Funeral Pre-Planning with Mary Costanza, LJ Griffin Funeral Home – Connecting the Community

In this episode of Connecting the Community, Chris Zayid talks to Mary Costanza about the advantages of pre-planning a funeral, questions to ask during the planning process, how to prepay for the services and more.

To know more, watch the episode above or read the edited transcript below.

Chris: Hello! Welcome to our show Connecting the Community with Chris. We have a special guest with us today – Mary Costanza from LJ Griffin funeral homes, one of Michigan’s largest funeral homes and we are so honored to have you here with us. Thank you!

Mary: Thank you for having me.

Chris: We have a great conversation for everyone to hear today. Listen to the whole thing all the way to the end because we have some valuable information for you.

We wanted to learn a little bit more about Mary and how important her role is here at the LJ funeral home and if you could tell us how you got involved in this community and this whole family, that has such a great reputation, and get in this industry.

Mary: Originally, I had met the owners David Griffin many years ago with my husband Carrie who had passed away and later in life ran into him at one of our restaurants and he knew that I was in the floral business, but then I had switched over to the insurance business. So, with that in mind he thought that it might be a good fit for me to help him with pre-arrangement for the clients that are coming in to pre-plan and pre-fund their final expenses.

Chris: That’s wonderful. I’ve heard about their family, and they have such a great reputation, very honorable, and do things right. Especially in this industry it’s so important to be able to understand and know that it’s a smooth process.

That’s what we wanted to talk to you about first. What are the advantages of pre-planning a funeral?

Mary: Well, there are several, but the main reason that most people pre-plan is to have peace of mind, of knowing that it’s taken care of, so their loved ones aren’t going to have to take care of it later. Locking in the prices is also another key thing as we all know prices go up every year or sometimes more than that and so having said that, they get to lock in the prices for guaranteed issue products and service.

That way, once it’s paid for and locked in then it’ll be there when it’s needed down the road.

Chris: Of course, we want all the advantages, which is really important, but also disadvantages.

Mary: When there’s a death in the family many people are of course grieving and distraught and there can be a time of emotional overspending, you know, “Mom was the greatest and now I want to show her how much I love her and I’m going to maybe spend more than mom might, and or that might be affordable.” So, it can be overwhelming. Pre-planning is always very important.

Chris: Having that conversation is just what we always try to promote, have it early. That’s what we talk about in home care industry, that we should be able to plan all these things way ahead of time, don’t wait for a stressful situation.

What type of questions should family members ask during this process with each other and also to an important expert like you?

Mary: As you said pre-planning in so many aspects of our life is very important. You plan to get married, you plan to buy a home, you plan to buy a car, plan to have children. Granted this isn’t something that we plan, but it is something that’s going to happen to all of us, so it is something that you can think about ahead of time and the sooner you think about it the better off you’ll be because it’s something that’s just part of your estate planning. It becomes part of your portfolio down the road, and I can honestly say I don’t have any family members that say, “Boy! I’m really upset that my parents took care of this ahead of time.”

Keeping the conversation light, knowing that their wishes are going to be met based on the things that they wanted ahead of time.

Chris: I know it’s important when we are talking about paying for funeral services. How can I prepay for services? What’s that process look like?

Mary: Once the family decides, the client decides what it is exactly they’re interested in, we talk about payment arrangement. Some people think that you have to pay for it all at one time, which you don’t. There are payment arrangements – three-year, five year, seven year, even 10-year payment plans. There’s also funding vehicles that are approved by the government. Those funding vehicles protect the money for the client, so that would be putting the money into say an insurance policy which is specific just for locking in prices for your funeral. Same thing with a trust – a Michigan Funeral Directors Association trust can be issued to, again hold the money in trust until it is claimed by the assigned funeral home to pay for the funeral at the time of the demise.

Chris: Great. That was my next question – how to keep the funds safe? For example, if something were to happen in the business, no matter what, that money that was allocated for the funeral are still kept in a separate fund?

Mary: Yes. Many years ago, the way that people would hang on to the funds would be, you’d write the check to the funeral home and the funeral home would put it into say maybe a CD or some other type of a holding of the account in a bank, and then every year it would come up for renewal. Unfortunately, there were some funeral homes that didn’t follow the rules and went bankrupt. So now, the government got involved and said what we can do is put the money into a protected government-approved funding vehicle, so that way if the funeral home goes out of business, you still have your money. The money stays your money, until it’s claimed at your demise to pay for your final expenses.

If sometimes you need the money you prepaid, and a tree fell on your house, and you need ten thousand dollars back, you can cash them in.

Chris: That’s good to know. Also, what we come across, I’m sure you as well too are trusts funds. Do you advise people to have a funeral trust?

Mary: Both funding vehicles are very good and guarantee you the final outcome. The difference between insurance and trust is, with insurance you’re going to earn interest and it’s tax-free interest, with a trust you’re going to earn interest and you may even earn more interest, but you will be charged taxes on that interest, and those would come out of the proceeds at the end, unless it’s a large amount, which then the trust would send you a 1099 to add to your income tax as additional income.

Chris: So, you are taxed once you withdraw it and use it for whatever.

Mary: Right and that comes out of the proceeds of the trust.

Chris: A lot of people do ask that question. And how often should you receive correspondence with a funeral planner and that is an administrator?

Mary: If you have questions about a plan, say I sat down with you 15 years ago and we wrote up a plan and you just wanted to call me and check on it and see what’s the value, how high the prices have gone, I will definitely send you correspondence letting you know what your plan value is and what the current price is, so you can see just how much money you saved by pre-planning ahead.

