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Christy Kessler

Woman wearing orange sweater sitting at table with laptop, checking on her digital accounts

How to Complete Your Digital Estate Planning

By Estate Planning No Comments

If you or a loved one are in hospice care, you have the opportunity to ensure that your family is aware of your wishes for your estate. While you have probably given thought to writing a will and advance health care directives, one area of estate planning that is often neglected is a person’s digital assets.

Focus on woman's hands as she holds smartphone with keyboard on table in front of her

First, What Is a Digital Estate?

Getting your affairs in order is an important task to accomplish, and your digital estate is just one piece of the puzzle. Just so you have a clear definition of what your digital assets are, they include:

  • The data and photos on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer
  • Personal email accounts
  • Online bank and brokerage accounts (including credit cards, retirement plans, loans, insurance, etc.)
  • Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Websites you may own (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.)
  • Online retail accounts (including eBay, Amazon, and iTunes)
  • Photo- or video-sharing sites like YouTube or Flickr
  • Music sites (Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
  • Subscription sites (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.)
  • PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, or other online payment accounts
  • Utility bills you may pay online
  • And a multitude of other things (frequent flier accounts, fitness app accounts, etc.)

As you can see, you may have quite a few digital accounts. However, with a few simple tips, you can start pulling together the information needed to protect your data and ensure everything is taken care of after your passing.

Husband and wife sitting at table in their home, looking at each other, computer in front of them

6 Simple Tips to Successful Digital Estate Planning

Keep Track of Your Online Accounts

According to a recent report on digital estate planning, the average internet user has around 90 different accounts. Hopefully, you have recorded the usernames and passwords for your accounts and devices, but if you haven’t, that’s okay. Identify the most important accounts (those that include your personal data or charge monthly or yearly fees). So, gather all email addresses, subscriptions, online shopping sites or apps, and anything else that seems important. Then, make sure a loved one or your emergency contact know where to find the information if the need arises.

Decide What Should Be Done with Each Account

Once you’ve compiled a list, you will also need to decide what should be done with each individual account. This may mean requesting that some accounts be deleted entirely, while for others, it may mean turning an account into a memorial page. Each business or social media platform is different so you may need to do a little research as you make your plans.

For example, Facebook and Instagram can either delete an account completely or “memorialize” it, meaning that any friends can still view your profile and post memorial messages (the account is secured so no one can sign in). Twitter and LinkedIn will work with family members to delete an account, but they won’t give anyone but you access to the account.

Woman wearing orange sweater sitting at table with laptop, checking on her digital accounts

Determine What Should Be Done with Your Digital Content

It’s also important to think about what should be done with any digital content. Do you want your Flickr photos sent to family members? If you have unused credits on an account, do you want to give them to someone? Are there videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube that you’d like removed? If you have a blog, do you want the blog deleted but the content saved somehow? All of these are great questions to ask about any digital content you may possess.

Make Sure Your Emergency Contacts Know How to Access Your Information

You should select a person to serve as your digital executor, and make sure they will be able to access your devices and digital accounts after you are gone. This person may be the same person you choose to serve as the executor of your will or one of your emergency contacts. If you would like your digital executor to be a different person than the executor of your will, you can include roles in your will so that everyone is clear about who should do what. The clearer you can make things, the easier it will be for everyone to manage your estate the way you want.

Middle-aged man sitting at home, looking at digital accounts in laptop as he reviews paperwork

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you want to ensure that everything is done correctly, consider talking to an estate planning attorney. They will help you through the process of planning for both your physical and digital estate. You can discuss adding any language that may be needed to grant authority to your executor regarding your digital assets. Also, if you’ve already put together a will or other legal documentation but forgot about including digital assets, you might consider going back to update your documentation so that it’s the most current.

Update Regularly

We can all agree that things change almost constantly. Because of this fact, it’s important to always update your information. If you create a new account in the coming months, add it to the list you’re keeping. If you delete one, take it off. Take time to review privacy policies (even if you only review the ones for your most-used accounts). While this whole process may take a little bit of time, it will give both you and your family the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything – including your digital assets – has been considered and taken care of.

Folded legal will sitting on table near coffee mug, pen, and eyeglasses

How to Avoid Common Pitfalls When Writing a Legal Will

By Estate Planning No Comments

If you or a loved one are entering into hospice care without a written legal will, you may be wondering: “How do I get started?” and “How do I make sure I do this the right way?”

