Ask the Undertaker

Askundertaker615T

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

               One of my many roles as a partner in my family firm is to oversee our advanced planning program. Advanced planning is offered to protect people from the financial shock and emotional decision-making process that occurs at the time of death. In developing this program, it has amazed me to have found so many veterans who are unaware of what burial benefits are due them. These benefits are offered for both burial of casketed or cremated remains and memorial or funeral services.

Before we can get into what burial benefits are offered to a veteran today, let’s identify who is eligible. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and/or Coast Guard with an honorable discharges or who have died while on active duty can receive burial benefits. Some members of the reserves and National Guard, commissioned officers of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Public Health Service commissioned officers, World War II Merchant Marines and US citizens and aliens of the Philippine armed forces, as well as spouses and dependants, are also eligible for burial benefits, some of which result in a minimal fee.  With any of these, I advise that you contact your local undertaker for further determination and eligibility.

When it comes to organizing the burial benefits, your undertaker takes charge and works closely with the branch of service in coordinating everything.  The Veterans Administration (VA) does not perform cremation and does not make funeral arrangements.  That is up to your undertaker.  The benefits organized through your local funeral home include a gravesite in any of the 131 national cemeteries or state veterans cemeteries with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care of the grave site, a government marker, burial flag, presidential certificate and military honors, all at no cost to the veterans’ family. Some veterans are also eligible for burial allowances that are paid directly to the family.  These allowances are typically paid after the services are rendered directly to the family of the deceased, not to the funeral home. I often advise families to contact the VA after a death to determine if any allowance is available. A spouse or dependant of a veteran can be offered the same burial benefits , except for the burial flag, military honors and presidential certificate.  However, some benefits have a very small fee associated with them. For instance, in a state veteran’s cemetery, the opening and closing of a grave is free to a veteran, but $600 is charged for the casketed remains and $400 for the cremated remains of a spouse or dependent.

“So Ryan, what if I am the veteran and have my wife buried in a veterans’ cemetery, only to remarry later in life and decide to be buried with my new wife in a local church cemetery, would that be OK?” The short answer is no. If a veteran buries a spouse in a veterans’ cemetery, then they must be buried in that cemetery too. If the veteran’s family decides to bury him or her elsewhere, then the cemetery will contact the attorney general’s office and the family will need to disinter the veteran’s spouse for removal from the cemetery immediately.

One of the most powerful benefits offered to a veteran is that of the military honors. When an undertaker requests military honors for a deceased veteran, the branch of service determines whether they are to receive full or standard honors. The level of honors received is based on a review of the veteran’s military discharge paperwork and service to our country. Most of us are familiar with standard military honors.. This is the playing of taps by a bugler, folding of the flag and presentation of the flag to the family. (Don’t be surprised if, in some areas, a live bugler is not available and a recording has to be used.) Full military honors includes the same benefits as standard, however, a firing party provides the deceased veteran a 21-gun salute and military casket bearers are typically used as well. We’ve even organized a flyover of military aircraft for a retired brigadier general of the United States Air Force. Most military honors can be provided at graveside, in a funeral home and in a church.  As a final touch, I often recommend that the family consider adding the services of a bagpiper to play Amazing Grace.

Burial benefits offered to a veteran today are to provide not only a savings to the family but to honor them for their service to our country.  As Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”  Today, through the funeral home and military branch of service, we can all show thanks to God that such men lived by providing them with one final salute for their honorable service to our country.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@LastingTributesFuneralCare.com or 410 758-3987.

 

What Exactly Do You Do?

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

A few weeks ago I returned home from an out-of-state conference.  While traveling I had conversations with individuals on the plane, at the airport and even in the cab.  Undoubtedly, the common question would come up, “Are you here for business or pleasure?”   The answer was business and that I was in town for a conference.  “Come on Ryan,” I’d say to myself, “why say that?”  You know you are now going to have to answer the very familiar follow-up question: “So what do you do?”  Fellow readers, I’ve been around the funeral industry all my life.  I have gotten pretty creative when answering this question, since it often ends up eliciting the same reaction, followed by numerous questions.  But over the years I’ve become very proud of what I do, and I almost say it with a smile: ”I’m an undertaker.”  As peoples’ eyes become as big as softballs, they would take one step back and reply with a “What?” or “Ewww” or my favorite, “Are you serious?”

So, to answer that last question, “Well, I am serious, it’s what I do. Yes, it’s definitely not an occupation that small children are running around the yard pretending to be and they’re not asking their parents to buy the latest “Undertaker Man” action figure, but I am proud to say I help people heal through the most difficult time of life – losing a loved one.  I guess one could say that the scientific aspect of the funeral industry could be viewed as being a bit morbid, but there is so much more that undertakers can provide for a family today that they never did before.

