Preplanning is a gift for your loved ones

Funeral insurance

Even though it’s inevitable for all of us, many of us don’t like talking about death. So talking about our wishes for funeral or cremation arrangements is an uncomfortable subject for not only us, but our families as well.

But, it’s important to have plans in place – especially if there are things you very much want for your funeral or cremation, burial or disposal of your cremains. The only way you can be comfortable that your wishes are carried out is through preplanning.

Preplanning doesn’t necessarily mean prepaying. If you simply want to have your final arrangements known in advance – down to the type of ceremony and casket – you can do that without paying a dime. Putting your wishes in writing is the best way to make sure there is no confusion about your intentions at the time of your death.

As always, make your loved ones aware that you have put your wishes in writing and let them know where they can find that information. A good place to put it is with all of the other important documents you should prepare before you die.

If you do decide to prepay for your funeral or cremation expenses, there are a few ways you can do it.


Preneed Funeral Insurance

Preneed funeral insurance is usually tied to a specific funeral home, crematorium or funeral service provider. Preneed funeral insurance is a type of whole life insurance, that is, a policy that remains in force throughout the insured’s life. It accumulates cash value and has a built-in growth rate. Our preneed funeral insurance locks in your future costs at today’s prices – but be aware that not all funeral home policies do.

The first step is to choose a provider. If you don’t have a specific funeral home in mind, meet with several and compare plans before making your decision on funeral insurance. All funeral homes in our area offer some sort of preplanning program and all are priced competitively.

Once you decide on the funeral home and sign a preneed contract, a preneed funeral insurance policy will be issued for the same amount as your preneed contract. We place funds in an Irrevocable Mortuary Trust account, in accordance with state law. This trust is insured and the funds gain interest, which we maintain in the account to offset future price increases.


Final expense insurance

Final expense insurance isn’t tied to a specific funeral home. You can choose – and change – your funeral home at any time. These policies also cover other final costs aside from funeral costs. The advantage of final expense insurance is that this type of policy often has lower premium payments than preneed funeral insurance policies. The down side is that these policies accumulate little or no cash value.

Final expense insurance can either be whole life insurance or it can be term (temporary) life insurance that provides coverage only for a specific period of time and only pays out if you die within that specific period.


A Trust

You can set up your own burial trust fund, known as a “Payable on Death” trust. It’s done at a financial institution – bank or credit union – and is simply a bank account. It earns interest and is very flexible: You can close the account, change banks or change the beneficiary at any time. Upon your death, it is paid out to the beneficiary, you named, who then uses the money to pay for your funeral expenses.

However you decide to do it, preplanning ensures that all of your final wishes will be fulfilled. When you prepay it provides you and your family additional peace of mind in knowing that expenses will be covered. It’s the best gift you can leave your loved ones.

This is an overview of the alternatives available. Be sure to talk to your funeral home, lawyer and/or tax advisor before entering into a contract.

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Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium offers preplanning and payment options to fit your needs. To get more information, click here.


Family-owned funeral homes are part of your community

Historic family photos

Trust is not something you build overnight. That’s why, when you’re looking for a funeral home, you want to find one that has a long history of trust; that’s what you’ll find with a family-owned funeral home.

In the 1990s, the funeral home industry saw big conglomerates buy up many smaller funeral homes. Don’t be fooled: While a funeral home may have been in your community for years under the same name, that funeral home could have sold out to a large conglomerate with a focus on little more than profit.

When it comes to funeral and cremation planning, it’s important to know who you’re dealing with. Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium has been owned and operated by the Phaneuf family for four generations in our community. We are one of the oldest continually-owned family funeral homes in New Hampshire and we are deeply committed to supporting our communities, as well as local charities and nonprofit organizations in the communities we serve.

Here are 10 good reasons to choose a family-owned funeral home:

  1. We are locally owned and operated, and are independent.
  2. We have one goal: to make our business the best it can be for you and your loved ones.
  3. We are not beholden to shareholders, governed by corporate mandates or driven by solely by profit.
  4. Many family-owned funeral homes have been in business for generations, so they have built a legacy of trust in the community.
  5. You can feel comfortable knowing that after the funeral is over, our staff is still in the community and will be there for our clients.
  6. Our staff has a personal relationship with their community; they live in the area and are often very active in the communities they serve.
  7. Family-owned funeral homes contribute to the local economy.
  8. Much of the staff is local and often graduates of local colleges.
  9. We are aware of, and appreciate local customs and understand the expectations of our clients.
  10. We are always a good neighbor – not because we have to be, but because we care about our community.

