How to help a client who loses a loved one
By Christopher P. Hill, RFC
Wealth and Income Group LLC and FuneralResources.com
One of our goals as financial advisors should be for our clients to consider us as their comprehensive resource center for all the financial and family needs. In order for this to happen, we should constantly be reading, training, and meeting new people. This allows us to not only learn and become well-versed, but also increases our knowledge and access to a vast array of useful information, resources, and professionals.
The reality is that there are certain situations where you are not the most experienced or qualified person to offer them the level of help they need and deserve. However, I firmly believe it is our job is to be capable of either offering ways to find this information, or -- even better-- providing them quick and easy access to things like educational articles, information, resources, Web sites, books and more.
Another part of our job is being able to refer them to a licensed and qualified expert. This requires us to constantly work on building and maintaining a team of strategic partners, such as car and home insurance agents, estate planning attorneys, CPAs, realtors, mortgage specialists, funeral directors, etc.
One way to help when a dealing with losing a loved one
I can tell you confidently from my personal experience that just about every client who loses a loved one will have questions about many aspects of the funeral planning process. One of the most common areas I have found where families need help is in understanding the proper funeral etiquette for many different situations. So here is an overview of some guidelines covering the most common funeral etiquette questions and concerns.
Notifying family, loved ones, and friends. In regards to funeral etiquette, the immediate family should receive notification first, preferably in-person or by telephone, followed by the closest relatives and friends. Be sure to provide the name and address of the funeral home for the delivery of funeral flowers. The service details can be relayed later, when available.
Appropriate attire. Though it is no longer necessary to dress in black, do show respect when picking out your funeral attire. Conservative suits or dress clothes in dark, respectful colors are most appropriate, according to funeral etiquette. It is also advisable to avoid floral or busy patterns.
Visitation hours. Upon learning of a death, it is customary for intimate friends of the family to visit the family either at their residence or at the funeral home. It would probably be more comfortable for all concerned to meet at the funeral home, because they are prepared for visitors. Each family should decide the number of family members needed during calling hours. It is also not necessary for family members to engage in long conversations; a simple "Thank you, it means so much to have friends like you at this time," is adequate. If the casket is open during calling hours, some visitors may want to bid farewell to the deceased. Although sometimes a visitor will request that a family member accompany them to view the body, it is not a requirement.
During the service. Modern funeral services are usually brief and last approximately 30 minutes.
At the cemetery. The graveside service tends to be brief. Customarily, once the commitment ritual is complete and the casket has been lowered to ground level, the family typically departs. The casket is then placed in a vault, interred, and the funeral flowers are placed on the grave.
Immediately after the service. Immediately after the funeral, the family sometimes invites the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or designated place. This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh. Sometimes, friends or church members will take it upon themselves to prepare food ahead of time and relieve the family of this task
After the funeral. For several days after the service, the family should be permitted to rest and have time to handle the myriad details that accompany such an occasion. While some families enjoy the diversion of visits and calls from friends and family, others prefer complete privacy. It is not inconsiderate to cut short calls at this time
Thank you notes. Funeral directors can supply you with generalized thank you cards or the family may choose to send a more personal thank you note. The note should be a concise, personal, and specific. Also, yielding to modern tradition, a simple thank you card with a signature is accepted, with or without a personal note.
However, below is a list of the most common people or groups you should consider sending thank you cards:
1. Anyone who sent a gift or card to the family deserves a thank you note. This would include anyone who sent flowers, brought food, sent a memorial contribution, or in some other substantial way acknowledged the deceased. The notes should be sent within two weeks of the death
2. A personal note is suggested for thanking the clergy person. If an offering or donation is sent, send it in a separate envelope. Never include it in the thank you note
3. Pallbearers should also be sent a personal message of thanks
4. For individuals who sent funeral flowers, you may wish to send a personal note
5. For groups or organizations that send flowers, send a note to the head of the group and remember to include all the members of the group in your note. If individual member names appear on the floral card, a separate note should be sent to each one but a personal message is not necessary
6. Friends who have volunteered their time and effort helping in any way deserve a separate written thank you.
7. If the volunteers are close to the family, you may prefer to thank them in person
Upon receiving the news. When learning that a relative or friend has died, you should express your condolences and offer assistance as soon as possible. Only very close friends of the deceased and the immediate family are expected to visit the family before the funeral. Let the family know if you will be attending the funeral. It is important to keep the conversation brief, taking into account their emotional state and the fact that they will be receiving numerous similar calls.
Sending funeral flowers. Unless the family asks that donations should be made in lieu of funeral flowers, you should honor their request. Many people consider it obligatory to send flowers unless there is a prohibitive note in the newspaper notice.
Food for the family -- Food is usually a welcome gift, as there are always visitors around that need to be fed. Make sure to prepare dishes that require little preparation.
E-mail - E-mail messages are usually most appropriate from those who are not intimate with the family, such as a business associate.
Phone calls -- All calls should be as brief as possible.
Mass cards -- If the deceased was Catholic, some people will send a mass card instead of or in addition to flowers. Catholics and non-Catholics can arrange for a mass to be said for the deceased.
Donations to suggested charities -- Usually the family will designate a specific organization or charity. Remember to provide the family's name and address to the charity so they can send proper notification. Often, the funeral home will offer a direct link to the charity requested by the family.
Dress. Though it is no longer necessary to dress in black, do show respect when picking out your funeral attire. Conservative suits or dress clothes in dark, respectful colors are most appropriate. It is advisable to avoid floral or busy patterns.
Paying respects. It is traditional for friends to visit the funeral home prior to the day of the funeral service. The obituary in the newspaper will have the details as to the day and time for visitations.
Casket viewing. Before or after the service, friends will often go up to the casket for a final farewell. It is not obligatory, and is totally left to your discretion.
Attending the funeral service. It is suggested that one arrive at the funeral home at least 10 minutes before the service begins. Funeral services usually start on time, and it is considered rude to be late. Enter quietly and be seated. Do not conduct an animated discussion in the chapel; the mood should be somber. Do not try to talk with bereaved family members if you arrive early. The first few rows are reserved for family members.
At the conclusion of the service, you will want to leave promptly and wait in your car if you plan to follow the procession to the cemetery. Remember to turn your headlights on so you can be identified as being a part of the procession. The headlights are to be turned off once you arrive at the cemetery. Attending the graveside service is optional, and is usually determined by the relationship between the individual and the bereaved family.
Immediately after the funeral. Immediately afterwards, the family sometimes invites the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or designated place. This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh. Sometimes, friends or church members will take it upon themselves to prepare food ahead of time and relieve the family of this task.
For our clients, sometimes it is the little things that mean the most
Hopefully you can offer this article or information as a resource to your clients, should the situation arise. This can only help them as they work on planning such a difficult situation.
Please keep in mind that all you are doing is offering some information, suggestions, and/or recommendations. Regardless of whether your client chooses to use this information, nothing is more important than for you to be there for them, show them that you truly care, and offer to help in every way possible.
Sometimes, small gestures like this can make a meaningful difference in how your clients view you and your services, help create a better long-term relationship, as well as encouraging them to call on you when it comes to any of their future financial or family matters.
*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a