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LIFE CAT COLUMN
DeathWriting an ObituaryAn obituary includes a biographical outline and possibly a picture of the deceased. As early as possible, begin compiling the information for the obituary. Friends and family can help write this. Choosing a Funeral HomeHere are a few "starter" tips, questions and things to know when choosing a funeral home.Low-Cost Funeral OptionsToday's average funeral costs upwards of $7,755. Fortunately, there are ways to lower funeral costs. Average Funeral CostsHere is a list of the average costs of funeral items and services, taken from the National Funeral Directors Association 2010 General Price List Survey. Please contact your local funeral directors for a General Price List for prices in your area.Planning a Funeral Memorial FundsFamilies often want to set up memorial funds so money can be donated in memory of their loved one. If you are considering this, and are wondering where money can be donated, here are a few ideas to get you started.Choosing CremationHere are some starter questions if you choose to visit a crematorium (or what to ask your funeral director if you don't go yourself).Planning a Funeral Military HonorsMilitary Funeral Honors are provided whenever possible. Law mandates the rendering of Military Funeral Honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the family.Making Funeral ArrangementsMaking funeral arrangements involves many different tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, since many of these things happen simultaneously.Preparing a EulogyA eulogy is a tribute to a person's life, usually read at funerals or memorial services. Choosing a CasketCaskets hold the body before burial or cremation. Choosing OrganBody DonationIf your loved one requested organ donation or that his or her body be donated to a medical school, here are some things to know.Dividing Up Family HeirloomsWhat happens to possessions after the owner has passed on? Family members might battle over Mom's emerald earrings, Dad's golf clubs or even Grandma's yellow pie plate. Choosing a CemeteryYou will need to choose a location for burial or cremated remains if the deceased has not previously paid for a cemetery plot. You may wish to have a trusted friend or family member assist you in gathering and reviewing the information. Planning a Funeral 5 Common QuestionsHere are answers to common questions about planning a funeral.Common Estate and Inheritance Tax TermsCommon Estate and Inheritance Tax Terms These are simple, starter definitions for estate and inheritance taxes. Check with your financial advisor before doing anything. Estate Tax The Estate Tax is a transfer tax, which taxes the amount of wealth tr
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Low-Cost Funeral Options

Today's average funeral costs upwards of $7,755. Fortunately, there are ways to lower funeral costs. Here are some helpful hints on how to find low-cost funeral options. A special thank you to the readers who have lost loved ones and funeral directors who all gave us their time and ideas.

Financing

Read through the will
There may already be funeral pre-arrangements, including prepayment for services. Don't know where the will might be? Think of safe deposit boxes, safes, other special storage areas the loved one might have had.

Review the life insurance policy
Burial and funeral costs may be covered under their policy. Contact the agent and ask about the policy coverage and options.

Contact organizations
If your loved one was a member of a certain organizations, they may be eligible for certain burial benefits.

Some U.S. veterans may be eligible for certain burial benefits (headstones, burial flags, grave site) at no cost. Burial allowances may also be available. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs web site to learn more.

Veteran benefits might be also be available at the state and county level. Contact your local VFW or American Legion post to learn more about these options.

Additionally, spouses and children of veterans might be eligible for certain burial benefits such as a gravesite and marker. To learn more, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Apply for aid
Certain states might have burial allowances or public aid available to eligible individuals and families.

Apply for Social Security Death and Survivor Benefits
A one-time payment of $255 is payable to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the beneficiary at the time of death. Visit the SSA's website to learn more.

Low-Cost Burial Options

WHN Tip: Consider the type of burial or service the loved one would have preferred.
Don't know? This might be written down in the will or other funeral prearrangement documents.

Cremation

"The least expensive way to handle death, again depending on local laws, is to cremate the body, put the ashes in a can or plastic bag," according to Deborah Bowen, author of A Good Friend for Bad Times: Helping Others Through Grief. "In most states, you don't have to buy an urn (a coffee can will do). There are state and federal laws regarding distribution of ashes, and those vary."

Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:

  • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
  • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
  • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

Green burials

A "green" burial often takes the environment into account and foregoes things like vaults, headstones, certain casket types, and embalming.

"Most states don't require embalming unless the body is being transported over state lines," says Bowen. "If the body is being buried, and depending on the rules of the cemetery, states have laws regarding casket type, whether or not there is a vault, and headstones." For more information on green burials, visit the Green Burial Council's website.

Less expensive casket

If you'd like a less expensive casket, you can always make, or have a friend make, the casket. According to the Funeral Rule, the funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought (or made) elsewhere.

Total body donation to a medical school.

After the scientific study of a donated body is completed, many medical schools will cremate the remains and return them to the family. Check with medical schools in your area to learn more about their policies and procedures. For more information, visit U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Organ Donation

Low-Cost Service Options

Plan a memorial service or open house instead of a funeral service

In this case, there would be no need for embalming, a fancy casket, or expensive transporting of the body. Private family visitation and "good-byes" can occur in the hospital or home, before you call a funeral director.

WHN Tip: If local prices are too high to transport the body directly to a crematory or cemetery, use a lower-cost funeral director from another community.

