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.

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.


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

Phaneuf Funeral Homes to Host Free Estate and Funeral Planning Seminar

If anyone is interested in obtaining free legal advice or learning more about estates, wills, trusts, medicade, advanced directives and other related legal issues, we are hosting a seminar at our 243 Hanover Street location on Tuesday October 20th at 2:00 PM.  Attorney Frank Mesmer will be discussing the legal ins and outs of estate planning and will be available to answer your questions.  Following that, I will be speaking on funeral planning, options and funding.  The seminar is limited to 50 people and while it is free, preregistration is required.  To register, call our main office at 603-625-5777 or send me an email at buddy@phaneuf.net.  Just provide your name and the number of people attending.

This is our 10th annual estate and funeral planning seminar and each has been a great success.  After the seminar, which generally lasts around 90 minutes, Attorney Mesmer and I will be available to discuss any specific issues you may have or answer questions one on one.  Come join us for an interesting afternoon.