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I’m Sorry to Hear Introduces the New Funerals360 Website

February 27, 2017

I’m Sorry to Hear is excited to introduce you to the all new Funerals360. Funerals360 (www.funerals360.com) is the first end-to-end online funeral planning platform where consumers can plan a funeral in advance, at the time of need, or even share funeral details and memorialize the loss of a loved one.

After over 4 years of providing consumers education on funeral related topics and helping them find local funeral providers through ImSorryToHear.com, Funerals360 is the next generation website which encompasses all the same great material consumers have come to love at I’m Sorry to Hear, but in a modern, mobile-friendly website.

Funerals360 features an all new mobile-friendly design and a full reorganization of content to make it easier for site users to find the information that is most meaningful to them.

New at Funerals360 is an interactive Funeral Planning Checklist that can be  saved, edited, and shared with the “planning team.”

Our funeral Vendor Marketplace is larger than ever with coast-to-coast coverage and reviews on local businesses and non-profits including: funeral homes, florists, cemeteries, headstones and monuments, home funeral guides and educators, death doulas, Funeral Consumers Alliances, eye, organ, and body donation organizations, and many more to come.

Visitors can contact Vendors directly through a new Inquiry feature, making it easier to get information directly from the vendors of their choice.

A new Funeral Announcement tool allows members to create a funeral announcement that includes funeral details, making it easy to share critical information with their friends and family via email and social networks.

No matter where you are in the funeral planning cycle, Funerals360 has the tools, information, and resources you need to successfully plan a funeral.

All existing registered members and vendor accounts have been migrated to Funerals360. Existing I’m Sorry to Hear users can access their new Funerals360 account by resetting their password.

Over the coming months we will be redirecting all of our members from I’m Sorry to Hear.com to Funerals360 which will be the primary website moving forward.

Jake Koltun is seen in a photo provided to CBS Denver station KCNC-TV.

Heritage Cremation Provider Accused of Being the Ultimate Scam

Via CBS News Denver – February 10, 2017

DENVER — As Lisa Koltun quietly thumbed through precious photos of her son Jake, she couldn’t help but remember how his 2015 death on a Colorado ski slope was made far worse by the treatment she received after he died, CBS Denver station KCNC-TV reports.

“That’s my boy,” she murmured softly as she looked through a photo album. “He had so many friends.”

Jake Koltun, 22, died at Breckenridge on his last run of the day. Things were only about to get worse for his mother as she connected with Heritage Cremation Provider, which purported to be a local, trusted cremation service in Boulder that could handle Jake’s remains.

“It was just a nightmare,” said Lisa Koltun.

She is not alone in that assessment. A KCNC-TV investigation found that the company paid to handle Jake Koltun’s arrangements has been the subject of numerous consumer complaints in Colorado and across the country, has been officially sanctioned by several states for shoddy service, and is essentially a web-based marketing company that collects upfront payments and fees from grieving families and then subcontracts actual services out to local funeral homes. The company acts as a middle man or body broker and is based in Florida.

After Jake Koltun’s death, his mother asked her friend David Williams to handle cremation arrangements, which is what Jake wanted in the event of his death. Williams did an internet search of cremation services in Boulder, which is where Jake had been living as he attended the University of Colorado. A website immediately popped up for Heritage Cremation Provider, which said it provided “trusted cremation services in Boulder” and said it was “family-owned and operated for over two decades. Compassionate community service close to home.”

“I trusted their website,” said Williams. “They stated clearly in their advertising that they were a locally owned in Boulder family-run business.”

Based on the local appearance, Williams contracted with Heritage to have Jake’s body cremated. The problems began immediately. On the first invoice Heritage sent to Williams, the company misspelled Jake’s last name as “Kolton.” On a follow-up invoice, the company said the deceased was “The William family,” apparently confusing David Williams as being dead. On another invoice sent to Williams, the bill was for another dead person – Sarah White. And on multiple invoices the company asked for additional fees for an oversize container for Jake, even though he only weighed about 165 pounds and was about 6-foot-2.

“It’s so dishonest,” said Williams. “It’s the ultimate scam.”

They aren’t the only ones who feel that way. In 2015, five complaints were filed against Heritage Cremation Provider with the state of Colorado. One of those was from the family of Jake Koltun. But two years later, the state agency that deals with funeral complaints says none of those investigations have been completed and the company has no disciplines on its state record.

Three of the complaints were filed in June 2015, another was filed in September 2015, and the fifth was filed in December 2015.