Those are great questions. As you probably know, if a family member passes away without a legal will, the surviving family must face not only their grief, but the headache (and heartache) of moving the estate through probate court.

That is why creating a legal will is one of the most vital areas of estate planning. A legal will ensures that your property and possessions will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. When someone dies without a legal will, that person is said to have died “intestate,” and the person’s property and assets will be subject to distribution by the state of residence. And with the state making the decisions, your family may not receive everything you want them to receive.

Folded legal will sitting on table near coffee mug, pen, and eyeglasses


Intestacy can be the cause of unpleasant arguments among family members. If your final wishes for your property aren’t signed, witnessed, and documented while you are in a clear state of mind, then your loved ones will be left with the headache of trying to interpret your wishes in a way that doesn’t cause significant conflict.

Developing a Plan

To avoid all the legal red tape, take some time now to write your legal will, so that your wishes are legally valid and clearly understood. Requirements for a will’s legality vary from state to state, so you may have to do some research on specific requirements in your state or simply speak to an attorney to make sure your legal will is valid.

Here’s how to avoid some common pitfalls of writing a will:

1. Don’t wait

To ensure its legality, your will must be signed when you are of sound mind. Many people think that they have plenty of time to get around to writing a will, but if your state of health calls into question your mental clarity, then your will could be declared invalid. Depending on the severity of your illness, it’s better to complete your legal will sooner rather than later.

2. Select your witnesses

Your will should be written in the presence of witnesses. At least two witnesses will need to sign it, but some states will not accept less than three. Make sure that the witnesses are disinterested parties, people who are not beneficiaries and have no stake in the proceedings.

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting at table, looking at computer, reading the screen

3. Choose an executor

Be sure to assign an executor of the will to fulfill the duty of settling the estate. This is the person who will represent your wishes after your death. People often appoint a spouse or close friend as an executor. Remember, if you don’t select an executor, an administrator of the estate will be chosen for you. And unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that the person selected will know how to follow your wishes. That’s why you should make sure to choose your own executor ahead of time.

4. Provide for dependents (including pets)

If you are responsible for the care of minors, it is important to outline your wishes for their continued care. Make sure to assign a guardian you trust to take on their care.

5. Communicate clearly

Organize your thoughts clearly. Identify your heirs and give instructions that are free of ambiguity. Read back over the material and make sure that there is an unmistakable connection between person and property, gift and recipient.

Man looking at document, pen poised to sign the bottom

6. Have an attorney review your will

Estate planning attorneys have a lot of experience with what types of wills will hold up in court and which ones will not. If you are using an online service or writing the will yourself, have an estate planning attorney review the will, just to be on the safe side.

State Law Requirements

These general principles will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of will-writing. However, it is essential that you also educate yourself on your specific state’s laws for creating a will. Alternatively, you can work closely with a knowledgeable attorney to make sure that your will is written within the parameters of state law.

By creating a legally sound will, you can relieve your family of unnecessary stress and make your wishes known. Ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your preferences will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

Bible laying open on wooden table

15 Bible Verses to Bring Comfort During Hospice

By For Caregivers & Families, Grief & Loss No Comments

When you or a loved one are entering into hospice care, you may experience a wide variety of emotions: sadness, anger, shock, denial, relief, and guilt, to name a few. In the midst of the emotional turmoil, words of comfort from the Bible can be exactly what you need to bring comfort during a difficult time. Here are a few verses you can meditate on as you deal with the stresses of hospice for yourself or a loved one.

Bible laying open on wooden table

Verses to Bring Comfort

Matthew 11: 28-30

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Teenage girl praying, hands clasped

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him! The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

Open book with pages folded together in middle to create a heart

Verses to Remember God’s Promises

Remembering the promises God has made to his people can not only comfort those who are mourning, but in many ways, they will also bring a renewed perspective of who God will be through this trial.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27

 I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Psalm 56:10-13

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.

Mom and teenage daughter reading the Bible together, teenager touching mother's hand in a comforting way

Verses of Hope for the Future

In addition to feeling God’s comfort and remembering His promises, many Bible verses give hope for the future – an eternal life in God’s presence. Moreover, verses that talk about Christ’s sacrifice and his victory over death give comfort that earthly death is not the end. Jesus has conquered death, as have His children. Because of His sacrifice, there is hope. Hope for a future filled with God’s goodness. Hope for life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 11:25-26

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

Young girl sitting on steps outside, Bible in lap, hands clasped in prayer

Job 19:25-27

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!

Philippians 1:21-23

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

*All Scripture verses are from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.

