Category Archives: Funeral Cost

Discover the various costs associate with planning a funeral or memorial service.

Ellen Bethea at her home in Jacksonville, Fla. After her husband died, she paid $7,000 for her husband's cremation and funeral. She was unaware that the same company offered the same cremation services for much less.

Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

A Funeral May Cost You Thousands Less Just By Crossing The Street

Ellen Bethea at her home in Jacksonville, Fla. After her husband died, she paid $7,000 for her husband’s cremation and funeral. She was unaware that the same company offered the same cremation services for much less.

Photo: Laura Heald for NPR


This story is part one of a two-part investigation. Read part two here.

Story By Riley Beggin of NPR

Ellen Bethea sat alongside her husband’s hospital bed after doctors told her that Archie, the man she had been married to for almost five decades, wouldn’t make it.

“As soon as everybody else was asleep and I was sitting there with him, he passed on,” she remembers. “So I think he kind of waited for me to be with him.”

Bethea says her husband had several health problems and died of liver disease.

Later that day in November 2015, the staff at the hospital near her Jacksonville, Fla., home asked Bethea something she hadn’t prepared for: Which funeral home did she want to use?

Bethea had never planned a funeral before, but knew of only one in town — Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home of Jacksonville. Some of her family and friends had used it and, she said, it had a good reputation. She and her family went there the next day.

After meeting with a staff member, they walked out with a bill of over $7,000.

Bethea provided a copy of the itemized funeral bill to NPR. One thing quickly stood out, but only if you know something about Jacksonville’s funeral market.

The cost of Archie’s cremation — $3,295 — was more than twice the amount charged elsewhere in Jacksonville by the company that owns Hardage-Giddens. The cremations are done in the same place and in the same way.

In a months-long investigation into pricing and marketing in the funeral business, also known as the death care industry, NPR spoke with funeral directors, consumers and regulators. We collected price information from around the country and visited providers. We found a confusing, unhelpful system that seems designed to be impenetrable by average consumers, who must make costly decisions at a time of grief and financial stress.

Funeral homes often aren’t forthcoming about how much things cost, or embed the information in elaborate package deals that can drive up the price of saying goodbye to loved ones.

Ellen Bethea holds a picture of herself and her late husband, Archie. Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

Ellen Bethea holds a picture of herself and her late husband, Archie.
Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

While most funeral businesses have websites, most omit prices from the sites, making it more difficult for families to compare prices or shop around. NPR reporters also found it difficult to get prices from many funeral homes, and federal regulators routinely find the homes violating a law that requires price disclosures.

In Jacksonville, Hardage-Giddens and several other businesses in and around Jacksonville are part of a large, corporate-owned portfolio of about 1,500 funeral homes and several hundred cemeteries.

The owner and operator is Service Corporation International (SCI), a multibillion-dollar company traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Houston-based firm claims 16 percent of the $19 billion North American death care market, which includes the U.S. and Canada. Company documents say it has 24,000 employees and is the largest owner of funeral homes and cemeteries in the world.

In Jacksonville, SCI sells cremations under the Hardage-Giddens/Dignity Memorial brand at large, luxurious funeral homes.

The company also sells them for lower prices at strip-mall storefront outlets under other brands such as Neptune Society and National Cremation Society.

In communities around the country, it’s common to find wide swings in prices for funeral services.

“That to me, starts to cross a line into consumer deception,” says Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a death care industry watchdog group based in Burlington, Vt.

Slocum was talking generally about markets such as Jacksonville, where a company’s centralized crematory handles remains from a variety of differently branded outlets — from posh funeral homes to humble storefront cremation societies.

The cremations are all the same, but some will cost much more than others, depending on where the consumer made the arrangements, and which of the company’s brand names appears on the invoice.

“You only get that lower price for the cremation society if you happen to know that it exists and is owned by the same business,” Slocum says. “I’m not saying they’re doing something illegal, but I am questioning whether or not we can really say, ‘Oh, they give a much higher level of service.’ ”

The front of 517 Park St., a crematory that serves multiple funeral homes. The building is located between downtown Jacksonville and the Riverside neighborhood. Laura Heald for NPR

The front of 517 Park St., a crematory that serves multiple funeral homes. The building is located between downtown Jacksonville and the Riverside neighborhood.
Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

The cremations arranged through all those outlets are performed in a large crematory at 517 Park St. in Jacksonville. The crematory’s supervisor, Troy Brown, wrote on his LinkedIn profile that the Park Street facility serves 14 funeral homes.