My industry has changed over the years. Technology is moving us toward more personalized service and merchandise. Pictures resting on a table in the visitation room are now being saved on DVDs, which can be shown throughout the funeral home or uploaded to the Internet. Services in a funeral home are now visible to family and friends through webcasting. Recently a funeral home that had a relative of the deceased participate in a serve through webcasting and a speaker phone while he was on active duty with the military. Today we see food and refreshments being provided, and families can participate in the service through balloon and teddy bear ceremonies. Even themed rooms are now available.  In Michigan one funeral home offers different rooms for families to choose from such as a man cave with leather recliners and the deceased’s favorite sports team playing on a TV.  Others include a 50s diner theme, or an elegant living room setting with grand fireplace and even an “outdoorsman” room.

The old days of selecting a casket and a cemetery lot are now being enhanced with selections of memorial jewelry, customized cards and register books, as well as personalized keepsakes. Who would have thought we’d be going to the local undertaker to buy jewelry? The keepsakes that funeral homes are offering families today are everything from acrylic works of art, Nambe designed mementos, to formal portraits made from beloved family photos.  And remember the smell of flowers in a funeral home?  Not anymore!  A funeral home in Ohio now cooks fresh baked cookies every morning in the foyer of their funeral home, creating an aroma that reminds visitors of fond memories when visiting their facility while paying respects to their loved one.

The point here is that most reputable funeral homes today are training their staff to truly become the wedding planners of the death industry.  Our job as undertakers encompasses so much more than preparing a loved one for a visitation, cremation ceremony or burial service.  Our job is now to walk a family through the process of developing a meaningful celebration of the life of their loved one.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410-758-3987.

 

NOTES FROM THE UNDERTAKER

 By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

Over the past several months I have been getting many inquiries about prepayment of funerals.  One can’t help but wonder if it is due to the economic situation our country is facing, the winter blues or people today just wanting to be more prepared and relieve their family from the financial burden on their death.  Whatever the reason may be, it is a wise decision as long as it is done correctly.

First, let’s gain a clear understanding of what a funeral home is required to do according to state law when a consumer prepays for a funeral/cremation service.  Very simply stated, in the state of Maryland a funeral home cannot take a family’s money in advance and put it in its funeral home account. Unfortunately today some funeral homes use what is called “money trusts” or “escrow accounts.”  In the past they were the only options available to a firm.  But today we are finding out that when the funeral home’s name is attached to the account, the funeral home may have easy access to those funds.  We see in the media every once in a while how funeral homes across the nation take prepaid funeral monies and spend them prematurely for selfish reasons.  This has happened in Maryland a few times within the last three years.  Even though state law has what is called “secure measures in place,” they are not secure enough, especially given the economic situation our country is currently facing.  Perhaps, funeral homes today still use the “money trusting” option because they are either unaware of better options or they wish to gain a personal investment benefit by putting that money with one bank.

So what is a better solution? Or, should I keep the money to myself and let my family take care of it when death occurs?  Yes, there is a better way, and no, you should not leave it up to your family.  Since the late 1980s the funeral industry, in conjunction with particular life insurance companies, began offering “funeral policies.”  These are whole life insurance products exclusively offered through particular licensed funeral establishments and have been developed to pay for the final arrangements you have selected upon your death.  In addition to offering protection from rising funeral costs, these “funeral policies” are protected by both state and federal governments. These policies are easily transferable to any funeral home and exclusively held by a designated policy owner and/or the insured – not by a funeral home. No matter what happens to the funeral home where you purchased your policy, the money will be available to your family immediately upon your death.  Claims on these policies are usually paid within 24 hours, as opposed to traditional insurance claims, which can sometimes take around 30 to 90 days to pay out.

This is a nationally recognized means of payment, these policies can be payable upon death to any funeral home selected at the time of need.  Why would a funeral home honor these plans when they didn’t provide it in the first place?  Simply because they are paid within 24 hours and the home doesn’t have to turn to the family for payment.  With most funeral homes today requiring payment by the day of the service, “funeral policies” provide your family the peace of mind knowing that the financial discussion will be completely eliminated and that the money will be safely secured.  It is truly a win-win for both the family and the funeral firm.

If you are considering prepaying for your final arrangements, be sure your funeral home is not putting your money in an account with its name attached to it.  This money is for your funeral/cremation plan, to relieve your family of this burden no matter when or where death occurs.  With the current economic situation we need to be sure that we protect our future savings with the best means necessary and “funeral policies” do just that.  

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or (410) 758-3987.

Going Green for All Eternity

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

Isn’t it interesting how very simple words become more complex as we age?  Take the word “green.”  As a child, green meant “Go!” It was a mixture of blue and yellow, the color of the Incredible Hulk and to some, thoughts of summer.  Not any longer. This simple, one-syllable word now stands for so much more.  Today, green could be defined to some as meaning “eco-friendly,” “natural,” “environmentally gracious” and even “a means of burial.”  In this issue of OutLook by the Bay, my question comes from a woman in Easton who asks, “Is green burial offered around here?”