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How to Create a Facebook or Instagram Memorial Page

By Estate Planning No Comments

With a loved one in hospice care, it’s important to ask some of the tough questions, especially if you’re unsure of the answers. Has your loved one completed a will? How would they like to be honored and remembered at a funeral or memorial service? Do they prefer burial or cremation? And while these are incredibly important questions (and you do need the answers), don’t forget to ask about their digital assets as well.

In this article, we will specifically address Facebook and Instagram, as you and your loved one consider whether to delete social media pages or create memorial pages out of existing accounts. Let’s get started.

Adult bearded man sitting at table, typing on a computer

The Importance of Digital Estate Planning

You may associate estate planning with a will or power of attorney, but digital estate planning is an important, often overlooked part of estate planning. It’s just as valuable to provide instructions for online accounts, digital assets, and social media profiles as it is to write down your wishes for physical holdings. To learn more about digital estate planning, take a moment to read Managing your Digital Estate and How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple.

Now, let’s move on to Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook Memorial Page

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Facebook

With Facebook, you have two options after death: delete the account or create a memorial page. Thankfully, Facebook has clear-cut instructions on how to do both of these things.

The most common reason to turn a Facebook page into a memorial is to create a place where family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances can process grief together and offer condolences to surviving family members. People can post memories, offer words of encouragement and sympathy, share photos, and more. Let’s start by going over a few pieces of key information!

Was a Legacy Contact chosen?

With Facebook, estate planning means designating a Legacy Contact. In other words, you tell Facebook who should manage your account after your death (often a spouse, close friend, or family member). The Legacy Contact can monitor your profile by deleting or memorializing the account, accepting friend requests, pinning tribute posts, updating profile and cover photos, and more. However, a Legacy Contact cannot log in to the account to view private messages or remove past posts, photos, or friends.

Currently, you can only add a Facebook friend as a Legacy Contact. When you select a Legacy Contact, Facebook gives you the option to notify that person right away, which is recommended so that person is in the know about your wishes. To learn how to add a Legacy Contact, go to How Do I Add, Change, or Remove a Legacy Contact?

On the other hand, if you’ve been added as a Legacy Contact to someone’s account and aren’t sure how to manage a memorialized Facebook page, go to How Do I Manage a Memorialized Profile on Facebook? for some helpful tips.

A woman wearing a blue scarf typing on her smartphone

What if there is no designated Legacy Contact?

That’s okay. Family members can simply reach out to Facebook directly with a request to memorialize the account. However, you cannot change memorialized accounts with no Legacy Contact in any way. To request that an account without a Legacy Contact be memorialized, go to the Memorialization Request.

What happens when you memorialize a Facebook page?

Memorialization locks the account and prevents anyone from logging in. While a Legacy Contact can’t log in to the account anymore, they can still make decisions on basic functions, like viewing posts, removing tags, updating profile and cover images, etc.

Additionally, a memorialized account will no longer appear in “search” results. However, any existing friends can still view the page and share photos, memories, and wall messages. The word “Remembering” will appear next to the deceased person’s name on their profile.

For a full list of links to helpful information, go to All You Need to Know about Facebook Memorialized Accounts.

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Option 2: Deleting a Facebook Account

Alternatively, you can choose to have an account deleted instead. Keep in mind, if/when Facebook learns of a death, their policy is to memorialize the account if no instructions were left behind (i.e. no Legacy Contact and no request to delete the account).

If you are completing your own digital estate planning and want your account permanently deleted after your passing, go to Settings. Click Manage Account. Scroll down until you see Request that your account be deleted after you pass away. Then, follow the prompts.

If you would like to delete the Facebook account of a deceased family member, you can reach out to Facebook directly. To learn more about the process and the required documentation, click here. Once you have your documentation gathered together, you can use the Special Request Form to begin the process of deleting the account. Please be aware, Facebook cannot provide you with login information for someone else’s account even after a death has occurred, but they can either delete or memorialize the account.

That’s it for Facebook – let’s move on to Instagram.

Woman sitting on couch near a fireplace, using her tablet

Instagram Memorial Page

While Instagram has been working on its memorial options for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their efforts. Now, similar to Facebook, you can either memorialize or delete an Instagram account.

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Instagram

While Instagram now offers the ability to memorialize accounts, they do not currently allow you to designate a digital heir (Facebook calls this person a Legacy Contact). However, with the proper documentation, you can memorialize a loved one’s Instagram account after their death.