Lee Rasizer, a spokesperson for Colorado’s Office of Funeral Homes and Crematory Registration told KCNC-TV, “This is a complex case with numerous complainants from multiple jurisdictions, many outside of Colorado. Ensuring that the investigation is thorough, complete and ultimately ensures the public is protected takes due diligence and time. Information continues to be submitted, and is proving helpful in furthering that overall objective. The methodical nature of the investigation takes precedence over any timelines. All avenues are being explored.”

Rasizer said the agency would not appear on camera to further explain why three investigations of Heritage have now spanned 20 months with no resolution. Complaints have also been filed against the company in Colorado in 2016.

Many of the complaints revolve around the fact that Heritage Cremation is little more than a marketing company which does not do any of the actual transportation or cremation work itself.

DFS Memorials, a low-cost network of cremation services, wrote that Heritage Cremation Provider “give the appearance of being a local company when in fact they are just acting as ‘middle men.’”

In North Carolina last year, the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service filed an injunction against Heritage Cremation Provider and informed crematory managers throughout the state that performing a cremation for the company “would constitute aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of funeral service.”

In Oregon in 2014, the state mortuary and cemetery board found the company’s online advertising “constitutes a sales presentation or practice that conceals or misstates a material fact” and ordered a fine of $10,000.

The Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado has also warned consumers about the company. The BBB gives Heritage a D- grade saying there were 10 complaints processed against the company in a 12-month period.

For the family of Jake Koltun, the ultimate insult came when they traveled to Boulder to retrieve his ashes. Believing the company was local and had an office in Boulder, the family said when they arrived Heritage gave them the runaround, only later to discover the company didn’t actually have a Boulder office.

When they pressed the company by phone to get Jake’s cremains, David Williams said a representative of the company told him, “They had no idea where Jake’s body was.” Lisa Koltun said, “They lost track of him for a week. It’s bad enough he is gone and I don’t get to see him again, but to not know where he was in that time period is completely unacceptable.”

Lisa Koltun said she eventually received her son’s ashes after numerous contacts with the company.

Katrina Goldsmith, who identified herself as a Colorado-based manager for Heritage Cremation Provider, told KCNC-TV by phone, “I don’t think there’s a story here. When people are grieving things get put in a different light. We do service many families, there’s always sometimes where we’re not perfect.”

She said she felt badly for Jake’s family but said it was “utterly ridiculous” for the family to think Jake’s body was temporarily lost. Goldsmith declined to meet with KCNC-TV in person, declined to agree to an on-camera interview, and said she did not want to review records of what occurred in the Koltun case. She cut off the phone conversation without answering most questions. Owners of the company never responded to KCNC-TV’s repeated requests for information and comment.

Lisa Koltun is answering questions. She said, “I can’t stand the thought of another parent going through this.”

David Williams, the family friend who first found Heritage Cremation and contracted with them, said the web-based company is “the ultimate scam. They are not the most trusted name in the funeral home business in any town in the United States.”

Colorado’s Office of Funeral Homes and Crematory Registration is asking anyone else with complaints about Heritage Cremation Provider to get in touch with the state agency.

See Original Article at CBS News Denver

Cemetery, Vermont, USA

Know Your Options: Burials

A burial is defined as an act or ceremony of burying a dead person or object in a grave, often synonymous with “interment,” the placing of human remains in an underground enclosure. In the funeral industry, a burial is a means of final disposition that ends with burial in the ground or in a crypt in a mausoleum.

Erik Jan Leunsink }Unsplash|

Erik Jan Leunsink }Unsplash|

Once the most prevalent type of funeral arrangement in the U.S., now only 50% of the population elects for burial. Adding to this trend are changing religious views as some religions have begun loosening their view on cremation vs. burial. Others are looking for simpler means of final disposition.

Burial Options

Deciding on burial as a means of disposition is just the start of decisions. As consumer funeral preferences change, so has the rise of more diverse burial options being offered. There are a plethora of choices you can make – from an in-ground or above ground funeral to a green and natural burial or home burial.

Ground Burial

In-ground burials typically involve a plot for which to inter the deceased, a casket, and vault or grave-liner (as required by the cemetery). Often a plot is marked by a memorial tribute such as a headstone or grave-marker of some sort.

Above Ground Burial

Types of Mausoleums |Everplans|

Types of Mausoleums |Everplans|

A burial that occurs above ground involves the use of a crypt in a mausoleum which can be either communal or private. A public, or community mausoleum is a building that provides space for the interment of multiple individuals and families. A crypt may house one person or two, similar to an in-ground grave.

Private mausoleums are the ultimate above ground interment option. Often built to resemble a small house, it ensures maximum privacy, prestige and personalization as well as the ability to be laid to rest alongside your family and loved ones.

