Eight tips for pre-planning your funeral

| Sam Patet | October 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

You don’t have to tell Joan Gecik that weddings are huge affairs. Getting ready for the big day can take a year or more, she said.

She wishes, though, that everyone would spend more time preparing for a day that’s just as monumental: the day they meet God.

“We don’t do the same thing with preparation for dying, and that’s just as important,” said Gecik, executive director of The Catholic Cemeteries, a Mendota Heights-based organization that oversees five Catholic cemeteries in the Twin Cities. Before her time at Catholic Cemeteries, she spent four decades in parish ministry, which included helping individuals with funeral planning.

Funeral director Dan Delmore couldn’t agree more. A parishioner at St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, he owns Robbinsdale-based Gearty-Delmore Funeral Chapels and has worked in the funeral service industry for more than 40 years.

“All people should plan for their funeral and burial … because, after all, that is one of life’s few certainties,” he said.

Specifying funeral wishes in advance — including where and how you want to be buried and what type of memorial service you would like — helps ensure your loved ones won’t have to make those decisions while they’re grieving, Gecik said.

“Oftentimes, when someone has died suddenly or unexpectedly, families are in shock as well as grieving,” she said. “If they do not have any indication as to what the deceased desired, they can be overwhelmed by what needs to be done in a relatively short amount of time.”

Here, then, are eight suggestions they provided for pre-planning your funeral:

1) Have the talk. Delmore and Gecik have worked with individuals who know they want a funeral Mass but worry it won’t happen because their adult children aren’t practicing Catholics. The remedy — while not foolproof — is straightforward: Tell them what you want for a funeral service. “It’s important to make sure that you convey your wishes to your family, to write things down,” Delmore said.

2) Cover your bases. Gecik likens funeral planning to a three-legged stool, in that three critical areas need to be addressed: where you’ll be buried, how you’d like to be buried and what you’d like as part of your memorial service. Parishes, funeral homes and The Catholic Cemeteries offer planning seminars throughout the year on these topics, Gecik said, and there are a host of resources online.

3) Write it down. Delmore and Gecik both emphasized the importance of writing down your wishes and making them accessible to the persons you’ve designated to carry them out. To do this, you’ll want to create a file, or portfolio, that contains several documents, including:

  • Copies of your will and any trusts you’ve set up
  • A copy of your power of attorney (if you have one)
  • A Catholic health care directive, which is available from the Minnesota Catholic Conference
  • A list of all your vital statistics, which is needed in order to begin processing your death certificate with the state
  • Any veteran discharge papers, which are needed if you want to be buried at a Department of Veterans Affairs national cemetery, such as Fort Snelling in Minneapolis
  • A list of your electronic accounts (email, online banking, social media) and corresponding passwords
  • A document that outlines what you’d like for a memorial service (many parishes and funeral homes have worksheets for this purpose)

4) Connect with a funeral home. The staff at a funeral home can help you arrange what type of burial you’d like (full body, cremation or natural), choose a cemetery and connect with a church if you don’t have strong ties with one, Gecik said.

5) Know your burial options. The Church allows Catholics to choose from several, including full body, cremation and natural. It does require, though, that a person’s remains be buried in the ground or placed in an above-ground niche, Gecik said. She encouraged individuals considering natural burial (an option now offered at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights) to choose a funeral home that has experience with it.

6) Connect in advance. Gecik also recommended arranging in advance if you’d like to donate your body for medical research. Angela McArthur, director of the Anatomy Bequest Program at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, said in an email there are two anatomy bequest programs in the state, one at the University of Minnesota and the other at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Visit their websites to get more information on the application process.

7) Plan your memorial service — but not entirely. Another piece you’ll need to plan is your memorial service, which could include a Mass, prayer service, viewing or combination of the three. Many parishes have someone on staff other than a priest who can assist you with this, Gecik said, such as a pastoral minister or a director of pastoral care. They’ll help you select music and readings for Mass, plan what type of viewing you’d like and make arrangements for a funeral lunch.

Delmore agrees this is a good thing to do but cautioned against documenting every detail.

“The natural reaction at the time of death (for survivors) is to go inward rather than to accept and welcome the community’s involvement and participation,” he said. “It’s better to leave a few things (with the memorial service) undone so that the survivors have some interaction, some ownership, and ability to see what the Church can do for them.”

He didn’t recommend leaving other aspects of planning — such as updating your will or prepaying for your funeral expenses — unfinished for your survivors.

8) Research prices and pay in advance. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the 2017 median cost for a funeral with a viewing, burial and cemetery vault in the U.S. was $8,755. If cost is a concern, do your homework and determine what’s most important for you to have.

You can set up an individual trust account to pay in advance for your funeral expenses, Delmore said. In Minnesota, he said, any money you prepay to a funeral home or cemetery must go into a trust account and not into the facility’s working accounts. “The reason for that is if a funeral home is sold, goes bankrupt … if they close and they sell, your monies are still good and you can use them anywhere,” he said. This isn’t the case, though, in every state, he said, so be sure to ask about this if you’re working with a facility outside of Minnesota.

Addressing all these items will take time and effort. But doing the legwork will ensure you’re prepared and have provided peace to your family.

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Category: Featured, Funeral & Hospice Planning