This is a question that’s becoming more popular due to the “green movement” we are all noticing in our society today.  The AARP, ABC News and many media groups are covering this topic of “natural burial.”  This is a means of disposition that I feel could perhaps become more popular than cremation is today.  To answer the question, yes, there is a “green” burial cemetery located in our state.  It sits on the grounds of Bestgate Memorial Park, off of Bestgate Road in Annapolis.  As far as I know, this green burial section offers the only available green burial lots in Maryland. Nonetheless, there is discussion of possibly some being available on the Eastern Shore in the coming years.

So what is this green burial all about, you might ask?  Wikipedia defines it as “…a cemetery where the body is returned to the earth to decompose and recycle naturally. It is an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices.”  Generally speaking, it is an area of natural surroundings offering a means of burial that is generally not harmful to the earth, which can include the burial of cremated remains in a biodegradable urn or burial in an environmentally friendly shroud or casket.

Most of us would think that this form of burial would date back to our cave men ancestors or even back to the Wild West era. You would be surprised to know that according to the Centre for Natural Burial, green burial began in 1993 in the United Kingdom.  However, what is amazing is the fact that three years after the beginning of this movement, 17 “green burial cemeteries” became available and today more than 200 exist in the United Kingdom.  This movement is becoming more and more popular and is now available right here in your backyard (no pun intended) in Annapolis.

This local green burial cemetery offers a number of options to meet the means of “natural burial.”  One aspect that has a real “green touch” is that each grave is hand-dug and the markers used in this cemetery are trees– not granite, bronze or marble, but trees.  Another interesting aspect is that most green burial cemeteries today use a biodegradable casket for burial called an “eco-pod” constructed of recyclable paper.  In Maryland, they use an eco-friendly willow basket casket for green burials and for cremation, biodegradable urns.

You might ask that if there is no marker to show where the deceased was buried, how does the family know where to go after the services are over?  Thanks to the incredible technology that is available to us today, each family member is given a GPS coordinate as to where their loved one is buried in the green cemetery.  We use it in boats to locate fishing grounds, in cars to find our destinations and now even cemeteries to locate our loved ones.

Ryan is a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor. He can be reached at ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or (410) 758-3987.

Cremation and All That Remains

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

One of my favorite topics is cremation.  I am always amused by the reasons people give for wanting to be cremated and it is something that is being discussed more and more.  Reasons I often hear, and ones I will address here, are that it is cheaper, it saves scarce land and it is easier.

Saving money is the one I hear the most.  To answer this directly, yes, cremation can be cheaper than traditional burial.  But it is also true that traditional burial can also be cheaper than cremation.  Remember that the cost of the funeral provider’s services and merchandise all depends on what the individual asks of the undertaker and what the customer selects.  For example, I have made advance plans for individuals with a total cost of more than $14,000 in cremation services and I have also made advance plans for individuals with less than $5,000 in traditional burial costs.  Two of the major factors in burial and cremation are the merchandise the family selects and where the person is to be laid to rest.  With burial, a family would need to select two items of merchandise: a casket and an outer burial enclosure.  With cremation, a family would need to select three items of merchandise: a cremation container, urn and outer burial urn enclosure.  The location of the cemetery is a big factor in the cost of burial as well.  There are cemetery lots on the Eastern Shore that only cost $100 per grave, compared to burial lots outside Washington, D.C., that cost between $2,000 and $4,000.  So as you can see, a lot of variables come into play when choosing whether you would like to be buried or cremated.  It is best to meet with an undertaker who specializes in planning ahead and let him work within a budget you provide.

The assertion that we are running out of land is one that I usually answer with a smile and a shake of the head.  First, let me ask, who is “we?”  If anyone should be concerned with running out of space it should be Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and that could potentially happen. This one cemetery does nearly 20 burials per day and they, at some point in the next decade or two, could find the need to increase the available space.  One alternative for individuals concerned with this topic is green burial.  This is the use of a grave that is all natural and makes no use of concrete burial containers and other materials that will last forever.  It is truly returning to the earth the natural way.  Some varieties of green burial even offer the reusing of grave spaces after a certain time frame.  With this, there would be no concern about running out of land.

Individuals who come to me when planning ahead and say that they want this to be as easy as possible on their survivors at the time of their own deaths commonly follow it up with, “That’s why we want to be cremated.”  Actually, I would have to say that a traditional burial service would be easier.  When someone meets with an undertaker to discuss cremation the customer should be asked questions such as: Do you want cremation to be done before or after services?   Is there to be a visitation? If so, is cremation to be done before or after the visitation?  Is the urn to be present at the service?  Are we to use an urn ark? Is the body to be placed in a cremation casket or a cremation container?  You should also know that in some cases the signatures of all immediate family members are required to allow the undertaker to even move forward with cremation.  When it comes to traditional burial, questions asked are:  What time frame would you like for visiting hours?  Where is the service to be held and where are the cemetery lots?  Cremation can be easy, but it is all how you define easy.  Whether a family selects cremation or burial, the services celebrating that individual’s life is what is most important.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had survivors of families who choose immediate cremation or burial with no services then come back and say they wish they would have done things differently.

