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Pre-Planning and Dealing with Finances and Funeral costs after the death of a loved one,
self help articles

Prosperity and financial wellbeing self help articles:

1) Dealing with finances after the death of a loved one by Pat Curry
2) Funeral (Planning &) Expenses: Saying Goodbye to Granny by Samantha Clark
3) Frugal Funeral Planning by Mike Boyd

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Dealing with finances after the death of a loved one
by Pat Curry
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Sooner or later, our loved ones are going to die.

When it happens, family members are left to sort through a host of financial issues that start with funeral arrangements and usually end with passing along or disposing of a lifetime of personal belongings.

Here are some of the details that need to be addressed and how to handle them.

The first important step is to determine who’s responsible for these matters. It makes a difference because financial institutions will only recognize authorized individuals.

Key positions include the executor of an estate, a beneficiary of an insurance policy or retirement fund, the holder of a power of attorney, a trustee, a joint owner of a bank account, or a co-signer on a loan or safe deposit box.

You can have as many copies of a death certificate as you want, but if your name and signature isn’t on the safe deposit box account, you’re not getting into that box without a court order.

Speaking of death certificates, you will need lots of them, and you need them quickly.

Most companies will need to have one to close out an account; insurance companies will require it to process a claim. Call the coroner’s office in the community where the person passed away. If they don’t handle it there, they can tell you who does.

“Every time you change the name on an investment, car, anything, you need a certified copy of the death certificate,” says Connie Brezik, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist in Scottsdale, Ariz.

If you’re the executor of the person’s estate, it’s your job to pay any outstanding debts and disperse any remaining funds or property to the beneficiaries listed in the will.

Depending on the state, you may need to post a notice in the local paper where the person died, giving people a certain amount of time to make claims against the estate, says Dave Evans, vice president of retirement and financial planning with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

That keeps people from showing up months later to demand payment of a bill.

Getting a life insurance claim paid should be a fairly straightforward matter, Evans says. As a contract, it’s not part of the person’s estate and doesn’t go through probate.

Once it’s submitted to the insurance company, it’s usually paid within about 10 days and often covers immediate expenses, such as funeral arrangements and the payment of any pressing bills, such as a house payment.

In addition to an individual life insurance policy, if the person was still employed, life insurance may have been a company benefit.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the person’s death, such as a car accident, an investigation may be done to determine the cause of death because it could trigger additional benefits.

If a person died while traveling and had purchased travel insurance, there may be even more insurance benefits.

If the person who died was still employed, Evans says it’s important to get a copy of the company manual and meet with the human resources manager.

“They could have a flexible spending account with money in it or retirement money that could be used for the spouse,” Evans says.

Think about tax implications

That’s also true of funds in an individual retirement account or 401(k). Any money in the account goes to the person’s beneficiary. Evans cautions people to take their time in accessing those funds.

“Go slow; don’t grab the money,” he says. “There are options, so you can do some tax planning.”

May Kay Foss, a CPA in Danville, Calif., recalls a woman who was the beneficiary of her husband’s IRA. She was 49 and rolled it over into her own retirement account. That was a mistake, she says.

“She moved too fast,” Foss says. “You can draw on these IRAs as a beneficiary. If she ever needed to take money out, she’d have a penalty.

If it had been left in her husband’s name, she could have used it as an emergency fund, and there wouldn’t be a penalty involved.”

Foss also recommends that before family members start disposing of personal items, such as clothes and books, check to make sure there isn’t spare cash in them.

She remembered being involved in closing one estate in which an elderly woman had passed away. Her children found rows of $100 bills under the lining paper of the kitchen cupboards.

She also remembered what her own family went through when her mother passed away. Like many people, her mother never talked to her children about her will, her life insurance or any other financial subjects.

After she died, Foss and her siblings found a booklet in her home with all the pertinent details.

“We found that she’d changed the title of her property, so my brothers and sisters immediately inherited without going through anything,” she says.

“It would have been nice to know. When she became ill, we’d hired an attorney to address her care issues. She’d already taken care of it, and we didn’t know.”

To help families deal with the inevitable, Brezik recommends that all her clients create a “family notebook” with personal and business information.

The personal section has sections for family members and friends to contact, as well as the names and numbers of their CPA, attorney, physician and other advisers.

There’s a section for credit cards. Just line them up and make copies of the fronts and backs.

Then there’s a checklist that tells where everything is — your life insurance policy, the safe deposit box, birth and marriage certificates, deeds, homeowner’s insurance, car titles, anything that someone would have to hunt for later on.

There’s also a section for funeral issues.

“A lot of my clients won’t complete this section,” Brezik says. “It’s too difficult for them. But just as many will.”

If a business is involved

On the business side, she tells them to include copies of investment accounts and bank statements, wills, trusts, a general and medical power of attorney, an up-to-date net-worth statement, and any business documents, such as a company buy-sell agreement.

