Saturday, December 31, 2011

Funeral Planning Can Save Money, Heartache

The days of the cookie-cutter funeral are fading.

Staid remarks at a church or funeral home lectern are being supplemented with slide shows, and services are moving to golf or yacht clubs to reflect a person's life.

Baby boomers are confronted with many more options than their parents had for planning a funeral or memorial service, and all these choices can lead to a big bill. It pays to plan ahead. Here are some tips on working through that process.

DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT: Funerals or memorial services are for the living, not the dead, funeral directors say. They help people grieve and remember the person who died. Personal touches are becoming much more common, so think about what the person liked and whether that can be worked into the service.

James Olson, a funeral home owner in Sheboygan, Wis., once arranged a service that featured wine and cheese to celebrate the life of a person who liked to entertain. Guests at another service for a woman who made quilts as gifts brought with them more than 200 of those quilts.

Aside from the service, you need to think about disposition of the body.

More often, people are choosing cremation, because it can be cheaper than a traditional funeral with burial, it makes it easier to transport or move someone's remains and it has become more accepted in many religions. Nearly 41 percent of all U.S. deaths led to cremations last year, a big jump from about 15 percent in 1985, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

People typically store cremated remains in urns or scatter them at a beloved spot. But some are choosing to have them embedded in pottery or placed in lockets for family members to wear.

Even if opting for burial, there are more choices than just the traditional.

Green or natural burials, which involve no embalming and allow the body to decompose into the earth, are on the rise. Caskets made from recycled paper or cardboard can help this process.

Some people may even want to be buried with their pets if the cemetery permits it.

PLAN, SET ASIDE MONEY: People can spare their survivors some of these decisions and expenses by writing a plan for how they want their service to be conducted and setting aside money in a trust set up through a funeral home.

There are typically no limits to the amount that can be placed in a trust, except when a person is spending down their resources to qualify for Medicaid, said Joe Marsaglia of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.

The trust can cover the funeral service and, depending on the state, costs for items that fall outside it like flowers or cemetery plots. Money left in the account is usually returned to the family.

A plan can at least give family members a starting point for thinking about your service, and it may prevent quarrels over what you would want.

"Death is going to happen, and if we can face it and take care of it in advance, it's not going to be a hardship for the survivors when the time comes," Marsaglia said.

SHOP AROUND: Funeral costs vary widely. The average funeral cost about $6,500 in 2009, the latest figure from the National Funeral Directors Association. That doesn't count cemetery costs, which can add several thousand dollars to the bill.

It may pay to shop around, and that's easier to do when planning ahead. Funeral directors are required to provide an itemized list of products and services so customers can pick what they want.

A direct cremation with no visitation or funeral service costs around $2,000. Wal-Mart offers caskets and urns on its Website, including the Classic Platinum Keepsake Urn for less than $35.

Buying a casket separate from the funeral service might save money, but shipping costs can eat into that, and the customer should make certain it will be delivered in time.

IF THERE'S NO PLAN: Sometimes deaths are unexpected, but more commonly, people avoid planning for their own deaths or those of their loved ones.

When starting from scratch after someone has died, first figure out who will put together the service. Ask friends and family for recommendations. A rabbi, minister, nurse or hospice worker also may have suggestions.

"It's not the time to open the phone book and run your finger down" the page, said Olson, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Guildford Crematorium Sells Metal Body Parts For Charity

A crematorium in Surrey has raised money for charity by recycling metal body parts.

With consent from relatives, Guildford crematorium has sold metal items, such as orthopaedic implants, for scrap.

Traditionally any metal left after the cremation process would be given back to relatives or buried, but the new alternative is to recycle it.

Guildford crematorium has now been able to donate about £5,000 to the Shooting Star CHASE children's hospice.

Nick Sutcliffe, lead councillor for environmental services at Guildford Borough Council, said: "You are dealing with metals that were doing a very important job and are of a structural nature that has survived the cremation process, essentially they can then be recycled by being melted down."

'Sensitive subject'

There is a specific consent form dealing with metal body parts which forms part of the paperwork that family and friends sign as part of a cremation.

According to Mr Sutcliffe, most people did not want the metal implants back.

"Only three people over the past decade have actually asked for the orthopaedic remains to be given back to them," said Mr Sutcliffe.

"Most people are quite happy now for the recycling system."

Tim Morris, from the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, which runs the scheme, said: "A specialist company collects the metal, it's sorted, smelted and the higher grade metal actually goes back to two companies that manufacture new implants.

"It's a very sensitive subject but if you consult with the bereaved and seek their consent, and if they are OK with theses schemes and initiatives, then it seems OK to go ahead.

"If they weren't and didn't give consent it wouldn't be done."


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Electric Crematorium For Mandya

Five months to go and people in Mandya city will have a sophisticated gas-fired crematorium. With this crematorium, people will have less to worry about when cremating the bodies of their beloved ones in traditional a way. Thanks to the muzrai department which chose Mandya city to build a gas-fired crematorium in a pilot project of building electric cum gas-fired crematorium in all districts.

The project has already commenced in Kallahalli crematorium ground at the cost of Rs 1 crore. Mandya City Municipality Council (CMC) president Arunkumar told TOI that the state government has entrusted the construction of the crematorium to Nirmiti Kendra. "Truly, we are thankful to the government for sanctioning the funds for the crematorium. Combined efforts of the people's representatives and district administration, has finally yielded dividends. The crematorium will be built on a 2500 sqft area at Kallahalli crematorium ground," he added.

Electric crematoriums are very much needed here. With increasing population and decreasing availability of land, improving crematorium grounds has become a major headache for local bodies. Hence, electric crematoriums, which are said to be "pollution-free crematoriums" should be a single solution for multiple problems related to cremations.

The electric crematorium is expected to reduce pollution. It also it takes away the burden of poor people who has to shell out more money for wood for pyre cremation. It is an open secret that burning dead bodies in open ground causing health problems. The gases released from burning corpse cannot be controlled, which mixes with the open air and pollutes the environment. People residing close to traditional crematoriums are more vulnerable to health hazards due to pyre cremations.

"Unless, people shed their inhibitions and opt for eco-friendly solutions of cremation, environment pollution and deforestations cannot be controlled," said Ramesh, a science teacher said.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Controversial Crematory Case Wraps Up

The fate of a proposed crematory in Millersville may come down to the definition of a road.

After several nights of testimony over four months, lawyers wrapped up the arguments for and against the crematory before the county's Board of Appeals last night. The board has 60 days to decide the case. Either side could appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.

Much of the testimony focused on technical details about whether the proposed location of Maryland Cremation Services, at 408 Headquarters Drive, is considered to be on an "arterial," "collector" or "local" road.

Funeral homes are allowed only on the larger, busier arterial and collector roads, not on local roads.

The case also deals with whether Maryland Cremation Services would qualify as a funeral establishment.

The business would not be a traditional funeral home, with viewing parlors and arrangements for cemetery burials. It would specialize in no-frills cremation services, with a cremation machine on site.

Maryland Cremation Services ended up before the Board of Appeals after neighbors from the nearby Shipley's Choice community appealed the company's building and plumbing permits.

The building permit was for renovations to the interior of the existing building, while the plumbing permit was for the natural gas line that would power the cremation machine.

"These permits were issued in accordance with normal county procedures," said James Doyle, the attorney for crematory owner Dorota Marshall.

Besides, he said, the Shipley's Choice neighbors wouldn't suffer any special harm as a result of the permits being issued and should have appealed earlier, when the county decided the crematory fit all the zoning rules for the site.

The attorney for the neighbors, John Dougherty, spent a full hour in his closing remarks honing in on the zoning specifics of the case.

He used a projector screen to highlight transcripts.

Dougherty said that not only would Maryland Cremation Services not be a true funeral establishment, but the road it would sit on - Headquarters Drive - is not large enough to accommodate any type of funeral business.

