Deciding what type of burial to have is one of the first steps to be taken in planning for a death. There are three basic choices: funeral, cremation, or neither.
Most people are familiar with what a having a funeral means. The family contracts with a funeral home to arrange for various services including burying the body. The funeral process may be elaborate with a memorial service and viewing of the body, or it may include a direct burial (no viewing; a graveside ceremony only) in a plot in a chosen cemetery. Many funeral homes will also arrange for cremation, for a fee, if the family chooses that option.
Consumer Resource Guide (International Cemetery and Funeral Association)
Federal Trade Commission's Consumers Guide on Funerals
Funerals are for the Living
Cremation is the process of reducing a body to tiny bone fragments through intense heat. People choose cremation for various reasons. Cost, sensitivity for the environment (remember that embalming is not necessary or merited for a cremation and neither is a casket), and culture are all reasons one might choose cremation. The Internet Cremation Society offers good information on what cremation is and the cremation process.
Something to know about cremation is that the tiny bone fragments that are left after cremation must then be pulverized to make the commonly known ashes. A consent form must be signed to allow this step. Also, a consent form will need to be signed to authorize the cremation since it is a permanent process and cannot be undone.
Remember that rules vary from state to state. Check with your state government or division of health to find out what rules govern the cremation process and what oversight is required. Your state may require that an appropriate official validate the cause and time of death before cremation is allowed, since it is not a reversible process.
|Consumer Resource Guide (Intl. Cemetery and Funeral Association)|
|Fact Sheet on Cremation for NC|
|How to Inspect a Crematory|
|Internet Cremation Society|
|Locate a Cremation Provider|
Many crematories will work directly with a family for substantial savings so be sure to inquire when shopping around. Remember to ask for services that you want if they are not identified on the price list. Be sure to get the price for non-listed service(s) in writing. Note also that a crematory and/or cemetery will probably offer space in a columbarium for the ashes. A columbarium is an above ground structure with spaces for storing urns containing the ashes. Not everyone wants to keep or scatter the ashes.
Another alternative, though one most families do not choose, is to bury your own dead. Some states do not allow this option, and the states that do typically have restrictions related to how it must be done. Check the laws in your state if this option is of interest.
No matter which option you choose, put your choices in writing and discuss them with your family. Families sometimes have differing views from the person near death. The choices should be clearly identified in the will, the living will, and in other appropriate documents. If cremation is chosen, be sure to sign an Authorization for Cremation and Disposition. Why? Because most courts will allow the choices of the deceased, if clearly identified, to take precedence over the family. Most states have an established legally binding priority for what person gets to have authorization authority if none is identified in an appropriate legal document. That person's views may differ from the deceased and the choices of the deceased may not be honored. Clearly identify your choices and clearly identify the person(s) that you choose to carry them out.
First, you and/or your family member should decide what type of funeral, arrangements, and ceremony you prefer.
Second, as with any major purchase, you should call or visit at least three funeral homes and cemeteries. Get a written price list detailing the price for every service and option. Be specific and don't assume. By law, this pricing information must be offered to you, in writing, before discussions begin on specific goods and services.
Offering package funerals is permitted by law, as long as an itemized price list also is provided. But only by using the price lists can you accurately compare total costs. You have the option to pick and choose services, even those within a package.
Third, compare prices and other considerations such as location, area for memorial service or ceremony, parking, recommendations, and rapport with the people you will be dealing with. Consider the vendor's length of time in the business. Check with the Better Business Bureau and any state licensing funeral board for registered complaints.
Resist emotional buying. An expensive funeral is not necessary to honor your family member. It may be your choice, but it is not a sign of love or respect.
After You Have Chosen
When you do choose a particular vendor, by law, you must be given an itemized statement that specifies the total price for all services and goods selected. This is your contract with the funeral home or crematory and obligates you to pay. Remember that there will be cemetery charges too. Are they included? Be sure you understand all costs, both direct and indirect, before signing. As with any contract, it may be wise to have an attorney review it before signing.
