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Make the Most of Your Funeral Director’s Expertise Share Stories, Thoughts and Ideas…Be Prepared

By Stephen F. Gemelli


For centuries people have gathered to memorialize and remember their friends and loved ones.  For centuries people have made a ritual of caring for the dead.  For many years, people have turned to a funeral director and a funeral home to assist them in caring for and memorializing a loved one.  A fairly simple, concept you might think: someone dies, you call the funeral home, and the services are planned and carried out.


For many people, it’s not that simple.  Death and dying, while both facts of life, aren’t something that most people are prepared to deal with, especially when the death is unexpected.  Death isn’t easy to deal with, even when someone has been ill and has held on for days, months or even years.  We as human beings focus on the world around us and the life we and our family and friends are living right now, this minute.


The reality is not something that we want to think about until we absolutely have to.  But on a daily basis I find that people say, “We should have planned” or “We should have at least talked about our wishes.”  We can avoid the “should” by making a point of discussing our inevitable passing from this life; if we don’t share our feelings and thoughts about a particular service or burial location or favorite flower, how will our surviving loved ones know what our final wishes are?
Pre-planning with a funeral home is a definitive way to have your thoughts and specific wishes placed in writing to be used as a guide at the time of your death.  There are many ways in which creating these guidelines can be accomplished. You can simply sit with a director and talk with him or her, and then he or she will file away the ideas you have gone over until they are needed.  You can then take things a step further and make the specific choices that will ultimately be necessary.  Decide on the selection of a casket, vault or urn, in the case of cremation.  Choose burial or cremation, or burial after cremation.  Decide where your funeral will take place (At home?  At the funeral home?  In your church?  In your synagogue?  At the botanical garden?).  Specify what music will be played, who will speak, who will the presiding clergy be?


There are many choices to be made and a funeral director will keep your selections on file and, with your direct input, create the type of service you are looking to arrange.  The funeral director will also discuss financial matters with you, including costs associated with the funeral home (funeral homes are required by the FTC to provide you with a General Price List, Casket and Outer Burial Container Price List, and written Statement of Goods and Services), the cemetery, stipends or offerings for clergy of worship, and other expenses that may be relevant.  Once your plan is put together to your satisfaction, the funeral director will provide you with a final total of costs on The Statement of Goods and Services.


So, now that the final total of goods and services has been determined, the best way to “cost protect” those charges is to pre-pay for what you’ve selected.  Upon full or partial payment, the funeral home will provide you with a Pre-Need Funeral Contract, which is a standardized document approved by The State Board of Funeral Directors; it is required to be used by all funeral homes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This contract will state the total of costs that you have determined and how much you are putting towards that total.  It will also have an area where the funeral director can mark down either “cost protected” or “not cost protected.”  Funeral homes will only “cost protect” pre-need that is fully funded.  If you choose to fully fund the pre-need, you will find that many funeral homes will only “cost protect” or guarantee the charges specifically associated with the funeral home and merchandise, but will not do so for Non Funeral Home expenses such as newspaper, cemetery, clergy etc.: funeral homes can control their own pricing,  but have no control over the changes that happen at cemeteries, newspapers and other services outside their realm  The contract will also state at which financial institution your money is being placed. The interest earned on the account and the original deposit is what the funeral home uses to pay expenses in the future when the need arises.


In Massachusetts, funeral directors simply act as an agent to forward your payments to an institution with “trust” powers (they manage a collective investment fund) like a bank or approved insurance company.  The accounts are set up in your name, not the funeral home’s.  So ultimately, the money remains in your name until it’s needed by the funeral home.  With the money being held in an account under your name, it may be wise to consider making the account “irrevocable;” this simply means that the account is sheltered and not considered an asset to you should you need to apply for some type of public assistance for healthcare, such as nursing homes.  However, your account can also be “revocable,” meaning that you can withdraw your account at any time, but it’s not considered a sheltered asset.  You can easily change from revocable to irrevocable by consulting your funeral director.


A funeral director can always answer any questions you might have with regard to pre-planning and pre-paying.  The regulations in Massachusetts are very pro-consumer and every funeral home and director in this state must use the standard pre-need contract and as well as a financial institution with trusting powers.  Remember, the accounts are always in your name, managed by state approved institutions.


Talk, tell stories, pass on your thoughts…it’s what we all do, it’s life.

Stephen F. Gemelli is a Licensed  Funeral Director and  General Manager of Mercadante Funeral Home & Chapel, 370 Plantation Street, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Pictured: Mercadante Funeral Home & Chapel

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