Helping a family heal is what our industry should strive to offer everyone whether a family chooses burial or cremation.  By educating yourself in advance on the options available when it comes to cremation, as well as the cremation process in general, you will find that there is much more to this method of disposition than what is portrayed in the media.  Cremation can be a very memorable means of celebrating one’s life, but please be sure to learn more about what is offered before making a hasty decision. All of the concerns mentioned are logical and allow an opportunity to discuss a topic that is typically not addressed.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410 758-3987.

 

HOLIDAYS 

                                                                                                                                       By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

The holiday season is upon us.  Seeing distant relatives, exchanging gifts with close friends and family, and, of course, eating too much.  It is typically a happy time, filled with laughter and reminiscing.  Unfortunately, it can also be a difficult time for some, especially if they encountered the loss of a loved one during that year.  One question we often get in our industry is, “How can I help a friend, family member or even myself get through the holidays when a loved one is no longer with us?”

I am not a grief therapist, rather I’m just an average undertaker who has had many experiences with families encountering grief in what would normally be a happy time of year.  And there are some simple and thoughtful ways to help a family and friend through this time.  First, you don’t want to forget about the recently departed.  Don’t shy away from talking about them. Telling stories of memorable moments shared together is one of the simplest ways of helping someone through these months.  Maybe this is through a card or a simple e-mail with a few old photos of cherished memories together.  We find that with technology today, Facebook and Twitter, become popular sites to create a page to remember the deceased.  This allows many friends and relatives to visit and post their memorable moments and photos in order to help close friends and families through this time of heartache.

I had the unfortunate opportunity of serving the family of a young woman who passed away suddenly in an accident a few weeks ago.  As we were sitting together, the young woman’s mother-in-law suggested that the mother of the deceased visit  her daughter’s Facebook page where there were many wonderful testimonials about her daughter.  I feel confident that this will continue through the holiday season.  Yes, tears may fall and a hug or two may be necessary when reminiscing with families who experienced a loss this year, but I promise, it will benefit all who are involved.

If a child is involved, here are a few tips to help them through this holiday season.  Have the child draw a picture or write a few sentences that tell about their lost loved one.  If the child is comfortable, perhaps have them even share this at the table during the holiday meal, when other family and friends are gathered.  If you plan to have a Christmas tree, have the child create an ornament in memory of the deceased and create a small ceremony to place it on the tree.  Allow the child to be creative.  Using memorabilia and photos are simple ways to help create an unforgettable ornament. I have actually even heard of “memory trees” created in a large families home where each family member places a photo or memorable item on the tree while sharing a happy memory of the deceased.

During this holiday season I ask each of you to take a moment and reflect on the year.  Think for just a moment of a family you may be close with that experienced a loss of a loved one.  A phone call or maybe just a pat on the shoulder as you walk by them one afternoon is all it may take for them to know that your thoughts and prayers are with them during this 2010 holiday season.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410 758-3987.

ADVANCED PLANNING

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

          One of my many roles as a partner in my family firm is to oversee our advanced planning program. Advanced planning is offered to protect people from the financial shock and emotional decision-making process that occurs at the time of death. In developing this program, it has amazed me to have found so many veterans who are unaware of what burial benefits are due them. These benefits are offered for both burial of casketed or cremated remains and memorial or funeral services.

Before we can get into what burial benefits are offered to a veteran today, let’s identify who is eligible. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and/or Coast Guard with an honorable discharges or who have died while on active duty can receive burial benefits. Some members of the reserves and National Guard, commissioned officers of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Public Health Service commissioned officers, World War II Merchant Marines and US citizens and aliens of the Philippine armed forces, as well as spouses and dependants, are also eligible for burial benefits, some of which result in a minimal fee.  With any of these, I advise that you contact your local undertaker for further determination and eligibility.

When it comes to organizing the burial benefits, your undertaker takes charge and works closely with the branch of service in coordinating everything.  The Veterans Administration (VA) does not perform cremation and does not make funeral arrangements.  That is up to your undertaker.  The benefits organized through your local funeral home include a gravesite in any of the 131 national cemeteries or state veterans cemeteries with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care of the grave site, a government marker, burial flag, presidential certificate and military honors, all at no cost to the veterans’ family. Some veterans are also eligible for burial allowances that are paid directly to the family.  These allowances are typically paid after the services are rendered directly to the family of the deceased, not to the funeral home. I often advise families to contact the VA after a death to determine if any allowance is available. A spouse or dependant of a veteran can be offered the same burial benefits , except for the burial flag, military honors and presidential certificate.  However, some benefits have a very small fee associated with them. For instance, in a state veteran’s cemetery, the opening and closing of a grave is free to a veteran, but $600 is charged for the casketed remains and $400 for the cremated remains of a spouse or dependent.