Many people don't realize that they are not legally required to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral in most states. However, it may be less stressful to use this service for several reasons. Few people outside the funeral business have experience with the many details and legal requirements involved. This is also a time when the family may be emotionally distraught. Paying for someone else to handle everything may be a comfort and may be worth the price. Do shop around, though, as you would with any major purchase.
Some families decide to conduct their own funerals. They may desire the quiet intimacy of having the body at home for a time. They may want to honor the departed with special and personal ceremonies. They may believe that the funeral process has become too materialistic. They may want to ensure an environmentally friendly burial. Or, it could be any combination of these or other reasons.
Since embalming and refrigeration of the body is not required and since family members can fill out all the paperwork and fulfill all the legal formalities, a funeral at home is not unrealistic. The family can also transport the body to the crematory or cemetery. Certainly, though, the family would want to be in agreement before the death.
For more information:
Caring for Your Own Dead
Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death
Dead Bodies and Disease: The "Danger" That Doesn't Exist
PBS: A Family Undertaking
State Laws for Funeral Service Providers
Thresholds: Home and Family Directed Funerals
Embalming is the process of replacing blood in the body with an antiseptic and preservative to delay the decay process. In the United States, the process is frequently done to preserve the body for viewing before the burial so that the family is not rushed. In many parts of the world, embalming is not offered.
Most states have no laws requiring that bodies be embalmed for viewing. However, funeral homes often will try to insist that it be done. They will claim that it eliminates potential health hazards. The Funeral Consumer's Alliance says the Center for Disease Control has indicated that there is no public health purpose served by embalming.
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral homes:
- May not provide embalming services without permission
- May not falsely state that embalming is required by law
- Must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases
- Must disclose, in writing, that you have the right to choose direct cremation or immediate burial, neither of which require embalming
- Must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing (especially if the viewing is delayed), may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase
The Funeral Rule states that "Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing ..." Because of the way this is worded, "may be necessary" allows funeral homes to require embalming for public viewing. Again, it pays to shop around.
What is a green funeral? A green funeral is one that honors the environment as well as the dead.
According to the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve, each year in the United States we bury:
|embalming fluid:||827,060 gallons|
|caskets:||90,272 tons of steel|
|caskets:||2,700 tons of copper and bronze|
|vaults:||1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete|
|vaults:||14,000 tons of steel|
|caskets:||30 million board feet of hardwoods
(including much tropical wood)
On a per-acre basis with an average of 2,000 bodies per acre, we bury yearly:
steel caskets: 97.5 tons concrete vaults: 2028 tons hardwoods: 56,250 bd/ft.
At a time when many people are concerned about our environment and at a time when some people question the materialistic direction that some funerals take, it is nice to know that there are options.
In the past, cremation seemed like the most logical option for those who wanted to return to simplicity. Today, wooded tracts of land have been purchased where families can bury their dead with dignity and sensitivity in a natural setting using environmentally friendly methods. Some "nature preserves" have a separate cemetery with an adjoining "memorial park". Some have just the "nature preserve" and the entire tract is considered and held as a "memorial park". Embalming, vaults, and other items that can be destructive to the environment are not allowed.
There are currently not a large number of these memorial nature preserves. However, as more individuals make the choice to be "green", more will become available.
Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve
Green Burials and Home Funerals
Want to know more?
The Funeral Consumers Alliance offers information and books to show you the options in depth.
Eco-Friendly Funeral Choices
Recycle Your Medical Devices
The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a "federation of nonprofit consumer information societies" working to protect a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. Typically run by volunteers, local nonprofit members offer information and assistance with planning for a funeral. Some have researched costs locally. Others have negotiated lower funeral costs for members.
Lifetime membership is $20. For some, it might be worth joining a local alliance just to not have to research the costs for comparison. For others, the lower funeral costs may be an incentive.
They also offer a newsletter for a nominal fee.
|Funeral Consumers Alliance|
|Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Triangle|
|Funeral Consumers Alliance Directory for NC|
|Locate a Local Member Agency Nationwide|
Cremation Societies are membership organizations that offer discounted simple cremations to members. Fees are nominal.
