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Final Arrangements

Richard McDonough

Richard McDonough is a third generation funeral director. He is the owner of Van Horn / McDonough Funeral Home in Lambertville, New Jersey.

"My father was ill for years before he died and caring for him was a backbreaking, brutal job. It's not fair to say I was the main caregiver, because we had lots of help. My mother was really on the front lines round-the-clock. It was just terrible. By the time a lot of caregivers arrive here, they're just exhausted. But when you ask them, they wouldn't have it any other way. You don't realize it when you're going through it, but to be able to take care of someone at home is really a privilege, it's really a gift, not to be in the care of strangers. There couldn't be any better place to be."
What is the role of a Funeral Director?
Can you pre-arrange a funeral before someone's death?
Can you go through the steps of planning a funeral?
Do you have any suggestions for making a service more personal?
Why do you think funeral services provide a sense of closure?
Current Medicaid Law and Pre-arrangement
Who do I notify after someone has died?
What is the role of a Funeral Director?

Well, first of all, anytime people come through the door, their lives are changed forever so it's easy to get overwhelmed. I think that one of the gifts for me as a funeral director is being reminded of what are real problems and what aren't real problems, and that almost anything life hands you is manageable. I'm amazed at the strength on which people have to draw from. I like to think I'm a resource them. I don't portray myself as a counselor or a psychologist, but at least I can guide people and suggest a direction for some extra assistance.

We address all the immediate details which need to be taken care of: public services, calling hours, types of memorialization, how a body is going buried or cremated, all those details which sometimes seem insurmountable to people, that's our task. Most importantly, we strive to put together something which will have a message of hope for people. We can't make it easy for people, but we can help to make it manageable.

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Can you pre-arrange a funeral before someone's death?

Dealing with pre-arranging a funeral is obviously a very personal thing, if for example, if a loved one has entered a hospice program they're already in the frame of mind that this person's life is nearing it's end, they're not in denial. When they're ready to come and see me. Other times, the pre-arrangement is done the morning before someone dies. It's very hard for families to admit that that's what they're moving towards and a lot of times not everyone in a family emotionally is on the same page and in the same stage of readiness to address what they have to do. So it's really a matter of when people are ready.
*See Current Medicaid Law and Pre-arrangement.

If they do feel ready to deal with it, pre-arrangement can alleviate the stress of planning the funeral; it takes one worry away and it's a big worry.

The family can just take care of each other the day that someone closes their eyes, as opposed to coming here and doing tasks and selecting merchandise or putting together a service. You can put everything together ahead of time. Even if a family has pre-arranged I still like to meet with family again that day and go over those pre-arrangements because when you've had a loss you're in a very different frame of mind and I like review their plans with them and make sure that it's still what they want.

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Can you go through the steps of planning a funeral?

Gathering Basic Information
Usually we make contact over the phone to confirm that we'll be moving you're loved one from the hospital or home to the funeral home.

I ask people to bring the following things with them when we meet: a social security number, if the deceased was a veteran - a discharge, a photograph, clothing, and cemetery information. When people come to meet with us we also do biographical information and that would be for the death certificate for paperwork that has to be done and it's also used for the newspaper if people want to do an obituary.

Sometimes people want to write their own obituaries, and we'll go over it with them to make sure it's organized the way the papers want it. We'll also put it together for them if they like and supply the information to the newspapers. In fact,many newspapers will only take that information from an undertaker. Or if the family submits it, the newspapers will often call the funeral home to make sure the information is correct. Many papers will publish an obituary as a courtesy and they reserve the right to edit what we submit, other papers will charge us and they will print verbatim what we supply.

