Pre-planning a funeral is a gift to those left behind

January 19, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

People like to plan ahead for a marriage, family, house or retirement. When it comes to funeral arrangements, however, most act as if they will live forever.

But that's a short-sighted view, according to Madeleine Greene, a certified home economist with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, who helps people focus on their own funeral plans.

"We are dealing with a one-way ticket, and we don't know when that ticket will be punched," said Ms. Greene. "The bottom line is that we can make it easier for the people who are left behind."

Her seminar, entitled "Pre-Planning for Funerals," is one of seven on various topics to be held around the county by the Office on Aging during what Gov. William Donald Schaefer has designated "Life Planning Week In Maryland," Monday through Jan. 28.

Other sessions will deal with essential legal documents, long term care insurance, wills, a Medicare update, health care reform and understanding Medicare supplemental insurance.

Ms. Greene's session will take place on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 10:30 a.m. at Florence Bain Senior Center, 5470 Beaverkill Road, Columbia.

When it comes to funeral arrangements, "we are educating people about the choices they have, and we want to encourage them to make those choices," Ms. Greene said.

One way to make things easier, both for pre-planning and for survivors, is to keep a file that includes important documents, such as military discharge papers, life insurance policy numbers, marriage certificates and other pertinent information.

"You should keep records of divorces and remarriages; you need copies of those things to substantiate facts," she said.

To get people started, Ms. Greene will distribute funeral planning forms -- non-legal documents that contain information that will be helpful to survivors.

There are spaces on the form to indicate such details as the person's preferred burial arrangements, choice of funeral home and where tax records and safe deposit boxes are located.

Ms. Greene also will discuss funeral costs at the seminar.

"Know your retailer," said Ms. Greene. "A funeral home is selling a product. You may like the way one does things a little better than another; there aren't many communities where there is only one establishment."

She notes that the average funeral costs more than $3,000 and urges people to shop around, a process that will reduce the later stress for survivors.

"Sometimes people are sold package plans they can't afford," Ms. Greene said. "When you start to look at all of the add-ons, you realize you need to check things, such as: Do you want a [military] color guard? If there is no fee, do I make a contribution? Find out."

Wills are another topic Ms. Greene plans to discuss at the Jan. 27 session.

"A will is not the place to put instructions for the funeral," she said. "It needs to be separate.

"Give copies to the person who is going to be responsible so it is a known fact that there is a will. Keep the original in a safety deposit box."

Some people also may choose to join a memorial society, a nonprofit organization that provides information about kinds of funeral services available and can help shop around.

"Our organization gives information and education to people who should plan for their final days," said Mary Ellen Olivier, a representative with the Howard County Memorial Society.

"Let everyone know what you want to do and do it in writing."


The following activities are scheduled this week by the Howard County Department on Aging as part of "Life Planning Week in Maryland," designated by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to begin Monday, with some activities taking place prior to that.

All events will take place at the Florence Bain Senior Center, 5750 Beaverkill Road in Columbia, unless otherwise specified.

Essential Legal Documents: Attorney Patricia Storch will discuss living wills, durable power of attorney, last will and testament, and other issues, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Long Term Care Insurance: Michelle Holser, state coordinator, Senior Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program with the State Office on Aging, will speak at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Her focus will be on long-term care insurance and other alternatives.

Making a Will: For a small fee, seniors can prepare a simple will with legal services provided by 60+ Wills & Legal Screening Program from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Medicare Updates for 1994: Speakers from the Medicare Beneficiary Outreach Staff will focus on understanding Medicare and the changes in 1994 at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Emory United Methodist Church, a nutrition site in Ellicott City.

President Clinton's Health Care Reform: A health care specialist from 3rd District Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's office will discuss the president's reform bill at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 26. Pre-planning Funerals: Presentation will be made at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 27 by Madeleine Greene, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Program, and by Mary Ellen Olivier, a representative for the Memorial Society.

Everything you always wanted to know about Medicare/Medigap: At 10 a.m. Jan. 28, a speaker from the Medicare Beneficiary Outreach Staff and Jeannette Krapcho, senior HICAP coordinator, will discuss Medicare and Medicare Supplemental Insurance.

Everyone, regardless of age, is invited to attend the activities. A Life Planning packet of information is available at the Florence Bain Senior Center.

Participants will receive a raffle ticket for a drawing Jan. 28 to win a gift certificate at a local restaurant.

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