Green or Natural Burial

A Handmade Pine Coffin from DBCWW on Amazon is considered a green/natural burial casket and is quite affordable.

Hand made pine coffins are biodegradable, affordable and available for purchase on Amazon.com

Green burials are burials carried out in a way that creates the least negative impact to our environment. This includes using a biodegradable casket or shroud, foregoing embalming, and finding space that does not require the use of vaults or grave liners. All of these choices allow a more natural decomposition of the interred body.

Green and natural burials seek to cause the least damage as possible by aiding in the conservation of natural resources, reducing carbon emissions that may be released with cremation, protection of worker health from embalming toxins, and the restoration and preservation of natural habitats.

Home Burial

The burial of a deceased individual on private property is referred to as a home burial. Most common in rural areas, home burials offer a more economical, convenient and intimate alternative to a traditional burial. It is legal to bury your loved ones on private property in rural and semi-rural areas in nearly every state. Municipality approval, legal mandates and re-sale value of the property are some aspects of home burial that may need to be considered. For more information regarding your specific state, see our state by state end of life guides.

Burial Services

After you have decided the sort of burial you want, you may have to decide what sort of services you’d like to have. Below you can find some of your service options.

Home Funeral

Home funerals, or family-led funerals, encourage a family to take control of the funeral process and care for their own loved one in the hours and days following their death.

A home funeral may consist of a few hours to a few days of keeping the body home to care for your loved one, prepare them for burial (or cremation), and allow friends and family to stop in and say one last goodbye. It may also involve transporting the body to the cemetery in the family van or truck bed or hearse.

Home funerals may include engaging professionals, clergy and funeral directors among them, or more commonly be handled exclusively by family, friends, neighbors.”

Immediate Burial

The simplest form of burial, an Immediate Burial is the most cost-effective choice. It involves no service, no embalming, and the body is buried shortly after death and in a simple, untreated container. No viewing or visitation is involved though a memorial service may be held at the grave-site or anywhere else a family wishes.

Burial with Graveside Service

Graveside services can follow a traditional funeral or immediate burial, preceed a memorial service, or be a stand-alone event held at a grave-site, mausoleum or crypt. Common among some religious groups, such as with Judaism or Islam, burial with a graveside service is, in it’s simplest form, is an immediate burial where the family and friends may be present for the interment.

Some funeral homes may allow family to be present as part of the cost of an immediate burial and others may allow a family to add a graveside service to the cost of a burial. As such, this type of service may be slightly more expensive than an immediate burial. Also keep in mind grave-site preparation fees for things like opening & closing the grave, officiant fees for a committal service (if desired), and perpetual fees for landscaping and keeping up the cemetery grounds.

Burial with Funeral Service

Held at a church, funeral home, or elsewhere, a funeral service memorializes the deceased with their body present. Without a viewing, embalming is not necessary, which can save you from additional fees, though the use of a funeral home may raise the costs.

Full Service Funeral

Often referred to as a “traditional” burial, full service burials include the works; a viewing the night before or day of, a funeral service, procession to the cemetery, and often a short graveside or committal service before a ground burial or placement in a crypt. If a public viewing is had, funeral homes may require a body to be embalmed and dressed. This, in addition to hearse rental, funeral service, plot, casket and committal makes it the most expensive funeral and burial option.

Burial and Funeral Terms to Know

Committal Service

A committal service is the final portion of the funeral process when the casket is lowered into the ground as final words, prayers and wishes are spoken.


A designated section of land, a plot is a space within a cemetery for rights of interment which can be purchased. Above and below ground burials often have the choice of single or double plots, also known as companion plots. Companion plots are burial ground with space for the remains of two individuals and are sold either side-by-side or stacked. Family plots are another option in which a designated area can be purchased for use by members of a family.

Click here for a full Glossary for Funeral & Cemetery Terms.


The Women Who Love Death

Young women are more paranoid about their own demise than ever before. Enter “death positivity,” a new female-driven trend aimed at turning that fear on its head.

About a dozen people are gathered at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York for its monthly death café, an event designed to prompt discussions about, as you may have guessed, death. We’re sitting in the library at a dark wood table topped with two emerald green banker’s lamps. What I see when I look around: specimen jars, wax figurines, anatomy prints, preserved butterflies, books, religious artwork, and a set of human teeth displayed in a black case like a pair of earrings at Claire’s. For two hours, we chat about our own experiences with death, learn about alternative funerals and “green” burials, and nod at phrases like “closure is a myth” and “to talk about death is to appreciate life” while eating shortbread cookies.


