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We're all going to die, so start planning now for funeral, burial

The average price for a funeral runs $6,560, but planning ahead can lock in rates and limit expenses.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

The average price for a funeral runs $6,560, but planning ahead can lock in rates and limit expenses.

Well, this is awkward.

You are going to die. So is everyone you know and love.

You can save money by planning ahead for that grim reality by making plans for funerals, burials or cremation for you and your family members.

Because even dying isn't cheap these days, as the most recent figures compiled by the National Funeral Directors Association show. Average funeral expenses run $6,560.

For some, death is no time to spare the cost. Others figure death is exactly that time and suspect their departed relatives won't care. How to navigate a dizzying range of options depends on what you want.

• • •

Let's start with the most basic component of a traditional funeral: the casket.

While the national estimate pegs the average cost of a metal casket at $2,295, Casket and Monument Discount sells metal caskets for $895. Anderson-McQueen Family Tribute Centers and Walmart both offer caskets starting at $995.

Not everyone likes the idea of having their body stuffed in a box for eternity. They prefer cremation.

That will spare the cost of a casket, though you can rent one if you want to hold a viewing first. A viewing also entails embalming (up to $1,000, plus a few hundred dollars for dressing, cosmetics and hair styling), something usually not required by law but considered necessary for a viewing.

If nearness of a cremation center and familiarity with the provider is a priority, you might choose to pay $3,000 and up for the service.

On the other end of the scale, Florida Direct Cremation in St. Petersburg will accept a body and return its cremated remains for $445, plus assorted fees.

Cremation providers usually sell urns starting at around $30.

• • •

Most funeral homes offer multiple packages for burial and cremation ranging from a few thousand dollars above or below the national association average.

You don't have to buy a package deal. The federal Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to allow customers to itemize merchandise and services, such as buying a casket or urn elsewhere or having the service at another site. Some casket merchants will deliver for free.

The rule also requires funeral homes to supply customers with an itemized statement of goods and services, so be sure to ask for one before making any decisions.

The advantages of buying a package include discounts, usually of several hundred dollars to $1,000, and the convenience of one-stop shopping. If you do go for a package, a funeral home will likely insist you use only their merchandise, so you would effectively be waiving your right to rely on the Funeral Rule.

• • •

None of the services associated with funeral costs include a rather significant detail: where to put the body.

A burial vault ($400 and up) and the costs of opening and closing a grave can bring the total to $5,000 or so. And that doesn't include the cemetery plot itself or a marker.

When it comes to plots, there is some good news: It's a buyer's market. Sites like Craigslist and gravesolutions.com list thousands of them, including many in the Tampa Bay area marked "reduced."

But maybe you don't want all that. Maybe you would like to be buried without a vault — the rectangular liner, usually made of concrete, in which a casket rests. Outer burial containers are not required by law anywhere in the United States. But most cemetery rules call for them because they keep the ground from settling.

If what you want is a natural burial — no embalming with nasty chemicals, no casket unless you want one and no vault — the city of Brooksville has a place for you. Green Meadows was opened last year after the City Council approved it. Its 69 spaces lie in a wooded corner of Historic Brooksville Cemetery.

This eco-friendly burial ground actually requires that graves be dug by hand, 10 square feet by about 4 feet down.

"Six feet under is for cowboy movies," said Rich Howard, the cemetery's sexton. The spaces run $2,800 and can hold up to two bodies or nine sets of cremated remains. Most often, the spaces are filled by members of the same families, with a simple granite stone bearing the first letter of the family's last name. If you want a casket, you're free to supply one, preferably of the pine box variety or homemade.

You can dig the grave yourself. "Everyone takes a turn with the shovel and talks about the deceased," Howard said.

Or you can pay a local $200 to do it.

• • •

Two local affiliates of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance offer cost-cutting packages.

For a $20 membership fee, the Suncoast Tampa Bay Memorial Society, which contracts with Taylor Funeral Home, will cremate a body for $585, conduct a burial for $1,190, or ship a body somewhere else for $895 (not including airfare or anything at the destination).

The no-frills "direct burial" offered allows for no viewing, funeral procession or graveside service, though those services are available at additional cost. All three services include local removal from the place of death and processing all documents such as a death certificate.

In Lutz, the Funeral Consumers Association of Tampa Bay charges $30 for an individual membership or $50 for a couple. The cremation fee for members is $850, which also includes paperwork, and direct burial is $950.

While direct burial means no service and you don't get to watch, funeral directors have been known to look the other way while family members say a quick goodbye, said Sandra Elmore, the Lutz association's membership chair and treasurer.

• • •

Bottom line: Make sure you want the services you pay for.

"You need to compare apples to apples," said John McQueen, president of Anderson-McQueen, one of a handful of funeral homes with its own crematory. "Don't go low cost just for the price."

Pre-planning, an option available in most funeral homes, can lock in rates. Some plans have the money put in trust in case the funeral home should go out of business. If that doesn't feel safe enough, put the money in a separate bank account of your own.

The most important tip is to have a plan.

"Have it written down," Elmore said. "Have all your kids and spouses know where it is. It should be something to think about early in life, not when you get to the point where you're in a hospice."

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

Costs related
to burial

$2,295 National estimate of the average cost of a metal casket

$400 Starting price for a burial vault

$895 Cost of a metal casket at Casket and Monument Discount.

Costs related
to cremation

$445 Base price for cremation service at Florida Direct Cremation, plus assorted fees.

$30 Starting cost of an urn through cremation providers.

$1,000 Upper end of cost to embalm for viewing.

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We're all going to die, so start planning now for funeral, burial 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:58pm]

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