What are the key features of a memorialized Instagram account?

With a memorialized account:

  • The account locks and no one can log in.
  • The word “Remembering” appears on the person’s profile.
  • Any posts the deceased shared prior to death will stay visible.
  • You can no longer make changes to photos, videos, comments, privacy settings, or the current profile picture. Also, followers and the pages the deceased was following cannot be changed.

However, if you feel a comment or post on a memorialized profile violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines or Terms of Use, you can report it to Instagram by going to How to Report a Comment or How to Report a Post.

Young man and woman working together on a computer, sitting at table

How do you memorialize an Instagram account?

The first step is to put in a request. When Instagram receives a valid request (regardless of whom that request is from), they will memorialize the account. To ensure the request is valid, you must provide proof of death, such as an obituary or a news article. Just like Facebook, Instagram will not give out login information.

With a validated request, Instagram will memorialize the account. To submit a request to memorialize an account, go to the Request to Memorialize and fill it out.

Option 2: Removing an Instagram Account

The second option is to remove/delete the account. To entirely remove an account from Instagram, the requester must provide evidence that they are an immediate family member of the deceased.

Accepted forms of proof that you are an immediate family member are:

  • The deceased person’s birth certificate
  • The deceased person’s death certificate
  • Proof of authority under local law that you represent the deceased person

To request the removal of an Instagram account, you must complete the Removal Request and submit the required documentation.

Woman sitting at her desk, holding phone in both hands as she looks at the screen

Thankfully, both Facebook and Instagram have made the process simple and clear. Now that you know more about how to memorialize or delete accounts, take some time to talk with your loved one in hospice care and carefully consider the best way to move forward. Every person is different, so decide what’s best for you and your family and do that. It may mean memorializing the account so that friends and family can share memories and photos. It may mean removing the account entirely because it’s too painful to manage. There’s no right or wrong answer – just what makes the most sense for your needs.

Woman wearing black and holding red rose as she stands beside a dark wood casket covered in flowers

7 Building Blocks for a Meaningful Funeral Service

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

With a loved one in hospice care, it’s hard to face the fact that, sometime soon, your family will need to plan a final tribute for someone you love. Even though you wish things were different, wouldn’t it be good to create a service that truly reflects your loved one’s life and legacy?

Woman wearing black and holding red rose as she stands beside a dark wood casket covered in flowers

Over his years of counseling families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally renowned grief counselor and educator, has found that there are several tried and true elements you should consider incorporating in a final tribute. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that these elements are necessary to facilitate the six needs that a funeral fulfills: 1) acknowledging the reality of the death, 2) embracing the pain of the loss, 3) remembering the person who died, 4) developing a new self-identity, 5) searching for meaning, and 6) receiving ongoing support from others.

As you create a personalized and meaningful tribute, give thoughtful consideration to how you can implement these healing and meaningful elements.


First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. Don’t be afraid to invite people to express grief. Consider using music that was significant to your loved one.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Two red roses laying across top of dark marble grave marker in cemetery


Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings bring the unique spirit of the one who has died to life. Did they have a favorite book? Poem? Were they a person of faith who would want passages read?

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony


Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If it is decided to have a viewing, it is an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

Mourners standing together and looking at a silver urn surrounded by greenery


Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, quotes, or even the lost loved one’s favorite jokes. The eulogy (or remembrance/homily) can be delivered by a clergy person, family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy


Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Man and woman wearing black, serious faces, man's hand on woman's shoulder


Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. While you consider the benefits of a gathering, take a few moments to read the article below.

What is a Gathering?


And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Using these elements as a guide will help you create a sweet, meaningful, and healing experience. Those who come to mourn will leave feeling like they have honored a life lived and have taken the first healthy step on their grief journey.

Person filling out Social Security Benefits Application Form

Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits

By Estate Planning No Comments

If you or a loved one are in hospice care, you may be wondering about what kinds of Social Security survivor’s benefits are available for the family after a loss. After the death of a loved one, the next of kin should immediately contact the local Social Security Office to apply for survivor’s benefits because they may not be retroactive.

How much are the benefits?

Typically, Social Security pays out a special one-time payment of $255 to the surviving spouse of an eligible recipient. However, additional monies will depend on the earnings of the deceased. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits.

Person filling out Social Security Benefits Application Form

Who is eligible to receive benefits?