“Direct cremation is the same no matter where you go,” says Slocum. “When we’re talking about situations where some consumers do not know or can’t find out that that same business offers the same service at a lower price, maybe at a similar location, that is when I would have a problem with it.”

But Scott Gilligan, a lawyer for the National Funeral Directors Association, says comparing the two cremations is “like saying all weddings are the same.”

“Just like if I want a hamburger at a gourmet place, it’s the same hamburger I’m going to get at McDonald’s. But it’s going to cost more because of the atmosphere, because of what is being done. It’s choices,” Gilligan says.

According to Gilligan, when consumers choose a funeral home, they’re generally not making that decision on price. They’re looking at other factors, such as reputation and location.

When it comes to identical services, such as Jacksonville’s cremations, which have different brand names and different prices, Gilligan says: “Well, that is simply someone offering a service, or offering a division, which is going to cater to people who are looking for the price.”

One thing the storefront and the larger funeral homes have in common is an upselling strategy. Both try to sell consumers packages that bundle together multiple goods and services. This makes all of the funerals more expensive.

Bethea says it happened to her.

“Well, actually, I think they only showed us one package that they had,” she says.

Ellen Bethea and her great-grandson, Lucas, look at a painting of her late husband, Archie. Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

Ellen Bethea and her great-grandson, Lucas, look at a painting of her late husband, Archie.
Photo: Laura Heald for NPR

 

That package, known as the Honor Cremation Service, included a number of extra charges, including $495 for stationery and $345 for an Internet memorial.

That price premium is a problem the federal government has tried to fix with “the Funeral Rule,” a regulation in place since 1984.

It requires itemized price lists. But funeral directors are still free to emphasize packages in the sales process, as they did with Bethea.

“You know, Archie didn’t have hardly very much life insurance — maybe 5,000 — and I had, you know, a little bit of money in the bank, and it took everything.”

SCI, whose officials declined to speak with NPR for this story, tells consumers in sales materials that buying a funeral package saves them money.

But company executives tell investors a different story. In a presentation to Wall Street investors last year, the company said consumers spend an extra $1,900, on average when they buy a package, versus an “a la carte” funeral.

For some context, the national median cost of a funeral with a burial, not including cemetery costs, is over $7,000.

SCI CEO Tom Ryan told investors: “Think about society today. We are in a hurry, right? Everybody is on the clock … What we find is when we deliver these packages, people tend to spend more money because they’re buying more products and services.”

He added that consumers, in fact, like the packages.

“And most importantly, we survey our customers, and the highest customer satisfaction scores come from people that select the packages. So we know we’re doing the right thing. The packages allow us to do that for all parties involved,” Ryan said.

Company executives told analysts in July they’re rolling out a new point-of-sale system that also increases per-funeral revenue.

Packaging goods and services under multiple brands and setting different prices for identical services are strategies the company uses in many of its markets, which span 45 states and the District of Columbia.

In Raleigh, N.C., for example, the company’s full service funeral home and storefront cremation office are across the street from each other. Crossing that street can save you — or cost you — $1,895.

By Riley Beggin of NPR, Brian Latimer and Emily Siner of Nashville Public Radio, Joe Wertz of StateImpact Oklahoma and Ed Williams of KUNM contributed to this story.

View the original story along with its extras at NPR.

olu-eletu-unsplash

Cremation Not Included: FCA Study Reveals All

When a loved one passes away, those tasked with arranging funerals and settling estates have to make a multitude of decisions during a stressful time and on a deadline. Cremation? Burial? Embalming? Organ Donation? The possibilities are endless and the choices made often have a lasting effect and although we try to make the most informed decision possible, no one really knows all the questions to ask. So when the Federal Trade Commission created the Funeral Rule in 1984, which requires funeral homes and providers to disclose all their disposition option,rates and pricing on a General Price List, consumers were reassured and confident their rights were being protected. But when a funeral home falsifies or fails to disclose important pricing information, what happens?

Fineas Anton |Unsplash|

On September 12 the Consumer Federation of America’s Executive Director  Stephen Brobeck and Josh Slocum, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumer Alliance held a teleconference following the spontaneous release of an in-depth study on the cost of dying, with a special report on the cost of simple cremation, in America. The results were nothing short of surprising.