“Then what I like clients to do is write a little letter, and stick it on top,” Brezik says. “Give some more personal instructions. ‘Here are our wishes, why we did it.’ It softens the blow a little.

“You’re already dealing with a very stressful situation. We’ve worked with clients where things were in such disarray. They have to worry about going through boxes and put together a funeral at the same time.”

By Pat Curry. Visit the site for more financial advice and calculators at Bankrate.com

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Funeral Expenses: Saying Goodbye to Granny
by Samantha Clark
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My husband’s grandmother recently died of cancer. It’s a subject most of us would rather avoid. But I saw firsthand how costly a funeral can be.

Granny had made some prior arrangements herself such as buying a plot in a graveyard and setting up a Living Trust.

The situation looked fairly simple to handle. In the last week of her life her youngest daughter began to make the final preparations for her burial.

Without specific instructions from Granny, however, questions quickly arose.

Granny was raised and spent most of her life as a Catholic. But the last 4 years she attended her daughter’s Byzantine church. (Byzantine is closely related to Catholicism and “in union” with the Pope.)

She never officially joined the Byzantine church, although the Priest visited her house during her illness and was available to the whole family to help deal with the crisis.

The youngest daughter found out that Granny could be directly cremated for under $700.00 while the most basic funeral at the church, with the traditional use of a casket, would cost at least $3,200.00.

Granny’s third daughter wanted an open casket viewing as she was unable to be in town when Granny died. The oldest daughter wanted the funeral to be in strict accordance with the traditional Byzantine funeral rites while the youngest thought less money should be spent.

Tensions soon arose among the 4 daughters. A funeral director explained that no arrangements could be made until all 4 daughters came to an agreement.

SOLUTION: Luckily, our family had time to discuss the issues and work out an agreement before Granny died. The oldest daughter offered to pay the difference of having a full funeral with a casket instead of cremation out of her own pocket.

As all 4 daughters were raised Catholic, my husband read the guidelines from the local Archdiocese and found out that the local Catholic churches do allow cremation but still favor a full burial in a casket. This information was enough to sway everyone to agree to the full Byzantine funeral.

As a compromise, a private viewing of the body was held for family only before the services, for the daughter unable to be with Granny when she died.

I believe all of the daughters were eventually satisfied with the solution. But the entire situation would have been avoided if Granny had left instructions. Even on her deathbed she insisted she was going to beat her cancer.

I now realize that avoiding making plans for your burial can leave an unfair burden on your family. If nothing else, you can write your wishes on a piece of paper and leave it in your dresser.

Imagine that Granny had been a young person killed in an auto accident. In a time of unexpected and overwhelming grief, the family isn’t likely to be able to rationally plan a burial.

There are plenty of funeral homes out there selling overpriced, and even needless, items to a bewildered family trying to cope with a death.

TIPS: 1. Make your wishes known.

Specify if you want direct cremation with no services, a full funeral with all the bells and whistles, or something in between. If you’re religious, check with your local minister, rabbi, or priest for guidelines.

For example, the Kennedy family put JFK, Jr.’s ashes into the ocean in an urn. The local Catholic Archdiocese here in Albuquerque strictly forbids burial anywhere but a Catholic cemetery. All Catholics are forbidden to scatter ashes.

While your family may belong to the same religion, “rules” for funerals and burial may vary by region. Different beliefs may cause even more problems. You may want your Catholic sister to scatter your ashes, but it would be a mortal sin for her to do so.

Check beforehand that your relative will be comfortable in following your wishes.

Granny had a prepaid policy at a funeral home. We didn’t find out about it until after arrangements were made at a different home.

Apparently this is common. Make sure your family can find your instructions and arrangements.

2. Specify the type of burial container you want.

The Jewish faith prohibits any metal on a casket. If you are to be cremated, do you want a $300.00 urn from a funeral home? A beautiful piece of pottery can be had for under $100.00.

A local potter told me that a vase can be sealed with paraffin wax at the top if there’s no lid. A nice touch would be adding a candle on top of the paraffin wax to be burned during a ceremony.

It is now legal to scatter ashes in all 50 states. A former New Mexico governor recently died. His son packed his ashes into their annual fireworks display because his father had always enjoyed the fireworks immensely.

My husband tells me he wants to be put directly onto our compost pile.

Some of the most frugal readers out there might prefer their ashes in a favorite crock pot. Be assured that without written instructions from you, your family members will feel the need to buy something a lot fancier.

3. Buy ahead when possible.

If you know you want to be buried in a certain cemetery– buy now. Granny paid less than $150.00 for a burial plot in 1969 that would have cost the family over $1,000.00 at the time of her funeral.

Please note: while one family member will see an elaborate funeral as the only fitting tribute to a loved one, another family member will surely see it as a big waste of money.

Granny’s youngest daughter initially felt cremation, and even a tribute in her house, would be preferable to a full church funeral. But she was so touched by the Byzantine service and generosity of the congregation that she may join a Byzantine church in her own hometown.

