Planning Ahead

What You Need to Know Before You Die


It's still early in the year and a great time to get your life in order. The last thing on your “to do” list is to figure out what happens if you don’t make it through the year. End of life decisions are difficult, but if you follow a few simple guidelines, things can be a little less stressful and costly.

All of us must die. No one wants to think about it. No one wants to call a funeral home or a cemetery, but someone will need to make those calls eventually. A little bit of sage advice can relieve some (not all) of the stress that goes with the loss of a loved one.

As a licensed Funeral Director for over 20 years, I have met with thousands of families at arguably the worst time of their lives. The best advice I can give is to share your final wishes with your family. Tell your spouse, tell your kids, tell your lawyer but WRITE IT DOWN!

It’s OK to change your mind down the road. Most everyone does. By writing down your current thoughts you give your survivors a great head start on planning your burial or cremation. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer in September. She didn’t share her wishes, and although I do this everyday, I was not prepared.

That being said, here are some real suggestions to ease the stress:

1) If possible, plan ahead.

Get all your vital statistic information together. Veteran discharge papers, insurance policies, obituary information and family contact numbers are all things the funeral director is going to need. Part of planning ahead is interviewing funeral homes. Ask hard questions: How much for a cremation? Burial? Service? If they charge you extra for dying at home or having a pacemaker run away!

2) Make sure your family is on board.

Although it is ultimately your decision, having your family in agreement with your wishes can alleviate bickering and hard feelings. Not every family is like the Brady Bunch. If you sense discourse, address it before it’s too late.

3) If you’re a veteran, take advantage.

Honorably discharged veterans get precious few perks but burial in one of the national cemeteries is very nice and free. Beaufort National Cemetery provides free burial space, opening and closing of the grave, a vault, and a marker for the veteran and their spouse. Six Oaks Cemetery in Sea Pines does a great job of recognizing and honoring them, as well.

4) Don’t be afraid to be unique.

Tell a story. Have pictures or a video at the service. If you like motorcycles, display your Harley. If you like golf, display your clubs. You spend many years of your life learning, loving and living. Share some of those memories so people know who you really are.

5) Above all else, don’t procrastinate.

If you have taken the time to read this article the whole way through then it must be hitting a nerve. Take action. Talk to your kids or spouse. Visit a cemetery, call a funeral home, or get online and do some research. But do it now.

Jim Keith, owner of Keith Funeral & Cremation Services, grew up just outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania and first moved to Hilton Head in 1977. After spending three years here he moved to Columbia and attended USC where he attained a BA in Liberal Arts. Subsequently, he graduated from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and earned an MBA from Eastern University in St. David’s PA.
Jim moved down to Hilton Head from Wilmington, DE where he assisted families in some very high profile services. He’s been married for 26 years to his wife, Susan, and they have three grown children and one really cool granddaughter. For more information, visit

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