The CFA and FCA investigated 142 funeral homes in the top ten metropolitan cities in America including Atlanta, Denver, D.C., Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Princeton, Seattle, Southern California, and Tucson. They examined the General Price Lists disclosed by the homes, compared them to the actual fees charged, as well as the practices and services provided and found a substantial difference in cremation pricing and blatant exploitation of a loophole revealed in the Funeral Rule laws.

Of 142 funeral homes and cremation businesses surveyed:

—prices for Direct Cremation ranged from $495 to $7,595.

— 33 of funeral homes failed to list legally required options and disclosures on their general price lists. This is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule.

—Of the 46 funeral homes that post Direct Cremation prices on their websites, 12 (26%) failed to offer these options and disclosures. If the Funeral Rule applied to websites, these would be in violation.

—Thirty-one of the surveyed funeral homes (22%) advertised a price for their Direct Cremation package that failed to include the cost of the cremation process itself, making the price for a simple cremation seem artificially low. Though this is not a direct violation of the Funeral Rule, it is inherently deceptive and the FTC should bar this practice.

According to the report, the Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide two options when selecting cremation as the chosen means of final disposition:

“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer supplies their own casket or cardboard “alternative container” to hold the body prior to cremation, such as a homemade casket or a container bought from a third-party retailer,”

And

“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer buys the funeral home’s least expensive alternative container.”

But of the 142 funeral homes investigated, 23% of them failed to list the legally required service options which is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule. In addition, the advertised prices for a simple cremation and the actual cost differed $200, at least, and $595 at most. With the cost of cremation not included in the GPL, low and middle-income consumers were at risk being blindsided by the exorbitant fees and unable to afford even the most simple method of disposition.

Olu Eletu |Unsplash|

Since the services provided with a simple cremation does not vary between one funeral home and another, the prices and the differences did not add up. A Direct Cremation consists of picking up and transporting the body, filing paperwork, and returning the ashes to the family. There are no ceremonies included, no casket, and no ornamental urn aside from the basic container when a direct or simple cremation is chosen and yet, prices could vary as much as 200 percent for the same service in the same city, according to the report. While many funeral homes use third-party crematories, as they do not have their own, these crematories charge somewhere between $250 and $400 for a cremation, pointing to a large discrepancy in ethical practices and pricing. But if the 2012, 2013 and 2014 lawsuits filed against a NY, Montgomery and D.C. funeral home by the FTC are any indication, the people will soon have their justice.

The full report can be accessed here.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

The FTC educates and provides comprehensive guidance services to businesses and consumers in how to comply. For more information read Shopping for Funeral Services, Paying Final Respects:  Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services, and Complying with the Funeral Rule.

Pablo Garcia Saldana

Everything You Need to Know About Death Certificates

When a loved one dies, you’ll need to order death certificates to submit to certain agencies to shut down accounts or collect benefits. But how many death certificates should you order? Below you’ll learn about the purpose of death certificates, typical uses, how to order them, and how many death certificates you should order.

https://unsplash.com/photos/betmVWGYcLY

Ashley Bats|Unsplash|

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is an official government issued document that states the date, time, location and cause of death. Certificates were originally made and kept by churches, until 1910 when standardized records became mandated by law. In addition to verifying the cause of someone’s death, death certificates are used to track changes in society and mortality trends.

Death certificates must be completed by a medical practitioner (doctor, hospice nurse, medical examiner, coroner, etc.) and funeral director, licensed burial agent, or person acting as such (i.e. family member).

Alan Crawford, Getty Images

The medical practitioner completes questions relating to the cause and manner of death, whether an autopsy was performed, if tobacco use contributed to the death, etc.

The funeral director, agent or person acting as such, will need the following information about the deceased:

Full name

Social security number

Date of birth

Place of birth

Address at the time of death

Marital status

Surviving spouse’s name

Whether they served in the armed forces

Father and mother’s name (maiden included)

Place of death

Highest level of education

Race

Usual occupation and industry/business

In most states, death certificates are filed using the Electronic Death Registration Systems, or EDRS. In other areas, death certificates are filed with the registrar and county health department. While it varies state by state, typically deaths must be reported to the local health department within 72 hours of the death and to the state within five to seven days.

Why do I need to get death certificates?

Death certificates are needed for a plethora of reasons including to close accounts, claim benefits, and file taxes. For legal matters, an official certificate is needed while other institutions only require a copy.

