Frequently Asked Questions



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General Funeral Questions

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What is a funeral?

A funeral is a ceremony that honors, celebrates, and remembers the life of a person who has died. The funeral service is a ritual that has its roots in ancient tradition, and functions as both a tribute to the deceased and a source of comfort to the living. The funeral takes place after the body has been prepared for burial or cremation, but before the actual burial or cremation takes place.

What is a visitation?

The visitation offers relatives and friends of the deceased an opportunity to view the open casket in private before the funeral ceremony. The visitation is usually held in a private room at the funeral home or cemetery chapel.

What is a burial permit?

The burial permit is a legal document used to authorize burial, cremation, scattering or disinterment. The funeral director usually obtains the burial permit on behalf of the family.

Do you have to have a funeral director to bury the dead?

No. In most states, families can bury their own dead. They will still need to comply with local and state regulations and obtain the necessary permits and forms.

What do funeral directors do?

The funeral director’s job is to assist the bereaved in various ways to help them through the loss of a loved one. A funeral director provides bereavement and consolation services for the living, in addition to making arrangements for the cremation, burial, and memorial services for the deceased. He fulfills the role of funeral arranger, funeral director, funeral attendant, and embalmer.
The following list is not all-inclusive, but describes some of the major tasks of a funeral director:

  • Removal and transfer of the deceased from the place of death to the funeral home.
  • Professional care of the deceased, including embalming, casketing, and cosmetology.
  • Consulting with family to make arrangements for the funeral service.
  • Filing certificates, permits, and other required forms.
  • Obtaining copies of the death certificate.
  • Making arrangements with the cemetery, crematory, or other places of final disposition.
  • Creates and publishes the obituary.
  • Makes arrangements for clergy, music, flowers, transportation, pallbearers, and special fraternal or military services.
  • Directs and manages the funeral service and the funeral procession.
  • Assists the family with death-related claims, including Social Security, VA insurance, and grief counseling.

Why is having a place to visit a deceased loved one so important?

It provides a dignified place to remember and memorialize the dead. Having a place to visit helps the survivors process their grief and move closer to healing.

What are the steps involved in exhuming and transporting a body?

  • Apply for an exhumation license. It is best to contact the cemetery directly for guidance on what forms and permissions will need to be obtained.
  • Get approval from religious officials. You may need a license or written permission from the affiliated church in order to remove the body from consecrated grounds.
  • Follow local environmental and health regulations. The exhumation will need to be done under the supervision of an environmental health officer who can ensure that all appropriate safety measures are followed and potential health hazards are addressed.
  • Make body transfer plans. If you are transferring the body, you will have to purchase a new casket. Cremation of the body is recommended due to the problem of natural decay and expense of transport. Your funeral home can guide you in the proper handling of these matters.

What is exhumation? Why would someone want to do it?

Exhumation is the act of disinterring, or digging up, a body that has been buried in the ground. Exhumation is only allowed under very specific circumstances, and only after all appropriate permissions from local authorities have been granted and appropriate environmental health guidelines are followed.

Some reasons a body might be exhumed:

  • A court-ordered exhumation that is part of a criminal investigation.
  • Public health reasons (for example, if a graveyard is being moved).
  • Family reasons (if the family of the deceased wishes to move the body to another burial ground, or transport abroad, etc.).

What is an arrangement conference and what information should I bring?

The arrangement conference is a meeting between you and the funeral director/arranger to plan the funeral for the deceased.

What you should bring:

  • Advance directives: If the deceased left any written advance directives concerning the disposition of his remains and memorialization, you need to bring them with you. These instructions may be found in a will, or there may be a formally witnessed disposition directive, funeral pre-arrangements, or a preneed contract.
  • Military discharge papers, if any.
  • Details on any cemetery property owned by the deceased or the family (grave plot, columbarium space, etc.).
  • Recent photograph of the deceased and any personal effects that you wish to be included in the viewing or burial

Specific information on the deceased:

  • Full legal name
  • Address
  • Marital status
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth (city and state)
  • Educational history (number of years of schooling)
  • Armed Forces service dates and serial number
  • Occupation or profession
  • Parent’s names, including mother’s maiden name
  • Next of kin and other survivors

What is a viewing?

The viewing offers relatives and friends of the deceased an opportunity to view the closed casket in private before the funeral ceremony. The visitation is usually held in a private room at the funeral home or cemetery chapel.

What is a wake?

A wake is a watch kept over the deceased, held the night before the funeral, based in part on the Celtic traditions of Ireland. It may last the entire night. Similar to a viewing, it provides mourners time to share their grief in a less-structured environment. Wakes often take place a day or even several days before the funeral.

Can you donate your body to science, if you are also an organ donor?

No. Most medical schools want to receive an entire body with intact organs. The one exception they allow is eye donors. Most schools will accept a body whose eyes have been donated as long as the rest of the organs are intact.

Can you still hold a funeral or memorial service if you donate your body to science?

Yes. You can still have a service in the days following your death, even though the body will not be present. Alternately, if your family chooses to wait until your cremated remains are returned by the medical school, they can have your remains present in an urn during the service.

Is there a cost for donating your body for medical research?

Generally, no. If your body is accepted for medical research, the donor program or medical school usually covers the cost of the cremation and burial tasks once they are finished.

Can I ask to have my body donated to science rather than have it buried or cremated?

Yes. If you wish to donate your body to medical research, you must clearly state it in writing prior to death. The most common way to donate your body to medical research involves contacting a donor program, which is usually affiliated with a local medical school. You will need to complete any required forms so the documents will be filed in readiness for when death occurs. Your family will need to contact the donor program immediately following your death. The medical school will make arrangements to pick up the body and transport it back to their facility.

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