“It’s refreshing,” Gianina Galatro, a 26-year-old media planner, says of attending her fourth death café today. “Bring up death in a random room, and it’s like, ‘Wow, way to bring down the mood.’ But whenever I leave a death café, I feel so happy.”

The leading women in death: Sarah Troop (left), Megan Rosenbloom (middle), Caitlin Doughty (right) photo: Scott Troyan

That’s the thing about “death positivity”—it’s not about wanting to die, looking forward to dying, or fantasizing when and where and how it’ll happen. It’s about feeling better about death in order to feel better about living. It’s about, in a way, alleviating the I’m-sure-something-horrible-is-going-to-happen-to-me paranoia that grips so many young women these days.

In fact, the “death positivity” movement is being led by women—female morticians, writers, academics, and artists—as an answer. Their cause has evolved over the last few years from online communities to annual events to, now, an entire museum.

Caitlin Doughty, 32, was there at the beginning. In fact, she’s pretty much the mother of the whole thing. (The New York Times bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, she’s credited with coining the term “death positivity” and for spurring the phenomenon of more open conversations about dying with her popular YouTube series Ask a Mortician.) “It’s not, ‘Oh, your dad died? Just be positive about it. It’s okay!'” she explains of the movement’s goal. “It’s realizing the fact that we’re all going to die is our greatest cultural force. It affects our desire to achieve, have children, get married. It affects everything we do.”

Not that Millennials need reminding that death looms large around every possible corner.

Maybe it’s all the apps and fitness trackers that tell us exactly how alive we are at any given moment. Or the constant stream of new studies revealing that everything we love will give us cancer. Or the collective mourning on social media that immediately follows a celebrity death. Or the incessant mass shootings and Reddit threads that follow them. Or the chilling headlines about young women being raped and murdered while out on a jog, while leaving the office, while on vacation.

For all these reasons and then some, young women are experiencing death anxiety more than ever. In data pulled for Marie Claire by OkCupid.com earlier this spring, only 28 percent of male users answered yes to the question: “Have you created a ‘Things To Do Before I Die’ list?” That’s nearly half the percentage of female users who answered the question the same way (52.6 percent). Part of it, perhaps, is timing. According to a study published in 2007 by a group of University of North Florida, Jacksonville researchers, death anxiety peaks for men and women in their 20s, but for women, there’s a “secondary spike” during their 50s, which men don’t experience.

DJ Andi Harriman spinning at the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s fundraising gala after-party photo: Eric Ogden

There’s also this: Today we don’t engage with death in the way we might if we time-traveled back to a period before vaccines and the marvels of modern medicine. Before you could pick up protein at Whole Foods without raising and slaughtering it yourself. Before you visited dying loved ones at a sterile hospital rather than tending to them at home.

Without a regular face-to-face relationship with death, we’ve developed an aversion to the subject entirely.

But, it turns out, death can be sort of fun.

At the after-party for the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s annual fundraising gala this past April, guests—older artistic types who look like cooler versions of your parents, and hipster-y 20-to-30 somethings with beards and bangs and lots of black—chatted with each other between trips to the bar about near-death experiences and how they’d like to die. There were tarot card readings. An insect petting zoo. And even a palm reader, who held her iPhone over my two palms in the dimly lit space to tell me I’ll find true love later in life, not when I’m old-old but when I’m middle aged. Bad news for my boyfriend, who pays for the reading when I learn she’s cash-only. The good news, though, is that I’ll avoid certain death for at least another two decades. “It’s the funnest place I’ve ever been,” says Tonya Hurley, 45, New York Times bestselling author behind the ghostgirl fiction series and founding board member of the museum, “being surrounded by all this death!”

For the rest of us who may not have warmed up to the topic quite yet, part of our uneasiness, says Bri Barton, a 27-year-old artist in Philadelphia, is based on certain societal values. “Our culture is youth- and growth-focused,” she says. “Anything that reminds of us of decay or mortality terrifies us.” Last November, Barton self-published an all-ages coloring book titled Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life!, the first 1,000 printing of which sold out in four months. The project began as a way of coping with a “string of sudden deaths” when Barton lost six loved ones in an eight-month period. “All of these people are dying around me and all I wanted to do was talk about it,” she says. “But every time I mentioned ‘this person died,’ everyone froze and no one knew what to say next. And it was just like, dude, there’s one thing that happens to all of us. We have to be able to talk about it.”

