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Boomers get creative with their final wishes

Remember Ted Williams' postmortem journey? The baseball legend's body was shipped to an Arizona cryonics lab after his death in 2002. His children were left bickering in court. A will specified cremation, or, no, he wanted his body frozen, per a signed scrap of paper stained with motor oil. Lawsuits later, his body remains in the deep freeze. • Savvier generations are increasingly authoring their own "preneed" funeral and burial plans. Doing so spares survivors anxiety and indecision over a dizzying host of choices, from how you want to be remembered to where you might want to be buried, scattered or shelved. • You might go for a simple religious rite followed by interment in a family plot. You can also have your ashes compressed into a diamond, submerged in a reef or blasted into space. • Whether you are the family elder or a boomer confused about your parents' or siblings' desires, take the lead: Invite family discussion about a topic that none of us find particularly comfortable to talk about.

It's your funeral

Funeral home owners say failure to plan is one of the biggest mistakes folks make. "I see situations where a husband and wife have been married 60 years and they've never discussed what to do if one of them should pass away," said Steve Miller, who owns Garden Sanctuary, a funeral home in Seminole.

"There is probably a trend to giving more thought ahead of time than you would traditionally think of in the '70s, '80s and '90s," said David Johnson, founder of thefuneralsite.com. Advertisers eagerly point the way to such things as retail casket bargains, grief support groups, funerals with the release of doves or butterflies, eco-friendly burials and how to have your ashes scattered from a plane.

Johnson, 46, started his Web site three years ago in Kent, Wash. It quickly spread to seven cities, including Orlando. Baby boomers, Johnson noted, have already altered birth with Lamaze classes and videocameras. They have held weddings for skydivers and scuba divers at every destination in between. "We think that personalization trend is going to carry over into funerals and memorials," he said.

Customers wanting to plan for their deaths are likely to be asked about their lives. The trend befits baby boomers, who are transforming public mourning into show-and-tell life stories.

Your answers influence the suggestions a funeral home will offer. If you were interested in, say, fishing, "We could encourage a themed visitation personalized with possible fishing gear," said Mike White, who directs funeral and cemetery operations for Blount & Curry Funeral Homes, which owns six funeral homes and two cemeteries in Tampa. "Or we do the DVDs nowadays that have a video of the life of the deceased, and could choose a background and photographs that denote fishing and outdoor activities."

At Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, celebrations have brought golf carts and Harleys into its Heritage Hall; a row of John Deere tractors guarded a country boy's recent remembrance.

Your final resting place

Be aware that many funeral homes offer what they call "burial packages" that do not entail cemetery costs. The price of burial can run from nothing for eligible veterans to several thousand dollars, but averages about $3,000, White said.

Call cemeteries to find out their rates, which may include a vault (which, though not legally required in Florida, may be part of a cemetery's policy), stone or marker, opening and closing the grave, and may vary by location.

"They should ask not just for all costs involved, but also for a copy of all the rules and regulations," said Robert Fells, a chief operating officer and lawyer for the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. "So if they find some policy they don't like, they can always go elsewhere."

The average rate for funeral services is $7,323, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, which doesn't include burial. The figure includes costs that could be pared down depending on your budget: $2,255 for a metal casket; $550 for embalming; $463 to have the service at the funeral home; $251 to rent a hearse.

Thanks to the federal Funeral Rule, homes must disclose a price list and accept itemized pricing. That means all goods and services can be dispensed with, except the basic services of the funeral director and staff. Itemized pricing helps customers who want to shop online for caskets, where deals are sometimes available at sites like casketstores. com, costco.com walmart.com or funeraldepot.com.

Most funeral homes still offer packages. Anderson-McQueen offers 10 selections ranging in price from $3,000 for cremation without a ceremony, to $7,300 for the deluxe package, or "signature family tribute."

Pay it forward

At some funeral homes, you can lock in funeral costs by preplanning, which socks the money into an insurance policy. Some use revocable trusts, also with locked-in rates impervious to inflation, regardless of when the person dies.

