Often people do not think about final arrangements until end of life is imminent or has happened. By that time, decisions are required to be made quickly during an emotional and often stressful time. But it is possible to make arrangements by discussing your loved ones’ wishes with them and writing down how they would like things to be handled. This article will discuss options during these stressful moments, and some ways to plan ahead.
People usually think of funeral services as the viewing at the funeral home and a graveside service. However, the services can include many choices.
Funeral costs include the basic services of the funeral director and staff. This covers funeral planning, getting necessary permits and the death certificate, sheltering the remains until the burial or cremation is completed, and coordinating with the cemetery, crematory, or other third parties. Additional services include transporting the remains, embalming, use of the funeral home for viewing or a memorial service, graveside service, use of a limousine, a casket, grave liner (a container that either covers the top and sides of the casket or completely encloses the casket), and cremation or burial.
These additional services can vary in price among funeral homes and not all the services are required. For example, state law does not require embalming, but if there is going to be a viewing, the funeral home will probably require it. A grave liner is also not required, but a cemetery can include it as part of their contract. A viewing, memorial service, graveside service, or use of a limousine is not required. There may be cash advance charges for goods and services the funeral home buys from outside vendors, such as flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, clergy, and musicians. These services can vary in price and are not required.
Since there are choices about the services that may be purchased, be sure the funeral provider clearly explains all of them. Make it clear to the provider which services are wanted.
Many funeral providers offer a variety of packages that include certain goods and services. These packages might include services not wanted. There are no requirements to accept a package deal and instead only the individual goods and services needed or desired may be selected.
Another option is to buy products and services from different businesses. For example, you can buy a casket from one source and then arrange the funeral service through another. A funeral home cannot charge a handling fee if you buy the casket from another source. Compare services and prices and choose the business with which you feel most confident and comfortable.
Arranging funeral services can be emotional and difficult. You might be influenced to pay more than you want or can afford. The Funeral Rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to give you a detailed price list of their services and all products they offer over the phone or in person. If a funeral home does not show you lower priced items, such as a simple pine casket, you may want to ask to be shown these. If they do not have what you want, contact another provider.
Burial involves several choices. A person can be buried in a casket, which can range from an unfinished wood box to an elaborate metal casket. The remains from a cremation can also be buried. Burial can be in the earth, in a mausoleum (a building above ground), or in a columbarium (a structure for cremated remains, that can stand alone or be part of a mausoleum). Costs can include:
- Cemetery plot, or space in a mausoleum or columbarium
- Grave liner (if required by the cemetery)
- Graveside services (if desired)
- Opening and closing the grave, crypt, or niche
- Grave marker
- Everlasting care of the site
A direct burial is when the deceased is buried shortly after death. Direct burial is less costly because there is no viewing at a funeral home, there is no need for an elaborate casket, and embalming is not necessary. You can still hold a memorial service (without a viewing) at your home or in a religious building, funeral home, cemetery, or other location.
Questions in choosing a cemetery site might include:
- Are there restrictions on the type of monument or memorials permitted?
- Will the cemetery require a grave liner?
- Can flowers and remembrances be placed at the grave, mausoleum, or columbarium?
- Do the fees include everlasting care of the site or is that a separate expense?
Cremation is done through a heat process where the body is reduced to ashes and bone fragments, which are referred to as cremated remains or cremains. A casket is not required for a cremation, but an alternative container will be used to hold the deceased during the cremation. This can be an unfinished wood box, a cardboard box, or a container that covers the entire body and is rigid enough for handling. After cremation, the cremains can be placed in a simple box provided by the establishment, or a decorative urn can be bought or provided by you.
Cremation can be done through a funeral home or a direct disposal establishment. When done through a funeral home a viewing at the funeral home can be a part of the service, if so desired, prior to cremation. If you choose to do this, it may be possible to rent a casket for the viewing and then have the body cremated in an alternative container. A viewing cannot be held if you use a direct disposal establishment.
Direct disposal establishments are licensed to transport and store the deceased until the cremation is carried out, complete the death certificate, cremate, or arrange for cremation, obtain the necessary permits for direct disposal, and arrange for newspaper obituaries. These establishments cannot carry out other responsibilities of a licensed funeral home. Direct cremation is less costly because there is no viewing at a funeral home, there is no need for an elaborate casket, and embalming is not necessary. You can still hold a memorial service (without a viewing) at your home or in a religious building, funeral home, cemetery, or other location.
After cremation, the cremains can be buried in a gravesite, be placed inside a columbarium or mausoleum, be taken home, or be scattered in a favorite spot.
Military and Burial at Sea
Active military personnel, veterans, and their husbands/wives and dependent children are entitled to a free burial, grave liner, grave marker, and everlasting care in a national cemetery. There is no charge for opening and closing the grave, or for setting the marker in a national cemetery. In addition, active military personnel and veterans are eligible for burial at sea, or for a grave marker in any cemetery in the world. These benefits are also available to some civilians who provided military-related service and to some U.S. Public Health Service personnel. Private citizens can arrange for burial at sea through a funeral home, a crematory, or they can arrange it themselves. If you want to arrange it yourself, please review the conditions that need to be met for burial at sea.
No matter what you or a loved one choose, we all know that these things can be sensitive and sometimes stressful decisions. Being informed of your options and knowing ahead of time what you prefer can make a world of difference not only for you, but for loved ones as well.