People do talk about it in small (but growing) circles of similar-minded people. Take Death Salon, the discussions, panels, performances, even parties that make up the events arm of Doughty’s non-profit Order of the Good Death. The group’s first-ever event took place in October 2013 at L.A. rock venue Bootleg Theater—and the turnout shocked organizers. “No one knew our name, and we didn’t do a ton of promotion, but when we showed up it was sold out,” says Megan Rosenbloom, 34, co-founder and director of Death Salon and a medical librarian at the University of Southern California. “We didn’t have any seats because it’s a rock club, but people sat on the floor because they wanted to watch everything to the end. We were like, Wow, okay, something is happening here.” There have been five events since (in London, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Houston, and another in L.A., at the Getty Villa).


Rosenbloom thinks about death every day—which, to her, is a good thing. “There are a lot of studies that say people who think about death more are actually happier because humans are wired to value things that are perceived as finite,” she says. And she’s gained a sense of preparedness for the inevitable losses to come. Earlier this year, her experience at Death Salons helped Rosenbloom cope with an unexpected death in her family, from making funeral arrangements (pro tip: you don’t need to embalm a body before it’s cremated, something funeral directors often fail to explain before charging you for the unnecessary expense) to what not to say to grieving family members (“she’s in a better place” and “everything happens for a reason” = particular pain points). Sometimes you have to get comfortable with the idea of a crisis before it’s staring you in the face.


The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y. photo: Eric Ogden

Like on a recent Saturday afternoon inside the basement of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, where everyone—11 women and one man seemingly plucked from the pages of an Urban Outfitters catalog—is hunched over their plates in concentration. Somewhere else, this could be brunch. But there are no mimosas here. Just tiny dead white mice being skinned.

Divya Anantharaman, 32, stands in the center of the room encouraging the attendees to dive in, her purple ombre hued hair in a messy bun. For the former Pratt Institute design student, taxidermy was a hobby until three years ago when she quit her freelance fashion work and turned the practice into her full-time job; now she teaches an increasingly popular sustainably-sourced taxidermy workshop in Brooklyn.


Fellow taxidermist Katie Innamorato, 26, who has the long wavy brunette locks and casual pitch-black style of an off-duty metal-band frontwoman, theorizes about the surging interest in their artform: “It’s another way for people to relate back to nature and to death.” Both women teach regularly sold-out classes, which cost between $100 and $450, in cities like L.A., Portland, Detroit, and Atlanta, with women, mostly in the 20s through 40s, making up the majority of their students. This month, Anantharaman and Innamorato released a part how-to, part history book on the subject, Stuffed Animals.

Katrina Spade, founder and executive director of the Urban Death Project in Seattle photo: Rania Spade

The fact that women are both driving and consuming the death positivity trend is not exactly coincidental. The women in death movement is actually a resurgence. “Typically death care [tending to the dying, making arrangements for funerals and wakes, preparing the body for burial] was considered feminine work,” says Sarah Troop, 41, curator at the Lindsey Museum Gallery in central California and executive director of the Order of the Good Death. “That was taken out of our hands and professionalized by men who said, ‘This is not something you can do, there’s science here, it’s a business, this is not a place for you.’

“Not today, and not anymore. Just look at mortuary science schools, Troop says, where classes are now “overwhelmingly comprised of female students.” (More than 60 percent of mortuary school students are female, according to National Funeral Directors Association.) Or outside the classroom where entrepreneurial women like Katrina Spade, the founder and executive director of the Urban Death Project in Seattle, W.A., are finding ways to decompose dead bodies at a faster-than-normal pace to turn them into soil for use in green spaces.

Ask any woman in the movement and she’ll tell you that constantly thinking about death is one of the best things that ever happened to her. Being reminded that we’re “mortal creatures,” as Doughty puts it, forces a sort of clarity about not sweating the small stuff. “It makes you focus on and appreciate the moments you have,” Spade says.

A sense of humor helps, too. “I’ve always been a little afraid of dying,” Spade admits, “but now when I get on a plane, I’m like, I can’t die. I’m going to a meeting about the Urban Death Project. It’d be too ironic.

Originally published by  Oct 31, 2016 in Marie Claire.

Pablo Garcia Saldana

Everything You Need to Know About Death Certificates

When a loved one dies, you’ll need to order death certificates to submit to certain agencies to shut down accounts or collect benefits. But how many death certificates should you order? Below you’ll learn about the purpose of death certificates, typical uses, how to order them, and how many death certificates you should order.


Ashley Bats|Unsplash|

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is an official government issued document that states the date, time, location and cause of death. Certificates were originally made and kept by churches, until 1910 when standardized records became mandated by law. In addition to verifying the cause of someone’s death, death certificates are used to track changes in society and mortality trends.

Death certificates must be completed by a medical practitioner (doctor, hospice nurse, medical examiner, coroner, etc.) and funeral director, licensed burial agent, or person acting as such (i.e. family member).

