How to Plan the Perfect Funeral Service

The loss of a loved one is never easy to handle, whether you could see it coming or not. Once it happens, though, it can be incredibly easy to find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of questions you’ll suddenly need to answer. Planning a funeral can be a very emotional and highly personal process, as there are several factors that can play into how you go about planning, such as your relationship to the deceased, what their wishes may have been, what you can afford, and so much more. All that said, there are certain parts of the process that will generally remain consistent, so whether you choose to start early or when you’re in need, here’s what you can expect when planning the funeral.

Disposition: What Should We Do with the Body?

there are four main options: a traditional burial, a natural (or “green”) burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis (more about that below).

When you go about planning the funeral, the first thing you’ll have to decide is how you’d like the body to be put to rest. Generally speaking, there are four main options: a traditional burial, a natural (or “green”) burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis (more about that below). A traditional burial is what we’ve come to associate with funerals, where the body is stored either below-ground at a cemetery plot or above-ground in a mausoleum or similar. Traditional burials also tend to involve the most steps, as they require the purchase of a casket, a cemetery plot or mausoleum space, a burial vault, and some kind of headstone or monument for memorializinf the body’s site.

A natural burial is somewhat similar, but focusing on burying the body without embalming and in a natural casket — that is, a shroud or vault that is biodegradable. Typically, these burials occur in more “natural” settings, be that anywhere from a designated “green” area of a cemetery to the middle of a forest, and leave the grave to be marked by something natural such as plants, rocks, and more. The biggest advantage of a natural burial is the quick and safe decomposition of the body, allowing all of its nutrients to be returned to the soil. A natural burial can have most of its stipulations decided by the person planning it, and thus can end up being a fraction of the cost of a more traditional burial.

The Disappearing Tricks

On-par with cheaper, less-extravagant disposition options is cremation, or the process of heating the body to the point of decomposition into bone material and ashes. This option uses specific chambers built for processing bodies this way, and can also end up costing far less than all of the things that would otherwise be necessary for a more traditional funeral (in some cases, less than $2,000 vs. the $8,000 average for a traditional burial). This option also allows families a more personal choice in keeping the body’s remains close to them or having them spread elsewhere. Similar to cremation, alkaline hydrolysis is a relatively new form of disposition where the body is processed down to liquid and chemicals using pressure, heat, and lye. While not available in every state or funeral home just yet, this process also tends to run at a lower cost than your traditional burial and allows for flexibility in how to deal with the remains.

The Nitty Gritty

If you’d like physical condolences, you can have your attendees bring flowers, offer donations toward the memorial service

Once you’ve decided what to do with the body, a lot more minute details can start popping up surrounding the funeral service. In recent years, funeral services have become an ultra-personalized goodbye for the deceased, so it’s up to you to decide what your loved one would like their service to look and how they would have liked to part ways with the living. From music to eulogies, to readings and receptions, there are a lot of ways you can use detail to bring the funeral to more of a place of celebration. You can choose to have a viewing with an open or closed casket and/or a memorial tribute soon after the death of your loved one, and still have the opportunity to have their body cremated or processed afterwards. If you’d like physical condolences, you can have your attendees bring flowers, offer donations toward the memorial service, or countless other gifts to make your time of need less painful.

After you’ve decided most of the above, it’s time for you to start contacting local funeral homes, service providers, and cemeteries. Said providers will do everything in their power to ensure that the process of planning the service goes as smoothly as possible, outlining all necessities and costs along the way. This is also where you can consider religious or cultural undertones for the services, as most funeral service providers are now experienced and willing to provide alternatives to the more traditional types of funeral services.

Affording Your Ideal Funeral

Most funeral homes also aim to make the process as transparent as possible, and will even post general price lists for products and services associated with the funeral.

Most funeral homes also aim to make the process as transparent as possible, and will even post general price lists for products and services associated with the funeral. A lot of them will have full payment options in place depending on need, with finance plans often available to those who have begun planning for their funeral ahead of time. The greatest value in pre-planning a funeral is the peace of mind and security in knowing that the decisions were made in advance, together.

