Funeral Planning Guide
THE ROLE OF THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR
One of life’s most difficult moments is dealing with a death in the family. No one wants to face this emotionally arduous task. The responsibility of the Funeral Director is to manage this difficult moment and to guide you in making wise and meaningful choices in your time of need. This guide is intended to provide you with information before you need it so that you can plan ahead.
RIGHT OF DISPOSITION
In New Jersey, state law dictates who has the right of disposition (control of the funeral). It is known as the law of consanguinity (bloodline). For married persons, the next of kin, the spouse, would be the primary decision maker. If there is no surviving spouse, then the adult children of the deceased would share in the decision making. If the deceased is unmarried then control of the funeral would be made by his/her parents, or siblings. This selection process would extend to aunts/uncles or cousins, depending on the circumstances.
Recently, New Jersey has made an exception to the line of consanguinity by allowing an individual (prior to death) to appoint a Funeral Representative to control his/her funeral. The right of the Funeral Representative to control the funeral supersedes the rights of all other family members, regardless of relationship to the deceased. Since a Power of Attorney ceases at death, and the duties of the executor of the estate do not include the right to control the funeral, appointing a Funeral Representative is of great benefit in situations where there is an estrangement among family members who would otherwise have the right of disposition. For example, siblings who are not likely to work well together or divorced parents of unmarried children.
It is a simple procedure to appoint a Funeral Representative. Generally, a local funeral home will have available to the public the form necessary to designate the person you want to represent you as your Funeral Representative. Remember, it is important to discuss this decision with the person you designate as your Funeral Representative and to make your wishes known to this person. Funeral Directors are prohibited from acting as a Funeral Representative.
Select a Funeral Representative you trust and also name an alternate representative in case the first choice is unable to act on your behalf at the time of your death. Have the document witnessed and it must be made part of your Last Will and Testament.
INFORMATION AND STATISTICS FOR THE DEATH CERTIFICATE
In New Jersey, the Funeral Director is responsible for completing the first section of the Death Certificate, which contains statistical information. Medical personnel (the doctor) will complete the bottom portion of the certificate.
You should be prepared to provide the following information to the Funeral Director during the initial meeting:
* Your name and address and your relationship to deceased.
* Deceased’s full legal name (first, middle, and last name and maiden name if applicable).
* Deceased’s legal address. If the deceased was in a hospital or nursing facility at the time of death, you may use the last home address before admission to the facility.
* Social security number of the deceased. The New Jersey death certificate system, EDRS, will automatically notify the Social Security Administration of the death.
* Deceased’s date and place of birth.
*Highest degree of education completed.
* Civil status, such as: single-never married, married, widowed, separated, divorced, domestic partnership or civil union.
* Name of surviving spouse (if it is the wife, supply her maiden name).
* Name of the deceased’s father and mother, including mother’s maiden name.
* Occupation of the deceased for the majority of his/her life, including the type of business, the name of the company or organization during this occupation, and the town in which it was located.
* Military service of the deceased, including branch of service, service number, dates of service, wars or conflicts during the time deceased served. This information is available on the deceased’s military discharge papers ( DD 214).
Veterans are entitled to military honors, including the presentation of the flag during or after the funeral. Additional benefits may include burial in a veterans’ cemetery. This would also apply to cremains being placed in a niche or in the ground. For those already receiving VA benefits for a service related injury or illness, or for those dying in a VA hospice or VA nursing home, benefits may also include a burial allowance. The funeral director has the necessary forms to apply for these benefits.
MAKING THE FUNERAL DECISIONS
There are many options available to a family in planning a meaningful and affordable funeral.
One choice would be for a funeral with visitation (wake service) with the body present. This may also include a religious service and/or graveside service.
A second choice would be a memorial visitation and service without the body present. The memorial visitation/service could include the ashes (cremains) of the deceased being present. This also may include a religious service.
If the family does not wish to have a visitation, they may select a Direct Cremation or Immediate burial. Under these circumstances, there would be no wake.