Generally needs a copy:
  • Social security
  • Banks
  • Credit cards
  • Utilities and phone companies
Likely requires an original:
  • Pensions
  • Military benefits
  • Property transfer (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
  • Insurance
  • 401Ks and stocks (if managed by stock broker, only one copy needed)
  • Selling an estate
  • Property claims
  • Closing a business
  • Future marriages

0101

Where can I get a death certificate?

If you are using a funeral home, ordering them from the funeral director is the easiest way. If you need to order them yourself, you can get them from the county or state vital records office.

To find the state vital records office, click on the relevant state link here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm

In some states, you can order death certificates through VitalChek, a website that manages records for many government agencies. They charge a $5-$15 fee per order.

 

Who can order a certified copy of death certificates?

Certified copies are generally only available to immediate family members, executors, and those who can prove that they have a direct financial interest in the estate. Informational copies are generally available to anyone who requests them.

How many death certificates should you order?

Consider the number of different institutions that might need one; each bank, investment company, etc. and for each property to be transferred; house, boat, etc. A person a modest means may only need three, while a wealthier person could need 10 or more.

How much do death certificates cost?

The fees for death certificates are set by the state or county. Generally the first copy of a death certificate is more than additional copies. You can expect to pay $10 -$25 for the first certified copy. The local registrar or funeral director will be able to tell you how much a death certificate costs.

Whether you are stopping into your local county or city registrar office or ordering online, copies can be paid for with credit card or check, but not with cash. Tip: keep your receipts, as fees for death certificates can sometimes be reimbursed from the estate if agreed upon with the executor.

Crime Victims Compensation

Crime Victims Assistance and Compensation

Planning a funeral can be stressful, especially if the death was unexpected. One day the person is ‘as healthy as an Ox’ and the next they have been taken from you as a result of crime. Deaths that result from any variation of homicide may qualify you or your family for Crime Victim Assistance and Compensation. The loss of income, the cost of the funeral, and even the expenses for counseling may be covered if you qualify for the crime victims assistance and compensation program.

What is crime victims assistance and compensation?

Crime Victims Assistance programs help victims and their families after they have been effected by a crime. The assistance the victims and/or their families may receive range from compensation for funeral expenses to relocation expenses. State commission offices offer to help families file their claims for crime victim assistance for free. The National Center for Victims of Crime describes crime victim compensation as a “government program to reimburse victims of violent crimes- such as assault, homicide, rape, and, in some states, burglary – as well as their families for many of their out-of-pocket expenses.”

What is the purpose of crime victim assistance?

The purpose of crime victims assistance is to help ease the financial burden placed on a family that has resulted from a crime, and in the case of death, help cover the unexepected funeral or burial expenses.

Who is eligible for crime victim assistance?

Victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, drunk driving, and domestic violence, as well as the families of homicide victims may be eligible for crime victim assistance.

Where does the money that funds crime victim assistance come from?

A majority of the money that funds crime victims assistance programs comes from the offenders. Although, about 35% of the money comes from federal grants and funding.

What does crime victim assistance pay for?

Crime victim compensation programs will generally pay for:

  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Funeral or burial expenses
  • Counseling expenses
  • Loss of support
  • Relocation expenses
  • Crime-scene clean-up
  • Money stolen or defrauded from individuals on a fixed income, such as Social Security or a pension

How to obtain financial assistance for/ as a crime victim?

Every state has a crime victims compensation program in place. Although the benefits vary from state to state the criteria for eligibility is consistent. 

According to the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards, “Generally, the victim must (a) report the crime promptly to law enforcement, and cooperate with police and prosecutors (many states allow exceptions to this requirement, particularly for child victims); (b) submit a timely victim compensation application (again, some exceptions may be possible); (c) have a cost or loss not covered by insurance or another government benefit program (victim compensation programs pay only after other collateral sources are used); and (d) not have committed a criminal act or some substantially wrongful act that caused or contributed to the crime (the eligibility of family members generally depends on the behavior of the victim when programs assess this requirement).  Apprehension or conviction of the offender is not required.”

How to find a complete list of resources for crime victim compensation by state?

See the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards website for a full list of websites of state crime victim compensation programs.

For more information on crime victim assistance visit the following websites:


For more information on Paying for a Funeral funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.