So while it could be pretty easy to become overwhelmed by all of the details you’ll have to consider when planning a funeral service, there are general practices where you can begin your planning. If all else fails, contact your local funeral service provider to see what they can do for you.

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Choosing a Cemetery Plot

Choosing a cemetery plot can be just as much fun, and just as confusing, as buying any other real estate asset. The biggest difference is that usually when you are shopping for real estate it is for a house, a vacation home, or an investment that you will enjoy or reap benefits from while you are alive. However, chances are that your purchases are also part of your total estate planning. If that is the case, then you may also be thinking about your loved ones and heirs when you pass on. In that way buying a final resting place is actually quite similar to other real estate transactions, assuming that you are buying prior to the stress and emotion that comes at the actual time of need.

What Drives the Cemetery Choice?

When buying a plot, most people act on one of two impulses. They either go with tradition or personal preference. Tradition is typically driven by religion and/or family history. Tradition almost preordains where you will be buried, right down to the last detail of the plot location. However, even if you are bound by tradition, you may still have a few choices you need to make such as whether you will be buried in a single, side by side, or double-depth (where literally two people can be buried in one grave). In the situation with double-depth burial, individual cemetery rules and regulations will usually govern this. Typically, cemetery rules and regulations will also govern what type of memorialization is permitted. Whether you are making just a few, or many choices, it is important to understand cost and make decisions about every detail that has a cost attached, including the fees and options for perpetual care, if applicable. More on personal preference follows.

Reducing the Burial Cost

Most people shop for the prettiest, cheapest, most convenient place they can find. This is likely to be your approach as well.

There are only three scenarios in which there is no cost associated with burial. The first is one in which every detail was taken care of prior to need by either someone else or because you have an investment or insurance policy. Presumably if you are shopping for a burial site then you are in this process so at the time of death, your loved ones will not have to worry about the financial burden, which is the best reason to have a good burial insurance policy. The second is if you are veteran. All veterans are entitled to a no cost funeral and burial at a government-managed cemetery. Veterans can choose to be buried at the cemetery of their choice and will receive an amount towards those costs. The third scenario is one in which a person passes away and they are indigent. In this case, in some places, there are public alternatives available. Short of this, almost everything else is left to personal preference, which is where the fun comes in.

Most people shop for the prettiest, cheapest, most convenient place they can find. This is likely to be your approach as well. Sorting through the different types of cemeteries is usually not that difficult. There are public, religious, private, district or municipal, and national or veteran. Only veterans, active duty, and their immediate families can be buried in veterans’, or national, cemeteries. Municipal are typically reserved for the indigent. For most other people, this leaves the choice of public, religious or private and then the choices of site, location, interment style, memorial and perpetual care. In order to sort through this the Funeral Consumers Alliance (a national consumer organization that monitors the funeral industry) strongly recommends that you get a printed and itemized list of all costs and a copy of the cemetery’s rules and regulations. This will help you know what you are and are not buying and help you make smart choices so that your preferences and choices can in fact be accomodated. CMS Mid-Atlantic can help guide those choices with a sophisticated set of tools and a portfolio of cemetery options to explore.

Important Considerations

while the FTC regulates the funeral industry, its oversight does not extend to cemeteries. That means that you need to be a more informed consumer when shopping for a burial plot than for funeral services.

There are a few things that are significant to understand as the consumer. One is that while the FTC regulates the funeral industry, its oversight does not extend to cemeteries. That means that you need to be a more informed consumer when shopping for a burial plot than for funeral services. Another is that funeral and burial costs are, generally speaking, entirely separate and each can reach $10,000 or greater fairly quickly with the costs continuing to rise. This means that purchasing now can save you and your loved ones a significant amount of money. One way to do this is by financing a plot.

Some cemeteries do their own financing and many third party companies and banks provide this service. The advantage of this is that you are locking in a lower price now and spreading that cost out over time. The disadvantage would kick in if you pass away before you expect to, triggering a balloon-type payment that your estate or a loved one will have to pick up.

You don’t have to commit, but you might as well start shopping for burial plots today to make sure that you have every opportunity and choice available to you.

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Financing Death Services

You finance your education, your house, your car, your vacations, your children’s education and everything that you put on credit cards – but did you ever think about financing your funeral? It really is no different.