Typically, a cremation handled by a funeral home averages $1500 and up. Most cremation societies charge between $500 and $1000, a substantial savings. Usually included are:
- transportation from the place of death
- administrative and staff services
- completion and filing of appropriate paperwork
- a cremation container
- the cremation itself
- local delivery of the cremated remains
Cremation societies often offer other services such as obituary notices, arranging for a memorial service, etc. for additional charges. Some societies run their own crematory and some have in-house chapels. In most states, cremation societies are required to be licensed.
Cremation societies may encourage families to pre-pay for the cremation services. Remember, though, to compare prices and ask questions. And, be aware of "add on" prices that could up the cremation price to the level typically charged by funeral homes. Read about pre-paying for funerals and cremations before deciding.
An obituary is a public notice of the death of a person, usually placed in a newspaper, that contains information about the person, and may indicate funeral plans and preferences for memorials. Writing the obituary may be a service that you can purchase at the funeral home. However, you can easily write it yourself. If your family member can talk about death with you, he or she may even want to have a say about what is included and the picture that he or she would like to use. Think of it like deciding whether you like the "new or the old Elvis".
|Decide where you would like to run the obituary. You may want to consider the town where your family member was born or where he or she lived, if different from where they now live. Contact the paper(s) to find out their restrictions, requirements, time frame, and the cost. A high per word price could really add up.|
Each newspaper has its own format for obituaries. But, some information will be standard. You will need the:
- name of the deceased
- cause of death (not all newspapers permit this)
- time and location of death
- facts about the deceased person's life *
- survivors (usually the immediate family)
*The facts about the deceased may include education, work, awards, special accomplishments, special interests, etc. However, the newspaper may have restrictions.
This would also be a good time to discuss with your family member whether or not they would rather have any memorial donations sent to a favorite charity in lieu of flowers. This preference would be part of the obituary. However, when writing this part it would be best to indicate that "memorial donations may be sent to..." and not presume that readers would be sending flowers.
The Funeral Consumer's Alliance offers information on how to honor a deseased loved one. This is sometimes a difficult task for those "left behind". The information provided can lead you easily through the process of planning a service and notifying others.
Planning the Memorial Service
What's the Difference Between Viewing and Visitation?
Unscrupulous thieves have discovered that the obituaries clearly identify when a home will be vacant since the family and friends will be attending the funeral or service.
Arrange for a friend to remain at the home.
Funeral arrangements, including transport of the body, may need to cross state lines. Some states have laws to govern how this works. And, you as the consumer need to ensure that you don't get billed twice for the same service. To learn how to protect yourself and your rights, the Funeral Consumers Alliance has put together some relevant information.
Also, if you are traveling and a death occurs, would you know what to do?
If you feel that you have not been properly served, you can file a complaint.
If your complaint deals with the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.
The Funeral Consumer's Alliance provides detailed information on how to file all other complaints, including what to expect and how to document your complaint for the best results. They have an ombudsman that you can contact for assistance.
How to File a Funeral or Cemetery Complaint
Was Your Funeral Home Ethical?
For complaints related to cemeteries, the Cemetery Consumer Service Council offers assistance. "The sole purpose of CCSC is to assist consumers, without charge, in resolving complaints or answering inquiries regarding cemetery services or policies. Participation in the complaint resolution process is voluntary for both the consumer and the cemetery."
Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. They can provide you with information and assistance. Some state boards offer the consumer an easy way to register complaints.
Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards
15 Northeast 3rd Street
P.O. Box 497
Washington, Indiana 47501
For complaints related to funeral service contracts, consider contacting the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program (FSCAP). FSCAP is a service of the National Research and Information Center, an independent, nonprofit organization that researches and provides consumer information on death, grief, and funeral service. They provide information, offer mediation or arbitration, and maintain a consumer "guarantee fund" for reimbursement of services rendered.
Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program
2250 E. Devon Avenue, Suite 250
Des Plaines, Illinois 60018