Chris: How does that look? What if you save some money, you see sometimes where people correspond back to you, and they have some extra funds to use for themselves and say they didn’t want to use it for their funeral but they need it for an emergency.

Mary: They would go through the proper channels of cashing it in through the insurance company or the Trust Company the funeral home has money as stored with or assigned under their name to those government approved funding vehicles, and 90% of the time I would say or more, the money stays there until it’s claimed by the funeral home that it’s assigned to. Now, if somebody moves, say it’s assigned to Griffin Funeral Home currently and I have a client that moves to Naples Florida, they call me up and say Mary, I live in Naples Florida, and I’d like this funeral assigned to Hodges Funeral home here in Naples. So, what I do is fill out a new assignment form and therefore that new Funeral Home can make a claim on the policy to be paid for the services that they provide there. It’s a 100% transferable.

Chris: Thank you for answering that question, and that was not even a question in my head, but this was really great. I’m sure a lot of people go through that too.

What I’d like to know also is that the flowers, the thank you cards, all the extra trimmings that are involved in a funeral – is that included?

Mary: It depends on what kind of a plan you pick. I have families that pick just a direct cremation, no visitation, no viewing, they just want to be directly cremated and they still want to have maybe use of the facility and staff for a couple of hours – one to six hours, have people come pay their respects.

They can pay for, you can add a register book, you can put in flowers, you can put in money for clergy honorarium, or an organist, or a hairdresser, whatever isn’t included in those locked in prices for the traditional items that you’ve selected.

Chris: So, it’s always possible to make changes.

Mary: Yes, absolutely you can. I’ve had clients change their policy. Now you can’t receive the money back but what you can do is make a notation on the policy of what they would like to have changed, so if there’s money left over in the plan, it either goes to whoever you list as a beneficiary, or it goes to your estate.

Chris: That’s great, thank you for sharing that as well. So, who should I share my pre-planning wishes with during this process?

Mary: I always recommend that family members are around when we do these kinds of things, because that way they’re going to know what your wishes are. However, it’s always good to share them with your family. I put together a memorial guide, I send it to my clients. Also, there’s a pre-planning book that is always very instrumental, it puts in all vital statistic information. When you’re grieving over your loved one it’s really difficult to remember Grandma’s maiden name and where she was born or things that aren’t going to just be on the top of your head after you’re thinking about pre-planning the funeral for your loved one. But I would always recommend that your family knows where the paperwork is, which funeral home you’ve selected, and of course, they should be involved in the process.

Chris: Where should you go and how should you start this process typically? Call Mary?

Mary: Yes of course! Call Mary Costanza! If you’re not going to utilize one of the family-owned Griffin funeral homes, which there are five locations. We’re here today in Northville, we have Westland, Livonia, Canton, and Brighton. You can contact one of those funeral homes or any Funeral Home of your choice and sit down with a licensed pre-arrangement advisor like myself and discuss your pre-planning needs. I always recommend that you shop around just like you would for a car. There’s different styles of funeral homes, there’s different services, and of course, the atmosphere, and the aura of a place – you want it to be comfortable for where you’re maybe just coming to pick up the cremated remains and death certificates, or you’re going to have a visitation, or a viewing. It’s very important.

Chris: That’s great. We’re so honored to have you here with us and giving out the resources to our community. I hope this was valuable to everyone and valuable to your community members. Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure it’s not the last time we’re going to meet and connect.

Mary: I hope not. Yes, this was great and my biggest advice to anyone would be, have that talk, have that talk with your parents, ask them in the event of something happening to them, what would they like to have done, because it will help you down the road and there are a lot of materials that you can get, you can download them online. Feel free to call me, Mary Costanza, at Griffin funeral home, at 734-216-9921. Be glad to help you with any questions, and my consultations are free. Thank you!

Chris: Thank you Mary.

Mary: I appreciate it.

Chris: We did discuss a very important but also not an easy topic to talk about with your family members. But it’s really valuable and we want to make sure that when you are ready to be able to have this type of conversation, I know that you want to come and talk to the right person, for example Mary!

Today you answered a lot of questions that a lot of our members were probably unsure of or maybe on the fence, to be able to discuss this.

What would be the best way for someone to be able to connect with you and be able to start the conversation with their family members about pre-planning?

Mary: Starting the conversation, I like to call it ‘have the talk with your family.’ The holidays are approaching and even though it may seem like a subject that isn’t important to talk about when everyone’s together, it is actually a good time to talk about it, because it’s not gloom and doom. We’re all here and we’re alive and well. Another reason would be to seek out a professional like myself. Make sure they’re licensed, make sure that it’s a reputable company, that you can contact and ask questions. My consultations are free, and I would welcome you to give me a call through the Griffin funeral home and we can discuss what it is exactly you’re interested in and how to put that into place for your future.

Chris: It’s so easy to connect with Mary, and like she said, it’s free! If you have any friends or family members that you have to talk about this or maybe you’re in a situation where you need to give a referral to somebody – Mary is always available and she will come to you, right?

Mary: Yes, I visit people in their homes very often. Not many people want to come to the funeral home unless they have to, so there’s that. But keeping in mind that you want to be comfortable, and you want to meet your needs of what it is exactly you’re interested in and having your family around you and supporting you before it happens. So that way everyone is on the same page and there’s not going to be any difficulty later when they’re having the discussion of trying to pick things out that they might think you would have wanted.

Again, it was great to visit with you today and if anyone would like to reach out to me.

Chris: We’ll both close out with ‘Have the Talk.’

Mary: ‘Have the Talk.’

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