Alan Crawford, Getty Images

The medical practitioner completes questions relating to the cause and manner of death, whether an autopsy was performed, if tobacco use contributed to the death, etc.

The funeral director, agent or person acting as such, will need the following information about the deceased:

Full name

Social security number

Date of birth

Place of birth

Address at the time of death

Marital status

Surviving spouse’s name

Whether they served in the armed forces

Father and mother’s name (maiden included)

Place of death

Highest level of education


Usual occupation and industry/business

In most states, death certificates are filed using the Electronic Death Registration Systems, or EDRS. In other areas, death certificates are filed with the registrar and county health department. While it varies state by state, typically deaths must be reported to the local health department within 72 hours of the death and to the state within five to seven days.

Why do I need to get death certificates?

Death certificates are needed for a plethora of reasons including to close accounts, claim benefits, and file taxes. For legal matters, an official certificate is needed while other institutions only require a copy.

Generally needs a copy:
  • Social security
  • Banks
  • Credit cards
  • Utilities and phone companies
Likely requires an original:
  • Pensions
  • Military benefits
  • Property transfer (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
  • Insurance
  • 401Ks and stocks (if managed by stock broker, only one copy needed)
  • Selling an estate
  • Property claims
  • Closing a business
  • Future marriages


Where can I get a death certificate?

If you are using a funeral home, ordering them from the funeral director is the easiest way. If you need to order them yourself, you can get them from the county or state vital records office.

To find the state vital records office, click on the relevant state link here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm

In some states, you can order death certificates through VitalChek, a website that manages records for many government agencies. They charge a $5-$15 fee per order.


Who can order a certified copy of death certificates?

Certified copies are generally only available to immediate family members, executors, and those who can prove that they have a direct financial interest in the estate. Informational copies are generally available to anyone who requests them.

How many death certificates should you order?

Consider the number of different institutions that might need one; each bank, investment company, etc. and for each property to be transferred; house, boat, etc. A person a modest means may only need three, while a wealthier person could need 10 or more.

How much do death certificates cost?

The fees for death certificates are set by the state or county. Generally the first copy of a death certificate is more than additional copies. You can expect to pay $10 -$25 for the first certified copy. The local registrar or funeral director will be able to tell you how much a death certificate costs.

Whether you are stopping into your local county or city registrar office or ordering online, copies can be paid for with credit card or check, but not with cash. Tip: keep your receipts, as fees for death certificates can sometimes be reimbursed from the estate if agreed upon with the executor.

Adrian Morgan_Unsplash

Funeral Customs & Traditions: The Surprising History Behind Gravestones

“Shhh,” I’d whisper to my little brother, index finger pressed tightly to my lips, “Don’t make any noise or you’ll wake the dead.” We’d stare out the window, holding our breath, as our car passed yet another cemetery. Watching in anticipation as the granite gravestones rushed past in a grey blur, we kept a lookout for any sign of movement among the sculptures. 

Simon Hattinga Verschure |Unsplash|

As time passes beliefs and customs, formerly thought to be written in stone, begin to change and fade taking on new meaning and new purpose. The way we care for our loved ones after their death holds significant sociological and anthropological meaning and the history behind it can be surprising. What was an endearing childhood memory of a generation is, in fact, linked to thousands of years of tradition and superstition. This is the history behind gravestones and the origin of modern funeral customs and traditions.

In the stone age, when humans were still nomadic in nature, the dead would be buried and a great stone or boulder rolled atop the grave. These stones were called gravestones and their purpose was to prevent the deceased from rising after death, a fear still prevalent in modern society. These gravestones, and the superstition guiding their use, persisted as tribes began settling down. But as time wore on the boulders and stones were replaced with more sophisticated grave markers called “dolmens.” The most distinguished grouping of dolmens dates back over 2,000 BC is known by the moniker “Stonehenge.” Located in Wiltshire, England, the purpose of the Stonehenge was realized in early 2008 by a team of archaeologists supported by the National Geographic’s Committee for Research & Exploration. A majority of the world’s wonders, from the pyramids in Egypt to the 5,000 year old stone age cemetery that is the Stonehenge, are an embodiment of our relationship with death and loss.

Hith Stonehenge |History.com|

Ancient Customs

As the social structure of the human race became more sedentary, burial methods driven by fear and seeped with superstition transformed into a desire to remember and honor the dead.

Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian cultures believed the after-world existed within the Earth and so their mummified loved ones were buried within the ground along with their tools of trade and any valuables to aid their passage. It was believed when an ancestor was forgotten, they ceased to exist, and although the after-world of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was believed to be a dark shadowy place, non-existence was considered far worse than death. Tombs and gigantic pyramids were erected in a Pharaoh’s name and image, while those of common birth were buried close to the home with graves tended to regularly. Stones were carved into the deceased’s likeness would be placed atop a “mastaba,” meaning ‘bench’, to preserve their memory.

