.

We also have a responsibility to those who have preplanned/prepaid for their funeral or cremation services. That is, the fiscal responsibility to the community in general to be here to operate. It is expensive to maintain the facilities of a funeral home, the motor equipment, and the
24 hour a day staffing needs. Fair, but realistic pricing to be able to operate the funeral home is a necessity to insure the future of the funeral home and be here to carry out those contracts. Our CPA keeps close tabs on our fixed costs and needs to operate this business, and the occasional upgrades in services or capital it requires - we just have to ride a delicate balance of keeping costs as affordable as possible and maintaining the business in a proper fashion.

I have also discovered that many costs are reflected throughout the state in a regional fashion. While our average funeral may be $7600.00 (services, casket, vault or outer container, grave opening/closing, sales tax), areas around the triangle in North Carolina sometimes see that the services alone are $7600.00, without the casket, vault or outer container, etc... This does seem to be a reflection in cost of living for certain areas - but I know of another rural area in North Carolina that the average funeral is $8700.00. So it is all a reflection of different areas and their cost of doing business.

It's easy to say the average funeral is $7600.00 right now, but you can go well below or well above that. Even then, there may be other charges that families have concerns about, such as monuments, non-member grave fees at churches, and flowers. While we are happy to help you with these options, we wear plenty of hats here, so I stay out of decisions on flowers and monuments. I am sorry, but we cannot advance funds for these charges or cemetery fees.

Personally, I am a big fan of putting the casket price list, the outer container list, and our General Price List all on one sheet of paper for a better understanding. All of that information is available through our site, too. You deserve to know what options are available and what you can expect to pay for them.


"Why don't funeral homes set up 'payment plans' like they did in the old days, when some families paid by the month after the death?"

While there are several reasons, the absence of a 'payment plan' is largely due to the Truth in Lending Act. The Act is a cumbersome document intended for bankers and finance people to understand and administer. I once had a banker tell me that we had no business trying to follow this document, we wore enough hats already.

Frankly, funerals are expensive, and planning a service without knowing where the funds will come from is not a good idea. For that reason, we leave the loaning of funds to the experts: the banks, the credit card companies, and the financial institutions. We can point you in the direction of someone who can assist you with these matters.

The overhead to operate a funeral home is significant, and we have to receive payment in full for all services to operate this business, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It is not really fair for one family to pay in good faith when they have planned, while letting another family slide on by...6 months later that family is still trying to pay.

If a family is having a hard time paying for services, many funeral homes can be of assistance on finding any benefits available or steering the family towards help, but the family must be willing to accept greatly reduced services and merchandise. As every business knows, we cannot provide the same services for those who have limited funds as we provide for those who have planned and have their financial arrangements ready. What we run into are folks who may have limited funds - but sometimes want the top of the line in merchandise - or plenty of services - when the funds are limited the family is better off opting for more conservative choices.


I noticed you have a new policy that the family must pay the newspaper directly for paid obituaries...

Yes. Paid Obituaries fall under a category of "Cash Advances" on a funeral bill. Cash Advances are items that we advance monies to someone else (or a contract type worker) on the families' behalf - but we don't have any control or receive any funds from the charges. In most cases, these are the items that fall under Cash Advances: Opening/Closing of the Grave (that is done by a contract worker...we don't actually do the work ourselves...), Certified Copies of the Death Certificate (the State of North Carolina charges $10 per copy), North Carolina Sales Tax (NC tax on merchandise only), and, Paid Obituaries to newspapers.

It is very easy to rack up $800 to $1000 worth of cash advances on a funeral bill - charges that aren't our charges but we are responsible for getting paid. Now, if you've read our payment policy you realize that the funeral bill costs have to be secured in some way by the family anyway. But let me tell you what happened on a bill a couple of years ago.

The family was paying the bill with a valid insurance policy that they had assigned to the funeral home for payment. It took the insurance company three weeks to pay the claim to us. The family also had a paid obituary in a metropolitan newspaper - it cost about $500.00. It took the newspaper about thirty seconds to bill us and they want payment immediately. So you can see where we ended up paying out funds to a newspaper and waiting on Mr. Insurance Company to do their thing.

For some reason, this makes CPA Don jump up and down (levitate slightly) and go into orbit. Have you ever seen CPA Don go into orbit? It isn't a pretty sight. So, CPA Don and I decided that when families elect to have paid obituaries (most run $100-$200) that the family would need to make a check out to the newspaper as soon as the amount has been determined. Some newspapers require a credit card payment - when they do, same requirement, the family must pay the amount using their credit card. I can see the day coming when the opening and closing of the grave will also have to be paid by the family, rather than added to our bill.

Hope this helps you understand this matter, if it doesn't, let me know and I'll call you next time CPA Don has an orbit of the earth planned.


I have noticed you all do not cremate and only one funeral home locally can, are you planning on building a crematory?

