What should we consider in choosing a cemetery?

CemeteryConsider the location of the cemetery and whether it meets the requirements of your family’s religion. Ask what restrictions the cemetery places on vaults or markers purchased elsewhere, the type of monuments or memorials it allows, and whether flowers or other remembrances may be placed on graves.

In addition to the cost of the plot or niche, expect to pay charges for opening and closing it. Ask whether perpetual care is included in the purchase price. If not, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and groundskeeping.

What financial help may be available to help cover the costs?

You may be eligible for assistance from a number of sources:

U.S. Social Security:
If the deceased earned sufficient wages during his or her lifetime, a surviving spouse or dependent child may receive a lump-sum death benefit of $255. In addition, survivors may receive all or part of the Social Security benefits that would have gone to the deceased. The funeral director will give you the necessary information to apply for these benefits. Further information is available from Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. Or go to the Social Security Administration’s web site at www.ssa.gov.

Veteran’s Administration:
Depending on the circumstances, funds may be available to help pay funeral and burial expenses of United States veterans. You may also obtain without cost a Presidential Memorial Certificate, a U.S. flag, a grave marker, and possibly interment in a U.S. National Cemetery or state-funded veterans’ cemetery. In some cases, the widow or survivor may also receive further benefits. For further information, call Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 or visit its website at www.va.gov. For information on Maryland veterans’ cemeteries, visit www.mdva.state.md.us or call 1-800-446-4926.

Maryland benefits:
If the deceased was receiving public assistance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI, from Social Security), or if there are children in foster care, the survivors may be eligible for a state grant up to $650 provided that the funeral expenses do not exceed $2,500. If the death was a homicide, survivors may qualify for up to $5,000 from the Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Keep in mind that all of these benefits are subject to change. The funeral director can assist you in obtaining current information.

Other possible sources of assistance that should be explored include union or employer pension funds; life, health, accident, or even auto insurance; worker’s compensation; churches or synagogues; charities; and fraternal orders or professional associations. Also keep in mind the special bereavement fares of many airlines for family members traveling from a distance.

Can I pay for a funeral before the death?

Yes, you may arrange to pay funeral expenses in advance. Under a pre-need funeral contract, your family will pay only today’s prices for all prepaid goods and services selected. All of your payments for services and at least 80 percent for merchandise are placed in a federally insured trust account under your name. The funeral home or financial institution will send you statements of the interest earned. You may cancel the contract and withdraw all escrowed funds (with RAPP, 100 percent) if you change your mind unless you specifically make the trust irrevocable (done only for government benefit eligibility).

At the time of death, the funds in the account go to the funeral establishment. No additional charges will be due for pre-purchased services or merchandise. However, any items not included in the pre-need contract are not price-guaranteed. Typically, the pre-need contract will not include such “cash-advance” items as death certificate copies and newspaper notices. So survivors would need to purchase those items after the death occurs.