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Till Death Do Us Part

Till Death Do Us Part

Fox News reported this week that 90 year-old Floyd Hartwig and his 89 year-old bride died hand-in-hand this month at their home in Easton, California. The couple had been married 67 years. Their daughter, Donna Scharton said that as the family sensed that death was imminent, they moved the hospice beds side by side so the couple could be arm-in-arm in their last hours. Violet stood loyally by her husband’s side during Floyd’s Navy service and then during his battle with bladder and colon cancer in his 60’s. In spite of his health problems, Floyd stood by his wife’s side as she began to experience the effects of dementia and a series of strokes in her later years.

With assistance from Hospice, the couple was able to remain together in their beloved home until the end. Floyd passed away first and Violet followed five hours later. The family made sure the caskets were placed at an angle with flowers between signifying their abiding love for each other.


Secure Your Valuables!

As if mourning was not enough!

Police in Suitland, Maryland—a Washington DC suburb—have reported that thieves have broken into cars at Washington National Cemetery. These merciless thieves prey on those who arrive at the cemetery to attend burial services for a loved one. While the incident appears to be isolated, it serves as a reminder that security cannot be ignored even at a time of grief. Here are a few tips to insure callous thieves won’t make the worst of a very troubling time:

• Secure the home of the decedent during visitation, funeral services and burial as well as other gatherings that take place away from the home.

• Ask the funeral director to instruct everyone attending a burial to lock their cars at the funeral home and the cemetery.

• Do not leave anything of value at the gravesite. Thieves across the country have stolen everything from flowers (which they resell) and copper flower urns atop graves since copper prices have skyrocketed.

• Purses and other valuables should be guarded during visitations and other gatherings. offers additional tips on our Time-Of-Need Checklist as well as our Post-Funeral Checklist.


Beware these Insurance Policies!

It is quite common for family members to feel the need to purchase insurance after the death of a family member or close friend. Often, they are motivated to protect other family members from the financial stresses that occurred after the recent loss. While the motive is noble, there is still reason to proceed with caution. Jay McDonald recently posted an article entitled “14 Useless Insurance Policies.” Included in that list are:
- Accidental death insurance
- Cancer/dreaded disease insurance
- Optional group life insurance.

Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney for Consumers Union says, “All of the single-purpose insurances turn out to be a bad deal.” MacDonald adds, “…on more than a dozen policies—especially narrowly focused single-purpose coverage on things like accidental death, cancer, credit card fraud and mortgages—we simply fall victim to fear and salesmanship…”

At, we receive calls weekly from grieving families who are struggling to find a way to pay for the funeral services of a loved one. Rather than purchasing a pre-paid funeral plan, funeral insurance or accidental death insurance, we strongly recommend purchasing a term-life insurance policy from a reputable insurance company. Single-purpose policies (such as funeral insurance) restrict the ways in which insurance proceeds may be used. Thus, if you can only afford a $15,000 policy, is it more important to you to have an elaborate funeral—or to have a reasonable funeral, and have remaining funds that will allow a family member to travel to the services or funds to allow your spouse to pay off the mortgage? Make sure the policy will protect you and your loved ones—not enrich unethical funeral service providers!


Burial Liners or Vaults: What are they & Do I Have to Buy one?

The Funeral Director has just told you how much the funeral will cost, then there is the cost of the casket and the cemetery plot—but now you find out that the cemetery requires the purchase of a liner or vault.


What’s The Difference? A liner can best be described as a concrete box with no bottom. Its purpose is to distribute the weight of the dirt that will fill the plot after the casket is in place. It also prevents the plot from caving in over time as the casket deteriorates. A vault is a fully enclosed concrete “box” that has been treated to keep moisture out. It is significantly more expensive.

Do I Really Have to Buy One? The simple answer is “yes” cemeteries generally require the purchase of a liner.

What about the costs? The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule allows you to buy these items from a third-party vendor. If the cemetery is not owned by the funeral home, then ask the funeral director if the funeral home has liners for sale. We recently saved a family $100 with just this one suggestion! Online ordering is generally cost-prohibitive because of the shipping costs though you may want to check what is available in your area.


Selecting a Cemetery

Not all cemeteries are created equal—so investigate before you buy. Today let’s talk about selecting the right cemetery and then next week we can talk about selecting the right plot.

First of all, though I will refer only to “cemeteries” here, I’m including similar properties as well. You may wonder, “what’s the difference between a cemetery, a memorial park and a memorial garden? It’s really pretty simple: a cemetery will generally allow upright markers whereas the park or garden generally require flat markers. Flat marker requirements were adopted because they reduce the incidence of vandalism and grounds maintenance is much easier.

The most important thing I want to know about a cemetery or memorial park is the status of their perpetual fund—that is, the fund that will pay for the care and maintenance of the grounds. Do they have one? Who holds and controls the funds? How much of that fund is being used each year? A number of cemeteries across the USA have largely depleted their funds—and their cemeteries shows it! One final note here—generally the perpetual fund will not pay for maintenance to your plot, this remains your responsibility.

Next, “it’s all about location.” A family I know lived most of their lives in one city in the southeast. In later years, everyone moved away—leaving one daughter to fret about “moving away from mom” who had been buried there years earlier. Ultimately, they had the body exhumed and moved to another city! Here are a few questions to ask:
How often will we realistically visit the cemetery?
Is this a location that will remain central for those who plan to make regular visits?
Is the section of the cemetery where plots are available pleasant and well-maintained?
Is it far away from streets where it might be more subject to vandalism?
Is there room for other family members in this area if they wish to be buried here?
Is the plot in an area where regular foot traffic will be walking directly on or near it?
Will you charge me extra fees if I purchase a marker from a third-party provider?