“So Ryan, what if I am the veteran and have my wife buried in a veterans’ cemetery, only to remarry later in life and decide to be buried with my new wife in a local church cemetery, would that be OK?” The short answer is no. If a veteran buries a spouse in a veterans’ cemetery, then they must be buried in that cemetery too. If the veteran’s family decides to bury him or her elsewhere, then the cemetery will contact the attorney general’s office and the family will need to disinter the veteran’s spouse for removal from the cemetery immediately.

One of the most powerful benefits offered to a veteran is that of the military honors. When an undertaker requests military honors for a deceased veteran, the branch of service determines whether they are to receive full or standard honors. The level of honors received is based on a review of the veteran’s military discharge paperwork and service to our country. Most of us are familiar with standard military honors.. This is the playing of taps by a bugler, folding of the flag and presentation of the flag to the family. (Don’t be surprised if, in some areas, a live bugler is not available and a recording has to be used.) Full military honors includes the same benefits as standard, however, a firing party provides the deceased veteran a 21-gun salute and military casket bearers are typically used as well. We’ve even organized a flyover of military aircraft for a retired brigadier general of the United States Air Force. Most military honors can be provided at graveside, in a funeral home and in a church.  As a final touch, I often recommend that the family consider adding the services of a bagpiper to play Amazing Grace.

Burial benefits offered to a veteran today are to provide not only a savings to the family but to honor them for their service to our country.  As Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”  Today, through the funeral home and military branch of service, we can all show thanks to God that such men lived by providing them with one final salute for their honorable service to our country.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@LastingTributesFuneralCare.com or 410 758-3987.

FUNDING

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

          With the baby boomers approaching an age where Medicaid or SSI may become a part of their lives, we as undertakers are being asked more and more how assets can be protected for burial or cremation expenses.  This may also become a concern with the new health care procedures that may be instituted in the near future. The aging population will need to start looking at ways to protect themselves from the risk of losing the funds they may have earmarked for funeral or cremation expenses. Fortunately today, the funeral industry has a solution.

The majority of us over the years have obtained traditional life insurance policies for funeral expense.  As a matter of fact, representatives for many years have promoted traditional insurance to individuals to cover the costs associated with a funeral home.  We see it all the time.  For example, Alex Trebek on TV telling us the cost of funerals today and how his product can protect us from this expense in the future.  AARP is another one saying that for a very low rate you can have insurance protection for your future funeral expenses.   The issue with these traditional insurance policies is that the cash value in the policy will be included in calculating whether the total resources of the Medicaid or SSI applicant or recipient are within the required limits.   This is what has been labeled as a “spend down,” most often occurring when an individual is going into a nursing home.  Medicaid also has what is called a transfer of asset rule.  This restricts an applicant or recipient from transferring, giving away, or assigning assets in order to become eligible for benefits.  The value of the transfer will be counted as a resource and may result in a period of ineligibility.

My message is that there is a way to protect your earmarked funeral or cremation funds from being obtained by Medicaid in case you are caught in a “spend down” situation in the future.  The program is called Forethought Funeral Planning and is offered through most funeral homes today.  This program has been developed within the funeral industry and believe it or not, is funded through a life insurance product.  It has been reviewed by the Department of Health and Social Services as well as the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The beauty of a program such as Forethought is that not only will it allow an individual to secure funds for funeral or cremation expenses, but it provides protection from rising costs within the funeral industry and reflects your expressed wishes.  These plans are fully transferable and held by the individual, therefore avoiding any risk of potential funeral home negligence.

So how do you get one of these plans set up for myself or a family member?  My advice would be to call your local funeral home to make sure that they offer this program.  If they in fact do, then schedule a time for their Forethought representative, who is also a licensed funeral director, to visit with you to help organize the goods and services needed to accommodate your plans.  Once an estimate has been generated based on the goods and services selected at today’s costs, those expenses can then be paid for in full, or payment options are available.  All paperwork is signed and you are typically set up and prepared within an hour.  It is just that easy, that is if you can get over the “death aversion hurdle,” which can be a bit uneasy for some.

These Forethought agreements outline the funeral services and merchandise selected, so your wishes are known, your plans are set and the financial obligation is lifted from your family. It is actually quite a creative means of not only removing some of the emotional burden upon the death of a family member, but a means of protection and peace of mind knowing that the funds are secured for the use of funeral or cremation expenses.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410 758-3987.

GHOSTBUSTERS!

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

Remember the movie Ghostbusters back in the 1980s?  The Ghostbusters theme song would go something like “who yuh gonna call, GHOSTBUSTERS!”  This line would be said over and over again in different situations.  Believe it or not, this question is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to my industry; who do I call when a death occurs?

Let’s start with what needs to be done in order for the deceased to be transported from the place of death to the funeral home.  It is required by Maryland law that a doctor or medical examiner signs a death certificate before the deceased can be removed from the place of death.  For this reason alone, the funeral home is not typically the first to be contacted when a death occurs. In a situation where hospice care or a nursing facility is involved, the nurse usually gets verbal commitment from the doctor stating that they will sign the death certificate.  Once the nurse has received either verbal commitment or an actual signed death certificate, the funeral home of choice is contacted and transportation from the place of death to the funeral home is made.

