Affordable Options:
A Guide to Funeral Planning

To plan your funeral is sensible, economical, and considerate. It will be your funeral. Your family or your estate will have to pay for it. When you plan the kind of arrangements you and your family want, you:
  • save needless expense,
  • secure peace of mind,
  • smooth the way for those you leave behind.
How much you choose to spend may influence your decision.

Body burial costs depend on the casket selected, the services provided by the mortician,and the charges made by the cemetery (the grave site, the vault or liner, opening and closing the grave, the marker or monument, and perpetual care), Costs could range from $800 to well over $5,000.

Grave liners (usually cement slabs) are not legally required but are mandated by many cemeteries to keep the ground from settling. Coffin vaults, which serve the same purpose as grave liners, cost nearly twice as much, if not more.

If you, or someone close to you, own land outside the village or city limits, home burial may be an economical and preferred option in some states.

Except in special cases, embalming is not required. Embalming is rarely used in other countries. Refrigeration may be used to preserve a body when there will be a delay in cremation.

Cremation is increasingly popular. [Webmaster's note: Over 50% of the people who die in Florida (and California) are cremated. Over 90% of memorial societies' members choose cremation.] It accomplishes in a few hours what nature takes years to complete. A modest container, rather than an expensive casket is generally used, and total costs range from about $200 to well over $1,000. Many crematories will work directly with a family for substantial savings, but all permits must be in order, accompanied by a death certificate.

Cremated remains—cremains—may be scattered, buried, or stored in an urn. They can be easily transported or inexpensively shipped. Their disposition can be handled by the next-of-kin or a designee. Although some denominations oppose cremation, the majority accept it.

Bequeathal of your body to a medical school is another option. Many medical schools value a body for teaching or research purposes and may pay for transportation and final disposition, usually cremation. If requested, some medical colleges will return the cremains to the family for disposition.

[Webmaster's note: In some states, like West Virginia, there is no cost involved. Both of my parents gave their bodies to West Virginia University and their ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The total cost of their two funerals was zero! But, alas, in Florida, the survivers must pay transportation of the deceased to Gainesville plus the cost of the final cremation. So a Simple Cremation is $475 while a Donation to Science is $686!]

It is important to have a written agreement with a medical school, and it is essential to have alternative plans. The circumstances of your death may render your body unacceptable for teaching purposes. Autopsies are valuable for medical science, and organ transplants give priceless benefits to recipients. Most medical schools do not accept a body on which an autopsy has been performed or from which organs (other than corneas) have been removed.

Aside from the disposition of your body, there is the question of the kind of service you prefer. Should it be formal or informal? Public or private? A funeral or a memorial service?

A funeral service is one with the body present. Therefore, it is held soon after death occurs, generally in a religious setting or mortuary. There is also the option, as in days past, to have a funeral at your own or family home. A memorial service is held without the body present and does not require extensive services or the expense of a mortician. It can be scheduled several days or weeks after death occurs, allowing time for far-away family or friends to gather.

A committal service may be held at the grave side immediately before burial or in a crematory chapel before cremation.

Many people prefer to dispense with a committal service. Others dispense with services altogether. But generally some sort of observance—public or private, in a religious or familiar setting, with or without ritual, is helpful for promoting the acceptance of death.

Discuss your preferences with family members and your minister, priest, or rabbi. Discussion will help you decide on the kind of services most suitable for you and your family. If your funeral is a topic that is difficult to bring up, sharing printed information may be a way to begin. Your local Memorial Society has this online information in attractive brochures, as a benefit of membership. And remember, your Memorial Society has probably done the price-shopping for you.

When you make a will or purchase insurance, you are planning for your death and the lives of your survivors. By planning your final arrangements you are doing precisely the same thing: smoothing the way for your survivors.

Copyright © FAMSA~FCA 1996

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