"A crematory is a different animal from a funeral establishment under the law," he said.

Dougherty also said the county's decision to treat the proposed Millersville crematory in way similar to the handling of one in Glen Burnie - which also is in a business park - was flawed.

Board of Appeals members also heard from Deepa Miles, an attorney representing the county government, who urged them to uphold the permits.

The permit appeal is one part of a three-pronged strategy by Shipley's Choice neighbors to block the crematory, which they worry would cause environmental and public health problems.

They failed in an attempt to establish a new county law restricting the operation of crematories.

And they've spoken out against a state air emissions permit that's necessary to operate the cremation machine. Marshall has not yet obtained that permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Requests for Help in Burial Cost Soar

The effects of a slumping economy have extended beyond the end of a person's life as more and more people seek government assistance for burial.

The number of indigent burials paid for by the state has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2006, a number that has crept steadily upward each year, according to figures provided by the Colorado Department of Human Services.

And funeral homes that cater to the lower-income bracket say cremation is accounting for a higher percentage of their state-assisted business mostly because people simply cannot afford the cost of a standard casket burial any longer.

"It's getting worse and worse," said Lequita Taylor, whose Taylor Funeral and Cremation Services in Aurora has seen a 50 percent uptick in indigent burials over the past couple of years.

"Many, many more people who don't want cremation are having to do it because it's the only way they can afford a burial," Taylor said. "People simply don't have the money, or simply don't have the insurance or dropped it because they couldn't afford it anymore."

In all, the state paid more than $1.6 million in burial and cremation assistance for 1,552 people in the 2010 fiscal year, which ended June 30, records show.

In 2006, that number was 1,132 people at a cost of $1.2 million.

Though Denver, the county with the largest number of assisted burials, has seen an equally large increase, what's more telling is the number of people who request help but are refused.

"We've not reduced the guidelines, but so many feel the crunch and they're seeking the assistance," said Revekka Balancier, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Human Services. "Unfortunately, the economy prevents some from planning for it or the funds that were set aside had to be used for something else."

In 2007, Denver assisted with the burial costs for 466 people. About 110 people who applied for help were rejected for eligibility reasons.

In 2010, the number to receive help jumped to 802.

And 2011 appears to be headed even higher as 524 had received burial assistance through August.

Rejections are running at about 30 per month, Balancier said — or 360 people a year.

In Colorado, burial assistance is available to people whose personal estate is valued at less than $2,500. Even those with wealthy families are eligible.

The state will pay up to $1,000 on a funeral that cannot exceed $2,500 — and only those on public assistance qualify.

Counties are left to pay for the burials of the truly indigent, anyone with no income or possessions and not receiving any form of public assistance. The stipend: $700.

That doesn't pay for a lot, Taylor says, but that simply has made for more creative thinking.

"One family thought they had insurance and did not," she said of a client. "We were able to do the cremation, and they had a lovely memorial service in a park. Sometimes families aren't able to do more because they still have to eat."


Monday, December 26, 2011

Disposal Business for Pets Relocates

David and Laura Hagey planned to finish moving their pet crematory from Springfield to Eugene over Thanksgiving weekend, hoping that, finally, they’ve found a place where they can operate their business in peace.

In the decade since the Hageys launched Rest Assured Pet Cremation, they’ve been shunned by neighbors, rejected by planning commissions and, most recently, dunned by the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency after smoke and odor complaints.

At the same time, the Hageys are a major supplier of pet disposal in Lane and surrounding counties.

They take carcasses from almost all local veterinarians, Lane County Animal Services, Greenhill Humane Society, Linn County Animal Control and Heartland Humane Society — in addition to providing private pet cremations, David Hagey said.

One of the company’s two incinerators can handle 700 pounds in a communal cremation, and that can be repeated multiple times a day.

“That’s a touchy subject. Yes, we’re big, but I don’t want people to think we’re so big we’re not taking care of their animal,” David Hagey said. “We do a lot, but we still do it right.”

The Hageys’ saga of strife began in mid-1999 when the couple sought a home occupation permit to build a crematorium on a 12-acre family property in the rural Mohawk Valley.

The neighbors fought the proposal for years, saying the crematory would bother them with noise, odor and smoke.

“This is not a home business that belongs in a residential area,” a neighbor told a reporter at the time.

After four years and multiple hearings before multiple commissions and hearings officials in Lane County and Springfield, the Hageys got permission to locate in a warehouse in an industrial district on Olympic Street in Springfield.

Emissions weren’t supposed to be a problem, Laura Hagey told a reporter at the time. “You’ll only see heat shimmers.”

The Hageys hung out a shingle, installed two propane-­fired cremation units and a walk-in refrigerator and began doing business.

The company charged up to $170 for a private pet cremation, which returned ashes to the pet owners, and up to $90 for communal cremation.

Cremation takes about two hours for an average-sized pet, and the remains (mainly bone pieces) are swept out, cooled and put through an electric processor to reduce fragments and make them a uniform size.

Most of the time — 99 percent — the incinerators functioned, the exhaust was clear and the neighbors were unbothered by the crematory, David Hagey said.

Springfield German Import Service, Cramer’s Grinding and Tooling and United Parcel Service were in the same long warehouse building or across a parking lot.

“Every once in a while you have a problem,” David Hagey said. “It’s not something that happens on a regular basis, but if something goes wrong — and a machine malfunctions or something like that — everybody knows about it when you’re in that kind of a close proximity.”

The smoke bothered employees at the United Parcel Service, operations supervisor Beth Mottweiler said.

“It was pretty miserable,” Mottweiler said. “The smoke, like, came into the building for a little while.

“The guy who owned it was nice, but ...”

A manager at Cramer’s Grinding and Tooling said the smoke wasn’t an everyday occurrence.

“If you’re burning dead animals or people, there’s bound to be smells,” said the manager, who declined to be identified. “A few times the wind blew in our direction and it smelled bad. “You can’t even describe how it smelled.

“It just smelled bad.”

In June 2011, a complaint about a “foul odor all day” spurred an investigation by the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency.

The LRAPA investigator “observed that the visible emissions were resulting in the odor of incomplete combustion of animal remains.”

Upon investigation, the inspector and the company found that the crematory was smoking during its preheat phase, when it was empty.

“You don’t think, 'Oh I have to watch the unit during preheat’ when there’s nothing in it. When there’s nothing in it, you think the preheating is going along fine,” Hagey said.

Burn-off of residue from previous use was causing the smoke, the LRAPA inspector found.

The Hageys paid a $3,000 fine.

“LRAPA was just doing their job, the way I look at it,” Hagey said. “We were in violation. It was something happening when we weren’t aware of it.

“We had the manufacturer come out and make the necessary adjustments to the unit, and we haven’t had any problems since,” he said.

But the Hageys already had decided to move to property they bought for $430,000 in August 2010 along Highway 99 north of Airport Road.

The couple bought the old trucking company warehouse building after their landlord on Olympic Street sold the whole building to United Parcel Services.

The Hageys were afraid their days at that location were numbered.

“All we had was a month-to-month (lease),” Hagey said.

Moving the two crematory units, one by one, over the past two months has been time-consuming and expensive, Hagey said. He let the decision to get a $2,500 LRAPA air contaminant discharge permit for the new location slide for a couple weeks, he said.

“You’re paying the electrician, you’re paying the gas installer and the gas company,” Hagey said. “The technician is coming in from Florida. Yeah, there was a lot of out-go all at one time

“Did I hope that they wouldn’t notice (the move) for a couple of days until I got some more money in? Yeah.”

But in October, LRAPA discovered the Hageys had moved the crematory without the permit and issued a second citation this year.

The company, Hagey said, had to keep operating throughout the move to Eugene.

