September 24, 2010 |

How to Save on Your Final Farewell

Dear Savvy Senior,

Are there any affordable ways to die these days? When my father died a few months ago we had a regular funeral for him and got stuck with a $12,000 bill. Are there any funeral cost-cutting tips or cheaper alternatives that you can recommend?

Can’t Afford To Die

Dear Can’t

Depending on how you want to go, there are various ways to make a final farewell more affordable, but it requires a little homework and preplanning. Here’s what you should know.

Funeral Savers

With the average cost of a “full-service” funeral running around $10,000 today, there are ways to save if you plan ahead. If a traditional funeral and burial is what you’re interested in, your first step is to shop around and compare funeral providers, because prices do vary.

Another way to lower your costs is to buy your own casket. You can save at least 50 percent by purchasing one from a store versus the funeral home, and the funeral home providing the service must accept it (it’s the law). Two good casket shopping resources that may surprise you are Walmart (visit walmart.com and type in “casket” in their search engine) and Costco (costco.com) who offers its members a large variety of caskets and urns at discounted prices. And to help you avoid getting charged for any extra services you don’t ask for, take advantage of the “funeral rule.” This is a federal law that requires funeral directors to provide you with an itemized price list of their products and services so you can choose exactly what you want. Be sure to ask for it!

Finally, while it’s a smart move to preplan a funeral, paying in advance can be risky. In many states there’s no requirement that funeral homes deposit your money in safe investments or refund it if you change your mind, move, or if the funeral home goes out of business or is bought out by another company.

If, however, you’re interested in looking beyond a traditional funeral, there are a variety of other options that you may have never thought about that are very affordable, such as:

Cremation: An increasingly popular and inexpensive way to go, a “direct cremation” without a memorial service can cost as little as $500 to $1,000. If your family wants a service, they can have it at home or your place of worship after the cremation, in the presence of your remains. Another cost-cutter is to buy an urn online. Urns sold by the funeral industry are overpriced. See cremation.com for more information and a U.S. directory of funeral homes that offer cremation.

Direct Burial: Also known as an immediate burial, this skips the embalming, viewing and ceremonies. If the family wants a memorial service they can have it at home without the body. Direct burials usually cost under $2,000, plus cemetery charges that can range from $1,000 to several thousand. All funeral homes offer direct burial.

Green Burial: Environment-friendly and affordable, going green costs anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand depending on the provider. With a green cemetery burial, the body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud, without embalming chemicals or a burial vault. The Green Burial Council (greenburialcouncil.org, 888-966-3330) has a state listing of cemetery operators who accommodate green burials, as well as funeral professionals who provide the services. You can also do a search for natural burial preserves at naturalburial.coop.

Veterans Burial: If you’re a veteran, you’re entitled to a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. This benefit also extends to spouses and dependent children, and some civilians who have provided military-related service. Funeral provider or cremation costs are not covered. To learn more visit www.cem.va.gov or call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000.

Body Donation: Donating your body for medical research and education is another honorable way to go, and it’s free. Contact local medical schools to see if they accept body donations, or see www.med.ufl.edu/anatbd/usprograms.html for a list of U.S. body donation programs.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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