Some Interesting Facts About Arlington National Cemetery

We’ve been reviewing a series of brochures that are provided by the government on end of life issues. As Memorial Day has just passed it is timely to review the requirements to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

First here are some interesting facts about Arlington:

• Almost 4 million people visit annually.

• It is not the largest National Cemetery, just the most famous. (The largest is Calverton in NY.)

• There are more than 290,000 veterans and their dependents buried on 624 acres of land.

• There are veterans buried at Arlington representing every war the United States has fought.

• The other 129 National Cemeteries are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs; Arlington however is administered by the Department of the Army.

• At the current rate of approximately 27 funerals daily, M-F, the cemetery should be able to accommodate ground burials up to the year 2060.

So, who can be buried at Arlington?

• Any active duty member of the Armed Forces (except those members serving on active duty for training only).

• Any veteran who is retired from active military service with the Armed Forces.

• Any veteran who is retired from the Reserves is eligible upon reaching age 60 and drawing retired pay; and who served a period of active duty (other than for training).

• Any former member of the Armed Forces separated honorably prior to October 1, 1949 for medical reasons and who was rated at 30% or greater disabled effective on the day of discharge.

• Any former member of the Armed Forces who has been awarded one of the following decorations:
‣ Medal of Honor
‣ Distinguished Service Cross (Navy Cross or Air Force Cross)
‣ Distinguished Service Medal
‣ Silver Star
‣ Purple Heart

• The President of the United States or any former President of the United States.

Any former member of the Armed Forces who served on active duty (other than for training) and who held any of the following positions:

‣ An elective office of the U.S. Government

‣ Office of the Chief Justice of the United States or of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

‣ An office listed, at the time the person held the position, in 5 USC 5312 or 5313 (Levels I and II of the Executive Schedule).

‣ The chief of a mission who was at any time during his/her tenure classified in Class I under the provisions of Section 411, Act of 13 August 1946, 60 Stat. 1002, as amended (22 USC 866) or as listed in State Department memorandum dated March 21, 1988.

• Any former prisoner of war who, while a prisoner of war, served honorably in the active military, naval, or air service, whose last period of military, naval or air service terminated honorably and who died on or after November 30, 1993.

• The spouse, widow or widower, minor child, or permanently dependent child, and certain unmarried adult children of any of the above eligible veterans.

The widow or widower of:

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who was lost or buried at sea or officially determined to be missing in action.

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in a US military cemetery overseas that is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

‣ a member of the Armed Forces who is interred in Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group burial.

• The surviving spouse, minor child, or permanently dependent child of any person already buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

• The parents of a minor child, or permanently dependent child whose remains, based on the eligibility of a parent, are already buried in ANC. A spouse divorced from the primary eligible, or widowed and remarried, is not eligible for interment.

• Provided certain conditions are met, a former member of the Armed Forces may be buried in the same grave with a close relative who is already buried and is the primary eligible.

This brochure is full of helpful information and answers questions I wouldn’t have even thought to ask. It is 30 pages long, and professionally published. However, the same information is available on-line at as well. Just click on “Funeral Information.”

Estate Planning - Why It Matters

With all of the legislative hoopla I got off track on my blog series about information obtained from the Federal Citizen Information Center. Let’s pick up with Estate Planning this week (you can read one of our earlier discussion about Estate & Funeral Planning here).

As a little girl, I thought that an estate sale was another name for a garage sale, only for people who were really rich. It wasn’t until much later that I understood that the person had actually died, and even later still that their family may have had to sell a lot of their loved ones possessions in order to pay taxes. I now of course understand that estate planning is not only for the wealthy, and adding up all of your assets can really be an eye-opening experience. Between your home, investments, retirement savings, and life insurance you may come to realize that you are like most people, worth more dead than alive. (I’m joking, don’t get upset.)

The Federal Citizen Information Center has a free brochure on Estate Planning with all kinds of wonderful nuggets of information. It’s really something that I wish would be required reading for anyone over the age of 30. Like most things in life, Estate Planning, is heavy on the planning part. But do you really need to worry about this? The short answer is, “Yes.”

The brochures cites that about half of all Americans die without a will. So what happens in that case? The court system steps in to distribute your property according to the laws of your state, which may or may not coincide with your final wishes. Although unlikely, the state can even claim your estate for itself. Here’s short list of reasons that you should consult with an attorney when creating a will:

• You expect to own estate tax upon your death.

• You think your kids or beneficiaries will disagree on what should be done.

• You have children from more than one marriage, or from a blended family.

• You own property in multiple states.

• You want to establish a trust.

The IRS states that estate taxes in 2008 on an amount of $2,000,000 can be up to 45%! So how can you avoid that? (Even if you’re worth less than $2,000,000):

• Give away assets during your lifetime.

• Using the marital deduction, if the bypass trust or credit shelter trust is not a better option.

• Use a bypass trust or credit shelter trust. This can provide income to the surviving spouse.

• Charitable gifts to qualifying charities are not taxed under most circumstances.