Anders Jilden

Paying for a Funeral with Auto Insurance Coverage

When faced with a devastating loss, the pressure of locating funeral and burial funds can wreak havoc and stress on newly bereaved families. There are many steps you can take to alleviate some of the costs; from foregoing a wake in favor of a direct burial or cremation and hosting a memorial later, to hosting your own home funeral. But in instances where the cause of death of the deceased was automobile related there is a chance your auto insurance, or the auto insurance of the other party, will cover all or part of your funeral costs through the use of PIP, No-fault coverage, or accidental death coverage policies.

Any death related claim is required to have taken place within a certain window of time, stipulated in your policy, though it is typically within 90 days of the accident. The deceased must have been disabled from the time of the accident to their death, or died due to a complication related to the accident, for death benefits to be paid. Make sure to check with your insurance company to verify the terms of your policy and familiarize yourself with its limitations.

Cr: Bethany Legg

Credit: Bethany Legg

The insurance company will only settle if the death was clearly a result of the accident so be sure to save any bills or medical reports from the moment treatment begins. It is recommended you request copies of all relevant documents to send to your insurance company, the insurance company of the opposite party, and extra copies for your records. Insurance companies cannot request medical bills and documents on your behalf so you must keep clear records if you intend to file a claim.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, is a form of coverage that covers medical expenses and, in some cases, lost wages, damages, and other death benefits. As long as you purchased a plan above the absolute minimum coverage, your insurance policy will specifically cover ordinary funeral and burial expenses of any persons deceased as the result of an accident. These are “protected” benefits, which means they have to be paid even if other benefits, such as medical expenses, have been paid in full.

There are some limitations, though, and most PIP insurance policies will have an established window of time in which a claim must be filed in as well as a duration of time payments will be made for. When applying for survivor benefits, one must bear the burden of proof and provide proper documentation where lost wages and other death benefits, outside of funeral and burial costs, are concerned.

No-Fault Coverage

If you live in a No-fault State, your insurance is required to cover the cost of your injuries as long as your plan is above the state’s minimum requirement. In No-fault sates, if you purchased a PIP policy, it will automatically cover a minimum to be claimed by your or your passengers in the event of an injury, regardless of who is at fault, including certain death benefits like funeral and burial fees.

If you reside outside of one of these “no-fault” states, make sure you check with your insurance company to determine the level of coverage required for the same benefits. Also, some no-fault states may allow you to substitute your personal health insurance policy as your primary medical coverage, which can help reduce your PIP coverage premiums.

No-Fault States:

Hawaii, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York and Utah

Choice States:

The following states allow drivers to choose between a fault and no fault car insurance system: District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Accidental Death Coverage

Accidental Death Coverage, also known as Automobile Death Indemnity, provides coverage for funeral expenses if the driver of your vehicle is at fault for a motor vehicle related death. Depending on the insurance company and plan, Accidental Death Coverage generally offers $5,000 to $15,000 worth of benefits and is a relatively inexpensive add-on. Ordinarily, death benefits are paid out to any persons named in the declaration page of the deceased if they passed as a result of an injury sustained from a car accident. Recipients can be a spouse, child, parents of a minor, or payments can go to the estate of the insured. Keep in mind, Accidental Death Coverage does not necessarily pay for your own injuries and damages to your car or property.

Christopher

Each policy will have certain exclusions to their coverage so be sure to consult with your insurance company to clarify who is insured under your policy. At times, relatives, members of the same household or those who use your car may not be included in your policy if they are not explicitly declared. In addition, death benefits are optional, meaning you may not be covered for all funeral and burial expenses, lost wages, and/or damages. As a result, you may be susceptible to lawsuits which may put your home and other assets at risk.

Through car insurance policies that include Personal Injury Protection (PIP), No-fault Coverage, and Accidental Death Coverage, money may be available to you following a motor vehicle related death within your own car insurance policy, or through the car insurance policy of the other parties involved. Make sure you understand your state’s requirements and the limitations of your policy. It is recommended you consult an insurance attorney or lawyer if you are considering filing a claim following a death.


For more information on Paying for a Funeral, funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.

tumblr_n8ow5kKICz1svrh8zo1_1280

Alternatives to Embalming

Embalming is not the only means of temporarily preserving a body prior to burial or cremation. In fact, the United States and Canada are the only countries in which embalming is still considered common practice, with countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, and Scandinavia having banned it years ago. If you are seeking alternative ways to preserve yourself or a loved one prior to final disposition, you can consider any of the budget-friendly and effective methods below:  

Refrigeration & Cooling

Whether you are holding a home viewing, seeking ways to cut costs, or preserving your loved one for a burial at a later date, ensuring the body is kept cool is a proven and effective means of temporary preservation. Simply placing ice packs, gel packs, or dry-ice on critical points of the body slows the rate of decomposition. It is recommended to place the cooling agents beneath the body to cool it from below, changing the ice or gel packs every couple hours and dry-ice every 24 hours.

