What to do when there’s a death in the family

Mortician advising clients

The death of a family member is a traumatic event and one most people don’t ever want to think about. But what if a family member dies suddenly: Would you know what to do? Having some idea of what to expect will aid you in making arrangements during a very stressful time. Here are a few things you should know:


When death occurs

If the death is unanticipated, call 911. The police will take appropriate steps depending upon the situation. In the case of a non-suspicious death of an apparently healthy individual, the police call the State Medical Examiner’s office and await instructions. If the death was suspicious in nature, then the Medical Examiner will most likely order an autopsy.

A family member should call the funeral home as soon a possible. Staff at the funeral home understand the stress you’re going through and will make sure to make the process as simple and smooth as possible. We will ask some specific questions, such as the name and location of the family member who passed away, the name of the attending physician and the name of the next of kin.

We will ask about the type of service you would like to honor your loved one and celebrate his or her life. However, if you don’t know what type of service you want, you don’t have to make that decision right away. We will set up a later appointment for you to sit down with a staff member and decide upon final arrangements. Think about your loved one and what they would want as well as how you can best honor them.



Transport of the deceased to the funeral home should be arranged after a physician has signed a pronouncement of death, which is required under New Hampshire law. If the State Medical Examiner is to perform an autopsy, transport will be arranged to take place at the completion of the exam, once the medical examiner legally releases the body.

From the nursing home

When a death occurs in a hospital or nursing home, you only have to call us. The medical staff at the health care facility will make sure that all legal requirements are met. While some health care facilities call the funeral home on behalf of the family, most don’t, so it’s best for you to call us directly.

From home

If the deceased had a terminal illness and died at home while under hospice care, the hospice nurse or physician will release the deceased to the funeral home. In this case it’s helpful to think about final arrangements in advance. We can meet with the family prior to the death to begin the process of making arrangements. This cuts down on the number of decisions you will have to make at the time of death and help prevent events from becoming too overwhelming. You can call us or you can start the process by filling out our on-line form.

From out of state

If the death takes place outside of New Hampshire, call us toll free at 1-800-PHANEUF (1-800-742-6383), and we can make all the necessary arrangements without adding the expense of an outside funeral home. We also offer Worldwide Travel Protection that will guarantee the price of your final arrangements no matter where the death occurs.



There are three kinds of written memorials. You may decide on one, two or all three. The first is the death notice, which is a short piece with basic details about the deceased: Who, when and where. This is information for others, about where and when the funeral or memorial service will be held, if there is one. It’s a general notice of death that may be placed in a local paper to serve as a kind of historical record.

The second is the obituary. The obituary has the information from the death notice, but it goes a step further by summarizing the person’s life. When writing an obituary, it’s important to think about what made your loved one special. Think about organizations he or she belonged to, hobbies, work history and awards. Be sure to have accurate information about early life, family and the names and hometowns of family members.

Finally, there is the tribute, which is something you might find online in a remembrance or tribute section. This is the place to recount a funny anecdote or fond memory about the deceased. It’s something that will be read by other people, so write something appropriate and something that will be treasured by the whole family. Our online obituaries offer a place to offer these tributes and memories.



The deceased’s employer, bank, insurance company and attorney should be notified. Important documents should be gathered (for more information on this, see “Important documents to prepare before you die). Digital assets – such as social media accounts – should be deactivated (see “What happens to your digital assets when you die?). Any insurance claims should be filed and the will executed.


After the funeral

Send out thank-you notes to those who offered condolences or helped out in your time of need. Most importantly, remember that the funeral or memorial service isn’t really the end. Continue to celebrate your loved one and remember what made him or her special for many, many years to come.

Common funeral and cremation terms

Funeral flowers and candle

Not everyone has been to a funeral or has experience with cremation, so when it comes time to make final arrangements for either yourself or a loved one, you may be unfamiliar with some of the terms being used. To help make the process easier, here are 35 common terms that you may come across when making final arrangements:

Apportionment – When cremated remains are divided up between friends and loved ones and, perhaps, for spreading in a specific location.

Arrangement conference – The meeting between the family and a funeral director to discuss final arrangements. The conference is usually held in an arrangement room, but can also be held at the hospital or at home.

At need – Arrangements made at the time of death (as opposed to preplanned arrangements).

Burial certificate or permit – A legal document issued by city and town clerks, authorizing burial, cremation or entombment.

