I was recently invited for a tour of Skylawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, a picturesque funeral home, cemetery, and crematory located in San Mateo, California. Opened in 1959, the Skylawn grounds were expertly and artfully designed to honor loved ones who have passed, no matter their creed, religion, or background.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by NorthStar Memorial Group. All opinions are my own.
During my travels, I often like to visit different local graveyards to help me better understand the place that I am visiting and the people that once lived there. As a de facto cemetery enthusiast, I can certainly say that Skylawn has achieved a gold standard in cemetery grounds.
The grounds were designed by masters in Feng Shui, and as a result the entire landscape radiates peaceful energy. Every religion and culture is represented throughout the different gardens and estates, making this a truly ideal place to lay your loved ones to rest.
The focus of the tour was to teach me about the importance of funeral preplanning and all that it entails. Funeral preplanning is the process of creating a plan for your surviving loved ones to ensure your final resting place and needs are taken care of exactly how you intend. It’s a topic that many people avoid thinking about or discussing with family members. Similarly, I had never given much thought to preplanning my funeral, but after the tour concluded I was convinced of how important this service really is.
Because Skylawn takes funeral preplanning so seriously, they are a superb example of what to look for in a funeral home wherever you are located. After hours spent interviewing the knowledgeable Skylawn team, I put together this guide on what exactly preplanning is, what to expect, and why you should start preplanning today.
Table of Contents
What is funeral preplanning?
Preplanning is essentially an act of selflessness.
While I use the term “preplanning” or “funeral preplanning” in this post for the sake of brevity, know that it refers to the whole kit and caboodle. Cremation services, transportation, cemetery, AND funeral. And really, anything else even remotely related.
When you die, your family is likely going to face many difficult questions, some of which they may not have the answers for. Emotions will be heightened, potentially causing disputes over what a loved one may have wanted after they’ve passed. And all of this is going to be occurring through the process of grief.
Taking time to preplan will remove an immense burden from your loved ones and give them some peace of mind during a difficult time. By writing down as much as you can, you are not only ensuring your wishes are met, but that most, if not all, of the financial burden is taken care of.
Preplanning does not simply mean checking boxes. It is a way for the venue to personalize your service for your family and create a meaningful celebration of life. A well-planned service will return a smile to people’s faces and provide sweet memories for your loved ones to cherish when you are gone.
If you love building canoes, they can arrange for your hand-crafted canoes to be on display. Or if you loved singing in your church choir, they will make sure that your favorite song is sung for you and your family at the service. It is a time to remember your life, so you can be sure that anything you feel best represents you will be on display.
Understandably, many people find it hard to broach this subject with family, as it is not easy to think about death. Skylawn facilitates the entire preplanning process for you, guiding you through those tough questions that will undoubtedly arise for your family members after you pass. This preplanning meeting is completely free, so there is no downside to start planning today.
Benefits of Preplanning
Your family knows what you want.
If you asked your closest relatives to guess everything you want when you die, there is a very good chance that they will not be able to guess all of your wishes perfectly. For example, who would you like to be your pallbearers? What kinds of flowers would you like? Where would you like your ashes scattered? Having your wishes written down ensures that your life is celebrated the way you want, and saves your family the burden of having to plan a funeral while they are grieving.
Guards against inflation.
In the cemetery business, plots have a 10% average annual inflation rate. By making a financial commitment today, you can save your family a ton of money long term on everything from the cemetery property to funeral and cremation services. Skylawn provides affordable payment plans for those who can’t afford to pay the full amount up front.
More choices on location.
Searching for a plot to be buried in sooner rather than later means you have more locations to choose from. Leaving it to your family to select a plot after you have passed is going to limit their options, and potentially mean that family will not be able to be buried together.
You can change your mind.
Even if you decide all the details now, preplanning provides time to allow you change your mind about anything for any reason. You can change plot locations, casket or urn choices, the details of the ceremony, or any other aspect. Nothing has to be set in stone…yet.
You may be thinking, I don’t know where I will be when I die, so shouldn’t I just leave it up to my family to decide? If you happen to pass away in another state, Skylawn can transfer your contract to one of their many other cemeteries and funeral homes across the U.S. If you are not near one of these locations, they can always issue you a full refund within 30 days of a written request. No matter where you end up, the point of preplanning is having these critical conversations while you are still here, and not leaving it to your family when they are dealing with an immense loss.
Utilizing the checklists and information Skylawn provides allows you, you can communicate your wants and needs to your spouse, close family, or anyone else who will need to know. You may discover that your kids want to be buried with you, and those things needs to be planned for. Or they may choose not to. Sorry mom!
Get down to the nitty-gritty.
