About Pre-Need Planning

Why consider pre-need planning?
There’s no question that the time following the death of a loved one can be stressful and difficult. Emotions are strained and judgment can be clouded when trying to arrange a fitting tribute for the deceased. If, on the other hand, the deceased has made the effort ahead of time to arrange their preferences in regard to the type of burial and where it is to take place, the service, and other details — including music or readings — survivors are spared the task of making difficult decisions and the stress of trying to choose what would have pleased the loved one.

Today arrangements are as individual as the persons for whom and by whom they are made. A ceremony may be personalized to reflect the life of the deceased — and therefore have special meaning for those who are left behind.

Whatever the case, nothing is more comforting to survivors than the knowledge that they are doing what the deceased wanted, in no uncertain terms.

Is providing comfort for survivors the only reason to pre-plan your funeral?
Sparing survivors the discomfort of making decisions is probably the best reason for pre-need planning — but not the only one, certainly.  There is a strong economic reason to pre-plan, also.

Pre-paying, as well as pre-need planning, can result in substantial savings, depending on the extent of the arrangements.

Over time, the costs of final arrangements will surely increase, due to inflation and other factors. It’s probably a good idea to look at pre-paying for arrangements as a sound and practical “investment”—locking in the price now, with the knowledge that costs will almost certainly increase later.

Does pre-need planning benefit only the survivors?
While it has been emphasized above that pre-need planning is a wonderfully thoughtful gift and comfort to survivors, you are still the most important person in the equation. Some people are reluctant to admit that they want their own taste, style and outlook to be reflected in their burial arrangements.

An old expression says, “It’s your funeral” — and that is exactly true. One of the beauties of pre-need planning, therefore, is that you can remain independent and “in charge,” so to speak, even after you’ve gone.

You should not be embarrassed or reticent about making arrangements to have things just as you would like them, to select what you want, and to have your final farewell be a reflection of the way you have lived your life. Whether you like jazz, swing, or even classic rock, there’s nothing to say that the music at your services can’t be something lively.

But to make this happen, you must make your desires known and work towards implementing them ahead of time.

What are the most important things to consider in the pre-need planning process?
There are a number of factors to consider, but most important in most cases are the selection of a final resting place and a funeral home. Your choice of cemetery is especially important, because it is, after all, your permanent resting place. A cemetery is “forever.”  Being very circumspect in your selection, therefore, is of primary importance.

Funeral homes offer a wide range of services and facilities as well as price structures. Services range from special transportation for guests to personalized funerals to reflect the unique hobbies or interests of the deceased.

Specialized services cost money. So it is best to do thorough research and compare the pricing offered by several homes. A “wish list” of specialized arrangements in hand is helpful — making sure that each funeral home “quotes” on exactly the same items. Just like anything else, you should be prepared to do some “comparison shopping.” If you are unsure of what kind of services are available, ask a funeral director for help in making up a list, then ask competitive homes to give you prices for the same services. Generally, funeral homes will provide a price list including over a dozen standard items.

Cemeteries also have varying price structures and varying degrees of services.  Anyone going through the pre-need planning process should make a point of visiting various burial places, strolling around, and visiting the cemetery office to see what kinds of facilities are available. Cemetery personnel are accustomed to getting requests for tours, and can offer what may be a surprising number of options for repose. Don’t be hesitant to ask questions.

How do you make sure pre-need planning wishes are carried out?
Tell family and friends what your intentions are — exactly.  But more importantly, make the arrangements in advance, and keep a clear list of what you’ve been able to set up and with whom and where the arrangements were made. Write down your wishes, along with the details of your plans, in a “letter of instruction” and make several copies. Put a copy in with your other important papers where survivors can find it immediately (not hidden away in a safety deposit box, for example). Make sure to let at least one family member or legal representative know where to find these documents. You could also make sure they have a copy for their records.

What exactly should a “letter of instruction” contain?
You’ll want to put all your wishes in writing — along with the “reasons why,” which can be helpful. If you’re able to take care of major portions of the arrangements ahead of time, write down the factors that prompted your decisions. Let your survivors know what you had in mind. For example, if you’ve chosen to be buried close to a stand of trees because you’ve always enjoyed walking in the woods, say so.

