Often the first and most difficult thing a survivor must do after losing someone is to plan a way to remember them. This can be an overwhelming task, filled with important and expensive decisions; grief can add a significant burden, making logical and practical decisions seem unbearable. If possible, having a friend or family member’s help in planning and making decisions can be a welcome relief. There are plenty of things to consider when planning a funeral; the following information summarizes some considerations:
Please note: Some people pre-plan and pre-pay their funeral arrangements. Be sure to check with family members to ensure the Deceased didn’t have a plan in place before you begin.
A funeral is an event that commemorates someone’s death; family and friends of the Deceased gather to remember and mourn. Each culture has its own funeral traditions and ceremonies and many families also have specific ways of conducting their funerals.
The basic process in most western traditions is to have the Deceased embalmed, dressed and placed in a casket which is then placed at the funeral site. There is typically a visitation preceding the funeral so that people can privately mourn. The casket is sometimes open so that attendees can walk by and pay their last respects. A eulogy is usually delivered and music, photos and stories can be shared about the Deceased. Once the ceremony is over, pallbearers then carry the casket to the hearse outside. The attendees follow the hearse in a procession and drive to the cemetery where the casket is lowered into the ground and buried.
Funeral rituals vary widely across cultures and families and there are many options for a funeral. In some families, the ceremony takes place at the gravesite or in a church. An increasing percentage of people in the United States choose to cremate the Deceased and bury their ashes, place them in an urn in a special niche in the cemetery, or spread them at a place meaningful to the Deceased. Often the family tries to carry out the funeral wishes of the Deceased, but sometimes the culture or religion of the Deceased dictates what type of funeral is prepared.
Funerals and memorial services can be extremely expensive. There are numerous online tools to help you estimate the cost of a funeral based upon the choices you make. As a general rule, burials are much more expensive than cremations, often because of the price of caskets. The most expensive caskets are usually made of 16-gauge steel, copper or stainless steel and woods like oak, maple, walnut or cherry. The Funeral Consumer Guardian Society has cost outlines for each state in the United States to give families an idea of the costs they are facing. Other Web sites also provide funeral calculators and checklists to keep track of the expenses and enable comparisons among funeral homes. Make sure to question any costs you feel are excessive; the consumer has very specific rights when it comes to funeral preparations and costs. As noted above, funeral homes have specific guidelines set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which they must follow. If you suspect a funeral home of violating the Funeral Rule or other regulations, contact the FTC or your state’s Attorney General.
As travel abroad increases, there is an increased risk that citizens of the U.S. could pass away while overseas. Whether it is an unfortunate accident, a medical condition, or simply old age, the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (Bureau) is the government body that assists families in making arrangements.
In cases of death abroad, the course of events differs greatly depending upon the country in which the Deceased died. As a starting point, the Bureau first uses passport information to research and find family members. Once they locate the next of kin and inform them of the death, they then can advise the family on:
(Please note: This is more difficult in some countries than others, especially countries that are embroiled in conflicts. If the Deceased died in a country where the culture is unfamiliar, the customs and laws governing the return of remains to the United States or arranging a funeral can seem strange.)
The Bureau does its best to assist the families of deceased individuals to ensure that they are able to properly mourn their lost loved one. It is important to know that the United States government does not provide funds to help get the remains of private citizens to the United States from another country. The Bureau can help make arrangements and transfer funds, but the family must pay all costs.
Once all regulations have been followed, the Bureau will prepare a Foreign Service Report of Death to be used to settle estate and other legal matters in the United States.
If the Deceased has no legal representative in the country of death, a consular officer has “statutory responsibility” for the estate of that citizen. They will prepare an inventory of any assets of the Deceased and carry out the wishes of the family. The Bureau will then provide guidance to the next of kin on preparing necessary documents in the United States to claim the estate.
There are a variety of options to explore in order to pay respects to someone. Some people prefer a memorial service as opposed to a funeral. Memorial services are generally similar to funerals, except the casket or ashes are not present at the service. Instead, families often use large pictures and/or memorabilia to represent the Deceased.
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