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The Boston Globe

Business

Andrew Meacham

Planning ahead for a funeral saves time, money

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.

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Because even dying isn’t cheap, as 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. 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 average cost of a metal casket is $2,295, Casket and Monument Discount sells metal caskets for $895. Walmart offers 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 you 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.

Most homes offer 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.

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

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 go for a package, a funeral home will probably 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.

Local affiliates of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance offer cost-cutting packages. For a $20 membership fee, the Suncoast Tampa Bay Memorial Society, for example, will cremate a body for $585, conduct a burial for $1,190, or ship a body somewhere for $895 (not including airfare or anything at the destination). The no-frills “direct burial’’ allows for no viewing, funeral procession, or graveside service, though those services are available at additional cost.

And preplanning, an option available at 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.

Andrew Meacham writes for the Tampa Bay Times.

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