Casket – Also called a coffin, a container made of wood, metal or plastic that holds the deceased’s body. Under federal law, funeral homes are required to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source or that you have built yourself.

Certified death certificate – Usually prepared by the funeral home; a legal document filed with the state to verify an individual’s death. A valid death certificate is needed for a family to make insurance claims and collect other death benefits.

Columbarium – A structure that’s similar to a mausoleum, but holds cremains rather than bodies.

Committal Service – Also known as a graveside service; the final part of the funeral service when the deceased is buried in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum.

Cosmetology – The use of cosmetics to give the deceased a more lifelike appearance, especially when there will be a visitation.

Cremains – The cremated remains of the deceased

Crypt – A vault or chamber in a mausoleum that holds the deceased’s remains.

Embalming – A method of preserving and sanitizing the deceased. This is done by injecting an antiseptic preservative through the circulatory system.

Eulogy – A speech of praise given to honor the deceased.

Family Car – The vehicle, often a limousine, dedicated to carrying the family to the service and burial.

Family room – A separate room in the funeral home for the family of the deceased to have some privacy.

Full couch – A casket that is completely open, showing the deceased from head to toe; a half couch is a casket that only opens halfway, showing the deceased from head to waist.

Funeral service – The ceremony, religious or otherwise, that marks the death of an individual.

Grave liner – A container placed in the ground to keep the walls of the grave from caving in. The casket is lowered into the liner at burial. A vault is similar, but more substantial. A grave liner only covers the top and sides of a casket, while a vault surrounds the casket.

Inter – To bury the body of the deceased.

Inurment – To place cremains into an urn.

Mausoleum – An aboveground structure used for placement of casketed remains.

Memorial service – A ceremony held to honor the memory of the deceased; often held without remains.

Next-of-kin – A person who is the nearest relative of the deceased and who is responsible for making decisions about final arrangements.

Pallbearers – A group of individuals who carry the casket. Pallbearers are often friends and relatives of the deceased.

Preplanning – When an individual makes his or her own final arrangements ahead of time. Preplanning doesn’t necessarily require prepayment.

Private service – A service that is by invitation only.

Procession – Also known as a cortege; a line of vehicles that travels between the funeral home or church and the cemetery.

Register – A book in which mourners can record their names at the funeral home when they pay their respects to the deceased.

Reposing room – Where the deceased’s body lies in the casket until the funeral service.

Viewing – Also known as a viewing;  a period of time during which the deceased’s body is displayed at the funeral home, so friends and family can visit and pay respects.

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If you would like more information about funeral or cremation arrangements, we’ll be happy to send you our free brochure and planning guide.

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.

The Effects of Baby Boomers on the Funeral Industry

The baby boomers – known as the generation that redefined traditional values and were a major catalyst in changes to lifestyle and social norms – are continuing to live up to their reputation, even as they begin to face end-of-life realities.

With just under 25 percent of the U.S. population over age 55 in 2011 (according to the Census Bureau), it has become apparent that funeral service providers need to pay attention to the unique demands of these consumers, who like to plan ahead and want to customize every detail of their final arrangements.

We see a great deal of this in the services we provide at our firms.  We have hosted funerals where food / passed hors d’oeuvres are provided during the services, jazz and rock bands have played, Harley Davidson’s are used in the funeral procession, with the urn strapped to it, and where classic and muscle cars were used in the funeral procession.   Of course customized caskets, urns and keepsakes are also a growing trend.  We are continuously kept on our toes with new and unique requests and our funeral directors are tasked with thinking outside the box, to meet the growing demand for these value-added services.

CNBC recently published a very interesting article on this topic, which I invite you to read:  http://www.cnbc.com/id/100788587#_gus

Breaking the Mold of “Cookie Cutter” Obituaries

This week, an obituary written by the daughter of Harry Weatherby Stamps has gone viral across social media and is receiving national attention.  For good reason, as it was a moving, entertaining and out of the ordinary obituary.  What I realized, however, is that this type of heartfelt account of someone’s life − that is written in a way that truly personifies the individual, with traces of humor or quirkiness − shouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

If you’ve ever needed to write an obituary, you would know that, although it is an honor, it is no easy task.  In fact, it’s one of the most difficult types of writing to do, even for professionals.   But perhaps it would be just a little easier, if you didn’t feel pressure to write something formal or that fit into a specific format.   Some may be more comfortable simply “filling in the blanks,” but others may appreciate the liberty to showcase the descendant’s personality.  Reminiscing about what made this person who they were can certainly help in the healing process.  It can actually be therapeutic.