A lot of animals die beginning at the first cold snap each year until mid-January, when ailing pets are put to rest after the holidays, he said.

“We can’t afford to be down, especially this time of year, which is our busiest time of year,” he said.

“It’s not something that happens on a regular basis, but if something goes wrong — and a machine malfunctions or something like that — everybody knows about it when you’re in that kind of a close proximity.”


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dying to be Green - Solar Funeral Products

Green funerals, burials and cremations are becoming more and more popular. What's also coming to light is that funeral and cemetery products are going solar! Here are a few green options for your graveside memorials from Grave and Garden.

This beautiful Solar Light Cross is a wonderful tribute for a family member or friend and is a comforting gift to anyone who has lost a loved one. The Solar Light Cross charges by the sun everyday and lights up at night. The Solar Light Cross stands 14" x 10" tall and comes with an 8" stake that can be placed in the ground or in an existing vase. Two solar rechargeable batteries are included. Also marketed as the "Eternal Light Cross". Price: $33.99

The Solar Light Angel brings comfort and peace with her flowing detail and brilliant light. The Solar Light Angel stands 14" tall and 10" wide and comes with a stake and two solar rechargeable batteries. Also marketed as the "Eternal Light Angel". Price $43.99

The music on this waterproof picture frame plays automatically when visitors approach your loved one's grave. It's powered by the sun and you can personalize the epitaph window with your sentiments for free through Grave and Garden. The heavy golden memory frame measures 9.5" x 10" and comes with a stake. Price $39.99


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cremation Diamonds, a Unique Keepsake Memorial

One of the most unique and truly personal types of memorial keepsakes are cremation diamonds. These laboratory grown diamonds can be created to honor a loved one or pet that has passed away.

Cremation diamonds are becoming an increasingly popular way of remembering loved ones who have passed away, whether they were human or animal. Whilst there are many forms of cremation jewelry, cremation diamonds are usually made from a lock of hair or a small sample of cremated ashes. Creating a diamond from hair or a diamond from the ashes of a loved one is a distinctive way to capture their essence and hold on to their love in a tangible diamond memorial.

When the tragedy of losing a loved one strikes, dealing with the loss itself as well as the emotions makes for a difficult and grief stricken process that can leave you feeling vulnerable and alone and unsure of what steps to take next. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help cope with this type of loss. Deciding on a cremation diamond as a memorial can help easesome of the pain as well as help you honor and memorialize your loved one or pet who has passed away.

Turning ashes into cremation diamonds is not only a scientific process, it afford family members one of the most personal memorial opportunities available. Using the personal carbon source of a loved one, companies like DNA2Diamonds can create these laboratory grown diamond keepsakes in less than 70 days.

The technology to create laboratory grown diamonds has been around for about 70 years; over time it has been improved and refined. At DNA2Diamonds, the creation process begins by placing the signature carbon from loved ones in a capsule and adding a diamond seed in a laboratory. The seed is then exposed to the same process of extreme heat and pressure that happens deep below the earth’s crust. After the lab grown memorial diamonds are cut and polished in the same way as a earth grown diamonds, these precious gems can be mounted in almost any setting, creating a beautiful memory to be cherished for generations to come.
Personal cremation diamonds created by DNA2Diamonds are GIA-certified to be physically, chemically and optically identical to earth-mined diamonds. The creation process is also environmentally-friendly and conflict-free.

While gemologically equivalent to earth-mined diamonds, cremation diamonds such as those created by DNA2Diamonds are more beautiful, more meaningful and more precious – because they contain forever the essence of loved ones. They are truly the most personal diamonds in the world and the most unique keepsake memorials.

For more information about cremation diamonds or to have a DNA2Diamond created, please visit

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tips For Budgeting A Burial

Laying loved ones, or oneself, to rest doesn't require breaking the bank

Funerals are among the most expensive purchases consumers make. A traditional funeral can easily cost more than $6,500, not counting cemetery costs, which could add $2,000. For most purchases, that's a price point that warrants extensive research and comparison shopping. But for funerals, that rarely happens.

It should, said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance and co-author of the new book, "Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death."

"You might hear at a funeral home, 'How can you put a price on how much you love your mother?' Well, that's true. But turn it around and think to yourself, 'If I spend according to how much I love my mother, I'd be bankrupt,'" Slocum said. "You need to remember that this is not just an emotional transaction. It's a business transaction. We can't show how much we love or respect the dead by how much money we spend on them."

Although the funeral business doesn't usually change much from generation to generation, some new trends are worth knowing about, to plan an appropriate funeral and to be a smart consumer.


Cremation grows. Nearly 37 percent of all Americans who died in 2009 were cremated, according to the funeral industry's most recent statistics. That's up from 25 percent in 1999.

Cremation is becoming more socially acceptable, even by religious groups, and it can cost a lot less than a traditional burial. Many people choose cremation because they and their extended family don't have roots in the same area. Family cemetery plots make less practical sense, said Bob Arrington of Arrington Funeral Directors in Jackson, Tenn.

Alkaline hydrolysis. Everybody has heard about burial and cremation, but the funeral industry is in the very early stages of introducing a third option, alkaline hydrolysis. Instead of disposing of a corpse with burial decomposition or cremation incineration, it essentially uses lye to chemically dissolve body tissue.

The resulting brown liquid is essentially poured down the drain. Bones are then ground to an ash and can be kept by the family. It's not yet a common offering, and some states require legislation to make it legal. But it could become a more mainstream option likely to cost less than a traditional burial; more on par with cremation.

Some view it, derisively but somewhat accurately, as "flushing grandma down the drain." It's likely to be controversial for a while, but it's no more "icky or disgusting" or less dignified than bodies decomposing in the ground or being "burnt to a crisp," Slocum said.

Going green. There's growing interest in "green" funerals, experts say. It is one of the motivations behind the funeral industry considering alkaline hydrolysis, which has a smaller environmental footprint than burial and cremation.

Green goes for burials, too, but funeral homes have different ideas about what constitutes an eco-friendly burial. Slocum said his definition of a green burial would exclude chemical embalming, which most times isn't necessary anyway. It would not include a coffin or casket, just a shroud or simple biodegradable box, like cardboard. He would eliminate a concrete vault for the grave.

"There's a push out there among some in the industry to make green burial a premium-priced product that appeals to our snobbish side," Slocum said. "What's a green burial, really? It's about what you don't buy."

Personalization. A traditional full-service funeral usually includes embalming, public viewing and graveside ceremony.

"In a lot of areas, that's far from typical anymore," Slocum said. "People are moving the ceremony out of the funeral home and into places like parks and banquet centers," Slocum said, adding that such events usually don't involve a display of the body.

"People are figuring out that they don't need to hire an undertaker at traditional prices to have a memorial gathering."

Tech solutions. Funeral webcasts are becoming more of an option. They're useful for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps a woman lives in Seattle and her uncle died in Tennessee. Her employer won't give her several bereavement days off for an uncle's death so she can fly to the funeral. But she might be able to watch the funeral online, Arrington said.

Some funeral homes offer memorial websites. Grave headstones could come with a Quick Response (QR) code, those small, square, black-and-white blocky bar code items you scan with a smartphone application.

A code might take you to a memorial Web page that might include a biography of the deceased, a family tree and photos, for example.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Replacement Hip And Knee Joints From Deceased Cremated In Hereford Recycled

HIP and knee replacement joints are being recycled from the deceased who have been cremated in Hereford.

The proceeds from the new project have so far raised more than £4,000 which has gone to MacMillan Cancer Support.

“We only recycle metals resulting from cremation after receiving written consent from each bereaved family,” said John Gibbon, Herefordshire Council’s bereavement services manager.

“This metal used to be buried in the grounds of the crematorium until the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM), of which we are a member, set up this recycling scheme.

