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How to organize a cost-effective funeral – without seeming cheap

How to organize a cost-effective funeral – without seeming cheap

With the cost of living going up and up, the last thing people want to think about is the cost of dying. But funerals and arrangements can suck up a large chunk of cash.

While prices vary tremendously across the country, a cremation could cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. A burial, meanwhile, typically runs much higher, anywhere from about $5,000 to $15,000, according to Canadian Funerals Online.

“A lot of people don’t know the costs involved,” says Kat Downey, a funeral pre-planner and licensed funeral director at Ontario’s Legacy Matters.

Then there’s the fact that many funeral homes tend to upsell at a time when those who are grieving are at their most vulnerable, stressed and exhausted.

There are ways to cut back on death-related expenses, however, without cheapening the memory of a loved one.

Consider “direct cremation”

This option is far cheaper than a burial service. The body is removed from the home, hospital, or residential facility then stored in the funeral home’s morgue for a mandatory 48 hours then transported to the crematorium — without any visitation, funeral service, or other involvement by the family and friends. 

Skip the embalming

“It’s a myth that you need this,” Downey says of the process that involves replacing blood and bodily fluids with a chemical solution to temporarily preserve the body. “It isn’t mandatory.”

Although embalming is not legally required, public-health office may order that a body be embalmed or cremated immediately if a person has died of an infectious disease such Hepatitis B or C.

Take a DIY approach

You can make your own post-death care and funeral arrangements.

Many religious traditions (such as Jewish and Muslim) require that the family or community be directly involved in a person’s post-death care or burial, with minimal, if any, intervention from a funeral home, according to Canadian Funerals Online, which has comprehensive consumer information for Canadians.

“All the post-death care and arrangements can be done by the family and friends at home,” its website says. “Cooling the body to the required temperature is easily achieved by the use of dry ice or Techni-Ice gel packs (which need to be ordered in advance). Burial or cremation arrangements can be made directly with the cemetery or crematorium. All arrangements for visitation/final farewells, and funeral and/or memorial ceremonies, can be planned by the family/friends, with or without the leadership of clergy or spiritual advisors.”

Not only that, but all of the required legal paperwork is available online from government sites, and can be filed directly with your local Vital Statistics office.

The Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives (CINDEA) maintains a website with all of the necessary information and resources for each province and territory to handle post-death care, arrangements, and the legal paperwork. It also provides listings of Canadian alternative death-care practitioners who are able to support people through the “pan-death” process (meaning before, during, and after death). 

The CINDEA site also offers video and written instructions on post-death care at home, including a list of supplies, and a general timeline—what to do when.

“Although attitudes are changing, we still live in a 'death taboo' culture,” the site says. “Most of us are not aware that we have the legal right to care for our own dead at home, without using the services of a funeral home.”   

Bring your own container

You don’t have to accept the marked-up prices funeral homes charge for urns or caskets. Note that some caskets can’t be used for cremation—say, those made of materials that will not burn. For cremated remains, you may be able to use something as simple as a cookie jar, but you need to check the crematorium and cemetery by-laws for about the type and size of container allowed.

Pre-pay for what you know you’ll need

In some provinces, it may make sense to pay for your funeral services in advance.

According to the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act in Ontario, for instance, if money is paid under a contract for future services or merchandise and the price goes up in the future, that initial amount has to be honoured.

Keep in mind that provinces differ in their legislation, so look for a guaranteed contract. Paying in advance also means your loved ones don’t have to negotiate or shop around at a time of mourning.

“The funeral home takes on the inflationary risk over time,” Downey says. “When someone dies, that’s not the time to do business. You’re not thinking clearly, you’re not thinking there are options, and you’re not thinking to ask questions so you just sign the bottom line.”

Consider whole-body donation

While there’s a vital need for organ donors, a lesser-known option is to donate your entire body to a medical training facility so that future doctors, dentists, and other health professionals can use it for study and research.

The body-donation program at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, for example, has been around since 1950. If death occurs within the Greater Vancouver Regional District, costs associated with transport of the remains are covered, as is the cost of cremation and urn. However, medical schools often keep remains for anywhere from six months to three years, possibly longer, and not all remains are accepted.

Get creative

You’ll likely pay big bucks to have a service at a funeral home. Just like weddings take place anywhere from parks to backyards these days, though, memorials can also be non-traditional.

“I know of a funeral that took place on a beach volleyball court, because that’s what this guy loved to do,” Downey says. “You can celebrate someone’s life in whatever manner they lived their life. I really encourage people to consider personalization. What were their hobbies, talents, and interests? Did they like to garden or play golf? You could gather friends at a golf club.”

Seek tax breaks

The federal Income Tax Act offers some tax relief in the form of the eligible funeral arrangement (EFA) rules for funeral pre-planning. The EFA has to be handled by a licensed funeral director or cemetery operator, however. Accruing interest earned on contributions is not taxed to the plan contributor, the deceased, or the deceased’s estate.

The contribution limits for EFAs are $15,000 for funeral services, $20,000 for cemetery services, or $35,000 for combined funeral/cemetery services.

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