Preplanning provides you one of the most valuable things: time. This is your chance to address those unforeseen questions that will come up after you are gone. This may include going over the specifics of your medical history, how to contact the attorney who wrote your will, the types of savings you have and at which banks, or what to do if you die while traveling (Skylawn’s Safely Home program will take care of the expense of transporting your body back to your family). It’s questions like these that make the death of a loved one much more difficult.
The Preplanning Process
If you choose to work with Skylawn, which offers every service in one location, all your funeral preplanning can potentially be taken care of in a matter of days.
The process begins with a phone call consult, during which someone will ask some basic questions before you come in. At the end of the phone call, a meeting will be scheduled to go over an extensive list of options.
Note: During COVID-19, virtual meetings are offered to see the grounds as well as meet with your representative. You can also take a virtual tour of the entire grounds on Skylawn’s website.
Assuming you meet in person, you will first meet in an office and go over the detailed preplanning guide. Ideally, you will have a spouse or family member with you to help you plan. Those who plan alone often go home with the intention of talking to their family about their wishes, but are never able to breach the uncomfortable topic. Having a third person be your family’s guide through the process makes everything easy and straight forward.
At some point, you may want to tour the grounds and look at some potential burial spots to find the one that best represents you. Then, you’ll return to the office, go over some more personalizations, look at burial options, and finally set up a plan. This can include making a financial commitment or writing down your specific wishes for the future.
Skylawn representatives will take the time to understand you and your family to determine how best to tell your story in memoriam. You can request Skylawn’s free funeral preplanning guide to help you get started here, available online or as a paper copy.
The amount of information you will need to have at hand can be overwhelming. Planning out information in advance can help guide your family as well as your own wants.
These are some of the things needed for actual funeral preplanning:
- Full name
- Phone numbers
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Martial status
- Name of surviving spouse
- Usual Occupation
- Type of business/industry
- Father’s name and place of birth
- Mother’s name and place of birth
- Person completing arrangements and their contact information
Life celebration information will be gone over by the funeral home and director and includes many detailed decisions about the service you want. Questions go over things from your religious preference to whether or not you want your eyeglasses on during burial services.
The names and contact information of the following:
- Legal representative of estate
- Immediate family members
- Funeral director
- Insurance agent
Veterans will want to consult the guide put together for Skylawn on everything needed for a military service, but these are some things to get you started:
- Branch of service
- Serial number
- Date entered service and place
- Type of separation or discharge and date
- Place of separation, location of DD214
- Highest grade, rank, or rating received
- Wars or conflicts served
- Additional medals, honors, citations, or info
While not required for funeral services, this information can help your loved ones handle your affairs.
- Will or trust information.
- Financial account assets, locations, types, and contact information. i.e. Credit card, checking, savings, 401k, stocks, bonds, etc.
- Life insurance or other types of relevant insurance.
- Real estate owned and information to make sure all bills can be paid for each piece of property.
You will want to list out bequests and personal items. If you promise something to someone when you pass, make sure it is in writing and with everything else related to your preplanning so it is easy to find and reference.
Make your medical history available for whomever needs to make sure you receive the correct treatment and to track information for future generations.
The more information about yourself you are able to gather and write down, the easier your loved ones will have in making sure all of your wishes are able to take place.
Funeral Preplanning Costs and Finances
The entire funeral process often ends up being a large financial burden on families. Planning ahead can help alleviate this burden significantly. Here are a few things to consider when financial planning for a funeral or celebration of life.
Many people who begin the preplanning process are under the impression that life insurance can and should be used for funeral services. This is not true. One of the points stressed in my Skylawn tour was how one should never rely on life insurance as the primary source of funds for funeral costs.
With complicated policies and long payout periods, relying on life insurance can cause huge delays in the most important steps of the burial or cremation process. Most life insurance companies will take up to 6 weeks to pay out the policy after receiving the certified death certificate, and the death certificate itself can take up to 10 business days to arrive. Generally, life insurance policies should be reserved for left over bills, debts and maintaining quality of life for family members.
Prioritizing your budget.
When faced with a dilemma of not being able to afford all the funeral costs at once, the most important thing to budget for and purchase is the land where you will be laid to rest. The availability of plot sites decreases with time, but the other funeral services will always be available. There is usually a payment plan offered to help a family afford the perfect spot for them.
Because costs go up on average by 10% every year, the sooner you are able to lock in your burial site, the less you will pay in the long run. From this perspective, it is never too soon to invest in your final resting place.
Are burial spots permanent?
No, you can always change your burial location. Skylawn is currently developing new vignettes, or estates, of plots with different cultural themes that convey rest and peacefulness.
Preplanning DOES NOT mean you are going to die soon or that you are giving up on life. It means you are taking steps to care for the people you love after you are gone. The reality is that no one knows when their time will come, which means you are never too young to start planning.
At the very least, make sure your wishes are written down and clear for your loved ones. And once you’ve taken that first step, you might find yourself at the Skylawn website filling out a form for their guide.