Here's the deal...ALL funeral homes I know offer CREMATION SERVICE...that is, the ability to have cremation offered as a service. That may not mean that there is an onsite crematory, but it certainly means that the funeral home will provide the services you request. Investments in crematories are significant, and in rural areas where cremation numbers are lower than metropolitan areas - the Funeral Director has to weigh the cost effectiveness of building a crematory with the ability to use a crematory that already exists. In our area, many of the funeral homes have had a long standing contract with a reputable crematory to provide this service. For us, it is a business decision - we have a reputable crematory available and we use it. If any family ever has a question about the body being cremated within state laws, guidelines or family expectations -there is a simple answer...have a family member or witness go with the body to the crematory. Pretty simple...you can do that and I don't know of a Funeral Director who wouldn't want you to go. In our case, the crematory we use had refrigeration facilities long before it was common in our business. Sometimes, a body may need to be held for days because of death certificates, medical examiner questions, or family contact/verification information. Many times, this circumstance was beyond the families' control - and the crematory could have charged a $150 a day refrigeration fee - and they did not. In my case, I pay that kind of courtesy of them back with loyalty.

I think the key is to use the Funeral Director you would use for an earth burial - the people you know. Because the truth is, the funeral home you would use for earth burial can just as easily handle your request for cremation service - and you get the people you know to handle the services for you. So, easy answer, all funeral homes I know of provide cremation service.


Misinformation:

Often, we hear comments from folks about funerals that is wrong. Here's a few we hear the most:

A Funeral Director in a recent newspaper ad wrote of veterans benefits. Problem was, there was some misinformation in the ad. Since someone has already asked me about it, we're going to call this a question for our MISINFORMATION area of this page. The ad said, "the government provides a space, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone, and a vault (if required) at no cost to the veteran or his family."
*A vault and a concrete grave liner are not the same thing. A burial vault is an outer container for the casket that has some protective qualities, it functions in two ways: it is strong and protects the casket from the weight of the earth and has some sealing properties that are to keep outer elements out. A concrete grave liner or concrete box, is a lower cost alternative that simply provides that same protection of the casket from the weight of the earth (and vehicles driving over the grave), without having any sealing properties. At most cemeteries, a concrete grave liner is going to be the minimum requirement.
*Salisbury National Cemetery provides a free concrete grave liner for burial - but not a burial vault.
*Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, referred to in the ad as "Black Mountain Veterans Cemetery", does not provide a vault or a concrete grave liner for free, nor does it provide them in any way.
*Opening and closing does have a fee when the family is burying the spouse of the deceased veteran, so saying there are no opening and closing fees for the grave is a little misleading also.
*I can answer the (if required) in the parentheses in the ad by saying yes, an outer container is going to be required...


*Everyone gets a $255.00 Social Security lump sum death benefit. It can be paid to the funeral home.
The $255.00 lump sum death benefit is paid ONLY to a surviving spouse or minor dependent children. Social Security benefits are never paid directly to the funeral home. This has been in effect since 1984.

*The casket we chose can have the interior totally changed out.
I hear this a lot when we are in the casket selection room with a family. A "cap panel" type insert for the open portion of the casket can often be changed or added to add a special emblem or embroidered design - but the interior of the casket is the interior and is not interchangeable. Someone could special order an interior but it would take additional expense and weeks or months of planning.

*If we have the funeral at a church, it won't cost as much as it would if we have a chapel service.
With most funeral homes, this is false. The Federal Trade Commission requires we set this fee as a Staff and Equipment charge. The staff and equipment needed for a church service are the same for a church service as it is for a chapel service. A GRAVESIDE service only will traditionally be less in cost because of the staff/equipment requirements and time needed.

*The cemetery requires a "vault"...
Many cemeteries have a requirement for a SOLID CONTAINER, not necessarily a burial vault. A solid container rule means there is a container to encase the casket - usually made of concrete or steel and may or not have any sealing properties. A burial vault does have that protective quality - but the solid container could be a concrete grave liner - which would satisfy the requirements of the cemetery for a solid container but would not have any sealing properties. The cemeteries set up these rules to guard against issues with sinking graves - the outer containers limit that sinking issue as caskets aren't built to withstand the weight of the earth and vault equipment and monument trucks driving over graves. Rules on outer containers depend on the individual cemetery rules. Some outer containers allowed by cemeteries are made of a heavy plastic, we don't sell of any of those here at this time because of issues we have heard happen with them in some cemeteries.