You should include whether you opt for a casket burial or preparation for your final memorialization through cremation. In the latter case, specify whether your wish is to have an urn burial, an urn in a special niche, or the scattering of cremated remains.

You should specify the type of service you prefer — a funeral, with the body present, or a memorial service without the body present. Also let it be known whether you’d like the service at a house of worship, at a funeral home, at home, or at the Cemetery. When appropriate, you should indicate whether the casket should be open or closed. You should specify, as well, any charity to which donations can be made in your name.

The range of detail can be far-reaching. Other considerations include whether you want flowers of a certain kind, special music, certain speakers, passages from scripture, poetry, or personal items included in the casket or urn. Be sure to include whatever is meaningful to YOU.

How do you choose a funeral home?
Funeral homes differ widely — whether they’re part of a national chain or an independently owned small businesses. The key is to start with people you know — friends and family, through a club, fraternal or volunteer organization, etc. — who can recommend a home where the staff is likely to have a clear understanding of local customs and what the family of the deceased may prefer and welcome. When there is no clear connection with a local funeral home, it may be a good idea to ask a leader of your religious faith for advice. Then, call several funeral homes in the area for comparative prices and lists of services offered.

If you choose a burial site, how many graves are included?
The number of graves can vary, of course, depending on the space you might need. At Forest Hills, generally, one single grave can accommodate two casket burials. Larger family burial sites are available to accommodate a greater number. Two sets of cremated remains can be substituted for the space of a casket. You should determine whether a family lot is appropriate by considering whether children are nearby, for instance, and whether it’s important to them to share a family burial site.

You’ll find a trained, understanding cemetery staff member will be happy to advise and assist you on the appropriate setting and number of burial sites — explaining all the options, so that you will be comfortable and at peace with your choice.

How do you choose a cemetery?
Most people prefer a place that is convenient for family visitations or where other family members already lie in repose. In general terms, choosing a place that’s close to your “roots,” if possible, is important. But in terms of planning ahead, the simple idea of choosing a cemetery where there is room is something to consider. You may have a good idea now where you would like to be buried, but unless you make arrangements now, there is a chance that there will be no space available when the time comes.

You’ll want to choose a final resting place that has natural beauty and physical enhancements such as statuary, architecture, walkways and fine plantings — so that visitors are not only encouraged to come, but find solace and peace in the experience. Forest Hills, a virtual open-air museum of natural and man-made treasures, is an extraordinary example in this regard.

You should, of course, also consider the facility’s general maintenance — which you can determine very quickly by observing how the grass is clipped, whether the shrubs are pruned in common areas, or whether the areas around individual grave sites are well and respectfully maintained.

In addition, you’ll want to evaluate whether the cemetery has easy access to all sections, and whether you can drive on good roadways and park close by your selected gravesite. Finally, you’ll want to choose a facility with a good reputation, built on enduring service to the community, and stability. It’s surprising what you can learn by asking a few questions locally.

Again, keep in mind that when you narrow your choices down to two or three, it’s easy to arrange a tour by calling the cemetery office. You might also plan to take some time on a pleasant afternoon and stroll around the properties you’ve selected. In this way you will get a good “feel” for the place you want to be.

Everything considered, the best idea is to select a cemetery that has some meaning for you, and to reserve grave space now.

What advantages are offered by choosing a family burial site in advance?
The advantages are both logistical and economic. In the first instance, with a family site there is no question or indecision at the time of burial. When the site has been pre-chosen and pre-purchased, there is no conflict. Everyone knows where the burial site is located and that it is immediately available. A family site purchased on a pre-need basis saves money, too. Inflation and supply and demand will certainly affect cemetery costs, just like everything else. What you see today, especially if there are several graves involved, will almost certainly be less expensive now than in the future.