How much money to spend on death is an incredibly individual decision. I remain convinced, however, that I want it done as cheaply as possible.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I’ve avoided thinking about my burial until Granny’s death. I’m only 31. Let me assure you that it’s not as scary as it seems.

Plus, you can change your instructions if your wishes change in the future. The most important thing is that making your wishes known can save your family both money and stress at a time when they are already overburdened. It is a final gift from you.

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Frugal Funeral Planning
by Mike Boyd
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Would you consider purchasing a home, automobile, or other financial investments, without shopping around and becoming as much of an educated consumer as possible on the particular subject? Probably not.

Consumers do this frequently, though, when purchasing funeral and final disposition products and services. The purchase of funeral products and services is one of the largest but least researched expenditures made during our lives.

Waiting until a death occurs (although sometimes unavoidable) can result in overspending and other problems. Are there ways to avoid this and save money when making funeral arrangements? Yes.

As much as possible, pre-plan your funeral and final disposition (cemetery) needs at a time when emotions are not involved.

Call or stop into funeral homes, cemeteries, cremation/memorial service providers and learn about what each has to offer, acquire price information, and think about what you want prior to any purchase commitment.

Then settle on a particular plan that you feel comfortable with and can afford.

If you are considering pre-financing, use caution. Pre-financing is purchasing funeral goods and services at today’s prices for use in the future. Know exactly what prices of goods and services are guaranteed not to increase and what prices may increase over time.

Get everything clearly defined in writing, including how much money will be returned should you decide to cancel the agreement prior to death. If necessary, have an attorney review any contract prior to signing it.

Taking an impartial person along with you when making these type of arrangements can help save money. Having a relative or friend there gives you the opportunity to discuss the situation with someone you can trust.

If you are planning a traditional type funeral with several days of visitation, consider the following:

Limit the number of days a funeral home is rented for visitation (just reducing visitation by one day may save money) or consider using a home for viewing instead of a funeral home.

Supply all clothing to be used versus purchasing it from the funeral home.

Supply pallbearers instead of having the funeral home supply them.

Know if embalming is necessary and eliminate it where possible.

Consider using a rental casket where available, but weigh all the options. A final disposition container may be necessary, and this along with any rental casket fees may add up to more than purchasing a casket.

Check out independent casket retailers who will ship a casket anywhere, but be careful. Although a receiving funeral home should not add on any fees to a casket not purchased there, other charges may be added, making it cheaper to purchase a casket at a funeral home.

Know the cost of flowers, and consider limiting the number and size of the arrangements or choosing a less expensive type of flower.

When designing a death notice for paid publication in newspapers, abbreviate as much as possible because newspapers usually charge on a per line basis.

If considering cremation, contact several cremation, memorial societies and funeral homes in the area, as prices may vary from one facility to another.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted what is known to this day as the “Funeral Rule.” This rule requires that funeral homes supply price lists and other information to consumers when making funeral arrangements.

Acquire a copy of this publication from the FTC, so you know your rights. Call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 for a copy or review it on the web at www.ftc.gov.

Some money saving tips for final disposition:

If you plan on pre-financing cemetery property, use caution. Have it clearly defined in the purchase contract how much money will be returned to you should you cancel the agreement prior to death and want your money returned.

You may want an attorney to review the contract prior to signing it.

When selecting cemetery burial property, check out various location costs, so a less expensive burial site may be selected if desired

When selecting a mausoleum crypt, ask if it is more expensive to have a crypt located inside a building vs. outside. The same holds true for the purchase of a niche, which holds an urn.

When selecting a crypt, ask if embalming and a gasketed casket are required to use the crypt. Either of the above will add to the cost of the funeral plan.

Burial on your land may be possible, but consult with local authorities to find out if it is permissible and what regulations must be followed.

If you are a military veteran, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for death/burial benefit information at 1-800-827-1000 or on the web at www.cem.va.gov. VA benefits save money.

Customized funeral planning may be possible. Discuss your ideas with personnel who can help accomplish what you want. The results can be gratifying.

Purchase a good unbiased, educational book about funeral planning and how to save money. The small investment should be well worthwhile.

Mike Boyd is a non-practicing funeral director who wrote the book How to Bankroll a Funeral without Breaking the Bank. The book is a self-help guide to saving money when making funeral arrangements and is available from Mike directly. Send a check or money order for $26.95 (includes S & H) to: Mike Boyd, 8071 Bellafiore Way, Boynton Beach, FL 33472 USA, tel: 561-739-6071. Satisfaction guaranteed. If you cannot save the cost of the book when making funeral arrangements, either at-need or pre-need, return it for a full refund. Have questions about funeral planning from a business perspective? Email Mike at mailto:mboyd31@bellsouth.net. Copyright 2003,2006 by: Mike Boyd

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