OK Ryan, so you still haven’t answered the question…Who do I call?  Let’s look at this in three different situations: the death occurs at home, the death occurs in a hospital or nursing home (including hospice care), or the death occurs suddenly, as in an automobile accident.

First scenario.  If my wife comes home tonight and finds me dead, her first call needs to be 911.  The police and paramedics will take care of instructing her in what needs to be done next in regard to contacts.  If the paramedics find that the cause of death is not suspicious and my primary physician states she will sign the death certificate, then the next call will be to the funeral home.  If my doctor states that she will not sign the death certificate since she does not know what caused my death, I would be sent to the medical examiner in Baltimore to determine the cause. The chief medical examiner would then sign the death certificate after that determination is made.

Second scenario, what if death occurs in a hospital or nursing home. In this case, the nurse would have been instructed earlier by the family as to what funeral home needs to be contacted. The nurse would be the one to contact the funeral home on the family’s behalf.

Finally, what if death occurred suddenly?  This is very similar to the first scenario.  Call 911.  Most of the time the deceased will be sent to the medical examiner to determine the cause of death. In the case of an automobile accident, the medical examiner would determine what caused the death as a result of the accident.

This is probably more detailed than some of you care to read, however, remember it is very important that people understand who needs to be contacted.  Finally, to simplify all of this, when in doubt call 911.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410-758-3987.

ADVANCE PLANNING  

                                                                                                                                     By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTriubutesFuneralCare.com

Several weeks ago while having dinner at my mother-in-law’s, my wife and her mother began talking about the recent death of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.  They were discussing how deaths always seem to happen in three’s.  As they were discussing this, we couldn’t help but hear the television news broadcast that Michael Jackson had just died.  What a coincidence!  Over the next several days and weeks even more celebrity deaths occurred, Billy Mays, Steve McNair, Walter Cronkite and even “Gidget,” the Taco Bell Chihuahua.  Out of all the recent losses Hollywood experienced, the one that I feel we can learn the most from is that of Michael Jackson.  From the loss of Michael Jackson a few areas became very apparent to me in the context of my business: they are the importance of planning ahead, the role of the funeral professionals and how to create a true “celebration of life.”

During the days after Jackson’s death, one couldn’t help but notice how his family had to suffer from the lack of planning. As a matter of fact I am not even sure if they have agreed on a final place of rest to this day!  His family seemed to be unsure as to who is to care for his remains, who would take charge of his arrangements and how services should be handled for his family and fans.  This doesn’t even begin to touch on the decisions that were necessary to pull off, what I would call one of the most remarkable celebrations of life services one could ever imagine.  Advance funeral planning, offered by those in the funeral industry, provides the relief of knowing that all decisions are taken care of, services are in order to the greatest detail and the surviving relatives know exactly how everything is to be carried out well in advance.  Not that it seems to be a problem with Jackson, but even the financial burden could have been completely eliminated in advance.  I would imagine Mr. Jackson had the same feeling that many of us do: I need to make my funeral plans in advance, but I’ll do it another day.  Perhaps we should all take note of this experience and take care of our plans today.

On the positive side, the celebration of life that occurred for Michael Jackson was a perfect example of the importance of a funeral professional.  Throughout history we have seen many people in and out of the spotlight with some having very incredible end-of-life ceremonies — kings and queens, Hollywood stars and even presidents.  One of the most ostentatious funeral processions that our country has ever seen was that of President Abraham Lincoln.  Each state that his procession went though, had decorative hearses, amazing flower arrangements and uniformed staff from local funeral homes. Unlike the memorial tributes and capabilities available today, this was all that was obtainable by the industry at that time.  My point is that Michael Jackson’s ceremony could not have been done without the help of a licensed funeral professional.  The funeral industry is there to help families heal.  Providing a deceased family member the proper end-of-life ceremony is what the funeral industry should strive to offer all its families, and at the services for Michael Jackson, this was very apparent.

The last item that I feel we can all learn from is what a proper celebration of life should look like.  Jackson had one of the most incredible celebrations of life ever held. With that being said, there is no reason that we cannot give our loved ones the same.  OK, so maybe not at the Staples Center in Los Angeles or with songs sung by Jennifer Hudson among others.  But the videos, a presentation of memorial photos, favorite songs playing and closest friends sharing memories about the deceased can be done for anyone today.  We need to take the services that were done for Michael Jackson and make note that we can give our closest family members the same tribute that his family provided him.  After all, millions of people across this planet took time to sit in front of their televisions to pay tribute to the man and the vast majority of them had never met him. Why wouldn’t we give that same attention to the people who are closest to us and with whom we truly have a relationship?

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410-758-3987.

