FAQ

Questions:
Why have a Funeral?
What does a Funeral Director do?
What do I do when a death occurs?
When I call, will someone come right away?
Burial or Cremation?
Why have a public viewing?
What is the purpose of embalming?
Does a dead body have to be embalmed, according to law?
Why are funerals so expensive?
Do I have to make different funeral arrangements if I chose cremation?
What can be done with the cremated remains?
What is memorialization for a cremation?
Can we scatter the cremated remains?
If I am cremated, can I be buried with my spouse even if he or she was in a casket?
What do I need to know about income tax when I lose a spouse?
Is there financial help if I need it?

Answers:

Why have a Funeral?

Funerals fill an important role for those mourning the loss of a loved one. By providing surviving family and friends with an atmosphere of care and support in which to share thoughts and feelings about death, funerals are the first step in the healing process. It is the traditional way to recognize the finality of death. Funerals are recognized rituals for the living to show their respect for the dead and to help survivors begin the grieving process.

You can have a full funeral service even for those choosing cremation. Planning a personalized ceremony or service will help begin the healing process. Overcoming the pain is never easy, but a meaningful funeral or tribute will help.

What does a Funeral Director Do?

  • Pick up the deceased and transport the body to the funeral home (anytime day or night)
  • Notify proper authorities, family and/or relatives
  • Arrange and prepare death certificates
  • Provide certified copies of death certificates for insurance and benefit processing
  • Work with the insurance agent, Social Security or Veterans Administration to ensure that necessary paperwork is filed for receipt of benefits
  • Prepare and submit obituary to the newspapers of your choice
  • Bathe and embalm the deceased body, if necessary
  • Prepare the body for viewing including dressing and cosmetizing
  • Assist the family with funeral arrangements and purchase of casket, urn, burial vault and cemetery plot
  • Schedule the opening and closing of the grave with cemetery personnel, if a burial is to be performed
  • Coordinate with clergy if a funeral or memorial service is to be held
  • Arrange transportation from the funeral to the cemetery 
  • Order flower arrangements as the family wishes
  • Provide Aftercare, or grief assistance, to the bereaved

What do I do when a death occurs?

The funeral home will help coordinate arrangements with the cemetery.

  • Bring the following information about the deceased to complete the State vital statistic requirements:
    • Birth Date
    • Birthplace
    • Current Address
    • Father's Name
    • Mother's Name (including Maiden name)
    • Social Security Number
    • Veteran's Discharge Paperwork
    • Education Level
    • Marital Status
    • Name/Address of Person in Charge of Arrangements
  • Contact your clergy. 
  • The funeral home will assist you in determining the number of copies of the death certificates you will need and will order them for you.  Pennsylvania currently has a fee of $6 per certified copy of the death certificate.
  • Make a list of immediate family, close friends and employer or business colleagues. Notify each by phone.
  • Gather information you want to include in the obituary such as age, place of birth, occupation, educational achievements, memberships held, military service, outstanding work, volunteerism, place for memorial contributions to be made, and a list of survivors in the immediate family. Include the time and place of services. Funeral home staff will assist with writing the obituary and submit it to newspapers.  Most newspapers will allow you to include a photograph, if desired.  Note that most newspapers charge a fee to publish obituary notices.
  • Arrange for members of family or close friends to take turns answering door or phone, keeping careful record of calls. 

When I call, will someone come right away?

If you request immediate assistance, yes. If the family wishes to spend a short time with the deceased to say good-bye, that’s perfectly acceptable. Your funeral director will come when your time is right.

Burial or Cremation?

Burial in a casket is the most common method of disposing of remains in the United States, although entombment also occurs. Cremation is increasingly selected because it can be less expensive and allows for the memorial service to be held at a more convenient time in the future when relatives and friends can come together.

A funeral service followed by cremation need not be any different from a funeral service followed by a burial. Usually, cremated remains are placed in urn before being committed to a final resting place. The urn may be buried, placed in an indoor or outdoor mausoleum or columbarium, or interred in a special urn garden that many cemeteries provide for cremated remains. The remains may also be scattered, according to state law.

Why have a public viewing?