“This means metals can now be collected from ICCM members and then sent to two companies that turn them into new orthopaedic implants.”

Tim Morris, chief executive of ICCM, added that the scheme has been well received by bereaved families, with only one or two requesting the return of metals.

Councillor Russell B. Hamilton, assistant cabinet member for the environment, said that he is pleased that money raised through the scheme has gone to a good cause.

“Those families who have elected to participate can be confident that their support in memory of loved ones is being put to good use for the care of others through MacMillan Cancer Support,” he added.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hi-Tech Solar Powered Tombstones

No one would set a scrapbook filled with pictures and memories on the tombstone of a loved one. But what about a high-tech, weatherproof version, with digital images powered by a solar cell?

That innovation is available now — but finding customers so far has proven slow going.

"I haven't sold any," said Doug Ellis of Riverview Monuments, who has been offering the so-called "serenity panel" system for about $2,000 since February 2007.

Many customers tell him "That is not for me," he said, adding, "I think the Wausau area is a little more conservative yet."

The panel mounts to the front of the gravestone and pays tribute to the deceased in color pictures, words, music and even videos. It's all from a small memory chip inside a device that opens like the front cover of a book. Vidstone LLC, a company with offices in Florida and Colorado, developed the serenity panel about two years ago.

Cheri Lucking, Vidstone's national sales director in Aurora, Colorado, said the company has about 100 dealers across the country, including two in Minnesota, four in Illinois and seven in Michigan, and one in the United Kingdom. Ellis is the only one in Wisconsin.

"We don't release our sales figures," she said. "It is not a huge number at the moment."
Maria Schlitzberger, office manager of Schlitzberger and Daughters Monument Co. in Houston, said her company has sold one serenity panel in a year, "That is a big step, putting electronics on your headstone," she said. "People are used to sandblasted, granite and marble and things like that."

Lucking likened the concept of putting a digital video scrapbook on a tombstone to when cell phones first came out and people said they would never own one. "We all have one now," she said. Ways of honoring the dead are changing because of technology, Lucking said.

More funeral homes use state-of-the-art visuals and put LCD screens in their chapels to do multimedia presentations, she said. "Five or six years ago, they weren't even doing video tributes."  Four hours of sun provides enough juice to play the video with up to a 10-minute tribute on a 7-inch (18-centimeter) LCD screen about six times. There are headphone jacks to listen to the audio.

"I thought it was a neat thing to bring into the industry. Something unique, something a little above and beyond just the standard engraving and pictures that end up on a monument," Ellis said.

Chuck Summers, retail sales manager for Moore Monument and Granite Co. in Sterling, Illinois, has had the device for about three months and is awaiting his first sale, too. He has got two good prospects but no signed deal. "We range from $5,000 to $8,000 on a typical stone. When you tack on another $2,000 for the Vidstone, it gets pricey for the people in the area," he said.

But there are other issues besides the price — like which way will the tombstone face, since the player is solar powered.

"If the stone is under a tree, it is not going to work very well. If the stone is faced to the west instead of the east or north instead of the south, it is not going to charge as well," Summers said.

Sue Pergolski, owner of Wausau Monuments in Wausau, which has sold tombstones since 1909, has heard of the device, too, but is skeptical about the market for it, given its price and 15-year expected life.
"I can't imagine that they could make it so it would last forever," said Pergolski, who is even hesitant to sell etchings on tombstones, wary of how long they will last.

"We kind of have the old-fashioned ideas. We want it to look the same in 50 years and 100 years," she said.
Still, she added: "With baby boomers starting to look at monuments, maybe the electronics will be more attractive."

Ellis, 54, said maybe 15 potential customers have spent time looking and listening to the gravestone player he displays in his store. One woman asked him to mail her pricing information. But nobody has been serious about buying one.

Some people spend as much as $1,000 to put etchings on tombstones, so Ellis does not think the cost of the video tribute is the problem. It will just take time for the change to be accepted, he said.  There's all kinds of options for tributes — even letting the deceased speak from the grave.  "I see no reason," Ellis said, "why I couldn't stand in front of a video camera and give a message to my grandchildren, such as: 'Faith in the Lord was important to me.'"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cremation Rates Rising

California doesn't only have a high cost of living, the cost of dying is high as well. While no one can get out alive without dealing with the 11 billion dollar-a-year funeral industry, some have found ways to save some money.

"My partner and I had to cremate a friend of his and we took that way because of the pricing," Norm Hasty said.

Cremation rates continue to rise all over the country.

"Cremation is more economical," Wiefels Cremation and Funeral Services funeral director John Caranci said, and he added that it's not different in the desert.

Caranci said the cremation rate in the valley in the 70s was 10 percent, and now, it's 70 percent.

"I would say probably because of the price," Hasty said.

"Basic burial or graveside service could be in the $2,500, $3,000 range plus the cemetary," Caranci said.

Funeral costs can reach as high as $10,000. Basic cremation, on the other hand, is $1,000 to $2500. Yet price isn't what draws in everyone.

"The thought of my bones rotting six feet underground is not very appealing to me," Hasty noted.

By 2025, the Cremation Association estimates more than half of us will be cremated.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Funeral Planning Can Prevent Problems

I have threatened -- yes, threatened -- my family numerous times that if they do this or don't do that for my funeral, I will "seriously come back and haunt them."

On a serious note, we have nothing written down in black and white. And we're not alone.

"I don't have anything in writing with (my family), but know that I should," said Sarah Christensen, 34, of Wisconsin Rapids. She and her husband, Mike, have three children.

It's something many people don't like to discuss, local funeral directors say. People spend time planning for life's major events -- births, college, weddings, buying a home -- but tend to shy away from funeral preplanning, a service offered by local funeral homes.

"It's human nature, because of the finality of it, we tend to want to put it off, obviously," said Rod Hafeman, an assistant to the funeral director at Higgins Funeral Home in Wisconsin Rapids.

Decisions need to be made quickly -- often within 48 hours of death-- during which time survivors are asked 60 to 70 questions regarding the wishes of the deceased and services, said Bill Lankford, director of preneed for Taylor, Vollert, & Jennings Funeral Home, Wisconsin Rapids.

"There are more details than the individual thinks about," Lankford said.

Christensen has talked about the issue with her husband, Mike, 35, her parents, and an attorney regarding her final wishes.

"Cremation and vaults -- I can't stand the thought of being buried in a box," she said. "I did however, make sure my parents knew my wishes on cremation as well so that there was no fighting if I died.

"I know it's important to have it written down so that everyone knows your wishes and there isn't any disagreement," Christensen said. "It's a stressful enough time when (someone) dies, and not having to add to that with arguments about burial and such would be important."

Lankford designed a preplanning guide to help families through the process, which he recommends they do before the need arises -- often easier said than done.

"Our primary purpose of this whole (thing) was to put something in the hands of the people as a guideline," Lankford said.

Planning could be a good financial decision -- a traditional funeral can cost as much as $10,000.

"If the people preplan and the money is put in an irrevocable trust, that money is protected in case they ever go into a nursing home or assisted living, no one can touch that money; it has to be used for a person's funeral," said Mike Ritchay of Ritchay Funeral Home.

Let your family know where your record of wishes is kept -- including, but not exclusively, in a will.

"That shouldn't be the only place, because sometimes wills aren't read until two or three weeks after the death," Ritchay said.

Death, like taxes, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, is certain.

"You may not go to college, you may not have children, but you will pass one day, and someone is going to be responsible for that," Hafeman said.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Cost of Death

Grief-stricken when a loved one dies, you want to do the right thing by planning a perfect funeral. But it’s easy to overspend. Patrick Langston talks to the pros to find out how to curb costs.

To paraphrase country singer Hank Williams, none of us is getting out of this world alive. The question is, what will it cost to get out?

