Life working in a funeral home – Paperwork and a question for other funeral home workers.

First, the question.. How many of you that work at a funeral home do any Veterans Benefit paperwork for families? We had received a letter from VA in July stating that they have changed the way they will be giving death benefits. That the survivors should just call a VA counselor. Years ago, we would actually take the spouse of a deceased veteran to apply for any benefits due. Within the last few years we have just been giving the aplication to them and phone number to VA. Besides the marker application, flag apication and memorial certificate, we have been giving families the phone numbers for a counselor so they can walk them thru the steps and to see what benefits are available to the surviving spouse. How do you guys handle it? We always try to explain as clearly as we can to the family that we are only giving them this info and the funeral home has no way of knowing what ‘other’ benefits are available because we do not work with the VA whatsoever and to please contact VA if they have any questions. Which brings me to my next rant. No matter how much we try to notify the family of certain things, like VA benefits or the process of a pending death cert,we always get a call asking about va benefits or whats the hold up on pending d/c. We put instructions in an envelope for the family with their items they will get once the funeral is complete. But…we still get those who apparently have not bothered to look or read these things.

Secondly, I dont think many people/families realize just how much ‘other’ stuff we do at a funeral home. Even when we are there is usually always something to be done. I started to list all the things that we do around here when we do not have a funeral we are working on, but the list is just too much. None of those things are very hard to do, but some more time consuming than other things. I recently had a family who when they came back to pick up flowers asked about the cert death certificates. Usually we would have them ready for them with their flowers and any other items, but this particular time we did not have the death certs yet. The Director was actually out filing them at that very moment. I explained to the family that the doctor did sign it and that the director was out filing right then. The daughter in law of deceased made the comment, ‘boy, you guys sure do alot of things that i would have never guessed you had to do. It seems like alot of work and alot of running around, how do you guys keep up!?!’ It was nice that someone had actually noticed how hard we all work and just how much we do!! Instead of the usual ‘…how come the death certificates are not done yet?’, ‘what do you mean cremation takes a few days!?!’, ‘how come it takes so long for the life insurance? !?’, etc…  I mean, I get it..that in this day and age everyone expects things to be done NOW, no waiting. But there are things that take time! This isn’t a fast food restaurant.
So, next question is, how many of you who work in a funeral home will complete any life insurance claim forms for families who are NOT doing an assignment with rhe funeral home? And if you do help families fill out their claims, do you charge a fee for doing so? We do not charge..I feel we should. I dont think the fee should be alot, but still..sometimes those claim forms are a pain in the rear!! It’s hard enough doing the paperwork when we take an assignment on a policy! We go as far as contacting the insurance company for the family when they aren’t doing an assignment, then when they receive the claim forms they bring them to funeral home and we sit with them and we go thru it and tell them where to sign, we fill in all the info AND we will even mail it for them.
There are also those assignments we do that the life ins company will not send to funeral home and only send to families and we have to trust that the family will bring those to us once they receive them. There have been times when they do not, of course.. so I feel that we should not accept assignments on those policies. Then there are some policies that do not allow assignments, they are far and few between, but still there are some. For instance the VA will not allow assignments on their life ins policies. Which of course brings me back to the first question..I always give families the info they need to contact the VA, I will also give them info on anything else they may need, if its another life ins that may not accept assignments, I will at least get them the life ins company contact info and let them know what the life ins company will probably require from them. But…It never fails that I end up getting a call from a family asking what to do..READ THE PAPERWORK! !