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Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium has been serving the public since 1906. We are the largest provider of funeral services in the state, and we operate three full-service funeral homes, two crematories, two non-denominational chapels, and a cremation society. To request a free brochure and planning guide, click here.

Death certificates and Social Security fraud

Social Security Card

A “60 Minutes” episode recently told the story of people who had wrongly been declared dead and ended up on the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, a computerized list containing some 86 million names. As a result, these people were denied loans, couldn’t use their credit cards and couldn’t rent an apartment.

Patty Young of Mason, NH, told CNN Money that she was mistakenly declared dead due to a “keystroke error.” Even once she got the mistake fixed, someone filed a tax return in her name, likely as a result of that one keystroke.

For others, fixing the problem involves a lot of red tape and a lifetime of problems.

In another CNN Money article, one woman said “My life is still a nightmare three years later, after correcting errors with the Social Security Administration. I am disabled with no health care insurance and could not purchase my heart and blood pressure medicine.

“I can’t open a bank account in my name, and I couldn’t renew my driver’s license until I had someone come into the police station and vouch for me. I can’t even get a full-time job to bring in money because no one will hire me once they find out I’m dead.”

This past Monday, the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the problems with the Social Security death records. At that hearing, Judy Rivers recounted her ordeal after being declared dead. She noted that while she and others have had problems convincing agencies that they are alive, at the same time, families of people who actually have died have difficulties proving that the deceased is their family member.

Fortunately, as serious as these problems are, they represent less than 1/3 of 1 percent of the Social Security Administration’s transactions. A far greater problem is when people aren’t reported dead and relatives continue to collect social security payments, or criminals get access to those social security numbers and commit tax fraud, social security fraud, and credit card fraud, costing the United States and merchants billions of dollars.

According to the Social Security Administration some 6.5 million people over the age of Social Security Administration logo112 have no death certificates on file. The Associated Press reports that there are only 42 people known to be that old in the entire world and just 13 people receiving Social Security benefits in the US who are age 112 or older.

The Death Master File is used by banks and credit agencies, federal agencies and state and local governments. Until recently, parts or all of the file have been available for sale, but Congress tightened access so that only those who are “certified” can access the full file. It’s estimated that tighter restrictions on the DMF could save taxpayers more than $700 million in fraudulent tax refunds alone over 10 years.

Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General of the U.S. Social Security Administration told “60 Minutes” that the agency now has some tools to help cut down on fraud. If an elderly person hasn’t been on Medicaid for three years, they call and see if the person is still alive; if they are over 100, “We reach out to see how they’re doing.”

While about a dozen states don’t have a statewide electronic system for filing death certificates, New Hampshire does. Here, the funeral home is required by law to file the death certificate electronically – then the Social Security Administration is automatically notified via the New Hampshire Bureau of Vital Records.

There have been times when families, for one reason or another, don’t want to provide us their loved one’s Social Security Number, saying that they will notify Social Security themselves. While most of the people are well-meaning, others may not want Social Security notified so they can continue to receive monthly Social Security or other payments.

Social security fraud is a growing problem, and while the state of New Hampshire does a good job of containing it, not every state does. For those people who commit fraud, O’Carroll has a message:

“We’re going to find you, we’re going to arrest you, and we’re going to get the money back.”

What happens to your digital assets when you die?

Computer on table with abstract pattern

Last week I talked about some of the important documents you should gather and store in a safe place so family members can easily find them when you die. Among them are any passwords for online accounts you may have. Today, let’s talk about what happens to your online accounts, specifically social networks — when you die.

It’s important to know that leaving passwords behind so loved ones can access your account may not be enough. As the Associated Press reported last year, “most company’s ‘terms of service’ agreements prohibit anyone from accessing an account that isn’t theirs.” And it may take some wrangling to cancel a loved one’s account when they die. Facebook, for instance, says that “Verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from Facebook,” while Twitter says “we can work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated.” In order to do that, the survivor must provide your death certificate, their drivers license and a signed statement.