The UNDERTAKER’s LEXICON

By Ryan Helfenbein

www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com

A few weeks ago I was meeting with some job applicants who were interviewing for an administrative position at one of our funeral home locations.  During the interview, I couldn’t help but notice their confused reactions when I began to talk about our industry.  Then it clicked.  It wasn’t what I was saying, it was the words I used. I have tried here to create a funeral director glossary to help the general public better understand some of the words undertakers are using today.

The language of undertaking has evolved quite a bit over the years.  This industry has gone from offering mostly traditional burial services to now more than 50 percent offering alternative services.  Today there are more methods of disposition available (we’ll save that one for another issue) then ever seen before.  With these changes in language, undertaking has changed as well.  I am going to touch on five very common terms used today in the funeral industry:  First-call, at-need and pre-need, embalming, cremains and inurnment.

1.  First-call:  I don’t think I need to spend too much time on this one, especially for those of you who are involved in an “on call” service industry.  First call is when a family contacts a funeral home to tell them they’d like to use their services  because someone has passed away in their family. It is the first “call to action” the funeral home receives.

2.  Embalming:  Historically the most recited term in our industry.  Embalming is a process done by morticians or licensed embalmers that slows down the natural process upon death.  It does not involve removal of organs or other things you might imagine. It is a very contained means of introducing a formaldehyde-based solution into the body so that the deceased is in a safe and presentable state.

3.  At-Need and Pre-Need:  I’d like to call this the work of the funeral industry as a whole.  These two words are classifications of what the consumers’ needs are.  At-need is the “need” of funeral homes services immediately, or at the time of death.  Pre-need is the “need”  before the time of death. At-need is something that is heavily regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and the State Board of Morticians and is truly the bread and butter of the funeral industry.  It is truly why funeral homes exist.  As for pre-need, let’s just say that aspect of the industry flies at a different altitude for most undertakers and is a bit more advanced for some of my associates.  Services provided “pre-need” have evolved into something much larger than ever imagined and are becoming an extremely popular means of planning one’s end-of-life ceremony, especially with the baby boomer generation.  Those firms that do offer a pre-need or pre-planning program are usually the more progressive firms; while at –need is historically what the funeral industry has always provided.

4.  Cremains:  This one always gets Microsoft Word upset.  This is a new word in the language of undertaking due to the increased popularity of cremation.  Cremains are what remain after the cremation procedure is complete.  It is a combination of two terms – cremation and human remains.  We use this term, rather than ashes, because it is more respectful, defines exactly what it is and it’s one of those words that is truly derived from undertakers!   Like most understakers, nothing upsets me more than to hear the media describe the cremains of someone’s loved one as ashes.

5.  Inurnment:  Like cremains, this word is also becoming popular because of cremation.  Inurnment is the process of putting an urn into a burial space or columbarium — an above-ground structure used for placement of urns.  This word is also derived from two words:  Internment (placement of remains in a grave) and Urn (device container) – suited undertakers, you can now ask with confidence, “Have you received any first calls on a pre-need that requests you do an inurnment of their cremains with embalming prior to their services?”  Shoot me an e-mail if you do, I’d love to hear the response or at least know what the look was on the undertaker’s face.

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.com or 410-758-3987

Ask the Undertaker

By Ryan Helfenbein

Several weeks ago while having dinner at my mother-in-law’s, my wife and her mother began talking about the recent death of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.  They were discussing how deaths always seem to happen in three’s.  As they were discussing this, we couldn’t help but hear the television news broadcast that Michael Jackson had just died.  What a coincidence!  Over the next several days and weeks even more celebrity deaths occurred, Billy Mays, Steve McNair, Walter Cronkite and even “Gidget,” the Taco Bell Chihuahua.  Out of all the recent losses Hollywood experienced, the one that I feel we can learn the most from is that of Michael Jackson.  From the loss of Michael Jackson a few areas became very apparent to me in the context of my business: they are the importance of planning ahead, the role of the funeral professionals and how to create a true “celebration of life.”

During the days after Jackson’s death, one couldn’t help but notice how his family had to suffer from the lack of planning. As a matter of fact I am not even sure if they have agreed on a final place of rest to this day!  His family seemed to be unsure as to who is to care for his remains, who would take charge of his arrangements and how services should be handled for his family and fans.  This doesn’t even begin to touch on the decisions that were necessary to pull off, what I would call one of the most remarkable celebrations of life services one could ever imagine.  Advance funeral planning, offered by those in the funeral industry, provides the relief of knowing that all decisions are taken care of, services are in order to the greatest detail and the surviving relatives know exactly how everything is to be carried out well in advance.  Not that it seems to be a problem with Jackson, but even the financial burden could have been completely eliminated in advance.  I would imagine Mr. Jackson had the same feeling that many of us do: I need to make my funeral plans in advance, but I’ll do it another day.  Perhaps we should all take note of this experience and take care of our plans today.

