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Funerals (and funeral homes) continue changing with the times BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK SPECIAL SECTIONS WRITER When Gary Smith, owner of BrookingsSmith Funeral Home, entered the funeral business in the late 1950s, things were very different. But one thing hasn’t changed. “Whether it was 50 years ago or whether it’s today, in my opinion, death is a very sacred and awesome event,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how people respond to that.” In 1950s, planning ahead was rarely con-

sidered. If a loved one died, the family visited the funeral director to choose a casket from a fairly limited selection, and then to a monument company to pick a headstone, also from a fairly limited selection. The funeral happened quickly. “It was pretty automatic: Who are we going to have for a clergy person, and what about the traditions and the values of the family?” Smith recalled. That was already a dramatic change from 55 years before that. At the turn of the 20th

century, everything happened at home, including caring for sick or elderly loved ones. When someone died, the undertakers came to the home with their equipment, set up portable tables in the bedroom, and did the embalming right there. Funeral services were at home, either in the bedroom or, for those houses so equipped, in the parlor. When it was over, the undertaker placed the body in a casket, loaded it onto a horse-drawn hearse, and conveyed it to the cemetery for burial. Ongoing Changes By the 1950s, only about half of funerals were done that way; the rest were at funeral homes. Today, funerals rarely happen at home, and embalming never does. Part of this is logistical: Many people live in rental properties, and houses rarely have parlors. Another part is cultural: People just don’t want their loved ones embalmed and displayed at home. The prevalence of cremations has changed dramatically. When Smith started in the 1950s, he handled just one or two cremations per year. But in 2012, 64 percent of Brook-

ings-Smith funerals were cremations. According to the Cremation Association of North America, this is up from a national average of just 15 percent in 1985, and should hit 75 percent before leveling off. Despite the functional changes over the years, Smith said that one thing has remained consistent: the way funeral homes deal with the living, whether with grieving families or with those planning their own funerals. “We really have an awesome responsibility to meet these needs, and we have one time to do it — we’ve got to do it right the first time,” he said. “The idea is to be able to try to put something together that’s meaningful to everybody.” Compared to when Smith started in the business 55 years ago, preparing for a funeral today is full of far more options. There are many more casket, monument, and urn options, and there are many varied ways loved ones can memorialize the departed — everything from photos laser-engraved on stones to jewelry containing bits of cremated remains to part of your loved one being made into a diamond. Yet while all these options See CHANGES, PAGE 7




Rudman Winchell offers Maine’s first estate planning Web site BY TRACY J. ROBERTS RUDMAN WINCHELL

As a working mother, I completely understand how busy life can get. You realize that you need an estate plan to manage your affairs if something happens to you, but finding the time to actually think about and develop a plan gets lost in the whirlwind of a day. Of course, we have all heard about the online legal-document services that offer you inexpensive estate-planning documents. Online document services offer a tempting bargain. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize what they are getting themselves into with an online document service. That’s because the online document services have spent millions trying to create the impression that their services are similar to those of an attorney. They put lawyers in their commercials, hire celebrities to endorse them, and even promote stories of people who have successfully used their documents. All the marketing in the world, however, can’t erase the simple truth. The online services are not law firms. They are not lawyers. They can’t give legal advice. Instead, they are

“document assistants” — a term that states use to define service providers who type your information into generic form documents. In other words, document assistants are like robots that enter your information into forms, whether or not it makes sense and whether or not it is a good idea. If you make a mistake, they can’t warn you. If you have questions, they can’t help you. They can’t even promise you that your estate plan will work in the way you envision it. They are not attorneys, which means they can’t promise a particular legal result. This is why I am so excited to be a part of Rudman Winchell’s new online estate planning service. By using our online service you get the ease of using an online tool to create your estate plan, with the assurances that an attorney is reviewing your documents. So, how does this service work? There is a simple questionnaire that, depending on your circumstances, takes about 30 minutes to complete. Once you submit the questionnaire, our office prepares draft estate planning documents (Will, Power of Attorney, Advance Health-Care Directive), and your estate plan is reviewed by one of our estate

planning attorneys. We then email or mail you drafts for your review. Once the documents are to your satisfaction, a meeting is scheduled with either me or another estate planning attorney in our office to review your documents to ensure you understand how your estate plan works and to sign the

documents. We think you will find this service to be an easy, convenient and affordable way to give your family security and peace of mind. For more information, please visit our Estate Planning Web site at:




Monuments for the departed have become truly monumental BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK SPECIAL SECTIONS WRITER Not too many years ago, choosing a headstone was an easy task. Unless you were very rich, you picked from a few stones and gave the correct spelling of your departed loved one’s name. Birth and death dates went with it, and the stonecarver chiseled everything out and set it in the cemetery. There wasn’t much variety, but that’s no longer the case. “What’s really changed in the last 20 years is before it was basically standardized monuments and memorials,” said A. Michael Regan of Custom Memorial Designs in Old Town. “Now it’s more customization. We’re able to a lot more on a stone than we were able to do 20 years ago.” Think about it: with the right software, you can quickly put together party invitations on your computer, adding clipart, changing fonts, and choosing colors. Although that came a bit later to the monument business, that’s how it’s done today. With specialized software, a monument company can take you through everything from font choice and images to whether you want to add laser-etched


