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The high cost of dying

By Jason Alderman

In the past few recessionary years, most of us have gotten used to closely watching our expenses for everything from child rearing to college to retirement funding. Another important area where comparison shopping makes sense is funerals. Yes, funerals.

While it may not make for typical water cooler chatter, dying in America is expensive and the costs are often borne by grieving family members who are in no mood to haggle.

Expenses vary widely, but a traditional funeral and burial can easily cost $10,000 or more, once you factor in a burial plot, funeral services, casket, viewings, flowers, obituary notices, limousines, etc. But for those whose religious or personal beliefs don't require that specific funeral protocols or traditions be followed, there are many ways to reduce costs while still honoring your deceased loved ones and their survivors.

Here are a few ideas you may not have considered:

Veterans, their immediate family members, public health workers and certain civilians who've provided military-related service are entitled to burial at a national cemetery with a grave marker. Burial for veterans is free, but families are responsible for funeral home expenses and transportation to the cemetery. Go to www.cem.va.gov for details.

A $255 lump-sum death benefit that can be used for funeral expenses is available to surviving spouses or minor children of eligible workers who paid into Social Security. Search "death benefit" at www.ssa.gov for details.

For many, cremation is a viable, less expensive option to burial, even with the same funeral services. If you plan to hold a viewing first before the cremation, ask the funeral home if you can rent an attractive casket for the ceremony.

Some families prefer not to hold a public viewing of the deceased. For them, "direct cremation" or "direct burial" may make sense. Because the body is promptly cremated or interred, embalming and cosmetology services are not necessary, saving hundreds of dollars. Also, with direct cremation you can opt for an unfinished wood coffin or heavy cardboard enclosure for the journey to the crematorium.

You can purchase a casket and cremation urn from a source other than your funeral home, such as another funeral home, a local casket store or an online retailer (even Costco and Walmart sell caskets online) – often for far less money. By law, funeral homes cannot assess handling fees or require you to be there to take delivery.

Many people choose to donate their body to science. Organizations are forbidden by law from paying for donated bodies; however, many programs will pay for transporting the body and final cremation. For a list of body donation programs in the U.S., go to www.med.ufl.edu/anatbd/usprograms.html. Also, visit www.anatomicgift.com for additional information on whole-body or organ donation.

And finally, it pays to know your rights when it comes to funeral expenses. The FTC enforces a federal law commonly known as the "Funeral Rule," which regulates how funeral providers must deal with consumers. Visit www.ftc.gov/funerals for full details.

Death is the ultimate fact of life; it pays to be prepared for what expenses will be so you – or your loved ones – won't be forced to make difficult decisions during your time of grieving.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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