Hold the memorial service at a church, park, or community center without requiring the services of the funeral home staff. (Call ahead to make reservations).

Host an "Open House"-style memorial service in the deceased's home, a friend or family member's home, or another location that might be willing to host you free of charge (town hall, local churches, member organizations, local park, etc.). You will probably need to make reservations if using a different facility than your home.

To limit expenses, ask friends and family to bring:

  • food and beverages to share
  • extra chairs and tables
  • tablecloths, napkins
  • plates, silverware, glasses
  • music
  • stories
  • flowers/decorations

NOTE: If you would like to have the body present for the service or visitation, you will need to make those arrangements with the funeral director.

Ask a friend or family member to help with service duties:

  • lead the service instead of hiring an officiant (funeral director, clergy, etc)
  • help with cleaning and the set-up/take down for the service
  • design, write, and print the service programs
  • assist with child care
  • provide extra lodging for immediate family members
  • transport guests to and from the airport and their lodging
  • send out invitations (It is fine to cut costs by using email or phone invitations instead of traditional mail invitations.)

Review obituary costs

Many papers will charge a flat fee and also an additional dollar amount per line. Consider the length when writing the obituary. Also, compare prices between papers before submitting the obituary. Read our Writing an Obituary article http://whn02.clickwrite.com/Life/Death/WritinganObituary.aspx to learn more.

Comparing Prices

While comparing prices might take time, it might be worth it. Sam Jernigan, who lost her beloved husband about 6 months ago, paid over $9,000 for the funeral, even after eliminating embalming costs, headstone costs, and an indoor chapel service (she chose a graveside service instead).

 

"I'm still flumoxed as to why [the cost] was so high but was, of course, shell-shocked while making these sad arrangements," says Jernigan. "After the fact, I learned that Costco sells caskets for less than half what I paid, about $1200 as I recall, for what definitely looked to be comparable."

First, review the Funeral Rule. Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, it's a federal law that makes it easier for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements pre-need or at need.

It requires funeral directors to give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone, says Cade Williamson, owner of Legacy Funeral Home in Chattanooga, TN. The Rule also requires funeral directors to give you other information about their goods and services. Read our Choosing a Funeral Home http://whn02.clickwrite.com/Life/Death/ChoosingaFuneralHome.aspx article to learn more about the Funeral Rule.

Ask friends and family members for referrals for trusted and reputable funeral homes in the area.

Call funeral homes to compare prices or have a friend do this for you. Use these questions from our Choosing a Funeral Home article http://whn02.clickwrite.com/Life/Death/ChoosingaFuneralHome.aspx and take plenty of notes. Sometimes family-owned homes can be cheaper than corporate chains. "Our competitors are corporate homes and their prices can be about 30% higher," says Williamson.

It is a good idea to plan your funeral and service requirements now so you can pass on your wishes to family and friends. It may save your loved ones hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars and you will have the service you like.

Other Life Pages
DeathAverage Funeral Costs

Here is a list of the average costs of funeral items and services, taken from the National Funeral Directors Association 2010 General Price List Survey. Please contact your local funeral directors for a General Price List for prices in your area.

 Read More
Choosing a Casket

Caskets hold the body before burial or cremation.

 Read More
Choosing a Cemetery

You will need to choose a location for burial or cremated remains if the deceased has not previously paid for a cemetery plot. You may wish to have a trusted friend or family member assist you in gathering and reviewing the information.

 Read More
Choosing a Funeral Home

Here are a few "starter" tips, questions and things to know when choosing a funeral home.

 Read More
Choosing Cremation

Here are some starter questions if you choose to visit a crematorium (or what to ask your funeral director if you don't go yourself).

 Read More
Choosing OrganBody Donation

If your loved one requested organ donation or that his or her body be donated to a medical school, here are some things to know.

 Read More
Common Estate and Inheritance Tax Terms

These are simple, starter definitions for estate and inheritance taxes. Check with your financial advisor before doing anything.

 Read More
Dividing Up Family Heirlooms

What happens to possessions after the owner has passed on? Family members might battle over Mom's emerald earrings, Dad's golf clubs or even Grandma's yellow pie plate.

 Read More
Low-Cost Funeral Options

Today's average funeral costs upwards of $7,755. Fortunately, there are ways to lower funeral costs.

 Read More
Making Funeral Arrangements

Making funeral arrangements involves many different tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, since many of these things happen simultaneously.

 Read More
Planning a Funeral 5 Common Questions

Here are answers to common questions about planning a funeral.

 Read More
Planning a Funeral Memorial Funds

Families often want to set up memorial funds so money can be donated in memory of their loved one. If you are considering this, and are wondering where money can be donated, here are a few ideas to get you started.

 Read More
Planning a Funeral Military Honors

Military Funeral Honors are provided whenever possible. Law mandates the rendering of Military Funeral Honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the family.

 Read More
Preparing a Eulogy

A eulogy is a tribute to a person's life, usually read at funerals or memorial services.

 Read More
Writing an Obituary

An obituary includes a biographical outline and possibly a picture of the deceased. As early as possible, begin compiling the information for the obituary. Friends and family can help write this.

 Read More