In ancient Greece, remembrance of the dead was considered akin to civic-duty, each individual responsible for the honor of their ancestors. They too believed the afterlife took place in the Earth and their dead were buried in tombs and graves covered in marble and stone. Although different states observed different burial rites, each considered crucial to their loved one’s passage to the after-world, preserving the memory of your ancestor was considered most important. Stone statues were carved in the likeness of the dead and placed above the burial site and in some states, children were named after their grandparents.

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In ancient China and the dynasties that follow, burial practices dictated that the dead be entombed with their favorite and most valuable possessions for use in the afterlife. The first emperor of China and founder of the Qing dynasty, Qing Shi Huangti, was buried along with over 6,000 terracotta soldiers and 40,000 bronze swords protecting his tomb, said to have 100 rivers of mercury, towers replicating the after-world and palaces containing rare objects from all over the world (Jane Portal and Qingbo Duan, The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army). Those of common birth were buried in burial mounds covered with stone and burial shrines.

Customs of the Dark Ages

With the introduction of Christianity by the Romans, along with Purgatory and Hell, during the dark ages, superstition and religion began to transform burial customs once more. As Europe was subjected to the plight of constant war and plague, funeral and burial customs changed to match. Burial grounds were moved from the home to roadside lots, and although cremation was popular for a time, increased population and decreased lifespans called for a more rushed internment.

Instead of pleasantries, funerals in the Dark Ages were solemn and quick events. Scenes of death and despair were everywhere; Gothic skulls, cherubs and skeletons were painted upon churches and carved onto headstones with the purpose of scaring away the living . Those who could not afford a headstone used wooden, iron, or brass crosses to mark their grave and the deceased were buried in a wooden coffin if wealthy enough, or wrapped in a shroud. As the plagues swept through Europe, cemeteries were filled to the brim so that walls had to be built around them to retain the soil. The stench and terrifying images peppered around the churches and cemeteries were effective in keeping the living separate from the dead. Loved ones were photographed after their passing in an effort to memorialize them before burial.

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The Victorian era marked the start of the modern funeral trade, when private cemeteries were erected and carpenters found profit in creating elaborate grave markers, and undertaking the elaborate procession that funerals became, to appease their wealthy patrons. Wooden and iron grave markers became crosses, statues, and elaborate monuments carved in stone.

When the study of anatomy became popular in Victorian Europe, unbeknownst to the general public, resurrection men, people hired to disinter graves and steal the bodies for dissection, began raiding graves. As a result, missing bodies gave way to suspicious lore prompting families to hold “wakes” for the dead, where they would stand vigil in the night to look for movement. Bells were placed inside coffins or strung from the coffin to the surface in case of premature burial. Less wealthy individuals would place flowers at a grave or line the perimeter with small stones to mark any disturbances.

Modern Customs

Today, cemeteries are a plethora of combined rituals and practices which stem from thousands of years of beliefs and tradition. Gravestones, once giant boulders rolled a top a grave, are now slabs of granite, marble and stone placed upright at the head of a grave. Mausoleums and vaults originated to combat strides made in science, and statues were meant to impress. Even the type of inscription can be an indicator of the social climate at the time of death. Modern practices are a combination of our combined history; whether you are cremated or embalmed, buried or entombed, even the type of stone you choose for your headstone and whether you leave flowers at a grave has historical meaning.

The Edmonds Cemetery |Lynnwoodtoday.com|

From the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, the way we care for our dead has been changing. Influenced by our social, political and religious beliefs throughout time, where and how we bury our dead has always been a mirror image of how we view the living. Today’s youths no longer avoid cemeteries as society would have dictated a mere twenty years ago. Instead, they seek them out in hopes of catching a wild Geodude or to hit a Pokestop. The evolution of tradition and custom is not only prevalent in our every day lives, but also after our death. Modern cemeteries have been thrust into the path of the digital movement, with funeral homes all over the country making the transition online. Who knows what our cemeteries might look like in one hundred years.

For more information on Funeral Customs and Traditions, funeral planning checklists and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.


Estate Planning: When We Leave Pets Behind

Since 1947, when the term ‘nuclear family,’ was first popularized, house-pets have been considered a crucial part of the basic social unit in America.