*We won't need an appointment to go by the funeral home and talk about a prearranged funeral...
I cannot stress enough - funeral homes always need to know when a family is coming by to talk about anything funeral. In our business, a LICENSED individual has to speak to a family about these issues, provide pricing and answer questions. Many funeral homes rely on non licensed personnel who provide a great service working at the funeral home - but are not able to make arrangements with a family. So this suddenly limits who on staff may make arrangements with a family. Our profession provides many "quiet" and many "busy" times. During quiet times, we have to play catch up, that may mean being out of the funeral home to run errands and get work done. During busy periods, there isn't time to step away from a family or funeral to attend to a prearrangement family and not rush them. An average prearrangement will take an hour to two hours. For some reason, we have families show up on the doorstep saying, "We wanted to look at some caskets and wanted to talk with you a little while - we have been thinking about doing this for three weeks...", and whether "quiet" or "busy", the funeral home needs some heads up. In the case of this small funeral home, I don't mind meeting with folks at night or the weekends - I just need to know you are coming.

"I hear people talk about what they want in a funeral, or funeral directors push buying preneed, and all I can think of is that I don't care what they do with me, they can throw me in a ditch."

A: I'll take that as a question... this statement about "throwing me in a ditch" (with all due respect...) is told to most Funeral Directors atleast once a month. I think most of the Funeral Directors take this as the person is making the statement to be flippant about themselves, "I don't care anything about myself when it comes to that, so just do the minimum...". The issue usually becomes that the person's family is ultimately the one left with making decisions about the person's disposition - and I can assure you, in 36 years the "throw in a ditch" option has never been voiced by a family member to me about their loved one. Another one we hear often is, "put me in a plain pine box...", well technically most any wood type casket is going to be in the mid to higher price range - the statement is made to convey they want the lowest cost casket - yet the lowest cost casket is usually a 20 gauge steel casket (Exception: cloth covered particle board caskets, which I don't carry anymore for a particular reason, which I need to cover in a separate Q & A sometime) . Years ago one of the casket companies came out with a unfinished wood casket, it was Ash and had a linen interior and straw under the linen. Now while it was built for "green burial" services or cemeteries, it qualified as what I thought of as this "plain" wood I kept hearing people want. It sat in the casket selection room for 3 years and garnered comments, "well, look at that... how nice..." and no one ever picked it for their family member. It, also had a higher cost attached than the 20 gauge metal caskets because the woods just take more effort and design. After 3 years, I let it go back to the casket company.

I can't change people's opinions or thoughts about plain pine caskets or the "throw in a ditch" comment we get to hear. The one thing I would like to come out of this statement with is this, I hope people don't let the "ditch" mentality or "plain pine box" mentality cloud their judgement about funding their funeral or cremation .As they get older they need to atleast KNOW what might fund whatever service they are going to require when they die. My point is this, atleast once a month, the funeral homes in this county start taking calls from a family - the family has a death and have no life insurance on the person, and no idea where in the world they are going to pay for services for the person. The family is forced to dial up one funeral home after another and ask for pricing and payment options over the phone, and ultimately find out what is required in payment - in most cases - the funeral home (if is is familiar with the Truth In Lending Act) will not get involved in taking the monthly payments a family is asking about making AFTER the death. The time to pay for services is before a death. Insurance companies that provide life insurance or preneed insurance focus on wanting to get people in a policy when they are young, so the insurance company can base it's premiums or growth on a person who's life expectancy is many more years. What I see over and over is a 75 year old asking me "where can I buy some good burial insurance?" ... and then when it is quoted by the company they are shocked at the monthly premiums. I see good decent families, who are faced with not only the grief of the death of their family member - but then also facing the pressure of "how will we pay for this?".

So now I make my preneed pitch, on this website I have a page called PRENEED... it explains how preneed works. Like 95% of this website, it is not a canned website company page, but a page personally written by me to explain the ins and outs of preneed - and mostly - how you as a consumer will be protected when you sign a contract. It includes what you need to have when you do a preneed and how you will be notified by the state when your preneed is filed. Just a FYI moment, if you are going to do a preneed, the best growth is when the person is younger - the insurance company bases their growth and addition to the preneed on the deposit amount and the person's age... so the lesson is, the sooner the better to get the best growth. So... this sounds like the Funeral Director making a big pitch to sell some preneed? yeah I guess so, but it is a pitch to hopefully get someone out there to truly think about what will be available for their services at their time of death. If someone already has a good insurance policy in effect - that's great, everyone just needs to know that death benefit amount and whether the policy has growth or not. A $5000.00 no growth policy bought 25 years ago in a day when the average earth burial now is $7500.000, will fall a bit short.

I wish we could reach a point where we didn't get frantic calls from families trying to find out how they are going to pay for services after the death has happened. Another issue - any family who has a payment issue or isn't sure how they are going to take care of charges - and are facing a terminal illness - will often benefit by starting a dialogue with the Funeral Director of their choice as early in the process as they can. I am not a fan of this calling around business to funeral homes without physically going to the funeral home, looking at exactly what the funeral home is quoting in services and merchandise and the family being very clear on what type of arrangements they want.

 

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