If you prefer refrigeration for temporary preservation, contact local funeral homes or cremation providers and inquire about their refrigeration units. Not all funeral homes will have a refrigeration unit, though most have access to one located off-site. If the deceased passed away in a hospital or donated their organs and you have yet to finalize the method or provider of death care, hospital morgues have refrigeration units that can be utilized, free of charge, while you decide.

Immediate Burial

Direct or immediate burials are offered by all funeral homes. Since immediate burials do not include a viewing or visitation at the funeral home, embalming is not required. The burial normally takes place shortly after the death and at a time most convenient to the funeral director. if the funeral is to occur after a few days, refrigeration, ice packs, or dry-ice may be used to temporarily preserve the body.

Funeral homes reserve the right to prohibit or decline to host a public viewing of an un-embalmed body, though some funeral directors will allow you to add on a graveside service to the direct burial package at the cost of a graveside service listed on the general price list. If immediate burial is chosen and you would like a family viewing or visitation, in most states you can opt to have one within 48 hours at home or you can have a memorial service at your location of choice following the burial.

Direct Cremation

Similar to immediate burials, direct cremation is required to be offered by all funeral homes and removes the need for embalming since there is no public viewing or funeral service prior to cremation. Nearly half of Americans choose to be cremated each year, making it one of the fastest growing methods of disposition in the funeral industry and a popular alternative to a full-service funeral and burial.

Prior to cremation, home viewings may take place without embalming, and memorials services (without the body present) can be held following it. In the time between death and cremation, refrigeration, ice packs, gel packs and dry-ice may be used to delay decomposition. If you are considering cremation, but are concerned about the environmental impact or cost, consider choosing a more fuel-efficient cremation container like a shroud, cardboard container, or cremation casket. You are not obligated to choose only from the containers offered to you by the crematorium and may supply them with a container of your choice from a third party (Funeral Rules).

Resomation & “Bio-Cremation”

The Resomator S750 is the world's first legal and operational funeral home Alkaline Hydrolysis human disposition system. (ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS)

The Resomator S750 is the world’s first legal and operational funeral home Alkaline Hydrolysis human disposition system. (ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS)

Resomation is an emerging alternative to burial and flame-based cremation. The process uses a mix of heated water, potassium hydroxide, and pressure to speed up the natural decomposition of muscle and tissue, leaving behind bones, which are then ground into a fine ash similar to the remains of flame-based cremation. It is sometimes referred to as “water-based cremation,” “bio-cremation,” or Alkaline Hydrolysis and is considered more eco-friendly than its flame-based counterpart. It uses only 10% of the energy used in flame-based cremation and produces no harmful air emissions. While its use is yet to be widespread in the USA, public knowledge and the ‘green burial‘ movement has caused it gain traction. Resomation, Alkaline Hydrolysis and “bio-cremation” are now legal in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Oregon with legislation being considered in New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

For more on this topic, see: Alkaline Hydrolysis: A Greener Cremation or Ashes to Ashes, A video on Cremation by Water.

Enigma

article-3If you still wish to have the body embalmed, but would prefer not to use formaldehyde, traditional embalming fluid can be replaced with non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, formaldehyde-free embalming fluid, such as Enigma, per your request. Enigma is made from bio-degradable essential oils, like glutaraldehyde, to temporarily preserve the body. Glutaraldehyde is used as a preservative, to sterilize medical and dental equipment, and in industrial water treating. While chemical exposure will not be completely eliminated with Enigma, it will be greatly reduced and it is the only preparation product certified by the Green Burial Council.


For more ways to have an eco-friendly funeral, read 5 Ways to Go Green at Your Funeral (and Save Money)Green Funerals – With Death Comes Life, and Green Burials – Going Green Until The End.

To learn more about the embalming process see Everything You Want to Know About Embalming…

Your Guide to Home Burials

What is a home burial?

