Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ: What Should I Do About My Loved One's Funeral?

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Carolina Family Estate Planning is pleased to share this wonderful article drafted by Certified Elder Law Attorney, and friend, Victoria L. Collier, about her experience with attending funerals during this time of social distancing.  She has excellent recommendations if you plan to attend or have the need to host a funeral. Please call us if you have further questions.

I attended three funerals in March.  The first two were after the outbreak of the Coronavirus, but before the recommendation of social distancing. The third was after courts were closed, businesses were sending employees home, and my children were prohibited from going back to school.

As an elder care estate planning attorney, I try to attend as many of my clients’ funerals as possible. My intent with this article is to share insight as to how best to manage decisions regarding hosting or attending a funeral during these confusing and stressful times.

The first funeral was that of a client. It was traditional in that we were in a church sitting in pews. Over 200 people attended and it lasted two hours. I sat in the back and wondered how many people were sick and how many people cared about that versus the desire to show their love and respect for the departed.

The second was a prior colleague of mine and it was a “drop-in” gathering that spanned two hours with friends and family coming and going. It was held at the Mary Gay house in Decatur. When I arrived, toward the end of the two hours, co-workers, friends, and family were milling around looking at art and photography the decedent had created during life. People were both indoors and outdoors.

The third was my mother-in-law. A woman who didn’t know a stranger. Held in a church is a small town in Kansas. Text after text came in from people expressing regret that they would not be able to make it due to the Coronavirus warnings of social distancing. There was no way I was going to miss it.

Through these very different experiences and the increasing threat and warnings to stay isolated, here are my recommendations:

If Hosting a Funeral:

  1. If the person is not being buried and no immediate need to gather, consider delaying the memorial until after the social distancing recommendations have been rescinded. People can gather at any time in the future to show their respect.
  2. If a funeral is necessary sooner rather than later, recognize that everyone must make their own decisions about safety and that many people will not come in consideration of not infecting others just in case they may have been exposed and do not yet know it.
  3. For those that do gather, smile, cry, and console, but try not to hug unless you know the person is not sick or has not been in a high-risk situation (at a hospital, on a plane or cruise ship, etc.).
  4. If food is provided after the service, have the services wear gloves and place the food on the plates in a service line instead of doing buffet-style where people get their own food.
  5. Have tissues and hand sanitizer available in abundance.
  6. Either live-stream the services or record it for those who cannot attend and then share the recording via the internet, dropbox, or an email link. 
  7. Post a special message through the funeral home website expressing your understanding of people not being able to attend and gratefulness to them for heading the social distancing warnings.

If Attending a Funeral:

  1. Understand the family really appreciates your being there but may not want to be hugged.
  2. Wait to see if the family initiates a hug and, if you are alright with it, reciprocate, and if not, then when approaching, stop a distance away from them that would make a hug difficult and say – “I would love to give you a hug but I would like to make sure we stay well. Please know how sorry I am.”
  3. Pay your respects but don’t linger unnecessarily long.
  4. If you have any symptoms or the possibility of being exposed to any illness that could be spread (pneumonia, flu, coronavirus), pay your respects from afar and do not attend the funeral.
  5. Send monetary donations to causes important to the family instead of making them food, or order food from a local restaurant they can get delivered.
  6. Use Facetime or video messaging to send regrets if a text or email seems too impersonal.
  7. Offer to meet with the family for lunch at a future date when the social distancing recommendations have been rescinded.   

If you recently lost a loved one and you've been tasked with serving as the Executor of their estate, check out our free guide, Understanding Estate Administration, for helpful information on how to get started. Request your copy here.

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