Make Selections for Burial and Services and Review Price List
Families will be provided with an itemized price list; we have itemized billing which is according to State and Federal Laws. Every service and facility provided by a funeral home has to have an individual charge so people know what they're paying for and can choose exactly what they want. Below are examples of the services and items, which will appear on the bill:

Professional Services
  • Funeral director and staff
  • Embalming
  • Preparation of remains

Facility, Equipment and Related Staff

  • Use of funeral home, staff and equipment
  • Equipment for graveside services

Merchandise

  • Casket (you'll review a selection of caskets or outer enclosures - some cemeteries will request an outer enclosure.)
  • Clothing
  • Urn
  • Memorial cards
  • Thank you notes

Transportation

  • Limousine, transferring body to funeral home, etc

Cash Disbursements / Expenditures

  • Cemetery costs, copies of death certificate, obituaries, church or synagogue services, flowers, music, cremation, hair dresser, professional pall bearers
Signing Documents
Finally you will sign some documents, including a statement of biographical information, *Statement of Funeral Goods and Services, and a Funeral Goods and Services Disclosure/Disclaimer Form which verifies that we've abided by the Federal Trade Commission law and shown people price lists, told them what was required by law and that we've made no promises as to what the merchandise can do that we cannot back up in writing from the manufacturer.
*Statement of Funeral Goods and Services
This is the price quotation for the funeral; the prices should correspond with the prices on the price list. Whether you're pre-arranging or arranging after the person has died, you should always leave with this form after you've made your decisions. If you are pre-paying then there should be a specific list of items on this contract and it should all be priced as if the funeral were happening today. That doesn't freeze the prices, but they should have a current up to date price list. It should also indicate everything the family will need to purchase, such as outer enclosures, embalming requirements, etc.

There may be additional paperwork at other funeral homes, such as an authorization for embalming.

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Do you have any suggestions for making a service more personal?

Some people want something traditional and other people want to do something different. I really try to find ways to make the services personal. You can take something as simple as a memorial card and make it more personal by including a favorite song or a favorite poem. A few years ago, a man who was a coach for a lot of the kids' leagues in town passed away. They had a dinner for him before he died and he gave a speech. We took a quote from that speech and used it on the memorial card.

People have also put together groups of pictures and passed them out during the service.

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Why do think funeral services provide a sense of closure?

The funeral creates the opportunity for people come and show their support. A lot of people who attend funerals don't know what to do, and we really get hung up on thinking "I don't know what to say, I don't know what to do, I don't know how to approach them". We think that what we say to someone who's had a loss has to be profound and it doesn't have to be profound. All you have to say is "I'm thinking about you, can I help you? What can I do?" Sometimes people will call here to find out how people are doing and that's a very tough question - some people, while devastated, may appear to be coping well on the outside. So I'll usually say, "It's a very difficult day for them, why don't you give them a call?" When people tell me they don't know what to say. I tell them to call up and say "I'm going to the store, can I get anything for you?" It's that simple - just to put yourself in there in a manageable way. The most important thing is just to show up and put your arms around someone, that's all you have to do.

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* Current Medicaid Law and Pre-arrangement

The other thing you should be aware of when you're discussing pre-arrangements is the current Medicaid law and pre-arrangements. Especially now that people are living longer, they're also living in assisted care and nursing homes longer. If they come to a point where they use up their assets, they can pre-pay their funeral. Social service people will tell you that one of the problems they have in getting people involved with social services is that senior citizens will not touch the money that they consider their funeral money. The amount of money they're saving for their funeral might keep them out of the loop for a lot of services that could really impact on their lives (how they manage in their home, their medications and what kind of benefits are available to them). Now we have the ability to set up a trust account. It is an irrevocable, interest bearing account, which outpaces inflation. This way, that asset no longer becomes an issue with their Medicaid eligibility. For example, Medicaid will begin when you're down to $2000, but you can have the full value of your funeral set aside and you can still have the $2000. That's very important and a lot of people don't know about it. It can be a great tool for families by removing the burden of cost and enabling people to have the choices they want for funeral services.

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After Death Notification:
  • Person's employer
  • Social security
  • Insurance and credit card companies
  • Union, credit union and fraternal orgainizations
  • Veterans administraion
  • Professional organizations
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