Left: A. Michael Regan of Custom Memorial Designs demonstrates the design process, which allows for complete customizing and visualization. Right: Chuck Downes of Bucksport Monuments & Sandblasting removes letters from a rubber mask in preparation for sandblasting the letters’ shapes out of the stone.

photos and even color. Regan’s software even shows you what your chosen stone and layout will look like in the cemetery. There’s no guesswork, and customers know exactly what they’re getting. While sandblasting letters is nothing new, laser etching has transformed the monument industry. Elegant, intricately designed head-

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stones can be purchased for surprisingly low prices, lending far more than just a name and dates to memorialize the departed. You can do any image you can imagine: intertwined wedding rings for a married couple, a photo of the deceased etched in black granite, or a Red Sox logo for a lifelong fan. This is quite different than it used to

be. Not long ago, monument companies sketched names, dates, and layouts on paper, with no way to foresee the exact, final version. Today, with “what you see is what you get” computer design, not only are the personalization options endless, but the process is as exactly what you expect. But taking the

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FUNERAL AND ESTATE PLANNING Continued from previous page

time to create it is important, Regan said. “What we tell families is don’t just immediately design a monument, because that becomes the focal point,” he said. “Every time you go back to the cemetery, this is what you see. You really want that to be as unique as the person, so take some time to think about it.” Options abound. If you’d like to add color, laser etching can produce color scenery. For long-lasting color, you can print and seal photos on ceramic plates that are mounted flush with the stone. Basically, these days, you can imagine it, monument designers can do it. New things are on the horizon. Already catching on are ceramic QR codes mounted on the granite. Just like any QR code, scanning it with a cell phone takes you to a designated Web site — such as to a life-tribute Web page. “The artistry… allows a family to create that really unique monument that’s as unique as the person they’re trying to idolize,” said Regan. “It allows us to really create something unique — so you go into the cemetery and not every stone looks alike. It also becomes therapeutic for families that really want to design something meaningful.” Chuck Downes, owner of Bucksport Monuments & Sandblasting, says that with all the customizability and uniqueness in the


Left: Intricate carvings on a stone at CustomMemorial Designs in Old Town. Center: Chuck Downes, owner of Bucksport Monuments & Sandblasting, with a stone featuring such carvings on the angled edge. Right: The stone depicts a white angel and a black heart, but it’s all black granite. The polished finish makes “black” granite black; etch, sandblast, or carve out of it, and the resulting much lighter stone offers stark contrast so as to appear black and white.

industry, the one thing that monument companies need customers to do is to come in early and plan their monuments — instead of waiting for the family to deal with it when they’re gone. “There are so many options, and people who are grieving — they don’t want [to face] a million options,” he said. “That’s why we really try to promote pre-planning for headstones. It’s just a smart decision. It saves the family a lot of grief.”

Downes does the same sort of on-screen design, and he says the best time to do it is long before your family has to worry about it. “If people can come in here, order the stone they want, design it the way they want to, make payments on it if they want to — that saves the family one less decision they have to make in a time of grieving,” he said. But there’s something beyond the cost and the difficulty of mourning families having to make those choices: a bit of immortality.

“I just can’t emphasize enough how important it is to pre-plan,” Downes said. “Without that memorial, you will be forgotten. It’s that simple. I want my great-great-great grandchildren, if they want to find me, to [be able to] come put a hand on my stone.” For the immediate generation following a loved one’s death, he says there’s something powerful about having that tangible thing, too — which really touches the heart. See MONUMENTS, PAGE 6




Do recent estate tax changes affect you? BY NATHANIEL S. PUTNAM, ESQ. EATON PEABODY There have been some important changes to both the federal estate and the Maine estate tax over the past several months. From an estate planning standpoint, it is important to consider how these changes might affect you. The estate tax is imposed on the transfer of wealth from one generation to the next. If you live or own property in Maine, you need to consider the potential impact of both the federal estate tax and the Maine estate tax. The federal and Maine estate taxes are separate, but they are based on the same rules and legal principals. For example, under both tax laws, each individual can leave assets to their heirs and beneficiaries with a value up to a maximum threshold without owing any estate taxes. This is often called the “individual estate tax exclusion” or simply the “exclusion amount.” The federal estate tax exclusion amount for 2013 is $5.25 million (subject to inflationary adjustments). The expiration of a temporary estate tax law at the end of 2012 resulted in the federal exclusion amount falling to $1 million. This would have meant that the estate of any person who was worth more than $1 million at the time of his or her death would have owed a federal estate tax payment equal to 55 percent on the excess over $1 million. Fortunately, on January 2, 2013, Congress and the Obama administration agreed to reinstate the $5 million federal exclusion amount on a permanent basis. Under current law, if a person’s estate is worth more than this amount, the excess is subject to the federal estate tax at a rate of 40 percent.