Survivor benefits can be paid to a surviving:

  • widow or widower – full benefits at 65 and older or reduced benefits as early as age 60. A disabled widow can receive benefits at age 50-60.
  • widow or widower – at any age if he or she is taking care of your child under the age of 16 or disabled.
  • unmarried children – until the age of 18. Your child can receive benefits at any age if they were disabled before the age of 22 and have not recovered from their disability.
  • dependent parents – at the age of 62 and older.
  • divorced spouses – your former spouse can receive benefits under the same circumstances as your widow or widower if your marriage lasted 10 years or more. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.

Focus on hands, one person holding another person's hand in a comforting way

Information you need to provide

If you would like to receive survivor benefits, you must provide the following information at the time of your claim:

  • Proof of death
  • Social Security number (yours and the person who has died)
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate – if you’re a widow or widower
  • Divorce papers – if you’re applying as a surviving divorced spouse
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers
  • Deceased worker’s W-2 forms
  • Bank name – if direct deposit is an option

It is important to remember that Social Security benefits and qualification rules for benefits change periodically. With this in mind, be sure to contact your local Social Security Administration office or visit their website to learn more. Go to to find more information.

Young woman sitting by window, looking out and thinking quietly

Recognizing Disenfranchised Grief

By Grief & Loss No Comments

If you’ve  recently lost a loved one or you have a loved one currently in hospice care, you may be wondering about how “normal” your feelings of grief are. It’s important to realize that grief is different from person to person, so your grief journey is going to look different than anyone else’s (including your close family members). While many people experience “normal grief,” it’s possible that your experience may be different. If you feel like your grief is misunderstood or unacknowledged or that you’ve been overlooked, then you may be experiencing disenfranchised grief. Let’s unpack disenfranchised grief and the impact it has on grieving people the world over.

Young woman sitting by window, looking out and thinking quietly

First, What is Normal Grief?

Before we dive into disenfranchised grief, it’s important that you understand what normal grief is. In short, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but they are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process.

Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to grieve. But what if your grief is unacknowledged, no one stopped to listen to you, and there were no sympathetic words?

Enter Disenfranchised Grief

First coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka, “disenfranchised grief” is complicated, but put in the simplest terms, it is grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned. Often, the grief is minimized or not understood.

When your feelings of grief aren’t acknowledged or are minimized, you may begin to feel that your grief is inappropriate, invalid, or unacceptable in some way. And naturally, when you feel that your emotions are shameful, you are less likely to share what you’re feeling but will instead internalize it. Disenfranchised grief is often lonely, private, and you may feel that there must be something wrong with you for feeling this way.

On top of that, disenfranchised grief isn’t black and white; it’s very subjective. Two people may experience the exact same loss, but for one, the loss is openly acknowledged and mourned while for the other, it is minimized. Though they experienced the same loss, for one of them, it was disenfranchised.

Two people holding hands, offering comfort

As someone who is entering hospice, you may experience disenfranchised grief in three different ways:

# 1 – Unrecognized Relationships

If you are in hospice, it is natural to want to reach out to previous relationships to find closure, forgiveness, or reconciliation. But perhaps the relationship was private or estranged or you are grieving someone you who has already passed away. In this situation, your grief over past relationships may not be recognized or understood by others. In some cases, your relationship may even be a source of contention and pain to close family members.

With these factors in place, you may feel unable to mourn in the usual way and could end up internalizing the pain because you have no external outlet. When a relationship isn’t recognized, you may not be viewed as a griever so people don’t see or understand the depth of your feeling. A few examples of this are an ex-spouse, estranged relative or friend, or a relationship you kept private.

#2 – The Loss is Unacknowledged or Deemed Less Significant

By far, many forms of disenfranchised grief are minimized by others. When a loss is unacknowledged or is deemed less significant, then it falls into disenfranchised grief. Oftentimes, these losses don’t fall into a group’s accepted definition of grief.

When your grief is found unacceptable by someone, or even uncomfortable, it may hinder your ability to grieve well and openly, which could make a stressful time even more stressful. If you are a hospice patient, naturally others around you are grieving the loss of your health in their own ways, so they may not see the losses that you need to mourn, too. Some examples of when a loss is unacknowledged or deemed less significant are:

  • Estrangements
  • Job loss
  • Pets you will leave behind
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of independence
  • Not being able to be there for future milestones for children and grandchildren
  • Not being able to accomplish something you wanted to accomplish
  • Loss of financial stability
  • Feeling like a burden on others

Because your loved ones may be consumed by their own grief, they may not be able to see or acknowledge your grief as valid.