Most banks offer payable-on-death accounts in which an individual designates a beneficiary (usually the funeral home). Plans between you and your bank obviously can't provide for a fixed rate, but they allow you access to your money should you need to withdraw it later, and also the interest accrued.

In Florida, there is also a state fund that protects consumers with prepaid plans whose funeral homes go out of business.

Trend toward cremation

The Cremation Association of North America projects a 59 percent cremation rate by 2025, up from 35 percent in 2007.

Anderson-McQueen added a crematorium in 1997. Today, two-thirds of its customers choose cremation. Blount & Curry recently acquired a Hillsborough crematorium.

For bargain shoppers, it's hard to beat local cremation societies. The Suncoast Tampa Bay Memorial Society offers members simple cremation for $585, or $1,190 if you want a service and interment. The society contracts with Taylor Family Funeral Home in Pinellas Park, which extends the discounted rates to those who pay a $20 membership fee to the society.

"It's a $20 expense on their part to have access to what I think is a very good deal," said society president John Clement, 87.

The Funeral Consumers Association of Tampa Bay, in Lutz, charges a $30 membership for individuals (or $50 per couple) and offers cremation services starting at $895.

Pulling out all the stops

The popularity of cremation has spawned a variety of unconventional interments.

"The reason (baby boomers) like cremation is because it's nontraditional, a much greener alternative, and it allows them a lot more flexibility when it comes to celebrating their lives," said Dion Joannou, 44, former CEO of the Neptune Society. "Baby boomers are far more interested in thinking about how they celebrate their lives after they are gone than mourn their deaths."

The Neptune Society, which has seven offices in Florida, including one in Palm Harbor, offers cremation services and placement of encased ashes 3 miles off Key Biscayne in an Atlantis-themed underwater city, which attracts tropical fish and scuba-diving mourners.

Cremated remains can also be compressed into gems — "a certified, high-quality diamond created from the carbon of your loved one," LifeGem's Web site declares (lifegem.com).

If you can't afford $20 million to go into space as a tourist, you can at least make sure your ashes get there. Celestis Inc. can put some of your cremains on one of its rockets, some of which launch from Cape Canaveral. Destinations include a launch into zero-gravity before falling back to Earth, or to the moon, or to deep space.

Whatever you do, it's a good idea to make some kind of plan for the sake of those you leave behind, funeral experts say. They make a good argument, even if they often stand to gain.

Anderson-McQueen, which comprises five funeral homes and a related crematory in the bay area, has handled more than 50,000 funerals in its nearly 60 years. Having family with no stated wishes hit home for Bill McQueen in 1987. His father, also named Bill, who founded the funeral home, died unexpectedly. He left no directions for his arrangements.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

The final balance: some average costs

Funeral package*: $7,323

Cremation: From about $1,100 (no urn or service) to about $1,800

Cremation urn: $150 to $3,500

Burial costs: $3,000

Green burial: Starts at $1,800

Placement of ashes in reef: $750 to $2,250

Placement of ashes in underwater city: $2,700 to $4,000; with cremation, $3,800 to $7,000

Ashes compressed into a gem: $3,500 to $20,000

Ashes blasted into space: $695 to $25,000

DVD life video (from photos): $195 to $395

DVD life legacy film: $495

Live dove or butterfly release: $350

Bagpipers: starting at $200

Shiva candle: $20

Gold roses: $65

DNA preservation: $295

DVD video of ceremony: $295

* Figure is a national average and does not include cemetery, monument or marker costs, or miscellaneous charges such as flowers or obituaries.

Sources: National Funeral Directors Association; International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association; Cremation Options Inc.; Anderson-McQueen Family Tribute Centers; Garden Sanctuary Funeral Home; Blount & Curry Funeral Homes; Memorial Park Funeral Home; LifeGem Inc.; the Neptune Society; Great Burial Reef; Celestis Inc.; Eternal Rest Memorial Park; and Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve

Boomers get creative with their final wishes 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 1:31pm]

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