Why Is It Important to Make Pre-Arrangements As Soon As Possible?
Q & A with Bill Kahn and Ben Lefton of Weil Kahn Funeral Home
Our Marketing Committee Chair, Karen Zanger, reached out to Weil Kahn Funeral Home to discuss planning. Jewish Cemeteries and Weil Kahn both encourage community members to make arrangements in advance.
Here’s the interview:
Q: Remind us— What are the benefits of making end-of-life arrangements, like buying a cemetery lot or making funeral plans, well before one dies? (One could just let others figure it out after it happens!) Are there any advantages?
A: Making end of life decisions is extremely important. No one looks forward to doing this, but the inevitability of death brings the realization that no one is exempt. Pre-arranging funerals has become very commonplace over the last 20 years. Almost half of all funerals at Weil Kahn Funeral Home are fully pre-arranged and then pre-paid.
There is one very tangible advantage. By pre-paying, the price of the funeral is locked in, no matter when a loved one dies. Yet legally, a funeral home cannot hold the money for a pre-paid funeral arrangement. It must be put into some type of an escrow account. Typically, we use an insurance company, where the individual, a relative, guardian or Power of Attorney is the owner of the policy. At the time of death, the funeral home is paid by the insurance company at whatever amount growth has yielded since payment, while our funeral home is required to hold to the original price, regardless of inflation. Indeed, if the policy grows larger than our actual at-need price, a beneficiary of the family will receive the excess proceeds.
There are several factors that have caused this trend of pre-arranging. The primary reason is that, as we have become a mobile society, many children have moved out of the city. Their parents or loved ones do not want them to have to deal with decisions at the time of need, when they are mourning the loss; so, making plans in advance reduces the extra stress. Also, by making plans in advance, children (or others) know what their loved one’s wishes were.
The second main reason families pre-arrange is that a loved one is seeking to go on Medicaid. In order to qualify for Medicaid, one’s assets cannot exceed $2000, so one of the requirements is to reduce assets. One of the primary ways to reduce said assets is to purchase burial plots and to pre-pay for funeral costs. Purchasing plots at the same time for extended family members is allowed as part of the reduction of assets.
Q: What comes first, buying a cemetery plot or making the funeral arrangements?
A: Purchasing a burial plot probably should be the first decision made by a family in taking care of pre-arranging. This is typically done before meeting with the funeral home. In Cincinnati, a plot for a Jewish burial can be conveniently selected through Weil Kahn, as well. Actual burial is taken care of by Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati.
What plot or plots one chooses depends on many factors, including personal preferences on the location. One may wish to be in the cemetery that is affiliated with their congregation, or close to already-deceased relatives, to make visiting more convenient; or to be near other friends’ graves; or near a walkway or a particular tree. We encourage people to meet us in the cemetery to view the options. It is important to understand the orientation of the grave, the rules regarding where and what type of monument or marker are allowed, and other factors that are best assessed in person. In circumstances when someone is either out of town or unable to meet in the cemetery, however, we can make arrangements to sell plots over the phone or through sharing maps in the mail or over email.
Q: People move around so much, for work and in retirement and even in old age. It’s hard to plan even just where to be buried! How do people deal with this?
A: Family dynamics have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. We live in a mobile society, with families living all over the world. Often, as parents age, they move to be close to their children. Consequently, they may have to be transferred back “home” for funeral and burial. Funeral homes act as partners when we need to transfer someone. The local funeral home, under our guidance, will have the loved one’s body prepared and then transported to us. They will normally transport by air, but if in close enough proximity, they may drive. This event, as discussed previously, may be totally pre-planned, which is advantageous both emotionally and economically.
Q: Is it possible to have a Jewish funeral and burial if someone would like to be cremated? What are the options?
A: Cremation is contrary to Jewish Law, but in the case of Reform Judaism is now acceptable. A family can still have a full funeral, conducted by a Reform rabbi, and burial would need to be in a Reform cemetery. We will rent the family a casket, if they prefer a regular service at the funeral home. Otherwise, the family may have a memorial service (no body present) at the funeral home, their place of worship or in their own home. They may also have a service conducted at the graveside. The cremated remains are placed in an urn for burial at a cemetery in a grave or a niche (wall), in some Reform cemeteries. In Cincinnati, our Reform cemeteries currently do not have niches for cremated remains – only graves. Families sometimes prefer to keep the urn at their home.
Q: What if a person makes end-of-life arrangements well in advance and then later wishes to change them. What can be done?
A: End of life arrangements can always be changed and often are. Just call the funeral home with the changes and we note them for the family. If the pre-arrangement is pre-paid and the family moves out of town and wants to bury elsewhere, the funeral home who handles the service will be paid by the insurance company. Because the funeral home did not write the original policy, however, they are not required to guarantee the original price. If whatever the family chooses were to exceed the present value of the policy at the time of death, the family would be responsible to pay the difference.
With regard to graves and interment fees paid to cemeteries, there are a few options. Cemeteries, as a matter of course, do not purchase graves back. However, they can be sold privately, and we can sometimes help arrange for this. There is a transfer fee charged by cemeteries, usually around $150-200, to account for the administrative work of reassigning the grave in their records and issuing a new deed or burial rights. The other option is to donate graves the family does not need back to the cemetery. In Cincinnati, our cemeteries use those graves for indigent burials, when necessary.
With regard to interment fees, which are separate from the grave purchase, some portion, if not all, is refundable. These policies differ, however, from cemetery to cemetery and depending on state regulations.
Q: Can you suggest a few things that might make it easier—a few beginner’s steps—for a person of any age to get started thinking about end-of-life arrangements?
A: Death is a part of life, and many families are not comfortable talking about this. We cannot emphasize enough how great a mitzvah it is to take care of your end of life arrangements in advance. People often talk about coming in when they attend someone’s funeral and say, “I need to come and see you to make my arrangements.” This is becoming more and more commonplace. If you or someone in your family has recently attended a funeral, please take that opportunity to talk about starting the process. Your loved ones will thank you.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to consider or know?
A: Funeral and burial can be expensive; yet often, waiting until the time of need puts undue stress on a family. Explore your options and get some idea of what it is going to cost. It is to your advantage if you decide to pre-pay and lock in today’s pricing for your future expenses. If you do not pre-pay and only want to talk about arrangements and convey your preferences, at least you will then have an understanding of the process and we will have a file on record.