In 2010, the average full funeral in Ontario cost $7,500, according to Ontario’s Board of Funeral Services. Add a catered reception, burial or cremation, interment and a grave marker or headstone and that can quickly balloon to $10,000 or more.

But funerals seem to be an essential part of letting go, a way of both managing the chaos of death and celebrating the life that’s passed.

With that in mind, what are your options when arranging a funeral?


A traditional funeral usually means a visitation, sometimes with an open casket, in a funeral home. There may also be a church, chapel or memorial service.

This is the most expensive type of funeral and when you’re grief-stricken and anxious to do the right thing, it’s easy to overspend.

“Emotion can be tied up in it,” agrees Brian McGarry, chief executive of Ottawa’s Hulse, Playfair and McGarry funeral home. He suggests renting a casket for the visitation as a way to control costs. The rented casket has an inner liner that is burned along with the body, leaving the fancy outer shell for reuse.

Rentals start around $1,500. That’s a chunk of change, but as McGarry points out “if you buy the same casket, it’s two to three times that.”

Critics routinely accuse funeral homes of charging an exorbitant mark-up on caskets, which can equal one-third or more of the total funeral cost. Companies such as Casket Outlet ( sell visitation-suitable caskets for about $1,200 and up with free delivery. Funeral homes are not allowed to refuse a casket from an outside source like this unless there is a safety or other serious concern, but you are counting on timely delivery with this option.

When it comes to comparing funeral costs, some homes, like Cole Funeral Services in Carp (, publish their fees. Others don’t.

“It’s the Wild West out there,” concludes Mary Nash, president of the non-profit Funeral Information Society of Ottawa. “Funeral homes group things differently so it’s hard to compare costs.”

It costs $25 to join the society ( for 10 years. Members get information about funeral arrangements and options in an annual newsletter, access to a summary of current funeral and related costs in Ottawa and other benefits.

Nash also serves on the board of the nascent Funeral Cooperative of Ottawa ( Following the lead of co-ops in other provinces, it hopes to drive down the cost of death in Ottawa by establishing a funeral home in 2012.

Online funeral services

Operating in Ottawa since 2009,Basic Funeral and ­Cremation Choices ( lowers costs by dispensing with a physical funeral home, offering instead online funeral arrangements.

The Toronto-based service includes an Internet quotation system, which lets you select options. A basic funeral with a casket costs around $3,200.

Since the company does not have its own facilities, it rents space at various cemeteries for visitations and services.

McGarry, who stresses the personalized aspect of a traditional funeral home, scorns companies like Basic Funerals, saying they “shop around” for cremation and other services to get the lowest rate.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Basic Funeral’s co-founder Dominic Mazzone.

“We’re half the price of what they provide and they’re mad.”

No-frills options

The least expensive option is a simple transfer service, where the body goes from the place of death to cremation with no visitation in between. It includes preparation of a death certificate and an inexpensive casket, but not the cost of cremation, normally around $450 to $600.

Hulse, Playfair and McGarry charges $1,635 for this transfer service, which it calls its Simplicity Plan.

Ottawa Cremation Service ( charges $765 for a similar service.

While we no longer lay out the body of a loved one in the front parlour for friends and neighbours to pay their respects, some families honour the deceased by holding a gathering at home once the ashes have been retrieved from the crematorium. A transfer service could be appropriate in such cases, although you may want to find an alternative to a funeral home urn, which typically runs into the hundreds of dollars.

Some people, whether for sentimental or financial reasons, either keep the ashes at home or scatter them. For Ontario regulations on scattering ashes, visit

Other cost-saving tips

Preplanning. Leave instructions with a funeral home and a family member detailing exactly what you want. It can keep the cost down and save your survivors from having to make a lot of decisions at a difficult time.

Don’t fly solo. If the deceased hasn’t preplanned the funeral, bring a friend or family member to the funeral home when making arrangements, says Nash. “You need someone on your side to say, ‘Do you really need this?’ ”

Prepayment. Funeral homes routinely offer prepayment plans. If you opt for this ­­— and critics say you’re better opening a special bank account instead — make sure the home guarantees that the price is fixed and that the money is deposited in a legitimate trust fund.

Insurance. Some funeral services offer insurance policies to cover funeral costs.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Investigation: Company Ignores State Requirements

A national cremation provider is not abiding by a state agreement that requires it to offer choices to consumers.

In 2009, to settle a state investigation into its business practices, Neptune Society entered into a consent decree with the state Division of Insurance that prohibited it from packaging pre-need cremation services with an urn and other merchandise. The decree was designed to make sure consumers have a choice.

A former salesman brought the business practices to the attention of CALL7 Investigators who decided to use hidden cameras to determine if the company is still using the sales pitch that did not comply with the state agreement.

But the hidden cameras caught a Neptune saleswoman telling a producer that the company would not split the roughly $1,800 package into separate parts. The cremation costs about $1000 and the company charges about $700 for the urn and other items.

“So If I sign up, they send this stuff now?” a CALL7 Investigator asked.

“They are going to, yep,” the saleswoman said.

“Is there any way you guys hold on to it until it’s ready?” CALL7 Investigator asked.

“Unfortunately not,” the saleswoman said.

The state requires Neptune Society to put money into trust for anything they are providing to consumers in the future and if the organization held the urn the Society would have to put more money into trust. The trust is set up to make sure the services and items are available if the Society went out of business. But the company agreed with the state's demand to offer three options.

"If Neptune includes an urn as part of any package of services and merchandise that it markets and sells to Colorado consumers, a consumer will be give three options regarding the urn and other merchandise," the consent decree says. Those options allow the consumer to purchase and take delivery at the time of purchase, take delivery at the time the person dies or decline purchasing the merchandise.

But the saleswoman said Neptune does not offer three options.

“This is our cost of getting business done,” the saleswoman said. “So that's why I can’t pull it out, (because) this is the cost of getting business done.”

“So that's your profit that's what you are saying?” asked a CALL7 Investigator.

“Exactly,” the saleswoman said.

The Neptune Society declined an on-camera interview but in a written statement said they do not tell salespeople to package all the options together. “I think it is important to note that the general incident you described is contrary to and inconsistent with our policies and related training materials,” the statement said.

But a sales video obtained by 7News never instructs the sales people to separate the options.

“Once all the paperwork is completed and signed, you can move into the discussion of the delivery of the merchandise,” the narrator on the video said.

The Neptune former salesman said he was instructed to sell the items as a package. After he approached 7News, CALL7 Investigators decided to use hidden cameras to determine if the company is still using the sales pitch that did not comply with the state agreement.

“My experience is the company is still skirting the law, and they are still misleading the consumers," said the former employee who was fired after asking his supervisors why the Society was not following the consent decree.

“If I just wanted to purchase the cremation, you wouldn't do the deal?” Kovaleski asked the former employee.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

And the saleswoman in our hidden-camera video appears to closely follow the sales materials in her pitch.

A mortuary science expert who reviewed the entire pitch captured by hidden cameras said the company is violating the decree.

“By law you have to separate the two," said Martha Thayer. “When they see this, their hand is going to be forced to do something. This is proof.”

Paula Sisneros, director of compliance at the Colorado Division of Insurance, said her office will look into what our hidden cameras found.

"I certainly think Colorado consumers should be offered the choices, offered the choices that we required Neptune Society to offer them,” she said. "Our investigators will consider all the evidence brought to us to make sure Neptune Society is in compliance with the agreement they signed with us."


Friday, December 16, 2011

Cremation on The Increase in Canada

According to Ted McCleister, owner of McCleister Funeral Homes, established by his grandfather in 1925, "Even though we see an increase in Memorial Services without the body being present, we are still getting many requests from family members to able to see their loved one more time before cremation takes place, and they never see them again.

Funeral homes can arrange a brief, private, family viewing in the funeral home at a convenient time. Some family members may only need 5 minutes, others an hour.