Viewing is a part of many cultural and ethnic traditions. Many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is encouraged for children, as long as the process is explained and the activity is voluntary.

What is the purpose of embalming?

Embalming sanitizes and preserves the body. Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.

Does a dead body have to be embalmed, according to law?

The Federal Trade Commission says, "Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial."

Why are funerals so expensive?

When compared to other major life events like births and weddings, funerals are not expensive. A wedding may cost three times as much as a life tribute service, but because it is a happy event, wedding costs are rarely criticized. Operating a funeral home is a 24-hour, labor-intensive business, with extensive facilities (viewing room, chapel, hearse, etc.), and these expenses must be factored into the cost of services.

Additionally, the cost of a service includes not only merchandise, such as a casket or urn, but the services of a funeral director in making arrangements; filing appropriate forms; coordinating with doctors, contacting clergy, florists, newspapers and other associated businesses; and seeing to all the necessary details. Funeral directors look upon their profession as a service, but it is also a business, and funeral homes must make a profit to exist.

Do I have to make different funeral arrangements if I chose cremation?

It really depends entirely on how you wish to commemorate a life. One of the advantages of cremation is that it provides you with increased flexibility when you make your funeral and cemetery arrangements. You might, for example, choose to have a funeral service before the cremation; a memorial service at the time of cremation or after the cremation with the urn present; or a committal service at the final disposition of cremated remains. Funeral or memorial services can be held in a place of worship, a funeral home or in a crematory chapel.

What can be done with the cremated remains?

With cremation, your options are numerous. The cremains can be interred in a cemetery plot, i.e., earth burial, retained by a family member, usually in an urn, scattered on private property, or at a place that was significant to the deceased. (It would always be advisable to check for local regulations regarding scattering in a public place-your funeral director can help you with this.)

Today, there are many different types of memorial options from which to choose. Memorialization is a time-honored tradition that has been practiced for centuries. A memorial serves as a tribute to a life lived and provides a focal point for remembrance, as well as a record for future generations. The type of memorial you choose is a personal decision. The limit is set only by your imagination.

What is memorialization for a cremation?

You might choose ground burial of the urn. If so, you may usually choose either a bronze memorial or monument. Also available at many cemeteries are cremation niches in columbariums. They offer the beauty of a mausoleum setting with the benefits of above ground placement of remains. Many cemeteries also offer scattering gardens. This area of a cemetery offers the peacefulness of a serene garden where family and friends can come and reflect.

Can we scatter the cremated remains?

If you wish to have your ashes scattered somewhere, it is important to discuss your wishes to be scattered ahead of time with the person or persons who will actually have to do the cremation ashes scattering ceremony, as they might want to let your funeral professional assist in the scattering ceremony. Funeral directors can also be very helpful in creating a meaningful and personal ash scattering ceremony that they will customize to fit your families specific desires. The services can be as formal or informal as you like. Scattering services can also be public or private. Again, it is advisable to check for local regulations regarding scattering in a public place-your funeral director can help you with this.

If I am cremated, can I be buried with my spouse even if he or she was in a casket?

Yes — Depending upon the cemetery's policy, you may be able to save a grave space by having the cremains buried on top of the casketed remains of your spouse, or utilize the space provided next to him/her. Many cemeteries allow for multiple cremated remains to be interred in a single grave space.

What do I need to know about income tax when I lose a spouse?

Uncertainty about income tax issues can add to the stress experienced from the death of a spouse. You should meet with your family attorney and/or tax advisor as soon as possible to review your particular tax and estate circumstances. Bring a detailed list of your questions to the meeting. If you do not have an attorney or tax advisor, call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 for answers to specific tax questions.

Is there financial help if I need it?

There are a few options available:

  • Determine if the deceased person qualifies for any entitlements. Check with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and with your State Fund. Many people are entitled to get financial assistance with their funeral costs from these agencies if they qualify.
  • Review all insurance policies the deceased person has; including life insurance. Some life insurance policies have coverage clauses for funeral related costs
  • Find local charities providing financial help for funeral expenses. Search for non profit organizations and for churches in your area.
  • Talk to your funeral director about cremation options- these can be much less expensive depending on your choices.