Simply put, End of Life Management is the planning, discussions and decisions you need to make to put your affairs in order and ensure your final wishes are honored. End of Life is an important passage and there are many important issues to consider that include health care needs, final wishes, asset distribution when you pass away and other related decisions. Facing End of Life and talking about End of Life Management with your family and loved ones can be as empowering as it is inevitable.
End of Life planning may seem challenging. It’s often easiest to start by thinking about your preferences. Consider these End of Life questions:
- Whom do you want to make decisions about your healthcare and finances if you are unable to do so?
- What medical treatments and care are acceptable to you? Are there any you are certain that you do or do not want?
- Do you want to be hospitalized, stay at home or go somewhere else, if you are seriously or terminally ill?
- How will you pay for End of Life care and funeral arrangements? Do you have adequate medical, life, or funeral insurance?
- To whom might you want to leave personal assets and heirlooms after you pass away?
Today, more people are planning End of Life celebrations instead of traditional funerals. A Celebration of Life commemorates the deceased person’s life and accomplishments and is intended as a unique tribute. A celebration is a carefully planned event to help mourners reflect on the life their friend or loved one lived.
A funeral offers family and friends the opportunity to say goodbye to their deceased loved one. A funeral typically takes place a few days following the death, before the deceased is buried or cremated.
A memorial may occur several weeks after the death, giving family and friends more time to plan and gather. Memorials may also take place in a different and separate location where the physical body is cremated or interred. Memorials typically occur once the deceased’s body is cremated or buried.
Both funerals and memorials are celebrations of life.
A viewing or “visitation” is an established event during a specific timeframe when family and friends can gather to see the deceased loved one and pay tribute. A viewing may take place at a funeral home, in a family home, or at a church, chapel, synagogue or other venue, or another location prior to a funeral service.
Similar to a viewing or visitation, a wake is a gathering of family and friends before the burial or cremation of their loved one. Wakes generally occur over a longer timeframe than visitations. Usually, the body is present at a wake. Often, family and friends attending a wake bring food and drinks to share.
Historically, wakes were held as all-night prayer vigils where family stood watch over the body of their loved one, offering prayers, telling stories, and saying their goodbyes. Viewings and visitations serve a similar purpose, but are now typically held at a funeral home or other venue for a set period of time.
There are less-conventional ways of honoring a loved one’s life that can be a cost-effective way to honor the deceased loved one. Some options include less formal gatherings without the deceased, present at any location, including parks or outdoor venues, or, hosting a memorial service or reception, or a home funeral.
Home funerals and memorials can be held at a family member’s home. Some states require the supervision or involvement of a funeral director, but most do not require that a funeral home be involved. The family must submit the required documentation to the county, obtain the legal permits for disposition, provide a suitable casket or alternative container, and make arrangements directly with the crematory or cemetery. A funeral director may be hired to assist in these matters, even as the family cares for the body of their loved one at home.
A clergy member, spiritual advisor, family member or a celebrant can lead a funeral. Often, immediate family and close friends may also choose to speak. A funeral director can help you determine how best to organize the service, including deciding on a program and speakers.
Flower arrangements today often reflect the personal taste of the deceased or their family. Traditionally, funeral flowers consist of wreaths, freestanding sprays or casket sprays. Flowers in a vase or basket are also appropriate. Living plants are also good ways to commemorate the deceased and allow family members or friends to bring home or to donate the plant to charity as a living representation of the loved one.
The most common flowers used in funeral floral arrangements are lilies, roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, and gladioli, although any flowers may be appropriate based on the tastes of the deceased and the family.
White flowers symbolize innocence, purity, and reverence. Pink flowers signify remembrance, love, grace, and gentleness. Blue flowers evoke peace, serenity, and calm. Purple flowers represent royalty and dignity. Red flowers reflect courage, love, and strength.
Music is a very important part of the funeral or memorial service. In addition to flowers, the venue, and the service, music helps to set the tone of the event and pay tribute to the deceased. Music also helps mourners to express and process their emotions.
- Choose musical selections that reflect the life of the deceased.
- Compile a playlist of music that was meaningful to the deceased.
- Ask immediate family members and trusted friends for suggestions.
- Contact musicians who are friends or family members to sing or play a special song.
- Hire a musician or DJ that is familiar with funeral or memorial service-appropriate music.
- Ask a funeral director for referrals of a trusted, reputable DJ or musical artist.
Sometimes churches donate food to events for families of the deceased, so check with your loved one’s church or faith community if applicable. Other options include catering services from a favorite restaurant or pub. It is also common to ask family and friends to bring food and drinks to share. Your decision should be based on what is appropriate for your family and friends.
The person arranging the funeral or memorial service is usually responsible for payment. This is often a family member. It is important to note that payment for a funeral or memorial is typically due at the time of, or before services are provided.
The deceased may also have made provisions for funeral costs, relieving some or all of the financial burden on their family members. Often a deceased’s Living Will, Estate Plan, or Burial Trust may give specific instructions for funeral expenses, as well as general instructions on End of Life wishes.
There are many options to finance a funeral or End of Life celebration, including establishing a payable-upon-death (POD) bank account, establishing a Burial Trust, or obtaining a life insurance policy. Other options include purchasing a pre-paid plan from a funeral home. Pre-paid funeral insurance or annuity plans can be paid off over a period of time to help offset funeral costs. Insurance plans may cover merchandise and services from the funeral home, as well as related charges like catering, flowers, music, and even travel expenses.
A personal heart-felt funeral or memorial does not need to cost more than you or your family can afford. The most important element is the event that brings family and friends together to honor a loved one. The event or ceremony is intended to create a meaningful experience for all who attend and in honor of the deceased, and does not need to be expensive.
Funeral homes are not required to provide payment plans to families or friends of loved ones. Many funeral homes require payment prior to providing services.
A casket contains the body and is used for burial purposes. A casket typically has four sides and may be constructed of wood, steel, stainless steel, copper, or bronze.
Coffins serve a similar function to a casket, but have six sides. The shape of a coffin resembles the shape of a body. Coffins, like caskets, may be simple or elaborate.
Both caskets and coffins may be personalized through engravings, embroidery or screened images on inside panels, or include pockets to hold memorabilia, pictures or notes.
Vaults are sometimes required by a cemetery to encase and protect the casket and to help support the weight of the soil. Vaults may be plain concrete or lined concrete for added protection of the casket, and may be covered with stainless steel, copper or bronze sheeting for an enhanced appearance.
Embalming is a process that is used to temporarily inhibit the decomposition process. Generally if a public viewing will be held, it is both recommended and common practice to embalm the body. Alternatively, refrigeration can preserve the body temporarily. Embalming is not required by law in any state, except under very specific circumstances.
Regulations concerning the scattering of ashes vary by state and location. If you plan to scatter the ashes of your loved one, it is best to consult the town, city or county ordinance. If you are planning to scatter your loved one’s ashes on public land, it is recommended to obtain permission beforehand.