Sometimes just seeing their loved one in their own clothes, without any hospital tubes attached, and the absence of any painful expression, is very comforting and is a better last "memory picture" with the support of other family around."

"If you don't believe how important it is to be able to view the body, then you should see the reaction of families when a funeral director has to break the sad news that they cannot see their loved one, due to various conditions.

They become extremely distraught. They may push us to extraordinary measures in order to be able to have the psychological closure that viewing provides."

Funeral directors are trained in the psychology of grief at college and are aware of the unique nature of each death, and that each family is also unique, with individual needs and wishes.

The death of someone we love creates a psychological wound. We hurt in our own way and we heal in our way, and on our own time.

At McCleister Funeral Home, it is our mission to first ascertain those needs, and then try to meet them. We have needs and wishes. Just like I may need my dentist to work on my teeth, I don't wish, but the result is for my better health.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cremation Costs Rise with Demand

In the midst of the elaborate tombs in Metairie Cemetery is a columbarium. It's a place where people's ashes can be memorialized. And it's becoming increasingly popular as more and more people choose cremation.

"Every year we see the cremation rate increase," said Tiffany Simmons, funeral director and general manager of Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home.

But as the cremation rate increases, so has the cost.

A direct cremation can run upwards of $2,600 in New Orleans. Compare that with the national average, which, according to the National Funeral Director's Association, is just over $2,000.

Ron Christner, an associate professor of Finance at Loyola University, recently helped a family friend arrange a cremation and was shocked at the cost.

"There is no way," said Christner. "There is no way that the cost to transport a body to the funeral home or the crematory or the cremation itself should cost more than $700 or $800."

A direct cremation is essentially a basic cremation without any extra services. The price for that service varies greatly between funeral homes in the metro area - from $1,2000 to $2,650.

"One of your largest variances is going to be the facilities of the funeral home," said Billy Henry, general manager of Tharp-Sontheimer Funeral Home in Metairie. "The factor that's going to determine that is going to be the overhead of the building, the facilities and the people."

Henry said the average cost of direct cremation in New Orleans has nearly doubled over the last 10 to 15 years.

Directors at some funeral homes said part of the price increase has to do with the rising cost of fuel, labor post-Katrina, and the increased demand for the service.

"As we see cremation growing in the Southern markets, those labor costs and those overheads will be forced to be passed on to the cremation consumer," said Henry.

Stewart Enterprises, the second-largest funeral provider in the United States, is based in Metairie. One of its funeral homes is Lake Lawn Metairie. That facility has one of the city's few crematoriums.

By state law, families cannot deal directly with an independent crematorium; they must go through a funeral home for the service.

One crematorium owner said he typically charges less than $500 to perform a cremation. That's a small fraction of the cost funeral homes pass along to the consumer. But funeral directors say, after paperwork and services, the mark-up is justified.

"When we quote the family the price, it's not just the price of the cremation, it's the services that we provide to our families," said Simmons.

The state board of funeral directors said no agency regulates price in the Louisiana funeral industry. And Christner believes funeral homes have a price advantage because people typically don't shop around when it comes to funerals.

"If they know a name or somebody else has used them, that's who they go to," said Christner.

So how can you honor your loved ones life without breaking the bank? Funeral directors advise you to meet with them before you need them, so you can consider your choices while you're thinking clearly.

And remember, you don't have to buy an expensive urn or use a casket when cremating, although some funeral homes offer them. State law allows for any sturdy container to be used in the process.

"It's the persons' choice what they want to do, but they at least ought to know what the choices are and most people don't know what the choices are," said Christner.

Funeral directors said many people don't realize how many additional options they have when choosing cremation. Those include a memorial service after cremation or even an open-casket funeral service before cremation. Those options, of course, do increase the price.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Plenty of Options for Funerals

Our stated mode of operation "Celebrating Life", over the last decade and a half, of valuing every life lived and ensuring each family is embraced in care, has built upon this firm's reputation of over a century beginning with the McKillops family. We thank this community for an ever increasing measure of trust afforded to us, as we see this as more and more opportunity to serve.

Our valuing every person means every person is in our care from the moment of removal from the place of death (which may commence in the middle of the night) to the completion of the families wishes ( which may be burial or safe keeping till the family has decided in the case of cremation). We prepare the body of every person to appear as natural as possible including dressing every deceased for dignity. More and more families are choosing to spend private time ie a last goodbye with their loved one before the cremation or service or interment . This honours the right choice of each individual to process their loss and release at that moment.

If cremation is chosen, we dress each person whether or not there is private or public or no viewing, we transport the deceased to our crematorium here in Portage with the choice of being accompanied by the family if they wish.

The funeral services are from beginning to end and are as unique as every family chooses. This community has experienced these services where everyone present is noticed and their needs and wishes accommodated. We facilitate the details for those families who are grieving or releasing their loved one. We register all the data for registering the death as well as completing the CPP submissions for funds, again as one of our expressions of care and support.

Many select one of the options we offer at our cemetery Evergreen Memorial Gardens: body earth burial, cremation earth burial, cremation interred in one of our columbariums, cremations scattered in either our Scattering Garden or Nature Garden.

The life lived can be commemorated by various monuments including level or upright again each one can be quite unique. We arrange for burial at all cemeteries including the surrounding areas and out of province.

Valuing the trust placed with us we have in our selection rooms mid range to modest caskets and urns as we do believe there is no direct connection between love and spending money. If an alternate selection is desired we make it available within 24 hours. We are asked if we're more expensive, in fact when all the bills are totalled there is little difference in the cost between any of the local firms. Our focus is on service ensuring individual processes their grieve which we believe to be the measure of value.

Because we operate as a team, 24/7/365, motivated by our hearts, we continually are improving and upgrading our training and technology. This includes providing more and more safety and comfort at our facility. Many have expressed appreciation for the resource of information and understanding they have gained from our ever changing website. We anticipate this trend will increase several fold asit is a private and again safe means of supporting personal process.

We are experiencing a growing trend of people choosing to register the details and wishes with us in advance of need. This may also include placing funds in place at this time or over a period of time to cover the costs of the goods and services selected. Each of these wishes we honour. Many have expressed a peace of mind received while lessening the weight of their family experience and at same time they save paying some taxes.

The measure of our commitment to value every person and every family is in the experience. We thank you our community for your continued affirmation and numerous comments on what assisted you through your difficult and new reality. The community award we received as "outstanding contribution to the community by a business" was both most meaningful and humbling. It is our honour to serve each of you. We are committed to strengthening our role as a resource to this community.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Not Where You're Buried ...

My grandmother's last wish was to be cremated and her ashes scattered into the sea. Her children complied, taking a sampan to the middle of the sea to give her a head start in her trip around the world.

Initially, when she mooted the idea, some of us tried to talk her out of it.

Without a proper grave and headstone, where would we go to remember her every Qing Ming? Where would we take our future kids to "visit" their great-grandma?

But having lived over 80 years, she'd seen many of her relatives buried, forgotten, then later exhumed - so she knew that graves were not as permanent as they once were.

Plus, as her children and grandchildren were scattered around the globe anyway, she fancied the idea of going around and calling on each of us, in a manner of speaking.

It was difficult letting go at first. We lamented the lack of a focal point to mourn her.

Twelve years after her death, though, we've come to realise how wise her decision had been. Every Qing Ming, we throw flowers into the sea - in our respective countries - to pay our respects. We don't need a headstone to remember her as she lives on in our hearts.

Whenever there is a family get-together, she is always mentioned. My uncles never fail to remember her in the grace they say before our Chinese New Year reunion dinners.

The Chinese believe that their ancestors' graves are sacred, as the feng shui or location of the burial sites will affect the fortunes of the descendents. In the old days, gangsters would desecrate the ancestral tombs of rival leaders in the belief that it would bring bad luck to the other gang.