Older woman sitting at table, holding picture of loved one and thinking

#3 – Stigma Surrounds the Loss

A sense of grief that is stigmatized can also lead to disenfranchised grief. Sometimes an illness is stigmatized in some way, and loved ones are uneasy with the condition of the person in hospice, which only leads to a more painful experience. Sometimes loved ones just don’t know what to say or how to act. Any time that shame or embarrassment are present with grief, there is a chance that the grief may be disenfranchised.

Overall, disenfranchised grief means that what you’re feeling isn’t accepted by someone you deem important. This could be society as a whole, family, friends, or even yourself. After all, you can convince yourself that you have no right to grieve this loss. Unfortunately, that attitude won’t stop the feelings or help you work through them. You may feel judged or criticized by others for your grief, so, what can you do?

Three Suggestions to Help You Move Toward Healing

First of all, if you are going through disenfranchised grief right now, you’re not alone and your grief is valid. You have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Grief is a natural response to the losses in our lives – no matter what form that loss takes. Now, let’s talk about three suggestions for moving toward healing as you work through your disenfranchised grief.

Upset young woman sitting at table, touching forehead and thinking

Validate the Loss Within Yourself

While it’s helpful to have others validate your feelings, it’s not necessary to move toward healing. The most important thing is for you to realize – within yourself – that your feelings of grief are real and legitimate. It’s okay if the people around you don’t fully understand. The most important person to validate your loss is you. Work toward acknowledging that you feel what you feel and it’s all part of the grief journey.

An important note – the grief that children feel is often overlooked or unacknowledged, so take extra effort to listen, validate their feelings, and offer support to the children in your life who are grieving.

Find Supportive People

As you work toward fully realizing and accepting that your loss is valid and worth grieving, find supportive people to talk to. You need people who won’t minimize your feelings but will accept and support you wherever you are on the grief journey. You might start with an understanding close friend, family member, or mentor. Additionally, consider sitting down with a support group or a therapist. Sometimes, you just need to talk with people who understand what you’re feeling and can help you identify it. Once you’ve named your emotions, you can better communicate your feelings to the other people in your life.

If you’ve been dealing with disenfranchised grief for a while, then you might strongly consider talking with a grief counselor or therapist. They can help you understand your feelings, realize that it’s okay to grieve, offer a safe place to express yourself, and provide resources that will help you move toward healing.

Sad older man and woman, woman laying head on shoulder of man in comfort

Participate in Healing Rituals

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” Normally, when we lose a person we love, we have a funeral or memorial service to honor and remember them. However, with disenfranchised grief, you may not have the opportunity to attend a funeral. And if you’ve lost something else, a ceremony isn’t possible. However, the principle remains the same – you can participate in healing rituals to help you engage with your feelings and begin to release them in a healthy way.

While there may not be an official ritual available, you can create your own. Write a letter to say all the things you’ve wanted to say. Create a memory box or book with mementos and reminders. Find a creative way to process through your feelings. Use the healing power of a symbolic ritual that expresses your feelings in some small way.

Processing what you’re experiencing is hard work, but it’s so important to your quality of life and sense of peace. Unaddressed grief can lead to additional pain, depression, and mood swings. Instead of listening to those who might try to minimize your grief, take time to listen to your feelings. Surround yourself with supportive people and find a way to participate in healing rituals. Whatever grief you’re feeling, it’s real, it’s legitimate, and you have a right to do the work of grieving that loss.

Young woman sitting on couch opening a box and smiling

How a Memory Capsule Can Help Your Family Grieve

By Grief & Loss No Comments

Sometimes, words aren’t enough to fully express what you feel or say what you mean. In the times when words are inadequate, participating in healing rituals and actions plays a key role in helping you grieve well and express what can’t be said. One healing action you might consider – either for yourself or your entire family – is creating a memory capsule.

Young woman sitting on couch opening a box and smiling

What is a Memory Capsule?

If you or a loved one is currently in hospice care, a memory capsule could bring healing to loved ones after the loss. Similar to a time capsule, a memory capsule is a container that holds precious mementos, photos, notes, and other memorabilia associated with a loved one. Once the capsule is complete, you put it away until a specified time. This might be a year after the loss, or even specific times, such as weddings, graduations, and other special events that the person currently in hospice may not be able to attend.

A time capsule could include letters to loved ones to be opened on special days, gifts, video messages, favorite photos, and cherished mementos. Then, when the date comes to open the capsule, surviving family members will feel like the person who died is there with them in that special moment.