On the positive side, the celebration of life that occurred for Michael Jackson was a perfect example of the importance of a funeral professional.  Throughout history we have seen many people in and out of the spotlight with some having very incredible end-of-life ceremonies — kings and queens, Hollywood stars and even presidents.  One of the most ostentatious funeral processions that our country has ever seen was that of President Abraham Lincoln.  Each state that his procession went though, had decorative hearses, amazing flower arrangements and uniformed staff from local funeral homes. Unlike the memorial tributes and capabilities available today, this was all that was obtainable by the industry at that time.  My point is that Michael Jackson’s ceremony could not have been done without the help of a licensed funeral professional.  The funeral industry is there to help families heal.  Providing a deceased family member the proper end-of-life ceremony is what the funeral industry should strive to offer all its families, and at the services for Michael Jackson, this was very apparent.

The last item that I feel we can all learn from is what a proper celebration of life should look like.  Jackson had one of the most incredible celebrations of life ever held. With that being said, there is no reason that we cannot give our loved ones the same.  OK, so maybe not at the Staples Center in Los Angeles or with songs sung by Jennifer Hudson among others.  But the videos, a presentation of memorial photos, favorite songs playing and closest friends sharing memories about the deceased can be done for anyone today.  We need to take the services that were done for Michael Jackson and make note that we can give our closest family members the same tribute that his family provided him.  After all, millions of people across this planet took time to sit in front of their televisions to pay tribute to the man and the vast majority of them had never met him. Why wouldn’t we give that same attention to the people who are closest to us and with whom we truly have a relationship?

Ryan, a licensed funeral director and certified planning counselor, can be reached at Ryan@fhnFuneralHome.comor 410-758-3987.

Ask the Undertaker

By Ryan Helfenbein

Greening is good. Not just for the environment, but especially this time of year. The green tree, evergreens placed on the railings, green suits of Santa’s little elves. And the undertaking business has not escaped the trend this time of year or year-round.

Undertakers are ready to meet the growing demand for “green burials.” This all-natural burial option – my dad calls it “cowboy burial” – that does not require preservation using chemicals or an outer burial container or even a monument. This relatively new method of burial entails use of an eco-friendly casket in a specialized cemetery or in a designated section of a traditional cemetery. Green burials provide a service that truly mimics customs of our ancestors. And it has caught the attention of baby boomers.

Some of you may wonder if embalming is necessary and if not, then must burial occur within 24 hours? Not true. Believe it or not, through the use of dry ice or refrigeration, funeral providers can delay the services until it is better suited for the family, typically three or four days. In the state of Maryland, there is no law that requires embalming.

Then why, you ask, haven’t we heard a lot more about green burial? A recent funeral industry magazine has addressed this very question. It pointed out that the average run-of-the mill funeral director today simply does not understand it and is reluctant to change. Their grandpa never ran a funeral home offering it, so why should they! In spite of this, green burial is growing in popularity, as we have gone from five green burial cemeteries just six years ago to over 15 in the U.S. today.

Another roadblock to consumer education about green burial is not just resistance in the industry but confusion. When I discussed green burials recently with a Baltimore funeral director, he explained that his firm offers a green burial service. He continued by explaining there was no embalming, the family purchases an eco-friendly casket and that is then placed in an unsealed concrete liner for burial in a traditional cemetery. OK, now this is a partially green burial, but not a true green burial.

Green Burial, natural burial, or cowboy burial, whichever you prefer, does not include an outer enclosure. It is the placement of an eco-friendly casket directly into the earth. Some may even choose to skip the casket and use shrouds. (Yes, we undertakers are bringing back some ancient customs.)  In the specialized cemeteries that conduct green burials, graves are dug by hand, not with modern machinery. The caskets are lowered with the use of rope, not a steel lowering device. The graves are then hand-shoveled and closed, often with the family assisting. No backhoe involved. Traditional monuments will not be found in a green burial cemetery. In some cases, natural elements, such as trees or rocks are used to mark the location of a loved one’s interment. In a tip of the hat to modern technology, families are given the GPS coordinates of the location, marked or not.

Green burial was first implemented in the United Kingdom. The very first green burial cemetery started in 1993 and now there are more than 200 in the U.K. The first green burial cemetery in the US was opened in South Carolina in 1998. Today, we see this becoming very popular along the East Coast and is offered even right here in Annapolis.

          Maryland Green Burial is a good source of information for those who want to learn more about cemeteries in the area providing this service. Reach it at www.mdgreenburial.com

I’d like to end this year’s edition of “Ask the Undertaker” with a “thank-you” to the readers of this column. It has been a pleasure meeting some of you in person, having the opportunity to answer some of your questions through the column and bring light to what has always been a dark topic. In the upcoming year, I plan to cover questions such as, “What steps are involved with pre-planning,” “How can one be buried at sea” and the ever-so-popular topic of cremation. I welcome other suggestion you may have.

Ryan, owner/supervising mortician and pre planning counselor at Lasting Tributes on Bestgate Road in Annapolis, offers area residents solutions to high cost funerals. He can be reached at 410 897-4852 or Ryan@LastingTributesFuneralCare.com 

 

 

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210 Legion Ave #6805
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