Another issue we get..almost on a daily basis anymore is people call after hours and want something. We close at 5pm if we have no visitation and our answering service answers the phone. Just recently a woman called at around 5:20pm. The answering service answered. She called to say she was on her way to funeral home because she wanted some more memorial folders. Her father had passed away about 2 weeks prior and apparently she ran out and needed more. The answering service told her that the funeral home was closed and that she could take a message and let us know the following day. If this had been an emergency, than of course the ans serv would have contacted the director right away. But…this was NOT an emergency!  Understandably most people work until 5pm, as do we!! She should have called earlier and asked if we would be in at that time, someone could have waited for her had she only been a little bit after 5pm! She got mad at the girl at ans service. She said how absurd it was that the funeral home was closed!!!! And that she would just call back tomorrow! Well..never heard from her, which is probably a good thing. When people ask what time we close and we say 5pm, that means we lock the door, shut the lights off and leave! So why would you come at 5pm!! Then get mad when no one is answering the door. This happens all the time! And then they say, “i called and was told you were open till 5pm!” Uhhh, yeah, and we were! Im not sure why this confusing to some?!? I also dont feel it is ok to get pissy with us or with ans service because we are not here, physically, for you 24/7!! There are times when someone will ring the doorbell and before we can answer it they are ringing it again and knocking. We are not standing on the otherside of the door waiting to open it the moment someone rings the bell. We are more than likely in our office..WORKING. so as with anytime you knock or ring someones doorbell, you normally have to wait a minute before someone answers! Same here! We are not going to run to the door. We are not going to just stroll up there either, I will walk as fast as I can but please, PATIENCE! There have been times when someone has rang bell and before i can get to door, which normally takes me all of 5-10 seconds, they are either ringing the bell again or walking away! As most of you know, I am not a fan of rude people and find that I have a low tolerance for them and for anyone who becomes demanding. I feel that most people take advantage of us since we are ‘suppose’ to be so nice in this business. Yes, we are nice, but also we are not going to tolerate such bad behavior. I don’t necessarily think that before, maybe 20 or so years ago, funeral directors kissed everyone’s asses. In this day and age tho, I really think people feel that we should be kissing their behinds. Especially when it comes to paying for the funeral. We get all sorts of stories of why they can’t pay their bill or pay the whole thing by day of service even tho during the arrangement the payment terms were explained to them. I read articles all the time about how funeral homes over charge and how we ‘supposedly’ push more expensive items to make more money.. But in fact, it is just the opposite (where I have worked anyway). We want you to pay your bill, so we are not going to try to get you to pay more for services, a more expensive casket, etc.. And when I read stuff about how funeral homes push more items on families, it makes me mad because it is just the opposite. So many times we get families who are not financially able to pay for a ‘traditional’ funeral with a more expensive casket, but that is what they want! ! We try to explain that there are several different options available to them, more options that will fit their budget, but…they are insistent about it. Usually at that point we know we will have a hard time getting paid. And usually these are the very famies who give us a hard time or are high maintenance. They are the ones who think we shouldn’t ask them to pay..because, they just lost someone and now we are asking them for money…how dare we! I’ve said before and I’ll say it again…We are a business just like any other business. Without charging for our services we cannot keep our doors open! I do agree that a funeral is expensive. I agree that caskets and vaults are priced high as well as cemetery fees are outrageous, but I also think that groceries are over priced, fuel for our vehicles is ridiculous, I even think that toilet paper is over priced! Lol. But in the end, it is what it is. When our vendors, who supply the caskets, vaults, supplies, lower their costs, then we can lower ours however, I dont ever see that happening. Also, death is inevitable. It’s not something that may or may not happen, so it really shouldn’t come as a shock that one day each of us will be faced with paying for a funeral. I do understand that there are those cases where someone passes unexpectedly, and we are there to HELP you select services that you can hopefully afford.
As for pre planning, yes, I feel it’s an excellent idea and not just because I work in the funeral business. But…for those of you who may have someone that is ill and in a nursing home and have been told that you should pre arrange a funeral to use up that loved ones money so the state does not take it…you actually need to pay for it! What I mean is, we sometimes get people who come to us because they have been told that they need to do the above because mom/dad/grandma/grandpa, whoever, is in a nursing home and possibly close to death and the social worker has instructed them to contact a funeral home, make pre arrangements and that they need an Irrevocable Contract for the Department of Human Services. So, we will get the occasional family that comes in and we type up all the paperwork they need, which consists of the Irrevocable Guaranteed Funeral Contract and a Irrevocable Contract which goes to DHS. This paper is filed with the state. If for some reason you do not pre pay, or pre pay the WHOLE amount, that paper is useless. If that person has a life insurance policy, you can cash it out or you can assign it to the funeral home, BUT…assigning a life insurance policy to a funeral prior to death (so the State cannot take it), is alot of paperwork and takes a while to complete. The funeral home does not take that policy and get the money from it..right away, just like a pre need, that money is held by a third party until death occurs. But when you assign a life ins policy, the life ins company has to approve/agree to it. We have to send paperwork (and just fyi, they will require the original policy be turned in as well. If you do not have the original policy, usually they will accept a letter of lost policy), we also at the same time send paperwork to the pre need company (third party). The pre need company requires payment from the family to process this paperwork. The fee is typically about $200, maybe alittle less, maybe a little more depending in which pre need company the funeral home uses. So when you come to us to assign that policy over, you must pay that fee otherwise we cannot proceed. Once the life ins company receives notice from us that you are assigning the policy to us, they will return one of the forms we originally sent to them with their write off, we then must forward that to the pre need company. So this process can take a few weeks. This is not something that can be done overnight. Also, when death does occur, there are a few more forms that need to be filled out and signed and we turn those in to the pre need company, which notifies them of death and then they pay us. Keep in mind tho, if assigning a policy to a funeral home, the cost of the pre arranged funeral MUST be the exact amount that the policy is worth. So, if the policy is $10,000.00, then the pre arranged funeral must be for that amount. You have to assign the whole amount of the policy. But…they have a cap on the amount you can assign. I believe that amount is currently around $12,000.00, give or take, and usually this cap does go up each year. So if the policy exceeds that amount, you cannot assign it to us for that amount. They do make it confusing, and confusing for us because of so much paperwork!