The Maine estate tax exclusion amount is $2 million. This represents an increase from the $1 million Maine exclusion amount that had been in effect prior to January 1, 2013. Any excess over $2 million is subject to the Maine estate tax based on a graduated rate structure (8 percent on the excess over $2 million up to $5 million; 10 percent on the excess over $5 million up to $8 million; 12 percent on the excess over $8 million). Nathan Putnam While you may not think these amounts apply to you, your net worth for estate tax purposes may be higher than you think. The estate tax is imposed on your “taxable estate” which includes any assets in which you have an interest at the time of your death. These include your home, any other real estate you own, bank and brokerage accounts, assets held in 401(k) plans and IRAs, and the proceeds from life insurance policies you own that are payable upon your death. If you believe you may ultimately be subject to estate taxes, the good news is that a modest amount of planning can minimize or, in many cases, eliminate any estate tax liability. Particularly if you have not reviewed your estate plan in several years, you should consult with a competent estate planning attorney or other qualified tax professional to determine how these changes may affect you. Nathaniel Putnam, Esq. is the Chair of Eaton Peabody’s Estate Planning and Wealth Transfer practice.



“When I go visit my relatives that have passed, when I’m talking to them or praying, my hand is on the stone,” Downes said. “It’s like they’re there, whereas if there was no stone, there’s nothing to be remembered by.” Even if you plan to be cremated and have your ashes spread somewhere, Downes says it can be important to have that everlasting stone inscribed with your name just so you loved ones can make that connection with you. “Mourning is hard enough as it is,” said Downes. “To have a nice, quiet place where you can go and just read a name and see an image on a stone — it really helps in the healing process.”


A stone with a laser-etched color image at Bucksport Monuments & Sandblasting





are great, it can make for an overwhelming array of choices for a grieving family in just a few days. Meanwhile, family and friends frequently have to come in from out of town. A lot has to happen quickly, and the funeral home has to support the family to make it happen — and happen on everyone’s busy schedules. It’s the difference, Smith says, in our modern world of convenience: We have a lot going on, and although we must grieve the loss of a loved one, life for us must still continue. “For many years… the services were traditional, based on traditions in the family or in the church — and when a death occurred, their world stopped,” Smith said. “That’s no longer the case.” That’s not a bad thing, he says; it’s just the time we live in. Families are more dispersed, with children living all over the country and beyond. That three-day period from death until burial has become a fleeting window at a time when grieving families least need to be rushed. Family Involvement Pre-planning is the way alleviate these troubles. You can pick your own casket, urn, monument, or other amenities, and even

plan your service. You’ll have things how you want them, and you can involve your loved ones at an easier time. But regardless of advanced planning, these days the family is going to likely handle your funeral very differently than a few decades ago. “Family involvement is necessary; I think it’s therapeutic,” Smith said. “What they seem to want to make it today is an expression of the life of that person — more personalized than it used to be.” Everyone views a departed loved one differently, and it’s important that everyone can help celebrate the life of that loved one. Families typically display photos today, something that wasn’t common even 30 years ago. Today, it’s usual to see screens displaying photos and videos, and everyone participates in the celebration of life. From the happy moments in life to the more mundane events, people want to share the moments that mattered to them. “When you can see that expressed at a service, it’s really meaningful,” Smith said. “What Dad meant to us or to the grandchildren [are] important times, and they’re things that we take so much for granted. Going to the dump, to the grocery store — nothing really substantive, but it’s just those little things that happen in the life of a family

that’s so important, and they want to share that when a death occurs.” Smith said there are always new things coming about, and funeral homes have to embrace them all in order to properly serve the customer — even if it’s something his funeral home doesn’t offer. “I see nothing wrong with that if that’s what meets their need,” he said. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart. If that’s what’s important and meaningful to them, that’s the way to do it.” What hasn’t changed is how funeral homes handle things. “Compassion. Consideration,” Smith said.

“Customer comes first.” And when Smith says “Customer comes first,” he doesn’t sound like a big-box store parroting something out of its handbook. He says it with the deepest sincerity, and with a look in his eyes that tells you that he’s talking about an absolutely sacred duty. That’s how any funeral home should be treating the people they serve, Smith says — and that’s been a constant for as long as he can remember. “It’s no different today than it was then; it’s just a different way of working with them,” he said. “I feel we’ve got far more responsibility today than we ever did.”




Funeral and Estate Planning  

No one likes to think of their own mortality, but with a little pre-planning, you can ensure your loved ones are taken care of. Learn about...