End of life, death, and post death planning is one of the most important things you can do when you are alive. There is no escaping that you will die. It is an uncomfortable and taboo conversation to many. However, it is a reality and the truth is that when the inevitable happens everything will be much better for your loved ones if you have a plan in place. This plan ideally details the decisions that you have made around how you would like to have your body treated and what type of funeral you would like. In the perfect world you have pre-planned, and paid, for everything.

Funerals and burial can be expensive, and the more detailed you are in your planning, the more the incremental cost structure will vary. However, it is safe to say that each year the costs of these services are rising and today you can safely ballpark the average funeral costing in the range of $8000-12,000 dollars. Some of this is geographically driven and some of the costs are real and hard. We know that the cost goes up every year, with an anticipated inflationary rise of over 4-5 percent a year, such that by 2035 the average funeral price will have doubled. Plot costs are in addition to this, and depending on the cemetery can range from $3,000-$20,000 in New York and New Jersey.

Funerals and burial can be expensive, and the more detailed you are in your planning, the more the incremental cost structure will vary.

Most funeral and cemetery service companies will lock in a rate now if you pay for your future needs. Wealth advisors like Kiplinger, recommend going this route as a ‘convenient and reassuring way to spare your family some measure of emotional stress when the time comes (because) the big decisions about your funeral will have been made, the money paid, and that will be that.’ There are a number of options available to you that can help with your planning. At CMS Mid-Atlantic we can walk you through all of the alternatives available to make this work. And rest assured that in New York and New Jersey you, the consumer, are protected by the law when you make these arrangements.

Medicaid Benefit of Prepaying for a Funeral

you should realize that prepaying for funeral expenses is one way to do this. And it works for both spouses in the case of marriage.

When you apply for medicaid, you can only have so many assets. It is allowable for the sake of the application to spend down those assets. A financial advisor can give detailed advice on the best way to handle your finances now and for the future, and can help you set up an estate plan, but you should realize that prepaying for funeral expenses is one way to do this. And it works for both spouses in the case of marriage. This requires that the cost of the funeral and burial are put into an irrevocable trust. The funds that are deposited cannot be touched or disbursed until the time of death. The funds in the trust are then no longer considered part of what must be spent down. CMS Mid-Atlantic can guide you on how to make those plans and set up the trust.

Financial Planning and Trust Implements

Even if you are not going through the estate planning process of a medicaid spend-down plan, you can still make arrangements to prepay for a funeral. In New York, 100% of the funds are required to be put into a trust, with rights for a full refund, with interest when you purchase a revocable plan and all irrevocable plans are transferable. New Jersey has consumer protections as well. (Source). When setting up the trust you will want to simultaneously plan your funeral. Not to worry, this can be done in a way that allows for some flexibility if you want to add or change a detail later.

Insurance

 There are a significant number of insurance companies that offer policies like this and it is an easy way to ensure that your funeral and burial costs are covered

One way to prepay for your funeral is to purchase an insurance policy and make the funeral home the beneficiary of that plan. There are a significant number of insurance companies that offer policies like this and it is an easy way to ensure that your funeral and burial costs are covered so that your loved ones are not burdened in the future.If you go this route, one of the things to be careful about is to make sure that your insurance policy is large enough to cover all of the real costs for both funeral and burial. Making decisions now about your final wishes will help guide an understanding and projection of those costs. Looking at life expectancy against the inflation rates for the details and services you want to make sure are covered is an important part of the planning that you should do before committing to a policy.

At CMS Mid-Atlantic we can help you work through all of these details, the planning, and advise you on the best financial options available to make sure that you are providing peace of mind and not burdening your loved ones with the difficulties of financial decisions. There is no better gift to give them.

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Ashes to Diamonds and Other Alternatives to Interment

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being buried in a cemetery. Cemeteries are beautiful and designed to help loved ones and future generations feel a connection and maintain a memorial to those they have lost. However, there are now so many interesting alternatives that most people are at least entertaining the idea of skipping interment altogether. We encourage you to explore all of the fun and whimsical and beautiful ways and places that your remains can be used or dispersed. And we hope that you will contact us to help you figure out the right way to plan for and carry out an after-life vision and the funeral that will accompany it.