Remembrance is a key part of grieving well and creating a memory capsule is one way you can remember, reminisce, and embrace a loved one’s life. It will allow your loved ones to feel your presence when they need you most. Regardless of what you decide, when you open the box, tender memories will flood them with love and help them lovingly remember and grieve for the person they’ve lost.

Small storage container with key

How to Create a Memory Capsule

With a few simple steps, you can create both a memory capsule and a meaningful activity for your family.

1. Determine where you’ll store the capsule or capsules.

First, you must decide where you will be storing the capsule. Whether you decide to store it indoors or outdoors will affect what kind of container you use and what types of items you place inside. So, before you can really begin, you need to determine how you plan to store your memory capsule. Also, select a person to be in charge of the capsule. This person will be responsible for storing the container and bringing it out of storage at the appropriate time.

2. Choose your container.

Once you’ve determined where you plan to store your capsule, it’s time to select the type of container you intend to use. If you are planning to keep the memory capsule indoors, then you could select a box, a plastic container, a jar, or some other container that is easily storable.

However, if you plan to keep the capsule outside or you intend to bury it, there are a few things to consider. For outdoor safekeeping, find a container that is non-biodegradable, like something made of metal. Water, dirt, pressure, and critters won’t be friendly to your capsule so make sure that it’s strong, weather-proof, and watertight.

If you are making this a family activity, discuss together what kind of container you’d like to use.

Elderly man sitting at table, reading a letter and smiling

3. Decide what to include.

Next, it’s time to decorate your container (if you wish) and gather your memories. Since this activity is meant to be part of a healing ritual, you might write a letter or record a video message for your loved ones individually or as a family. This may be for a special occasion or for a later date in general.

For your message, record a favorite memory. Share funny stories. Give words of wisdom that you think they may need after you are gone. Share how proud you are of them and what they mean to you. Then, gather photos, drawings, trinkets, clothing, or other cherished items. Find the items that are meaningful to you and place them in the container.

If you are planning to store your capsule outdoors, consider using good paper and permanent ink. Try not to use paper clips, staples, or rubber bands because they will rust or break with age. Consider placing photos and other paper items into plastic sleeves to further protect them.

WARNING: Make sure you don’t include flammable materials or anything else that may cause damage, such as liquids, food products, matches, or lighters.

Pile of letters, photos, and audio recordings

4. Set a date.

Typically, capsules are left closed for several years, but you can do whatever works best for your family. For example, if you are putting together a memory capsule for a loved one’s future birthday, Christmas, or wedding, they may open it within one year or it may be several years down the road. The most important thing is to select a time frame and make sure that everyone participating knows what the time frame is.

5. Seal your container and store it.

Once you have gathered letters, messages, and memorabilia, all that’s left is sealing the container. After that, store it away until the agreed upon date. You can even write a “Do not open until” date on the outside. Enlist the help of two or three other family members so that your plans and wishes are known. For extra protection, seal the container with tape or a lock. If you are writing several letters for future dates, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or big future life milestones, entrust those letters to a family member who will deliver them at the appropriate time.

Young man putting away memory capsule box until determined date

Helping Your Loved Ones on Their Grief Journey

It may be difficult to think of all the special moments you may miss. The process of putting together messages and mementos can be very emotionally demanding. But in the end, it is worth it.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says this about grief: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of thousands of grieving people I have companioned over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain that is the wilderness of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes shuffling along the less strenuous side paths, sometimes plowing directly into the black center.” So, as you confront your emotions head on, you will begin to actually deal with them and find a way to move toward healing and eventually reconciliation.

Woman sitting down, writing on notepad and wearing deep red sweater

Just remember, you’re not alone on the journey. Lean on your loved ones. Talk to your family and/or friends. While they may not always understand what you’re thinking or feeling, they love you and can be a source of support through the process of saying your goodbyes.

Open laptop sitting on desk with notepad and pen nearby

7 Tips to Simplify Digital Estate Planning

By Estate Planning No Comments

As you or a loved one moves into hospice care, it’s time to start thinking about digital estate planning. By leaving behind specific instructions, you can save family members from a lot of stress and heartache. With the rise of technology, it’s important to plan ahead for your digital assets.

To ensure that a portion of your identity isn’t left floating around in cyberspace, you may want to start outlining your plans for your digital estate. Below are some tips and guidelines to help you arrange for the distribution of your digital assets.

Older man on the phone while looking at computer

Create an inventory of your digital material and devices.

