Final wishes important for families to know

June 12, 2014 • Local News

Gabriel Casaus, manager and funeral director at LaGrone Funeral Chapel, asks for a show of hands of everyone with automobile insurance during his discussion of pre-planning for funerals and final wishes at [auth] the Roswell Kiwanis Club meeting on Tuesday. (Randal Seyler Photo)


They say two things are inevitable in life — death and taxes.

Everyone complains about taxes, but most people don’t even like to talk about death. However, that lack of discussion eventually often leads to hard feelings and financial hardships for families.

“Everyone has insurance on their car, and most people have insurance against a house fire, but how many people have pre-planned their funeral?” asked Gabriel Casaus, manager and funeral director at LaGrone Funeral Chapel. “People buy insurance all the time for something that might happen, but not many buy insurance for something that is definitely going to happen to everyone sooner or later.”

Casaus was speaking to the Roswell Kiwanis Club on Tuesday about pre-planning for funerals and the different types of pre-planning insurance available.

“Typically, the pre-planning insurances programs are transferrable, from one funeral home to another and from state to state,” Casaus said, “and they typically are paid out in three -, five- or seven-year programs.”

The payment plan option is usually not available once a person reaches the age of 90, but if the amount of the services are paid in full upfront, then age is not an issue.

“The typical funeral costs $7,000 to $10,000,” Casaus said, “and unfortunately, a lot of people think that their life insurance policy will cover funeral expenses, but the average amount of insurance the typical American has is only $10,000 to $20,000.”

People often neglect to take into account the bills they leave behind when they die, including final medical bills, mortgages and other outstanding debts that their family will be held accountable for paying.

The funeral insurance programs are now federally insured and are regulated, making them safe investments.

“In the past, there were funeral homes that would take the money and run, but that isn’t the case anymore,” he said.

As a funeral director, Casaus said when people bring pre-planned policies to him, he honors them as written because that is what the customer purchased and expected. However, not all funeral homes follow that policy.

“In some cases, there could be additional expenses,” Casaus said. “Don’t forget there is also sales tax.”

However, financial concerns are not the biggest problem when people are faced with the death of a family member.

“If there isn’t some sort of communication before hand, the family is left to guess what the deceased person’s final wishes were,” Casaus said.

This not knowing is something Casaus sees every week, and it is stressful on the survivors, who are also dealing with grief and all the emotions that come with the death of a loved one.

“A relative will come in and say, ‘grandma wanted this for her funeral,’ then another relative will say, ‘Hey, you didn’t see her for 10 years! How do you know what she wanted?’” Casaus said. “It can get really ugly, and I see it all the time.”

“People have all this grief, fear and anger, and they bring those emotions with them, and sometimes turn them against the funeral director and other family members,” Casaus said. “Having a plan ahead of time takes at least that emotional stress away from the family.”

Casaus suggests people make their final wishes known, even if they don’t purchase pre-planned funeral insurance.

VistaCare Hospice of Roswell, a Gentiva company, has a booklet called “Five Wishes” available for the public. Published by Aging with Dignity of Tallahassee, Fla., the booklet is a way for people to write down their final wishes, not just for funeral services, but for end of life care as well.

VistaCare Hospice is located at 400 N. Pennsylvania Ave., in the Wells Fargo building.

It is an easy to complete form that lets the person filling it out say exactly what they want, and once it is filled out and properly signed, it is valid under the laws of most states.

“Five Wishes” meets the legal requirements for an advance directive in New Mexico, according to the website,

“Just like in 41 other states, you can use ‘Five Wishes’ in New Mexico to express how you want to be treated if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself, using a document that is easy to understand,” the website states. “All you need to do is check a box, circle a direction, or write a few sentences.”

Once the booklet is signed and witnessed, it becomes a legal document, according to the website.

The “Five Wishes” program was started by Jim Towey, who worked with Mother Teresa for 12 years. Inspired by his experiences, Towey sought a way for patients and their families to plan ahead and to cope with serious illness.

The “Five Wishes” booklet is available in 26 languages and in Braile.

“Just having your wishes known can make a big difference,” Casaus said. “I recommend everyone have that discussion and let your loved ones know what you want your funeral to be like. It can save a lot of stress at a very stressful time.”

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