I have noticed no particular changes in the family fortune since my great-grandfather was exhumed from the Bidadari Cemetery in the early 2000s.

Then again, maybe his body has never left, seeing as the only items they recovered when they opened his grave were his spectacles and some shirt buttons.

Those who have been following my column know that I am a strong believer in conservation, especially as modern Singapore has so few places of real heritage value now.

I am not so sure about cemeteries, though. Heritage buildings can be re-purposed into museums, restaurants and shopping malls but you can't very well turn cemeteries into a restaurant, can you?

Yes, Bukit Brown cemetery does hold the graves of many prominent Singaporeans, some people have recently pointed out. But, judging from the condition of many of the graves, has anyone really cared about them until now?

And how are these graves any more important than my great-grandfather's? He may not have been a millionaire philanthropist but he was an important and much-loved member of my family.

There is a Malay saying: "When they die, an elephant leaves behind its tusks, a tiger its stripes and a man his name." The deeds of these illustrious men are already remembered without anyone having to visit their graves.

In Hong Kong, grave sites cost as much as, if not more than, homes for the living. In fact, there is now a push to encourage cremation, with the ashes scattered at sea - as in the case of my grandmother.

Singapore only has about 700 sq km to house its 5 million people. There is only so much reclamation that can be done before its neighbours complain about boundaries.

You really can't have it both ways.

Want more homes? Then something has got to give.

Cemeteries are such an inefficient use of land space. And ironically, for feng shui reasons, they are also situated in amazing locations that are perfect for the living, too.

Take Bishan, for example. Convenient and central, it is no wonder that HDB flats there are going for record prices.

I have no doubt that once people have lost their initial squeamishness, Tengah and Bidadari are going to prove popular places to live in too.

By the way, if an apparition should turn up in Bidadari New Town giving his name as Lee Kim Siang, can you tell him his great-granddaughter says hi and can she have a 4D number please?

Tabitha Wang would like to be cremated and have her ashes turned into a diamond. That way, she'd be adding to instead of subtracting from value to the family fortunes when she dies.


Monday, December 12, 2011

The High Cost of Death

Bozeman residents rushed to the cemetery this Halloween, but it wasn’t for a scare.

They went to buy a grave.

People have been hurrying to get a plot at Sunset Hills Cemetery before prices doubled Nov. 1. The cost of a casket-size plot went from $647 to $1,200. An urn plot went from $424 to $900.

“I visited with three families today alone to show them areas in the cemetery,” Chris Remely, owner of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service, said last week.

He usually takes four or five families there a month.

Burial costs at the city’s only public cemetery have gone up four times in the past five years.

Now, Bozeman charges more for burials than Missoula and Billings. In Missoula, a casket plot costs $720 less. In Billings, it costs $465 less.

Yet, none of the cities are making money.

“It’s an issue everywhere,” Missoula Finance Director Brentt Ramharter said.

Bozeman city officials had worried that if they didn’t increase fees now, there wouldn’t be money to cover the cemetery’s “forever” costs — decades of watering, plowing and mowing graves.

“You have a forever and ongoing maintenance responsibility, and you only sell the plot once,” City Manager Chris Kukulski said.

Located south of Lindley Park, Sunset Hills Cemetery contains the remains of more than 15,300 people. About 150 dead are buried there each year.

These days, cremation is popular.

Roughly 70 percent of the families served by local funeral homes opt for cremation, said Remely and Irene Dahl, owner of Dahl Funeral Chapel.

That’s twice the national rate.

Montana has the seventh-highest cremation rate in the United States, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The states with the highest cremation rates are Nevada (74 percent), Washington (70 percent) and Oregon (69 percent).

“The reason it’s so high is a lot of Bozemanites are from other places,” Dahl said. “They don’t have the same roots as you might find in say Eastern Montana … (Bozeman has) a more transient population.”

Primary reasons for choosing cremation are: to save money (30 percent); because it is simpler, less emotional and more convenient (14 percent); and to save land (13 percent), according to a 2005 study commissioned by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council.

The study also said people who favor cremation tend to be better educated and from households with higher incomes.

Bozeman’s cremation rate has been steadily climbing for years, Dahl and Remely said, and higher burial prices are likely to make it an even more attractive option.

“It might make it easier for people to say, ‘Well, we’ll just scatter the ashes instead,’” Remely said.

Scattering ashes is cheaper, but a connection to the past will be lost, he said.

“(Burials) provide a place for family members to come back to for generations and say, ‘This is your grandfather,’ or ‘This is your great-grandfather,’” Remely said. “I suppose you could point to the Bridgers and say, ‘Grandpa was scattered up there,’ but obviously, it’s not quite the same.”

The dead in Sunset Hills cost the living in Bozeman about $275,000 last year.

That’s the amount that taxpayers contributed to cover cemetery costs that weren’t paid by fees. Last year, the city collected about $125,000 in fees and paid $400,000 in expenses.

Sunset Hills has been “hemorrhaging red ink” for years, said Russ Tuckerman, chairman of the Cemetery Advisory Board.

“The cemetery has never covered itself,” he said.

A superintendent, foreman, two full-time employees and about six seasonal employees make up the Cemetery Department.

“We maintain the cemetery like a park,” said Ron Dingman, city superintendent of parks, recreation and cemetery. “So there’s mowing, irrigation, weed trimming, tree trimming … road maintenance, plowing, fence maintenance, grave maintenance … It’s a lot of hands-on, time-consuming work.”

It takes about a week to mow the entire cemetery. By the time workers are done, it’s time to start over, Dingman said.

“It’s pretty much mowed continuously,” he said.

City staff members help people shop for graves and find relatives buried in the cemetery.

Plus, when someone is buried, city crews dig the hole and fill it in. City gravediggers use backhoes and other heavy equipment. The average burial takes about four and a half hours to excavate and complete, Dingman said.

The price for opening and closing a grave rose last week from $484 to $605 for a casket and $242 to $303 for an urn.

Bozeman has a number of options for funerals, caskets and urns, but there’s only one public cemetery in town.

A traditional funeral and burial, plus extras — like flowers, obituary notices and limousines — can cost around $10,000.

“Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make,” the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors American commerce, notes on its website.

If you’re planning a traditional burial, caskets can run anywhere from $600 to $10,000, according to local funeral home price lists.

Then there’s the cost of an underground vault to surround the casket. That runs around $500 to $2,500 – depending on whether you plan to use plastic or steel.

One cheaper option is donating your body to Montana State University.

The university uses a cadaver for one to five years to teach anatomy to medical students. When they’re finished, the body is returned to the family or buried in a common grave at Sunset Hills.

There are environmentally friendly burials, too, though funeral directors said they’re not necessarily less expensive.

For a “green” burial, the deceased is wrapped in a simple shroud. There’s no embalming or underground vault.

After the body decomposes, the grave caves in. Cemeteries charge an upfront fee knowing the plot will eventually need to be filled.

Basic cremation — without any extras — generally costs at least $1,200. That’s the most Gallatin County will pay when someone dies without any money or family.

Last year, the county paid $9,600 to cremate eight people, according to Glenda Howze, assistant to the Gallatin County Commission. The number of people buried has fluctuated in recent years, but there has been no clear increasing trend, she said.

In some cities, cemeteries are a business.

Bozeman has one privately owned cemetery, Sunset Memorial Gardens, located on frontage road in east Bozeman.

Sunset Memorial Gardens charges $300 more for a casket plot than the city. The cemetery also charges another $225 for long-term care of that plot.

Some people said public cemeteries should be free to taxpayers.

Tom Olsen, owner of Bozeman Granite Works, which makes headstones, argues that long-time Bozeman residents have already paid for their spot in Sunset Hills.

