Q: I know you wrote an article a few months ago about funerals. My question is more specific than that. I'm considering cremation and want to know how I go about asking the right questions. - Calvin Curious
Dear Mr. Curious: According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, an independent funeral industry watchdog, close to half of all Americans now choose cremation over the more traditional funerals of the past. Yet, even though cremation is cheaper and easier, specific questions directed to funeral homes are just as important when deciding upon this process, especially as cremation scams are on the rise.
• Call funeral homes within a 30-mile radius to check prices for "direct cremation." This method is solely price: picking up the body, all paperwork, the act itself, and providing the ashes. If the quote is around $1,000, then ask if the price includes the crematory fee. (If above $1,000, call the next funeral home on your list.) This fee is the actual cremation; some places tack on several hundreds more for the service. If so, then move on.
• Check refrigeration costs. Some funeral homes add big prices to the actual cost for the cost of refrigerating the body, if you live in a state that doesn't allow immediate cremation (Tennessee does.)
• Ask about an "alternative casket." This term is industry jargon for a cardboard box that's used instead of a wood casket. If the item isn't included in the quoted price, you might pay an extra $50 to $100. (If you're told that a wood "casket" is a legal requirement, shop elsewhere 'cause they're telling you a big, fat lie.) Along this same line, funeral home urns cost anywhere from $50 to $300. Unless you intend to keep your loved one's ashes indefinitely, the thick plastic box most funeral homes utilize for scattering should be just fine. If, on the other hand, if you do wish a more permanent resting place for the ashes, check out lovely store urns, vases, and the like to get a much less expensive vessel. (One suggestion from the Funeral Consumers Alliance is to use a container that reminds the family of the deceased, such as that cookie jar that your mother loved to fill or the fishing tackle box your dad took with him on all those fishing trips.)
• Check to see who owns the funeral home. Often, larger chains charge more for the same services and, also, tend to push more high pressure tactics. Try to stick with a locally-owned funeral home.
Tax Tip: Take note of other mileage rate changes. January 1-June 30 medical and moving is 19 cents per mile, and charitable rates are 14 cents per mile. From July 1 through the end of last year, the rate changed to 23.5 cents for medical/moving but the charitable remains the same at 14.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.