However you would like to approach the obituary of a loved one −whether you allow the funeral home or newspaper to write it for you, or if you choose to write it yourself – the key is to be writing about life, rather than their death.  Make sure to ask yourself “how would they like to be remembered?”  It should be a celebration of your loved one’s accomplishments and help to paint a portrait of their life.   Honor this person for who they were and what they meant, to you and everyone whose lives they touched.

To read Harry Weatherby Stamp’s full obituary visit: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunherald/obituary.aspx?n=harry-stamps&pid=163538353&fhid=4025#fbLoggedOut

Online Account Pre-Planning

Social media websites, as well as financial ones require secure login and passwords. Some also require a second level of security, in the form of a security questions or a pin. These security measures are in place to help prevent hacking, but they also make it very difficult for a family member of someone who has recently passed away to access these accounts.

Unless passwords and user information has been left in a will or other secure place that someone knows about, family members may have a difficult time accessing these accounts. Requesting online account access is not always a simple process. Many websites require proof of death, proof of relation, and details within a will that name you as the executor. Even social media sites have strict requirements in order to delete an account of someone who has passed away.

Communicating your wishes regarding how you want these online accounts handled is essential to help your loved ones avoid the challenges of accessing these accounts. The information should be stored somewhere that can be accessed by family members, or a digital executor should be named in your will.

The digital executor would be granted explicit permission to control the accounts. Additionally, you should have a list of every online account you have with passwords and state your wishes for each. For example, you may wish that all the pictures be downloaded off of your social media sites and given to a specific relative, or you may want certain accounts completely shut down.

There are also companies that will store your passwords on a secure server. This “master” account is easy for you to login to and update accounts and passwords frequently. This is ideal if you have passwords you need to change often, as it could be costly to continuously make updates to your will. If you select an online service, be sure to assign a digital executor in your will providing the “master” account details, so that they may access all the accounts.

By taking these actions, you will save your family much time accessing, managing, and/or closing your online accounts. We hope you take these steps in helping make the process easier on your loved ones.

The Difference in Family-Owned

Last Sunday evening, 60 Minutes reported on the conduct of many large firms within the death-care industry. They pointed out several locations across the United States that were not following ethical procedures, including exhumations without notifying the family, mishandling information, pressure sales, and double-selling plots, among other issues at various cemeteries.

In this special report, SCI Corporation (also known as Dignity), a company listed on the NYSE, was reported to have had a disproportionate amount of complaints against the cemeteries they own across the country. Unlike this national chain, we are dedicated to ensuring the needs of the families we service come first. We take pride in providing the highest level of service to our customers, and would never pressure families at their most vulnerable time.

This is where the difference lies between a publically-traded death-care firm and a family-owned funeral home, such as ours. Our staff is caring and compassionate, and dedicated to serving your needs.

Often times, families may think they are dealing with a family-owned business. It’s important to ask the firm whether or not they are family-owned when dealing with a funeral home, as many may seem family-owned, but in fact are owned by SCI/Dignity or other large corporations. During some of the most difficult times of your life, you deserve to be treated with integrity, professionalism and compassion. We encourage you to choose a locally-owned organization with a good reputation, for your loved one’s final farewell.

Why Attend our Estate or Funeral Planning Seminar

Our Estate and Funeral Planning Seminars will be taking place next week. We’d like to share our thoughts on why you should attend one of these free seminars.

The seminar will provide you with the information you need to understand the benefits and process involved in estate and funeral pre-planning.

The presentation will be given by an Estate Attorney and one of our Funeral Directors (Michele Plasz or Buddy Phaneuf).  The information they will provide is invaluable. Additionally, they will be available to assist you with questions you may have.

Most importantly, considering preplanning and estate planning is the first step in ensuring that all of your final wishes will be fulfilled. It can eliminate the financial burden that a funeral might pose on your family, and provides you and your family with the peace-of-mind in knowing that everything has been “taken care of”. It’s the best gift you can leave your loved ones. We encourage you to attend a seminar.

The preplanning seminars will be taking place on May 15, 16 and 17. Please visit our seminar page for information on times and locations of each seminar, as well as to register for this event.