Facebook also allows you to specify whether you want your account deleted after death or if you want a “memorialized account,” where friends and family can share memories after you die. While you can name a legacy contact who can write a pinned post, respond to condolences and post photos, that person can’t log into your account and make changes.

Because social media is relatively new, this area of law is also relatively new and many states haven’t addressed the issue yet. The Uniform Law Commission has proposed an act, Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets, that can be enacted at the state level. The act ensures account-holders retain control of their “digital property” and can plan for what happens to those accounts after their death. “Unless the account-holder instructs otherwise, legally appointed fiduciaries will have the same access to digital assets as they have always had to tangible assets, and the same duty to comply with the account-holder’s instructions.”  It has been enacted in Delaware and introduced in 17 other states. New Hampshire is not one of them.

Of course, not everyone wants their loved ones to access their social media accounts after they die. Consider whether you want others to be able to see all of your emails, private messages or your online dating profile. In that case, forego leaving the passwords and stipulate in your will that no one should have access to your online accounts, except perhaps your lawyer or someone to whom you grant power of attorney.

WebpageFX has created an infographic that provides a great visual overview of this topic that will help you understand each social media site’s policies and requirements to deactivate your accounts. To see it, click here.

Information about deactivating accounts:






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Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium opened in 1906 and is one of the oldest continually-owned family funeral homes in New Hampshire. We are the largest provider of funeral services in the state, and we operate three full-service funeral homes, two crematories, two non-denominational chapels and a cremation society. For more information, go to


Important documents to prepare before you die

End-of-life documents

Nobody wants to think about death and dying, but the fact is, death is an inevitable part of life: A gift you can give your family when you pass is to have your affairs in order so that in addition to losing a loved one, they won’t have the worry of being unable to find the necessary documents needed to carry out your final wishes.

The first step is to put all end-of-life documentation and directives in one secure place and to let your loved ones know where that documentation will be. At your death or if you are unable to make your own decisions, this will greatly help to uncomplicate an already difficult and emotional process for them.

There a number of documents you will need to get in order, but let’s start with the basics. Ask yourself these questions to determine which documents you will need to have:

What do I have and who will I leave it to?

You will need a basic will and an inventory of your assets. This way you can designate who gets your possessions (or else the state may decide) and who will have custody of any minor dependents (or else the courts may decide). A will also indicates who should be the executor of your estate.

Do I have insurance or other benefits?

Have any forms on file that summarize your benefits (such as life insurance or retirement funds) and who the beneficiaries will be.

Do I have financial assets that need to be managed?

Have a financial power of attorney document drawn up to give control of your finances to the person you wish to carry out any monetary transactions.

Who do I want to make health care decisions for me if I am unable to do it myself?

A health care proxy and a medical directive will give someone you choose the power to make medical decisions for you and to carry out any end-of-life wishes if you are unable to do that.

Who do I need to be notified if I die?

Providing your loved one with contacts – personal and professional – will help them inform people of your passing and allow them to connect with utilities and service companies – such as oil delivery – and close your accounts. Also leave information about any credit card accounts – and passwords – so your executor can cancel those accounts.  And don’t forget about social media accounts. Facebook, for instance, requires a “verified immediate family member” to request account removal.

Do I want to be buried? Cremated

Your funeral wishes should be spelled out. Considerations such as whether you want a funeral and burial, cremation, or other wishes should be readily available to family members so that your wishes are carried out.

There are many other records that you will want to gather and keep in a secure place – and of course, inform relatives or executors where they are stored. These are the basics. To get an idea of the other documents you will want to have on hand, see the Wall Street Journal article. “The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die,” and check with your lawyer or financial professional for further guidance.

10 Unique Cremation Keepsakes

Cremains tree urn
Cremation has become increasingly popular in the last two decades. The cremation rate in the U.S. has grown from 14.9% in 1985 to an estimated 44.2% in 2015, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). New Hampshire is seventh in the nation for cremations at 66.7%.

With the cremation rate steadily growing, it’s no surprise that people would look for new and different ways to handle their “cremains” and that an industry would grow up around providing people with just that.

