The cost of dying

Posted by: Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It's not something we like to think about, but death is inevitable. And as uncomfortable as it may be, preparing for your death could be a godsend for the family you leave behind.

Christine Burdett just buried her father, who died unexpectedly after a brief illness, leaving his family to make his final arrangements.

"It's difficult to plan something when you don't really expect it," she said.

Planning a funeral can be overwhelming, not to mention expensive.

Funeral home director Brent Gailey helps families like the Burdetts. He says pre-planning can be a big stress reducer.

"The biggest question I have gotten after 14 years is, 'would momma like that,'" he explained.

When you pre-plan your funeral and pay in advance, you lock in the price, which Gailey says continues to increase at a rate of 10% to 20% every 5 years. You also can determine every detail in advance.

"Everything," Gailey insisted, "from who you want to fix your hair to who you want your preacher to be to the music and the pall bearers."


A choice being made more often these days is cremation rather than a traditional burial.

"I think it's because of the economy," Gailey explained. "It is a bit cheaper if you do a direct cremation. If you don't do the visitation."

Green Funerals

The so called green funeral is also growing in popularity. It forgoes the use of artificial preservation methods, which may be harmful to the environment.

"They are pretty much going right back into the earth, everything is biodegradable," said Gailey. "They are not dressed. They are pretty much wrapped in a sheet"

And instead of elaborate grave markers there are more inconspicuous natural markers available - like trees, flowers or rocks.

While green funerals aren't available in most Alabama cemeteries right now, they could be in the future.

"It's something you want to go over with your spouse, your children, and if you made some kind of arrangement, let them know where the information is," Gailey recommended, no matter what kind of funeral you plan.

If price is a factor in your planning, cremation is the least expensive option at around $1,500. A traditional burial will cost you $6,500 or more. And if you're interested in that green option in the future, it's likely to total around $2,300.


Before you go to the funeral home, here's a funeral planning checklist to take with you from

  • Find out your state's laws on pre need insurance.
  • Before buying a burial policy, discuss your options with your family and lawyer to make sure it is consistent with your will and estate planning.
  • Determine how much of the plan value you will actually receive in death benefits.
  • Verify the license of the agent, funeral director or company before doing business.
  • Take advantage of any "free look" laws your state might have to review your policy before you are locked in.
  • The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to give you a written price list of available goods and services.
  • Funeral directors may choose not to provide price guarantees, which means the money you pay today for a funeral might not actually be enough to cover the costs later since you haven't locked in the prices.
  • Have a companion on hand to help you sort through the paperwork or to help you shop for a casket or other products.
  • Do not accept any documents that have not been completely filled in and signed in your presence.
  • Make sure the funeral arrangements can be moved to any funeral home at any time (in case you move, for instance).
  • Find out if your state requires that the money you pay to funeral directors for pre need funerals be made available to you upon request at any time.
  • The location of the grave site should be spelled out by section, row and plot number.
  • The policy should specify what type of outer burial container you have purchased (e.g., grave liner vs. a vault, and what it's made of).
  • The policy should specify what kind of marker you have purchased, including size, material, and style, preferably with a sketch.
  • Find out if opening, closing and marker-installation costs are included (the costs of digging and filling a grave aren't generally included in the cost of the plot).
  • Find out if there are extra fees if you buy a marker from a monument dealer instead of the cemetery. And what about buying a casket from your own supplier?
  • Find out what happens if the cemetery ownership changes hands.
  • Know what recourse you have if the cemetery runs out of money and defaults on your arrangement.
  • Ask what happens if your chosen cemetery runs out of burial space.
  • Survey your desired cemetery to see how well the upkeep is, particularly after a snowstorm.
  • Look at the contingencies if the items you have selected will no longer available at the time of the funeral.
  • Make sure you receive your funeral policy in a timely manner.
  • Make sure you receive at least one statement each year detailing the status of your account.
  • Know what happens if you decide to cancel your policy. You may be refunded for products and services, but be stuck with the plot.

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