The high cost of dying: Planning ahead can reduce stress on family members
by Shane Dunaway
Human beings may exhibit different beliefs and come from different backgrounds. Despite any differences that may exist from one person to another, they all share the same destiny — death.

It’s a grim thought, but it is also reality. That unavoidable reality brings the financial expenditures associated with funerals to the forefront.

According to trends and statistics released by the National Funeral Director’s Association in 2009, the average cost of an adult funeral not including a vault totaled $6,560, nearly 10 times the $708 it cost to bury an adult in 1960. The average cost for an adult funeral including a vault equaled $7,755.

Kay Wilson, director of Curtis and Son Funeral Home in Sylacauga, said, depending on what the family wants, a funeral held there could range anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000.

The basic funeral package for Curtis and Son Funeral Home comes out to roughly $6,680 and includes service charges, transportation, a casket, a vault, visitation and roadside services.

Talladega Funeral Home Director and Embalmer Brittany Boozer did not give a specific number on the cost of the home’s basic funeral package, but said it compared favorably to the national average.

A basic funeral at Talladega Funeral Home includes a standard casket, a vault, embalming, all transportation charges within 30 to 50 miles, a visitation, funeral service and all stationery, including a guest registry.

Kilgroe Funeral Home Director Mitch Bartee said funeral services offered there start at $4,500 and go up to above $9,000.

According to the directors, items not included in the basic funeral package are obituaries, copies of death certificates and cemetery opening and closing costs.

Burial is not the only choice for customers. Cremation has become a popular, and less expensive, post-mortem option.

According to the NFDA, the 2011 U.S. cremation rate sat at 42 percent, more than 28-percent higher than the 1985 U.S. cremation rate. Alabama ranked as the second-lowest in the bottom 10 of state cremation rates at 18.6 percent, but local funeral directors see that number trending upward.

One in every four of Bartee’s customers chose cremation over burial.

“Our direct cremation rate is between $1,500 to $1,800,” Bartee said. “The families can also add funeral services, but it will raise the base price.”

Boozer estimated her customer cremation rate was between 20-30 percent. A direct cremation at Talladega Funeral Home costs $1,795.

The NFDA projects the 2016 U.S. cremation could be as high as 49 percent.

Another avenue used to drive down costs of a funeral is by attempting to go green by choosing not to have your loved one embalmed and burying them in a biodegradable casket, a trend Boozer said hasn’t quite reached Alabama yet, but is still intriguing.

“I have looked into it to some extent, but it’s not something that has generated much interest,” Boozer said. “The green burial is a very interesting concept and I almost wish it would pick up around here. Without the embalming, the metal caskets and other things that we use, it allows the body to return back to the earth.”

Bartee noted that different cemeteries may require an outer burial container or vault, but the staff is otherwise very flexible in terms of meeting a family’s needs.

“If a family doesn’t want embalming or other features such as that, we will certainly adhere to a family’s request,” Bartee said.

There are currently no indigent programs for the deceased who did not have a family and were homeless in place in either St. Clair or Talladega counties. However, that’s not stopping Bartee from burying certain indigents.

“It’s announced on our website, I believe, that if there are any homeless veterans (who have died), we will bury them at no cost,” Bartee said. “They have to be completely homeless and indigent for us to do that.”

Some deaths can occur unexpectedly, and families may not have been prepared for the tragedy. There are no programs in place in Talladega or St. Clair counties to assist families with a sudden death in the family.

“It really hurts my feelings when I have people come in here that are kind of stuck,” Boozer said. “Usually they rely on local churches and organizations to help come over with something to help cover those costs.”

The lack of government programs in place to assist those who lose a loved one unexpectedly prompts Boozer to promote planning ahead, whether it’s prearranging your funeral services, purchasing life insurance or talking with the funeral home to discuss payment options.

“The best thing for people to consider would be to have some kind of insurance, because that’s why it’s there,” Boozer said. “It’s sad to say there’s not anything to help other people who don’t have a way to cover it, but you run into situations where it’s hard financially for your loved ones to pay for your service when, for a few dollars a month or however much it would have come up to, you could’ve prepared. There are so many different options out there.”

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© 2013