Sparkle After Death

These diamonds are indistinguishable from diamonds not made with the remains of a human being and they are growing in popularity.

One of the most interesting alternatives available is for your body to become a diamond. Available in many cuts and colors, as just a stone, or set in a piece of jewelry, after death your ashes can be compressed into precious stone. These diamonds are indistinguishable from diamonds not made with the remains of a human being and they are growing in popularity. While there have been some cases of people making the decision to be turned into a diamond and then to be sold, it is much more common that this is carried out to provide a gift to a special loved one and then to become an heirloom passed from generation to generation. Costs vary depending on the size, color, cut, and quality of the gemstone. If you decide to go this route it does not preclude you from having part of your ashes interred at a cemetery and having a marker or headstone so that all of your loved ones can easily come and visit.

Grow Into A Tree

 Important considerations are choosing the right species of tree, making sure that there is enough sunlight and that instructions are clear for the tree’s care.

As our society becomes more environmentally conscious many people are opting for green burials. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to be interred in a way that provides the nutrients for a tree to grow.

Generally this is a cremation option and can happen inside of the cemetery of your choice, where the groundskeepers will perpetually see to your every need. Important considerations are choosing the right species of tree, making sure that there is enough sunlight and that instructions are clear for the tree’s care. This is a beautiful opportunity to give back to the planet and live into the future. You can also have your ashes split between two or more trees so that you can grow in different places and even different types of tree (think fruit, shade, and living Christmas). In the future there may be the alternative of having your entire body put into a pod from which a tree grows; although at the time this is not widely available largely due to regulatory issues and technology.

Become Art

While this has not become quite as popular as the diamonds and trees, there are people who are making the decision to have their, or their loved one’s, bodies turned into art pieces that are put on display. Again this is generally a cremation alternative, as the ashes are integrated into glass, metal, resin, or some other composite and then shaped into a sculpture. It is not hard to imagine these sculptures popping up in memorial parks and cemeteries, in much the same way that granite and marble statues grace our most beautiful and historic burial grounds. Much like the tree alternative, it is possible for your ashes to be separated into two or more different pieces of art, allowing for both intimate and private pieces and public displays – even multiples of both.

Donate Your Body For Science

Every year almost 15,000 people donate their bodies to be used in medical research. After the various parts of the body are used in research, generally a free cremation is provided.

There are at least three different ways to donate your body. The first alternative is to a body farm, a research facility in which decomposition is studied in a variety of stages. Another alternative for donation is to give your body for scientific research of a different kind. Every year almost 15,000 people donate their bodies to be used in medical research. After the various parts of the body are used in research, generally a free cremation is provided. You can also donate your body to be plasticized and used in scientific displays. If this is the direction that you are the most comfortable moving then there are ways that you can set up a lasting memorial so that your loved one can still honor you.

Regardless of the direction you want to go, the first question you may want to ask yourself is, are you planning your after-life to meet your desires or to satisfy those of your loved ones? What is your budget? How do you want to be remembered? Answers to these questions and more will help guide you through your decision making. Once you are settled on a plan, we can help you to ensure that the plan is carried out as part of your last wishes and that if you want a lasting memorial you have the widest range of possible choices at one of the cemeteries we manage.

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Burial vs. Cremation

When people think of a cemetery, usually only two alternatives, burial or cremation, come to mind. While this is the most common way to think of the alternatives, there are other options for the interment of the body or disposition of the ashes at most cemeteries. Below-ground burial sites and above-ground mausoleums are available. Remains can be interred in the ground or in a mausoleum, which means that the choice between burial and cremation can be more about how the body is prepared rather than a choice of a final resting place.

At a cemetery, each of these alternatives create a permanent resting place for loved ones, and generations to come, to gather, memorialize and remember.

Making the decision about a final resting place can feel intimidating and overwhelming, but with a little help, such as that provided by CMS Mid-Atlantic, the choice can become simple.

Ground Burial

Ground burial is the most traditional type of burial that the majority of people choose. This is just as it sounds, with the body interred in the ground.