Another issue I have noticed is when someone calls for pricing. They call and speak to one of us and we give them a price. If they are calling because someone has passed away, we will usually write down what price we gave them with their name on it because that way if they decide to use our funeral home we can recall what we told them. Typically if we get a pricing call from someone who says they have been calling around because someone has passed and they do not have alot of money and they are looking for the best price, we will try our best to work with them and probably offer one of our discounted services. We will be sure to write it down or at very least tell the other employees what we told them. We get alot of people who will call back the following day or a couple days later or even come and they will say they spoke with whoever and they gave them a price of such and such for whatever services… alot of times they will say something totally different than what the person quoted them. More than likely they think that if they aren’t speaking to the original person they got the price from, then they can maybe get away with lying about what services they asked for and the price they were given. But, since we only have a few employees, we usually know who gave what price. We typically ask for the persons first name or the name of the deceased. I had a caller just the other day who called and said he spoke with my boss the other day and he gave him a price for a one day visitation with next day service, but it wasnt for a visitation with next day service, it was for a one day visitation with same day service. I am sure there are those times when maybe someone misunderstood, but I also know when someone is trying to bullshit.. This particular call was because a younger person had passed and the family did not have a lot of money but wanted a traditional funeral. My boss told him what the cost would be and he told him there was no way the could afford that. My boss then told him his other options.. all of those options were for one day same day service. My boss also wrote this down with this persons name on a pad of paper. This man he was speaking to told my boss he wanted to come in to speak with him and my boss asked if he wanted to schedule an appt. The man said he could be in between 2pm and 5pm, not much of an appt time, but my boss told him that was ok because he would be there all day.. Well of course this man never showed up, never called. But..3 says later he called back and told me he spoke with my bosd about a funeral and he quoted him a price for visitation with funeral following day for x amount of dollars. Immediately I thought..that is NOT what we charge for that! I asked him when he called and who he spoke with. He told me he called a few days ago and spoke to ‘some man’ . I then knew it was that same guy and grabbed the paper with info. I told him that price was for a one day same day..including the casket. He insisted that whoever he spoke with told him otherwise and that he specifically asked for something cheaper because they had no money. I explained that my boss had wrote down the pricing he gave him. I again asked him if his name was ‘insert name’ and he said .. yes it is .. I told him that I could put my boss on the phone so he could go over it again with him if he would like. He declined. He said he would have to come in to see us face to face to get a correct price! So i offered him an appt but he said he would just come by.. I explained to him that i would need to set a time to be sure that someome would be at the funeral home to meet with him…i sure didn’t want to meet with him, i wanted my boss to meet with him because i knew he wouldnt try his bullshit with him, especially since he spoke to him in the first place.
Well…he said he would be there after 10:30am but before 2pm!!!! Uhhhh…thats kind of a pretty big time frame.. but he wasnt about to set an exact time, so I just said. “Well, ok, but if a director is not here, then no one will be able to meet with you..” he said nothing.. Well, he came in around 2pm and luckily my boss was there to meet with him. He did say ‘he thought the price was for a visitation and service next day’. My boss went over everything the discussed a few days prior. He did end up statying with us and scheduling a day of visitation and service. He was not too happy tho when we told him that if he wanted burial, visitation could only be until 2pm then the service would have to start so we have time to get to cemetery. He said that it was not a long enough visitation. We were doing our best to work with him and give him something that would work for him. It sucks when you have a younger person pass away because usually it is unexpected, so of course we are going to feel bad for those who do not have the ability to pay for alot..but at the same time, if you cannit afford it, dont do it. So, we were giving him all the options possible, but he was just not satisfied. He kept saying ‘I bet I can go to so and so funeral home and they will give me what I want!’ So finally my boss said, ‘well, if you are not happy with what we have to offer, then maybe you should go elsewhere, I can really not go any lower then I already have. I will give you this quote and you can let us know later when you decide’. I don’t think the man was expecting him to say that. I think he was expecting my boss to say..’oh, ok, we don’t want you to go anyplace else, so I will give you what you want’ . Don’t get me wrong, we will usually match or beat another funeral homes pricing if a family asks us to do so, but when the price is already so low that basically the funeral home is paying out money not making any money on a funeral, well…we aren’t going to do it. Especially not for someone who feels they are ‘entitled’ to it. He did end up staying with us and had a very nice visitation and service. He had 4 hours of viewing and a service at the funeral home then on to the cemetery. There were alot of people that showed up too. Just as I always say, when you have just a few hours of visitation during the day, thise usually turn out to be the busiest. It upsets me when people say that they HAVE to have longer visitation hours or two whole days because they have to give everyone a chance to visit the funeral home.. No, you don’t!
So, I’m not sure about everyone else, but our weather is changing…today is the first full day of Autumn… I cannot believe how quick summer went. I love Autumn, love the cooler weather, but do not love that winter will be here again. If it is anything like last winter, I’m pretty sure I may just not leave my house until Spring!

One Response to “Life working in a funeral home – Paperwork and a question for other funeral home workers.”

  1. To answer your questions, we will help the families fill out the VA form 21530, but we also tell them it may take up to a year to get a response. We also assist, at no extra charge, filling out any insurance claim forms, even if we are not taking an assignment. I understand your frustrations with price shoppers and people wanting services they cannot afford. We helped out a family once who couldn’t afford a traditional funeral, yet wanted one so badly. We cut costs left and right for them, then the son shows up for the funeral showing off his brand new tattoo he got in honor of the deceased!

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