Do the funeral home, house of worship, and cemetery need to be in close proximity?
Not necessarily. With the mobility of people today, it’s not unusual for services and burial to be a continent apart. But, in most cases, it’s best to consider the survivors and others who will be part of the grieving process. If it’s possible, choose a viewing place and cemetery that are reasonably close together. Think particularly of elderly people who might be interested in saying final farewells.

What other pre-need planning steps can you take?
A member of the clergy, a lawyer, or a funeral director can assist you with a list of helpful planning details. Of course, you’ll want to have any legal or financial information readily available — the location of your will, location of your safety deposit box, or any insurance policies. If you have no living next-of-kin, or if you prefer a person who is not your legal next-of-kin, to see to your final arrangements, then engaging a lawyer is a prudent step in making sure your final wishes will be carried out.

In simplest terms, think of making things as easy as possible for your survivors. It’s helpful to keep an updated list of personal information with your other important papers:  date and place of birth; employment history; names and addresses of children; military history, if any; names and addresses of close relatives; honors received; memberships in organizations; key people to be notified at the time of your death, and the like.

What are some of the key expenses involved with burial?
Any cemetery can provide you with a list of standard burial expenses (just as a funeral home will provide you with a list of expenses that are fairly standard in the industry).

In pre-planning for a burial, you will likely consider all of the following —

  • The cost of the gravesite
  • Opening and closing fee
  • Outer container and installation fees
  • Gravesite enhancements (flowers, planting, etc.)
  • Foundation for memorial stone

What memorialization options should be considered?
Usually a stone is chosen with the family surname engraved on the front. First names and dates can be engraved on the front or on the back of the stone. Often families feel it is appropriate to include further descriptions such as “HIS WIFE,” or “THEIR CHILDREN.” Upright stones are the most common form of grave memorialization today, but smaller stone plaques, installed flush to the ground, are also popular. Again, cemetery personnel can be helpful in recommending options and sources for these.

Once the grave and related fees are paid in full, a memorial stone can be installed pre-need. The advantage is the same as making all other arrangements ahead — saving the stress of decision-making for your family and locking in today’s prices which can save money overall. Blank spaces can be made for adding future engraving, such as death years or full names and dates.

For any type of memorialization, it is a comfort to know that there is always a permanent place, a commemorative focal point, for family and friends to visit.

What are some other good reasons to pre-plan?
Although it has not been a concern in the past, lack of cemetery space is becoming a common problem. There was a time when beautiful areas were set aside for burying the dead, with hardly a thought given to filling up the space. Now, cemetery burial sites in many places are at a premium. As time goes on, especially in large urban area, those who want to be buried close to home, or to family, may be disappointed. It’s wise, therefore, to reserve a place now — while it’s still available.

Further, as with real estate, “location, location, location” is a prime consideration in selecting a gravesite. Should you want to be buried in close proximity to a special feature in a cemetery — such as a waterfall, a beautiful tree or prized piece of sculpture —  making arrangements in advance is likely the only way your wish will be fulfilled.

The desire to be buried in close proximity to other family members, however, is the most imperative reason to pre-arrange. All too often, cemetery personnel hear grieving family members say, “We wish we had reserved sooner … made plans in advance.” For those who consider it important to be laid to rest near loved ones, obtaining a burial site in advance is a way to ensure that option.

Should arrangements for cremation be made in advance?
Most definitely. As has been pointed out, having a plan and sharing it with loved ones is one of the most special gifts anyone can give — to help spare family and friends from making difficult decisions at a time of grieving. In the case of cremation especially, making arrangements in advance on a “pre-need” basis is essential. There should be no room for doubt. Your wishes must be made known, without question, and recorded with family members and a funeral service professional.

Making your wishes known, in no uncertain terms, is made easy with the purchase of a Certificate for Cremation from Forest Hills Cemetery. Certificates are valid for a cremation at Forest Hills from the date of issue, without time limit in the future. A Certificate of Cremation, when placed with other important papers, shows unquestionably that cremation is the choice, and that it has been paid for in advance. For additional advice, please see About Cremation.

We welcome you to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about Pre-Need Planning.