FINAL DISPOSITION – BURIAL, ENTOMBMENT, OR CREMATION
Ground Burial - each cemetery has its own regulations. Some cemeteries require an outer burial container, also called a vault (concrete box and lid), to surround the casket in the ground. There are also limitations as to how many burials are allowed in a grave.
Entombment - Cemeteries may require that the remains be embalmed and that certain types of caskets be used (sealed casket). Some cemeteries also require a zinc box or plastic surround. Some crypts are constructed to contain one casket and some are made for two caskets.
Cremation – The remains must be in some type of container for the cremation to take place. In funerals with services (wakes, religious services), the remains are in a casket and it will be consumed in the cremation process. For direct cremation, a less expensive container is used and will be consumed. Interring cremains (ashes) in the ground or a niche at a cemetery may also require certain type and size of container.
A Death Notice, which many refer to as an obituary, is a paid advertisement and is generally composed at the time the final funeral arrangements are made; whereas an obituary is a brief biography about a person of interest which a newspaper publishes without cost to the family. Most newspapers refer to the Death Notice page as obituaries. The Funeral Director is experienced in writing death notices that are both informative and cost effective. Death notices generally contain the following information:
Deceased name (maiden name if applicable), age, place of birth, town of residence, surviving family members (wife’s maiden name “nee”) children and their spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, pre-deceased by (year of death), military service, occupation, organizations, accomplishment, hobbies, special interests, visitation times, service time, location of final disposition and donations. Other options would be a picture and insignias for military or certain civil positions (police, fire).
Dying without a will (intestate) means that state laws will control and determine how an estate will be dispersed and settled. Joint ownership of property is generally not a good substitute for a will. Title to property that was jointly owned should be legally updated so that heirs will not need to prove that one owner of the property predeceased the other after the surviving owner dies. Wills should be drawn by a competent attorney and reviewed periodically. If you change your residence from one state to another, you should review your will with an attorney licensed in the new state. This will protect your heirs and keep conflicts to a minimum.
SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
SSI benefits go to a surviving spouse, entitled child, and some other family members who are entitled to survivor benefits. SSI can be contacted at: 866-964-4680 (Hackensack) or 1-800-772-1213 (national).
In planning for funerals where death has not occurred (preneed) and there is an interest in making one’s final wishes known, a pre-arrangement may be made with a funeral director. A record of the arrangement is kept on file until death occurs. Neither the person for whom the arrangement was made nor their family are locked into the original choices. The family may change these arrangements according to their needs. The funeral can be fully or partially prepaid by placing funds into a trust fund. Funeral homes in New Jersey are prohibited by law from placing funeral funds into their business accounts for pre-need arrangements.
REVOCABLE AND IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS
The New Jersey State Funeral Directors Trust Fund, CHOICES, is both interest bearing and FDIC insured. The trust can be either revocable or irrevocable, as explained below.
A revocable trust can be established by fully funding it at inception or by periodic funding as means allow. Revocable trust funds (all or partial) may be removed at any time by the funeral recipient for whom the trust is established. In addition, the trust funds may be used at any funeral facility, regardless of which funeral home established the trust.
However, if a person is going onto Medicaid within six months, the state requires the funds be placed in an irrevocable trust. At that time, a revocable trust may be converted to an irrevocable trust.
As people live longer, they may reach a time where they will outlive their assets. At this point, they may apply to Medicaid to assist them in their living/housing cost. To qualify for Medicaid, the state requires that the individual applying go to a funeral home of their choice, make funeral arrangements, and prepay for these arrangements. This is part of what Medicaid terms “spending down one’s assets.” The state allows the individual to keep a minimum amount of money for personal use, about two thousand dollars ($2,000.00). The money to pay for the funeral must be placed in an irrevocable trust. The money can only be withdrawn from the trust with a death certificate and funeral bill for the funeral recipient. Any unused funds in the irrevocable trust will revert to the State of New Jersey. The trust funds in an irrevocable trust may be used at any funeral facility, regardless of which funeral home established the trust.
For additional information or to make a pre-need arrangement, please call our office to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed funeral directors.