From putting the cremains in a columbarium (a mausoleum for ashes) to having them sent into space, there are a number of surprising things you can do with your – or a loved one’s – ashes:

Make them into jewelry – Whether a pendant, bracelet, locket, or even a diamond, a small amount of ashes can be used to create a keepsake item of jewelry. Life Gem, for instance, will create a high-quality diamond from a lock of hair or cremated ashes.

Use them to grow a memorial tree – Want to go green? Bios Urn is a biodegradable urn that contains ashes, soil and a seed that will grow into a tree. Bios Urn currently offers eight tree species, but you can use any kind of seed.

Help rebuild a coral reef – The cremated remains are incorporated into an environmentally-safe cement mixture used to create artificial reef formations. Eternal Reefs will place the “urn” in a permitted ocean location that you choose.

Cremains made into a glass sculptureIncorporate them into blown-glass sculpturesRising Phoenix Glass in Ohio, will encase a small amount of cremation ashes into blown glass to create unique artwork.

Make bullets out of them – The ashes are placed in live ammunition – caliber and gauge can be specified to best reflect your loved one. Holy Smoke is a business dedicated to the ashes-to-bullets service.

Use them in a tattoo – Carry your loved one with you always – and permanently – by having his or her ashes mixed in with ink for a tattoo.

Send them off in fireworks – Several companies, including Heavens Above Fireworks, will incorporate the ashes into fireworks to send your loved one out in a spectacular burst of pyrotechnics.

Store them in a custom urn that looks like the deceased

Cremains urn in the shape of SupermanCremation Solutions offers the option of creating an urn in the likeness of the deceased. You can choose from a bust or an action-figure-like model in a variety of styles, including Indiana Jones and Superman.

Use them in paperweights – Companies such as Grateful Glass will put a small amount of cremains in layers of glass and create a one-of-a-kind keepsake through glassblowing techniques

Press them into a vinyl recordAnd Vinyly, a UK company will press ashes into a vinyl record with music of your choice. You get 30, 24-minute copies of a record, each one containing a bit of ash, for £3,000 ($4,000 USD). For the more unconventional; the website is not for the faint of heart.

And if you’re considering what to do with the ashes of a pet, most of these services are available for pets as well as their masters.

Crematorium’s ads miss the mark

Crematorium ad

Funeral homes and crematoriums have to maintain a delicate balance when it comes to advertising: People don’t want to feel like their loved one is a commercialized product, yet funeral homes are businesses just like the other business that people patronize. Like other businesses, funeral homes and crematoriums need people to use their services and they need to make people aware they are available.

Advertising their services doesn’t mean funeral directors will treat your loved one with any less respect, care, or thoughtfulness: yet some people get very offended by ads in general interest publications, newspapers or even on Facebook. Marketing funeral services can be problematic and funeral directors try to create tasteful, non-offensive marketing materials.

Try as hard as they might, sometimes they fail.

Just this week one crematorium ignited controversy when it published some ads people found disturbing and offensive. The ads took a meme-like approach and featured children.

According to Ad Week, the model for the ad was the crematorium owner’s daughter.

In the wake of the Nationwide Insurance Super Bowl ad that featured a child who had died in an accident, people got angry. Some people expressed outrage, prompting the crematorium to issue a response, saying the ad campaign “was intended to be a lighthearted and with no underlying message. We missed the mark on getting our intended message to the public.”

Two of the other ads in the campaign:

Crematorium ad

Crematorium ad

People’s ideas of what is lighthearted, appropriate and tasteful vary: some people posted on St. Louis Crematorium’s page that they thought the ads were fine. And, of course, no one ad is going to make everyone happy.

The lesson here is to know your audience – especially when you’re dealing with a subject as difficult as death.

Here are a few other campaigns that may have missed the mark a bit:

Funeral Home adcome-a-little-closerFuneral Home ad


New app may help teens work through grief

Flutter teens grief

The teenage years are difficult. Torn between childhood and adulthood, even in the best of times, teens face incredible challenges and difficult issues. Things can get even more difficult when a teen loses a loved one because while teens understand the concept of death, they have little experience with it and lack the coping skills to deal with it. While a teen may have a deep emotional response to the death of a loved one, he or she may not know how to express those feelings and the teen’s desire to be independent may make them unable to receive support from parents or other adults.