A home burial is the burial of the deceased on private property often located in rural areas. Home burials offer a hands-on approach to caring for your loved one post death. It is also one of the most economical ways to bury a loved one since you don’t have to purchase property in a cemetery or follow cemetery regulations such as having a casket, outer burial container (vault or grave liner), or headstone – this can save you thousands of dollars.

Home burials also offer the convenience of being close to home and reduce space-restrictions associated with a family plot in a cemetery. Another bonus is that home burials are inherently green – providing minimal negative impact to the environment. With that in mind, is is even legal to bury your family on your private property?

Can you bury a family member on your property?

Yes, in almost every state it is legal to bury your loved ones on private property as long as it is in a rural or semi-rural area and you have the approval of the local municipality. According to one New York Times article, Home Burials Offer an Intimate Alternative, the number of home burials and home funerals have continued to rise in due part to the intimacy it provides and much lower cost of a home burial.

Although there are many advantages to home burials, there are still some areas to consider beforehand such as preparing the body, products for home burial, burial site preparations, selling the property and re- sale value of the property.

When looking at the legal aspects of home burials, each state has different laws. There are 3 different scenarios that vary state by state:

  • Some states do not mandate any outside involvement in the funeral and burial – you can do it all yourself.
  • Some states mandate a funeral director’s involvement, from signing the death certificate to overseeing burial or cremation. These states include Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York.
  • Other states do not allow home burials at all such as California, Indiana, and Washington.

For more information about your specific state see our state by state end-of-life guides or visit Funeral Ethics Org to find out laws in your state (see the burial section for your state). 

What should we consider for a home burial?

Preparing the Body for Home Burial

Preparing the body for burial includes washing and clothing the body and placing it in a burial shroud or coffin or casket, if you choose to use one. This is a very intimate process therefore make sure you are ready to take on the task of preparing the body as it can be extremely personal and emotional. Home funeral guides and death doulas can be a great resource for those who would like some assistance in taking care of their own.

Other considerations including filing the death certificate and transporting the body to the burial site. Most states require a transportation permit.

Products for Home Burial

A home burial does not require all the expensive products involved with a conventional burial including a casket, outer burial container, or a headstone. If you chose a home burial and desire any of these products you can purchase them from a variety of places. A majority of these products can be purchased online – check AmazonWalmart, or other independent online retailers. You can also check with your local funeral home, cemetery, or casket store.

Burial Site Preparation

Preparing the burial site includes digging the grave, lining the grave (in some instances), placing the body in the ground, and covering it with dirt. When preparing the site you must follow zoning laws and regulations. Some states have specific requirements for location and distance from landmarks such as bodies of water and hospitals.

Another requirement that should be verified is the depth of the grave. Though not typically as deep as cemeteries that require an outer burial container and casket, many local governments require a set distance between the top of the body and the ground surface (3.5 feet is typical in green burials in the USA). 

Filling permits, such as death certificates, with the state government may be necessary as well in order for the burial to be considered legal.

What Happens to Home Burial Grounds After You Sell Your Property

According to another NY Times article, Did I Mention the Graves Out Back?, zoning for a burial ground carries certain perpetuity clauses and restrictions so that later landowners know of the cemetery’s existence. The deed to the property has to have a restriction placed on it as well, to ensure people will know of the cemetery’s existence at a later point in time.

New landowners typically don’t have the ability to move the body after they purchase the land. Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, stated in the same NY Times article that, “It is illegal to dismantle cemeteries or remove gravestones. Property owners must go through a lengthy legal process before altering such a site, often requiring that they obtain permission from relatives. Other avenues include seeking a court order to have the graves moved to another cemetery, or trying to deed the land to a municipality so as to shift responsibility for its care.”

A 1959 Oklahoma case was one of the first cases to deal with a new landowner wanting to move an existing burial site that was located on their new property. The court upheld the permanency created by the family burial ground so the burial site could not be moved. 

Re-Sale Value of Properties with Home Burial Grounds

Within the deed to your house you must include a map showing where the burial site is on the land so the new owners know where it is located. Did I Mention the Graves Out Back?, sites some examples of home burial grounds and their affect on resale value. For some buyers, a home burial ground could be a total turnoff. For others, it’s all part of the property’s history.

It’s just another point to keep in mind if you are establishing a burial site on your property. If you move or no one in your family takes over your property when you’ve passed on, then are you comfortable with someone else inhabiting the property and taking care of the graves? Will the new owners embrace this land and care for it or will they let it be overgrown?


For more funeral planning tools and resources, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.