• Life insurance trusts can be designed to keep the proceeds of the policy out of your estate and provide a cash source for your estate.

Here’s a list of reasons that you may have to update your estate plans:

• The value of your assets changes significantly.

• You marry, remarry, or divorce.

• You have a child or new grandchild.

• You move to a different state.

• You need to change the executor of your will.

• One of your heirs dies.

• Your children reach age 18.

• The laws affecting your estate change.

The one thing the brochure advises that I wouldn’t recommend is that you visit the IRS website. I’ve been on that site before and it’s a mess, full of downloadable forms that you can use, it’s unorganized, etc. That’s when the price of an attorney is well worth it.

The Helpful-But-Sometimes Goofy AARP Strikes Again

I often make fun of AARP in my blog. I don’t think that they are inherently evil or anything, they just seem to be off the mark so often. If I had to compare them to a Disney character I would pick Goofy, he’s certainly likable, light-hearted, funny, loyal, and has the best of intentions, but often while trying to help, makes a bigger mess of things.

A recent AARP Bulletin proves my point, again. They published their results of a poll taken where people were asked if they had heard about certain preplanning topics and whether or not they had completed them. I’m not a statistician by any stretch of the imagination, but really, anyone can see how ridiculous this poll was. AARP boasts over 36 million members aged over 50. The poll however asked only 1,013 adults aged 35 and older these questions? How odd. Then they only reported the answers for the people aged 50-59, and then 60+. They asked about the following:

• Durable power of attorney for health care

• Living Will

• Organ/tissue donation form

• Funeral arrangements or burial pre-plans

• Trust or last will and testament

They asked people if they had completed, not completed, or not heard about the above topics. In all 5 categories, the percentage of “not heard about” topics was higher for the over 60 crowd. Huh? So the older you are the less likely you are to have heard about these topics? That doesn’t make sense. Two of the categories didn’t even equal 100%. What? Who proofed this data? The number of people not having heard about the topics was just alarming, from 3% to 10%. Who are these people and where do they live? Who hasn’t heard of a will? They must have asked the respondents these questions at Disney World after they had just exited Space Mountain.

AARP may do a lot of good things for the seniors in our country, but some of the things they publish are just plain goofy.

No Licensure for Colorado Funeral Directors

House Bill 08-1123, regarding licensure and registration for funeral directors died in the Colorado Senate this legislative session.

For 7 years the Colorado Funeral Directors Association with varied levels of support and assistance from funeral home owners and industry leaders has introduced a bill on registration and/or licensure of funeral service personnel. Although Colorado has a lot of laws regarding funeral service; burial, cremation, embalming, and standards of practice, what we haven’t had since 1982 is licensure or registration of those people responsible for knowing and carrying out the laws.

It is important to note the bills introduced through the years had a licensure component simply for those who had chosen (or would choose in the future) to voluntarily go to mortuary school and pass their National Board Exam; all others in the industry would simply have registered with the State.

So, after 7 years of trying to bring individual accountability why did the bills continue to fail year after year? Here are some of the arguments I heard from the lawmakers themselves through the years. These are all quotes I heard with my own ears; some of them are accurate statements, others are just plain silly.

• “There was licensure in Noble, Georgia and that didn’t stop crematory operators from breaking the law.”

• “Colorado has not made national news with any horror stories on our funeral industry.”

• “The funeral bill would raise the cost of funerals for consumers.”

• “I don’t want to allow the industry to be taken from no regulation to licensure in one year.”

• “Funeral directors in rural Colorado won’t be able to take vacations.”

• “We already have pre-need and insurance laws in Colorado.”

• “We already have Federal OSHA standards to regulate the embalming room, and the Federal Trade Commission, FTC Rule to regulate pricing.”

• “The Mortuary Science Code was updated in 2004, that’s good enough.”

• “This bill would over-regulate an industry that has done a fine job regulating itself since 1982.”

• “There aren’t enough consumer complaints.”

• “This bill would restrict competition in the industry.”

Having entered the funeral business in 1988, six years after the funeral licensing laws expired; I have never worked with a license in Colorado. After I graduated from Mortuary School in 1991, I earned my voluntary Mortuary Science Practitioner (MSP) certification through the Colorado Funeral Service Board by passing my National Board Exam and serving a voluntary one year internship under a registered MSP.

At the end of the day the passage of this bill wouldn’t have done anything for me personally other than perhaps provided an additional layer of respect by my peers outside of Colorado. Despite not having a license, I have contributed to the funeral industry on a national level in a variety of ways.

At the end of day the passage of this bill would have formalized a place for consumers to register their complaints with the State, however they can still file law-suits, contact the media, and tell all of their friends, “Don’t use ABC Funeral Home.”

At the end of day, the graduates of the Mortuary Science Program at Arapahoe Community College in Colorado can still pursue a license in 49 other states.

I am privileged to have worked for 20 years with some of the most professional people I know, the funeral directors and embalmers in Colorado.