December 2008
Richard Bentley    (518-359-9300)    bentley@northnet.org

Survivor Obligations

As the end of life approaches for a loved one our first thoughts are for the comfort we can offer in this time of trial. Hospice can be of great assistance, both to the dying, and also to those of us who live on. This I know from personal experience.

But, hospice can not do everything. During this time of grief, and often prior to our loved one’s passing, we are also burdened with the need to make funeral decisions. Today, this usually means making arrangements with a funeral director. Depending upon where you live, this may be mandated by law.

New York State requires you to engage the services of a licensed funeral director to sign the death certificate, transport the deceased to a place of final interment whether this be burial or cremation, and just about everything in between. There are no valid health reasons for this. Vermont allows families to file the death certificate and transport the body. Here in NY a strong funeral industry lobby has resulted in a funeral industry monopoly.

Having gone through this process twice I encourage you to join a Memorial Society or Funeral Consumer Alliance in your area. While my experience has been with cremation, Memorial Societies can help you deal equally well with burials and all of the other services a family may wish from a funeral home. The organization closest to us here in the Adirondack Mountains of New York is the:

Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, Inc.
PO Box 6026, Albany, NY 12206
(518-512-9774)   e-mail:  memsoc1@nycap.rr.com
hudsonmohawkfca.wordpress.com/contact-us
And the national Funeral Consumers Alliance website:   www.funerals.org

The Memorial Society asks $40 for an individual Lifetime membership and $50 to enroll all the members of your household. They send out an annual newsletter with loads of sound advice, and more importantly, they have established contracts with participating funeral homes that greatly reduce the cost.

For example, my father wished to be cremated as had my mother before him. We held a beautiful memorial celebration of my mother’s life several months after her passing at a time when all her many friends and relatives could attend. We plan the same for my father who recently passed at home with the assistance of hospice. Both funerals were direct cremations requiring only filing of a death certificate and transport of the deceased to a crematory. For this service, a local funeral home wanted $1785 plus an additional $350 for the actual cremation. This same service as a member of the Memorial Society through a participating funeral home in Indian Lake cost $940 plus $330 for the cremation. This is a high price to fill out a form and transport the body in the back of an SUV from Tupper Lake to Queensbury, but close to half the cost at the local funeral home.

One doesn’t wish to think about things like cost and comparison shopping at the time of a loved one’s death. At the same time, I do not believe, and my father before his passing did not believe that some stranger should be entitled to walk off with a week’s wages or more in return for a few hours of work at the expense of the loved one’s spouse and children.

As much as we all want to avoid thoughts of death it is important for all family members to know each other’s wishes. Memorial Society literature can be of great help in making such decisions. If there are minor children in the family, you may wish for children old enough to understand to participate in the discussion, particularly regarding arrangements for their care in the event neither parent survives. This discussion should also inform all as to the location of Wills, property deeds and titles, insurance policies, bank accounts and any other assets. Among these papers should be a sheet listing the information asked for on the death certificate. For NY these are as follows:

Date of Birth
City and State of Birth
Whether or not of Hispanic origin (If YES, descendent of PLACE)
Race (Form lists 15 possibilities.)
Service in the Armed Forces No/Yes (If YES, how many years)
Social Security Number
Marital Status (But this may change over time)
Usual Occupation during working years
In what type of business or industry
Name and Location of company or firm
Resident Address which may differ from place of death
(State, County, City, and Street address)
Full name of Father
Full maiden name of Mother

The last two, parents names, are often recorded incorrectly because while family members think they know simply because they have heard the names used often, they may not be correct. My grandfather was always referred to as Vern, but his actual name was Alvin LaVerne. My grandmother’s name was Catherine, but I caught the Funeral Director filling it in spelled with a ‘K’. Often the spelling of names is incorrect simply because the person answering the questions has only heard the name spoken and not seen the way the deceased actually spelled it. So, make a list beforehand and you will be prepared.

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At the moment, the only funeral home I know of in the Adirondacks that has a contract with the Memorial Society is Miller Funeral Home, 35 West Main Street, Indian Lake, NY 12842 (518-648-0011). However, you will not receive the negotiated lower rate unless you first contact and join the Memorial Society. And when that sad time comes when you need to finally contact a funeral home, call the Memorial Society again to ask for the names of participating funeral homes because participation may change over time.

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Those who choose cremation may be interested to know that family and others may view the cremation. We did so.   We arrived the morning of the cremation, viewed my father’s remains for the last time, stayed through to the end, about 3 hours, and brought my father’s ashes home with us. For me, this provided a measure of closure. The staff at the crematorium was very supportive, and actually appeared pleased that we made this final effort.



Richard Bentley    (518-359-9300)    bentley@northnet.org