There are over 70 million cats and over 70 million dogs occupying over 30% of American households. That is more than enough furry friends to stretch around the Earth, nose to tail, more than twice. Yet despite their common presence within our homes, house pets are the most overlooked when their owner falls ill or passes away. It is not uncommon for family members or respective authorities to happen upon a house pet forgotten in the deceased’s home days, sometimes weeks, following their death. Which brings the question to mind:

What can you do if it looks like you’ll be leaving your furry (or scaly) friend behind?

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The average cat and dog live an approximate 14 years and a majority of that time they are surrounded by love in an inclusive social environment and accustomed to a certain level of care. If suddenly removed, pets can become depressed, lethargic, ill and even hostile. Without a proper plan in place, your little friend risks being sent to a shelter, or worse; euthanized. As a cherished member of your family, it is recommended you create the proper preventative measures for your pets in case something tragic befalls you by way of estate planning. From identifying potential caregivers to establishing a pet trust, I’m Sorry to Hear has made a list of options you should consider when pre-planning your pets care.


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In Case of Emergency, Find a Caregiver

From earthquake to flood to sudden accidental death, a number of events have the potential of keeping you from returning home today. So in case of an emergency, some estate planning steps should be undertaken today. The first step is to identify any potential emergency caregivers in your life. This should be someone with experience caring for pets, someone your pet has met before, or someone you know who has pets of their own.

Once you have drafted a list of multiple people, get in contact with them and discuss it in full. You will need to secure multiple possible caregivers for various types of situations. For example:

1. Emergency or Temporary Caregiver

If you get into a car accident and end up in the hospital, it would be best if you set aside a spare set of house keys, list of duties and locations of food, medicine and the phone number to your veterinarian for a neighbor or family member who lives within close proximity. This will be your temporary emergency caregiver. Keep the contact information of any emergency caregivers on your person at all times should you need to contact them.


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2. Extended Caregiver or Pet Nanny

If your stay in the hospital becomes an extended one, you should make reservations for a pet nanny. This will be someone who you trust staying in your home, or bringing your pet to their home. Your pet nanny should have a detailed list of any behavioral traits, medical history, daily care instructions and behavioral guides. You should set aside money in a hidden location your pet nanny can access to help care for your pet. Thoroughly discuss any expectations and duties your emergency caregiver and pet nanny will have and make provisions for them.

3. Permanent Caregivers

When making arrangements for emergency pet care, you should also consider making formal long-term emergency arrangements. In order to do so, you will need to consult with an attorney and identify any potential pet godmothers and godfathers. These are the people who will be responsible for permanently caring for your pet should you pass away, and making a will or trust will ensure your pet is properly provided for. A pet godmother or godfather should be someone with financial and emotional means necessary to give long term care.


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There are a variety of legally binding agreements you can make with your pet godmother or godfather including a Will, a Trust, and a Pet Protection Agreement.


While a will is the most common, leaving a substantial sum of money for the care of your pet via a will runs the risk of being contested by a relative or heir.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust, whether honorary, traditional, or life, or Pet Protection Agreement are the best route to go if you have a young and healthy pet.

Of the 50 states in America, all states except Minnesota recognize pet trusts and allow pet owners to set aside money to help care for a pet and compensate caregivers for their work, though some limits apply. A trust in most states is either limited in the amount of funds, life of pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Unlike a will, which might take months or even years to come into effect, trusts can be accessed immediately and keeps the control of money separate from care provided, ensuring their adherence. They cannot be contested and are effective during the owner’s life as well as after their death.

Pet Protection Agreements

In case you choose to pursue something less formal, a Pet Protection Agreement can be made. A Pet Protection Agreement is a legally binding document that a paralegal, trustee, investment advisor or even an accountant can help you complete. Pet Protection Agreements are valid immediately after signing, regulate the flow of money and guarantees the care of your beloved pet.


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It’s About Time to Retire

Whether you choose to make a will, trust , or Pet Protection Agreement, it is important you take proper care in choosing your care givers. Any formal documents made should be copied and given to all relevant parties as soon as they are made. In instances where no proper caregiver can be found, there are countless organizations that specialize in the long-term care of household pets. Pet retirement homes and sanctuaries exist to oversee the estate planning and care for pets after their owner’s death. If considering choosing a pet retirement home or sanctuary, it is imperative you visit their facility to get a feel for the conditions, policies and procedures they  adhere to, to see if they would be the right fit for you and your pet.

By pre-planning and managing your estate, pets included, you are guaranteeing the safety and care of your pet and friend should they out live you. Because we understand that a pet is very much a part of the family and should be treated as such, we recommend you make the details involving their care as detailed as you would if it were a small child you were leaving behind as opposed to a cat, dog, rabbit or ferret.


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For more information on Paying for a Funeral, funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.