“The cemetery is paid for by our taxes just like any other park and recreation-type facility,” Olsen said. “If we’re paying those taxes, I don’t want to have gates go up on the parks and have to pay $20 to get in, so I don’t think there should be financial gates on the cemetery either.”

And like the funeral home owners, the price increase won’t help Olsen’s business.

“It’s going to be a hit,” he said. “People are going to opt not to use the cemetery and therefore, I won’t be able to sell tombstones to those people.

“I think (the city) is going to lose so much business … that the net gain will be negative,” Olsen said. “People who otherwise interred will just opt to put an urn on the mantle.”

Public cemeteries operate in the red, city officials said. That’s just part of the game.

In Missoula, Finance Director Ramharter said cemetery fees only cover about 18 percent of the cost there. That city has commissioned a study of cemetery budgets in Montana and may raise its prices, he said.

“We’re looking at what an appropriate level of subsidizing is,” he said.

Under Bozeman’s new fee structure, taxpayers will actually pay about 12 percent more to subsidize annual cemetery operations, Finance Director Anna Rosenberry said.

However, all revenue from cemetery plot sales will now be set aside to build a nest egg for the cemetery’s long-term care, she said.

Sunset Hills spans 56 acres now. Another 60 acres is available for future development.

Dahl, whose grandfather started Dahl Funeral Chapel in 1939, said when she was growing up, the cost of a funeral and a car were roughly the same.

“If you think about what you pay for a car now and the cost of a funeral, you pay a lot more for a car,” she said. “When you’re looking at a diagram with all those other things … it’s not out of line.

“Bozeman had it really great for a long time because (cemetery) costs haven’t been what they should have been,” Dahl said.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Should Cremation in City be Mandatory?

There are some topics that are difficult to talk candidly about, let along think about, among our family and friends. One of them is discussing our eventual death and the specifics that accompany end of life. Issues like a will, trust, medical power of attorney and funeral preparations are sensitive things to prepare for but prudent to do while we are still of sound mind and body.

The above discussion relates to the new General Plan adopted by the City Council last week. Beyond being a document that celebrates New Urbanism, the plan also has strict regulations on hillside development outside the urban growth boundary. Since these regulations were not an absolute abolition of changing the landscape, this led some to believe it was an opening to develop in the hills. This notion is incorrect.

Some of the regulations include: only large parcels over 200-plus acres can apply; no more than 2 percent of the land can have a structure and no more than 10 percent of the land (which includes the 2 percent of structures) can have non-permeable materials (walkway, driveway, parking); no irrigation systems are allowed; and only native vegetation is allowed. This leaves 90 percent of the land as open space for animals to roam and for nature to remain in charge.

These restrictions really only allow for one viable option and that is the potential for a future cemetery. Cemetery? We certainly do not vote on these often at the City Council. In fact, this makes sense since cemeteries in San Jose were established well over 100 years ago. Oak Hill cemetery on the west side was established in 1800, and Calvary on the east side was established in the same century. Both of these facilities are 90-95 percent full and will soon run out of space.

Thousands of San Jose residents pass on each year in the cycle of life, and even more will as the baby boomer generation ages. It is a very personal choice to be buried and for some it is dictated by their religion. Most of the families in Santa Clara County and the United States choose in-ground burials versus cremation.

Although the majority of the members of the General Plan Task Force may agree that burial is a personal choice, some felt that burial is “old fashioned” and people should be cremated. I do not believe the city is the appropriate level of government to dictate that all people should be cremated by not allowing for the land use opportunity of a new cemetery. Mandatory cremation attacks individual rights about a very personal choice that a family may make. We should plan now, so that as Oak HIll and Calvary cemeteries reach 100 percent capacity there is another option to service families of the locally deceased.

One may argue to let family members be buried elsewhere, having them send their deceased family members to lower cost areas, where there is more land. But that seems odd. Locating a new cemetery within the boundary of an existing city is not an easy task. For one thing, it would bring out the “anywhere but here” crowd. Many people would not want a new cemetery near their home, just as much as they might not want a group home. Also, when looking for cemetery location, you have to make sure the water table is low enough to avoid the New Orleans issue of floating caskets. I would estimate a new cemetery would open just as the other cemeteries reach capacity.

A tombstone, cross or Star of David is the marker for the love left behind. As awkward as the conversation may be, we should value that love and plan for it. Cemeteries are sacred and a place for living to go to pay respect for their loved ones.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cost of Dying: More Funeral Service Providers Shift to Upfront Payment

Death is the price everyone pays for living, but the price of dying can vary.

Although the Federal Trade Commission mandates funeral service businesses list their general prices for services, other services, costs and items can result in a surprising final bill.

The cost of funerals can range from a couple of thousand dollars to upward of $11,000 or more. Traditionally, funeral service businesses issue a bill for services after the survivors settle the estate and insurance. However, many of the services provided come from other sources that demand payment upfront.

Those services include, but aren't limited to, flowers, music, food, obituaries and preparing the grave.

The price of those cash advance items can vary significantly. Flower arrangements can be a few dozen dollars to hundreds of dollars. Monuments can vary by thousands of dollars depending on size and materials. A detailed obituary, at a rate of $20 per column inch, can cost hundreds of dollars. The cost of feeding the mourners can range from a free potluck to a thousand-dollar catered affair.

More funeral homes and funeral service businesses are now requiring payment upfront for those cash advance services.

"Part of it is cash flow," said Shawn Overton, manager at Overton Family Funeral Homes. "Those can involve several thousand dollars."

Funeral service businesses take care of those services as a convenience for their clients, Overton said. However, doing so can leave the businesses open to significant loss.

"My grandfather did that with a handshake," said Eric Locke, a fourth-generation funeral director at Locke Funeral Home. "The national trend is now shifting to upfront payments."

Opting for cremation over traditional burial is another national trend funeral service businesses and cemeteries are seeing. Some trend watchers speculate the choice has to do with cost.

Transporting a body to viewings and services adds to the funeral expense.

A casket can range in cost from about $500 to about $10,000 depending on material. Urns range from about $150 to upward of $1,800. Wooden caskets, because of the labor involved in their manufacture, are actually pricier than some metal models, funeral service providers said.

However, high-end metal caskets, such as polished brass caskets, are some of the most expensive models. Urns have a large range in price because they can be made from a wide range of materials from wood, metal to materials not used for caskets such as marble or other stone. However, urns generally cost less than a casket.

Burial of an urn also costs less. Opening and closing a grave for an urn costs about $400 at Waterloo Memorial Park Cemetery.

It costs about $600 to open and close a grave for a casket, said Angela Crawford, administrative assistant at the cemetery.

However, other societal factors are more likely the driving factor in the rise in cremations, said Overton.

"It's a personal preference," he said "Cost is not the primary reason."

The trend also reflects other national trends, Locke added.

"A big part of it is because society is more mobile," Locke said. Generations ago, a person was more likely to be born, work and die in the same area. Today, people aren't as likely to have as deep roots in one area, he said.

Cremations in Iowa are on pace to equal traditional burials by 2020, Overton added. Cremation also gives families a chance to delay burial, Crawford said. Multiple mourners can also have a memento with the deceased's ashes if families opt for cremation.

Like other costs, interring the deceased in the ground can vary. The time of the week, time of the year, can affect the cost to open and close a grave. Beginning in November, most cemeteries add an extra fee because cutting through the frosted ground takes more effort and special tools.

After closing the grave, closing accounts and settling the estate can take legal fees. At the very least, survivors will have to produce a few certified death certificates.

"You really need a certified copy for each place you're going to send it," said Fred Love, an attorney with Iowa Legal Aid. "You can't just Xerox it."

To help prepare for these varying costs, Locke recommends pre-planning a funeral. Talking about our own mortality can be difficult, but it is becoming more socially acceptable, he said.

"Talking about that stuff is by far the most beneficial thing you can do."