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Things I Learned (in Losing a Loved One) I Wish I Had Known

When I lost my husband, I learned that there are some practical things that I could have done (if I had known in advance) that would have made the process much easier and cheaper for me. In compiling this list, my goal is to: share some of my experiences and what I have done to prepare for my own funeral and so help others.

Items I wish I had kept in a safety deposit box

  • Pre written obituaries (no one will know the events and dates of your life as you do)
  • Favorite hymns and scripture for the eulogy service
  • Originals of any burial policies
  • Originals of any pre need funeral and/or cremation documents
  • Originals of any military discharge papers (eg Form DD214) (Eligible vets get a free grave marker)
  • Originals of any deeds to cemetery plots.
  • Originals of any life insurance documents and beneficiary designations
  • Name, address and phone and account #s for brokerage accounts and beneficiary designations
  • Name, address and phone and account #s for bank accounts and co signers
  • Deeds to Real Estate
  • Birth and marriage certificates (surviving spouses get a small death benefit from Social Security)
  • Social Security card
  • Original executed will
  • Any executed medical directive

Copies of all of the above may be kept in a safe place at home. Along with the burial policies and/or pre need funeral arrangement documents, keep appropriate burial clothes and sign in book for any funeral service.   (One funeral home quoted me $450 for one sign in book and thank you cards).

Things to Do Before Someone Dies

  • Locate and confirm accuracy of all beneficiary designations .
  • Locate and confirm accuracy of all signors on bank accounts and safety deposit boxes.
  • Determine which funeral homes you might consider handling your funeral and make appointments to speak with them so as to determine what kind of service you want, what is involved in the service you want and what it costs. When you determine what type of service you want, compare prices at 3-5 local funeral homes and let them know that you are price shopping. Get each one’s price in writing before you make your final decision and then consider the advantages of prepaying for your funeral to lock in the current price. I have heard and read that the cost of a traditional funeral in America doubles every 5 years. Consequently, locking in the current price can result in substantial savings.
  • If there is someone that you want to speak at your funeral /memorial service, ask them while you are alive.
  • If you do not have cemetery plots and desire to have a traditional burial funeral, determine which cemeteries you would consider and price shop.
  • If you have cemetery plots, but do not have monuments or markers, price shop for grave monuments and markers and consider pre paying to lock in a current price. When I ordered my husband’s grave marker, I also ordered my grave marker. The monument company engraved my name and date of birth and will (at my death) engrave my date of death on the marker for no additional charge.

My Funeral Plans for MySelf

At the risk of appearing morbid, I will share with you what I have done for myself (as opposed to describing the process generally) because the process of planning a funeral is subject to much personal preference.

My observation is that the funeral industry is designed to charge you for anything and everything that they “touch” and so the only way to really keep costs down is to wrest control from the funeral home and dismiss them as early as possible during the event. In the funeral industry, this is basically an “immediate burial”. It can be with or without a lot of things (eg embalming, flowers, etc). It usually does not include a viewing of the body or a visitation with the family prior to the burial or a funeral service at the funeral home or graveside. In the funeral industry, a “funeral service” is one conducted by a funeral director. If you want someone else to conduct/direct the service, it is usually called a memorial service. Without knowing any of this, I stumbled upon the ‘immediate burial” for my husband because I felt I was too emotional to make it through a formal visitation and viewing. Consequently, for my husband there was a memorial service at the church conducted by my minister. My husband’s body was prepared for burial at the funeral home and never left the funeral home until the graveside/committal service which was later on the same day as his memorial service. This was my preference, but may not be for everyone.

For myself, I will do the same. I have prearranged (and thus prepaid) my services to be almost identical. My body will be picked up from wherever I die (within 35 miles of the funeral home) by Currie Jefferson Funeral Home, embalmed and cosmetically prepared for burial with the clothes I have provided. It will be transported by Currie Jefferson to Elmwood and buried in my plot there. Only family and close friends will be invited to this committal service. As soon as my body is buried, the funeral home is dismissed and the public obituary specifies my church for a memorial service that afternoon. The obituary will specify “contributions to the church in lieu of flowers”. The funeral homes charge for transportation of flowers. (One funeral home quoted me a minimum charge of $350 for transportation of flowers.) I chose a modest metal casket and a lined vault. Elmwood Cemetery provides the service of opening and closing the grave and I have prepaid that also.

After shopping prices to 4 different funeral homes, I was agreeable to the price quoted to me at Currie Jefferson, enough to recommend it to my friends. If you are interested in doing this and want to contact Currie Jefferson, they will sell you the same services and products they sold to me for $5,000. Other local funeral homes quoted me over $12,000 for these services. This does not include cemetery plots, monuments, markers or opening and closing of the grave. Cemetery plots, opening and closing of graves are sold by the cemetery. Monuments and markers are sold by monument companies.

Low Cost Alternative

I have friends who were faced with making final arrangements for people of very limited or no means.   They used Abanks in Birmingham (322-9050) and Birmingham Casket Company in Homewood ( The people I know who used Abanks and Birmingham Casket Company were very pleased and recommended their products and services. Abanks sells concrete vaults and non sealed metal caskets and offers embalming, cremation and transfer of remains services. The prices quoted to me were very reasonable. Abanks and Birmingham Casket Company do not offer preplanning arrangements.


I have never traveled extensively, but I am aware that there are insurance products (loosely referred to as “trip insurance”) that you can purchase to insure yourself against many risks related to travel. One of the risks related to travel is the risk that you die out of state or out of country. The requirements and cost related to transporting remains can be substantial. There is an insurance product loosely termed “repatriation of remains” coverage that covers this risk. In some cases, there is only one (single) premium that covers the remainder of the policyholder’s life. I was quoted $449.00 single premium for my life for this coverage. Since I do not plan to move out of state or travel extensively, I did not purchase this coverage. But if I ever do move out of state or decide to take a trip abroad, I will purchase the coverage at that time.


Because prices and other terms fluctuate over time, I have elected to not provide detailed information but rather mention options that you can purse should you ever decide to do so.