Before doing anything else, create a list of your online material and digital devices with password protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Social media accounts, email information, blogs, pictures, retail accounts, cash sending apps, and videos…there is a lot of information out there, and you want to make sure that you acknowledge the entirety of your digital estate before you go any further.

Consider using an online resource or app as a tool to organize your assets.

New apps and websites are available that allow you to store all of your assets in a digital space. They function as a sort of bank for your digital assets. This is an easy way to compile your material so it is easily accessible to loved ones. However, do some thorough research on the company you choose to make sure it’s reputable.

Woman sitting at computer, wearing yellow sweater, books on desk nearby

Construct a list with all of your usernames and passwords and store it in a safe place.

As you gather login information, you may even want to create two separate lists, splitting the username and password information and storing them in two separate locations for greater security. Another option is to use a code your family will understand but would be difficult for a stranger to decipher. Be sure to update these lists every time you update your passwords. Be sure to keep this information out of your will because the will ends up in the public records, which raises safety concerns. Don’t forget to include your computer and phone pass codes! Many people overlook the fact that their devices (and all the information and photos stored on them) are often inaccessible to loved ones after they die without those very important codes.

Begin looking at individual companies’ policies.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of legal gray area concerning the distribution of digital information after the death of an individual. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn…all of these companies have different policies for dealing with the material of a person who has passed. Familiarize yourself with the individual polices so that you can determine the best course of action.

Laptop sitting on desk in natural light with mug, notepad, and pen nearby

Provide instructions.

Once everything has been planned, appoint a representative who will act on your behalf and follow your instructions regarding your online information. Do not include username and password information in a legal will. However, you should designate your representative in the will and provide general instructions for your digital assets. Contact your representative to ensure they know where and how to obtain your personal information.

Make sure that loved ones know to act fast.

Many companies have a legal right to the ownership of your account after you die, and often, an account is merely shut down and the material lost. However, if your family members act fast and access the material before the company deletes the account, or if they contact the company directly, they can find a way to access the material. If it’s a social media account, they can post a final tribute or retrieve some precious photos. If it’s an email or an account with important personal information, they may be able to access the account to transfer some of the information before the account is terminated.

However, if your illness is slow-moving, there may be time to begin preserving photos, posts, videos, and more. By working with family members or trusted friends, you can gather the digital information you want protected and safeguarded.

Father and adult son sitting at desk together, looking at documents with computer nearby

Check your state’s laws.

As with so many legal issues, digital estate planning may vary based on the laws of your state. Some states have specific laws for handling the online material of a deceased person. Other states have no such laws regarding these issues. To ensure that you’re doing things correctly, look into your state’s guidelines or contact an estate planning attorney.

Hopefully these tips and guidelines will give you a foundation to build on as you complete your digital estate planning. Don’t forget to also complete a legal will and any other recommended documents to ensure that everything is taken care of for your family.

Parents and two teenagers wearing black and carrying funeral roses

How to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

If you are caring for a loved one in hospice, you may be wondering…how can I honor my loved one’s life and memory? How can I make the celebration of life memorable and unique? With these tips on how to personalize a funeral, you can create a memorable service that will honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personal, meaningful, and healing.

Parents and two teenagers wearing black and carrying funeral roses

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that touches hearts and meaningfully celebrates someone loved.

The most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.


First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling.

Person playing piano, focus on hands

How to Personalize:

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre
  • Consider whether to have music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play/sing a song
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?


Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.

Books lined up as if on a bookshelf

How to Personalize:

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own personal writing or incorporate catchphrases they are known for

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony.


Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see your loved one a final time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.

Woman standing next to casket, one hand touching top of casket and the other hand holding white lilies

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – your loved one’s story.

How to Personalize:

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later)
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.)
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event


Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to carefully consider what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

Young woman speaking into microphone

How to Personalize:

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or was known to cherish)
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy.


Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. For instance, people often send flowers, make memorial donations, or bake casseroles to convey the love they feel and the support they offer.

Green urn sitting in a prominent location, surrounded by yellow and red flowers

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one.

How to Personalize:

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol


Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people.

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.

Waiter preparing a reserved table for a gathering

How to Personalize:

  • Have the gathering at your lost loved one’s favorite restaurant
  • Choose a venue that meant something to the person who has died (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.)
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree


And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

Pallbearers carrying light-colored casket with funeral spray with white roses on top

How to Personalize:

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.)
  • Incorporate keepsake items
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your own. Ultimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that lovingly reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.