Ground burial is the most traditional type of burial that the majority of people choose. This is just as it sounds, with the body interred in the ground. Typically a stone monument or a flush memorial is used to designate the location and provide a marker of the person’s life. Families can usually choose from a variety of locations throughout the cemetery, including those that are specifically reserved for various faiths, nationalities, or organizations. It is not unusual for cremated remains to be permanently memorialized as ground burials.

Mausoleum Burial

There are oftentimes both interior and exterior locations available for a mausoleum entombment or cremation inurnment.

A mausoleum is a structure for above-ground entombment and cremation inurnment. There are oftentimes both interior and exterior locations available for a mausoleum entombment or cremation inurnment. An interior location is often preferred because it provides for visitation year-round, when weather conditions might otherwise be prohibitive.

Cremation

Many families currently opt for cremation instead of more traditional full body burials. They might also wish to permanently inter the ashes in the ground or in a mausoleum niche, to provide a place for family members to visit and pay their respects for generations to come.

Until very recently in the US, far fewer people had their remains cremated. In fact, in the 1980s, according to Time Magazine, cremation rates in the US were only at 10%. This has shifted dramatically and now cremation is more popular than the traditional treatment of the body. This shift has driven the opportunities for memorialization with cremation and cemeteries are keeping up by providing more ways to create the same permanency as a traditional burial.

Choosing Between Cremation and Traditional Burial

Cremation is taboo in some religions, and some people will always feel more comfortable with the idea of traditional full body burial. But as society and its allegiances to religion and tradition shift, so too are preferences regarding treatment of the body and final resting places. Cremation bridges the gap between tradition and modern sensibilities, typically with a cost that is much lower than the expenses that come with a traditional preparation of the body by a funeral home, casket, hearse, and other details.

Cremation allows you to take up a smaller footprint in the cemetery with the same alternatives for headstones, markers, and mausoleums. An urn can be interred in much the same way as a body. However, the process of cremation also offers the opportunity to spread some of the ashes at an alternative location or have them turned into a memento. The opportunity for both a final resting spot and these options is not available with traditional burial.

Cremation is taboo in some religions, and some people will always feel more comfortable with the idea of traditional full body burial.

In many religions, not only is the method of burial prescribed, but also the way that the body is handled from the time of death until after it is interred. Instructions may continue through to the way that the headstone or memorial is presented and is laid out. Such religious traditions will not soon pass, which means that there will always be full burials available at cemeteries regardless of how far most people’s priorities around death shift. A more traditional burial carries a larger expense and requires more things such as caskets and larger earth movers. In spite of the added expense, it is familiar and can be very comforting to people who are used to this way of treating the deceased.

If your choice has less to do with traditional or modern preferences than it does with financial realities, it is important to note that there are significant differences in costs for both funerals and burials. The National Funeral Directors Association keeps funeral statistics and has tabulated and published the average national cost of a funeral since the 1960s. In 2016 it cost on average $7360 for a funeral with viewing and burial (without the cemetery plot, memorial or mausoleum). Funeral, viewing and cremation averaged $6260. Without a viewing this cost would drop again. Not included in these costs were incidentals like flowers and food for a funeral meal, or a headstone or marker, as those fees are extremely variable.

The number of choices may seem overwhelming. However, there are helpful online and written resources, as well as knowledgeable people, who can help. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources as this will be the most permanent decision you ever have to make.

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5 Top Trends in Funerals

They say that the only certainties are death and taxes and we are not going to disagree with that in the least. The truth is that everyone dies and everyone will at some point need funeral services. Traditionally there have been very few options as funerals were largely ritualistic and prescribed. This meant that it was much less common for your personality (if you are pre-planning) or your recently departed loved-one’s personality to shine through at what is truly the last opportunity to influence the way you are remembered.

Although many people are still opting for the traditions of their parents and grandparents in their funeral choices, many more are breaking out of the mold and making choices that are fun, whimsical and sometimes even shocking.

  1. Interactive HeadstonesHeadstones, which traditionally are static statutes are being transformed with LED touch-screens, QR Codes, and Electronic Photo-Albums.

