Business

Final Expenses: Pre-planning funerals wise business decision

LYNN ? The venerable poet e.e. cummings once wrote, “Death, I wouldn’t take death if death were good.”Comedian and filmmaker Woody Allan took a more flippant view, saying, “I’ve got nothing against death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”Death is one of those topics few relish discussing, yet making advance preparations for funeral services and burial or cremation can cut down on emotional stress and, in all likelihood, save money. After all, adhering to the adage that haste makes waste, decisions made under duress are typically less logical than those done following serious consideration.Important choices, made within hours of a loved one’s death, can include signing a lengthy business contract with a funeral director, a document which usually requires selection of casket and vault, hearse and limousine rentals, fees for using the funeral home during for visiting hours and a church for the funeral Mass, expenses related to embalming and cosmetic touch-ups, and the purchase of a burial plot and gravestone, if applicable.Burial can also mean hiring a cemetery digging crew and paying a priest to say a few words before the casket is lowered into the ground. All of these decisions combined can amount to thousands of dollars. A modest traditional funeral with wake and Mass typically costs about $12,000, not including the price of a burial plot and gravestone, which can add another $4,000 or more.Is the deceased a military veteran? Must special arrangements be made for a color guard or the sounding of taps at graveside? A musician at the funeral? What about a flag to drape the casket?The process of selecting a casket or coffin can has similarities to car shopping. Do you want something modest n a medium blue, non-descript, four-door sedan, or a more ostentatious sport model with polished rims and red racing stripes? Same thing goes for caskets, which have four sides, versus coffins, which have six. Prices can easily range from about $500 for the basic casket made from relatively thin 20-guage steel to well over $5,000 for one with hand-carved wood and all the trimmings.Unscrupulous undertakers, while certainly in the vast minority, are known to “price point” caskets, showing only the most rudimentary models purportedly preferred by “welfare recipients” and then contrast them with more expensive containers made from exotic woods, with brass or bronze fittings, plush interiors, and price tags fitting of a king.Consumers should keep in mind that most cemeteries require a cement vault or other enclosure in addition to the casket ? sort of a box within a box arrangement commonly referred to as a grave liner. This drives up the cost by about $800, perhaps significantly more if an ornate liner is selected. The purpose of the vault is to keep the burial ground from sinking, not protect the casket.Selecting a closed casket and cremation after the wake can cut down markedly on the overall costs, but some funeral directors suggest mourning relatives choose more elaborate services and burial. In regions where cemetery space is scarce, funeral directors often recommend entombment ? putting the casket permanently inside a surface-level mausoleum.Although embalming is not required in most states, funeral directors usually require it if the deceased will be viewed at a wake in an open casket. Embalming services can range from about $500 to more than $1,000, depending on the funeral home.Direct burial, in which the body is buried shortly after death, usually involves a simple container and is far less expensive than a traditional full-service funeral. A direct burial dispenses with viewing, visitation and elaborate ceremony.Direct cremation can save even more because the body is incinerated shortly after death without embalming. Oftentimes, a so-called alternative container is used to hold the body n basically a softwood platform giving rigidity to a rectangular cardboard box, and costing about $100. The cremated remains are later plac

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