Finally, I recommend you inquire about fees and requirements. Do not assume that once you have purchased a plot your obligations are over. Most require a crypt or liner which you can generally purchase from the cemetery, the funeral home or a third-party provider. Checking out your options can save you a lot of money!


Consternation at the Cemetery: Lesson Two

Last week we discussed the plight of a family when they got the “Oh by the way you owe an additional $1250” story from the cemetery where their elderly relative had pre-purchased her plot.

Unfortunately, there is a second tale of woe from their experience. One internet savvy family member found an online source for discounted grave headstones. When the family notified the cemetery that they would not purchase a marker supplied by the cemetery, they were informed that the cemetery was happy to accept markers from outside vendors—but they would charge the family an additional fee for the installation of this marker. The fee would be calculated based on that marker’s size—per square inch! The fee of course would be waived if the family purchased the headstone from their provider!

No doubt some of you have experienced similar strong-arm tactics. We would like to hear about your experience—and how you dealt with it.


Consternation at the Cemetery: Lesson One

We recently helped a family following the loss of their 91 year-old relative. Shortly after the death of her parents in the 1970’s, this lady, who had never married, took the initiative to buy her own cemetery plot. Having purchased the plot, she felt she had eliminated further worries and expense for her family. Rather than buying what the funeral industry calls a “pre-need plan,” she wrote out specific funeral arrangements for her family and left money to pay for those arrangements. Time proved this to be a better approach than the pre-purchase of the plot.

At the time of her passing, we assisted the family with funeral arrangements and the purchase of a casket, so they were able to stay within her prescribed budget. The cemetery plot, however, was another matter. A staff person at the cemetery informed our client of the $1250 “opening and closing” fee. The family really had no choice since she had already paid for this plot. Thus, a cemetery that had used her money interest-free for over 40 years now was able to extract an additional $1250 more from the distraught family.

So what are the morals to this tragic story?
1. If you have an elderly relative who already owns their plot, locate the contract and read the fine print about additional expenses so that you have time to consider your options.

2. If you cannot find the contract, contact the cemetery and request a copy. It is important to know your rights and obligations before the time of need.

3. If you are considering your own preplan, we strongly recommend that you purchase a standard life insurance policy that will pay for your funeral expenses rather than purchasing a “pre-plan” or other cause-specific policy. These policies often have big loopholes for the provider and plenty of restrictions on the buyer. Some insurance companies (State Farm for example) allow the beneficiary an early withdrawal of up to 60% of the policy proceeds once the insured has been medically deemed “terminal.” This provides the family with advance funding to make and pay for the necessary arrangements. Best of all, the beneficiary can make the arrangements without being hostage to any service provider.

This family learned another hard lesson when they asked about purchasing a headstone from a third-party. We will save that sad story for our next post!


Grief Counselors and Grief Coaches: What’s the Difference?

One of the promising new areas of grief care is known as “grief coaching.” I like to distinguish between grief counseling and grief coaching like this: A visit with a licensed counselor is similar to a physician visit—a professional relationship in a structured environment. Meanwhile, a session with a grief coach is more like a long walk with a good friend. The coach may or may not be a trained professional, but more importantly he or she is a person well-acquainted with grief and willing to walk alongside someone who is bereaved.
I noticed recently that Dr. Michelle Peticolas has established a new grief coaching program called “Transforming Loss: From Surviving to Thriving.” Having experienced the loss of both of her parents in 1998, Dr. Peticolas began a personal journey in—and through—grief. She also served as a hospice volunteer for 10 years which I believe gives evidence to her passion about helping those who must travel through “the valley of the shadow.” To learn more about Dr. Peticolas and her work, visit


Why Plan a Funeral

According to recent reports, the percentage of Americans prematurely cashing out of their 401K funds has increased by 25%. Most say that they simply need the money to pay their bills. Next, consider that the percentage of people in the US who own a life insurance policy has fallen to historic lows. Only 41% of Americans now have a life insurance policy. Finally, another recent study claims that the average American only has $3800 in savings.

Given these depressing facts, let’s now consider a very sobering scenario: someone in the household passes away. The family visits the neighborhood funeral home and express their wishes and desires for a fitting funeral and burial for their loved one. The funeral director tallies up the list of expenses and presents the family with a bill for $10,550 (the cost of an average funeral in 2012). Now what? The funeral home may offer financing options through a related finance company with an obnoxious interest rate. The 401K is gone, the insurance is non-existent and the $3800 in savings is grossly inadequate. This is the nightmare that an increasing number of Americans are confronting. Wasn’t the loss of life bad enough? It is imperative that families create contingency plans so that the dark day of death is not further complicated by a lack of finances!


Better Deals for Grandma’s Farewell

Experts predict that online shopping will increase by 62% from current levels to 2016. According to Forrester Research Group, 192 million Americans will be shopping online by 2016. The average amount spent online will jump to $1,738 up from $1,207 in 2012.

Why are consumers moving away from bricks and mortar shopping? Primarily because they feel that they can find better deals online. Other factors include promotional tools and loyalty programs. Smart phones and tablets are also credited with the increasing popularity of online shopping. Finally there is the convenience factor—shopping at home in pajamas at any hour of the day or night!

When a family experiences the death of a loved one, many find it difficult to enter the door of the local funeral home—afraid that they will be pressured to make unwanted purchases or to explain that they don’t have the funds necessary to pay for the services they have just chosen. If your credit card is going to be declined, it is far easier if it happens at home online that sitting across the fancy desk from the guy in the black suit! Thus, don’t be surprised to see a big jump in the percentage of end-of-life products and services purchased online over the next four years. After all, if I can better for less for me online, doesn’t it stand to reason that I can give Grandma a far better farewell by shopping online?