Because of their inability to express themselves, one common behavior in grieving teens is a withdrawal from family, becoming disconnected from the world around them and/or isolating themselves.

Flutter teens griefOne company has created an experimental app that the creators say may help teens work through some of the issues surrounding their grief via music. Flutter “uses music to help those experiencing the loss of a loved one – a period of time often resulting in high levels of isolation and incredibly difficult emotional problems – express themselves in a safe, positive environment, by creating sound artefacts that express how they feel at that moment,” according to the company website.

Flutter allows teens to swipe the touchscreen on their phone to create sounds and musical effects. “The basic idea of Flutter is to use music, which is a highly expressive tool, to help us express something else — in this case, the grief in our lives,” Flutter creator Alex Rothera said in an interview.

Flutter was developed in Italy by Rothera, Ivor Williams, Jacopo Atzori, and Aaron Gillett based on research conducted in collaboration with a psychologist. You can learn more about it here.

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What do you think? Can this type of technology prove useful in the grieving process?

How to offer your condolences

Flowers Sincere Condolences

Talking about death is difficult for many people. In fact, it’s so difficult that one doctor wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that ours is a “death-denying society.” Because we want to pretend death doesn’t exist, we don’t know how to talk about it. This can affect us in many ways: we may not know our loved ones’ funeral wishes; estates are left in disarray. But the effect I’d like to talk about today is how the fear of facing up to and talking about death makes us uncomfortable with those who have lost a loved one. This fear is so strong in some people that they won’t even attend the wake or calling hours.

Attendance at the wake is an enormous comfort to the family. When people come to the wake to pay their respects, they are showing that the family’s loved one was cared for and respected. Where some people have difficulty is when it comes time to express their condolences. If you have difficulty with death, you might become quite anxious about saying the right thing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult – nobody expects you to be eloquent; you just have to be sincere and genuine. How you say it is more important than what you say.

First, if the family doesn’t know you, introduce yourself. Explain how you were acquainted with their loved one.

Then, offer a short, but heartfelt condolence. Some examples:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I wish I had the words to comfort you.”
  • “Is there anything I/we can do for you?”
  • “He/she was a wonderful person.”
  • “His/her loss is deeply felt by all of us at (company).”

If you have a short – and appropriate – anecdote about the deceased that the family would like to hear, tell it and then move on to let them receive other guests.

Some things you should avoid saying:

  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “I felt the same way when my mother/aunt/dog died.”
  • “You can have more children.”

You don’t have to remain at the wake for a long time – only long enough to pay your respects and let the family know you cared enough to attend. It’s a small gesture for you, but one that will be long remembered by the deceased’s loved ones.

When Your Beloved Pet Passes


Pets are considered to be part of the family, so a pet’s death is often a very difficult time. When your pet passes away at home, you may not know what you should do next or what your options are. It is best ask yourself what you want to do with your pet’s remains while that pet is still alive and healthy, so it gives you an opportunity to evaluate all the factors that may be involved in such a decision. However, if you haven’t already given this consideration, the first thing you need to consider is your own feelings about death and remembrance. Your goal will likely be to preserve the memory of that pet, therefore your decision for their disposition should be based on how you think that memory can be best preserved.

You have many options available to you. Whether you simply wish for the body to be removed from your home, you would like to bury your pet yourself, or you would like to make arrangements for a memorial service, cremation, or to permanently memorialize your pet in some special way, the choice is yours. If your pet is under the care of a veterinarian at the time of their passing, you can call them to help guide you through your options and resources. Some people simply leave the decision of the final disposition of their pet up to the veterinarian. However by doing that, you never know how your pet was finally laid to rest, which may be troubling to you and your family.

There are currently several pet crematories throughout New Hampshire that can usually pick up your pet’s remains from a veterinarian or from your home. Some veterinarians also provide cremation services – with a few even doing so at no extra charge if they have euthanized your pet or if it dies at the vet’s office.

If you would like your pet laid to rest in a cemetery, you have options there as well. There are currently two pet cemeteries in New Hampshire that I am aware of – Proctor Animal Cemetery in Nashua (through the Humane Society of Greater Nashua), and Rolling Meadows Pet Cemetery (through the NH SPCA) in Stratham. Some human cemeteries do allow for pets to be buried alongside their human families, so it may also be worth calling your cemetery to find out.