Cemeteries can be beautiful places, filled with monuments and interesting historical facts. A bit like a museum, which is why it should come as no surprise that the next big thing is bringing museum technology into the cemetery. Headstones, which traditionally are static statutes are being transformed with LED touch-screens, QR Codes, and Electronic Photo-Albums. Several companies have begun production and the alternatives and availability are currently somewhat limited, but like all technology it should not take long for things that we cannot currently conceive to begin popping up on new graves and retrofitting old ones.

This trend is more widely taking off in Europe than in the US, but it will not be long before video, photo, and audio content is widely available in weather-proof, vandal proof, memorials. Already QR codes that are specifically made for cemeteries are widely available, which when scanned lead to websites that can be highly advanced, or simply elegant.

Our guess is that within a decade the technology geniuses will figure out how to integrate holograms that are triggered when a motion detector implanted with facial recognition software is triggered.

  1. WebCasting

It is 2018 and families live further apart. And thanks to globalization and the rise of social media more people are connected with many others in several places. This makes attending funerals more complicated than they were a generation ago. Combine this with the modern-day headaches of airline travel, and getting home or getting to a funeral isn’t always so easy. Enter the solution of the web-cast funeral.

Now before dismissing the concept as odd, or less personal or intimate, remember that more low tech versions of this have been happening for as long as the television has graced family rooms. Going back to the days of JFK, families gathered and participated remotely. The difference here is that with webcasting you are not just an observer, but you are interacting as well. Webcasting funerals can be done on a small scale for just close friends and family, or they can be done on a large and public scale, truly making celebrating life and memorializing death accessible to anyone anywhere at any time.

  1. Creative CremationYou can have ashes pressed into a diamond and set into a ring, incorporated into a piece of custom glass art, or even pressed into a record (yes, literally vinyl that will play your favorite songs).

From custom cremation urns that are designed in any shape and color, fit for internment or fit for your mantle to having your remains turned into fireworks, there are literally endless alternatives for what your remains can become. You can have ashes pressed into a diamond and set into a ring, incorporated into a piece of custom glass art, or even pressed into a record (yes, literally vinyl that will play your favorite songs). It would seem that there is no lack of opportunities that can be brought into your memorial with your cremated remains as long as you can find an artist or a company that is willing and able to design and develop your dreams. So go tacky, beautiful, humorous, or refined, but if cremation is your direction just know that you can go with it.

  1. Themed Funerals

In 2013 TLC aired a show on The Best Funerals Ever that sparked a trend that has grown ever since. From Star Wars to Christmas, color palettes to sports teams, people are now designing funerals to play out fantasies or hobbies. More often than not these funerals involve dressing or costuming and decorations that make them more interesting, and even fun, than the traditional service. And funeral directors are catching up and offering more options to help the families and friends celebrate the life of their loved one.

  1. Alternative Locations

People are starting to move their funerals away from the traditional funeral parlors to barns, bars and even back into their homes.

People are starting to move their funerals away from the traditional funeral parlors to barns, bars and even back into their homes. These alternatives provide individualization that make them more special and a memorial appropriate to people who prefer to remember their loved ones where he or she enjoyed being. Still others are embracing the idea of destination funerals at beaches, resorts and other vacation spots, which is growing in popularity. However, if people have to travel for a funeral, why not treat them to something a little bit different?

The opportunities today are as endless as your imagination (within the confines of the laws of your state). So if it is important to you to carry your own personality into death, or to make sure your loved one is honored, then before moving forward with any of these ideas or designing your own, consult with an advisor, such as those at CMS Mid Atlantic [or do we want to list a specific cemetery?], who can help you plan ahead. And remember, even though death may be inevitable – the way you are remembered and memorialized doesn’t have to be.

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Vestal Hills Memorial Poinsettia Tree

Vestal-Poinsettia

A favorite Christmas tradition at Vestal Hills is our beautiful Memorial Poinsettia Tree. Memorial Poinsettias may be purchased in memory of your loved ones at our park office.

If you would like more information about our Memorial Poinsettias please contact the cemetery office at:

Vestal Hills Memorial Park
3997 Vestal Road
Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 797-8407

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