January 27, 2013

Dying is Expensive, part two

In my previous post, I talked of the costs of preparing to die, which in the long view are actually minimal up front.  A couple thousand dollars should net you the whole swatch of documents you need, especially if your affairs are not complicated.  The richer you are and the more assets you have to protect, the more expensive this part gets.

I also alluded to the related after-death costs to your estate; the government gets its cut in estate taxes (which is the reason various instruments of estate sheltering are all the rage) and your executor is entitled to fair compensation for his or her time.  Again, if you are poor and your executor is your parent, spouse, or child and your affairs are easily dealt with, this may be little or no cost.  But with more complicated estates, a separate lawyer will be needed to be executor and this could get expensive.

Now let's consider the costs we usually associate with death:  burial and all that entails.  There are a LOT of costs here and this list below is, I'm sure, only a partial list.  For a detailed breakdown of the costs that funeral homes itemize in order to present your surviving family (or you, if you plan ahead) with some packages, check out this page.

Hospital or Hospice final charges
Oh, no.  You're not done with medical bills even when you're dead.  This is fixing to be part three of this series - the cost of the last few days or weeks of life.  So far, this has all been about prep and - with this post - the aftermath. But as you're dying you're racking up huge expenses in care that will have to be paid for.  No way to predict this, unless you have magical insurance that covers everything 100%.  Yeah, right.

Funeral Home/Embalming
Including clothes, makeup, etc... about a grand, give or take $500.

Transportation of your body 
This may be billed as a separate expense, especially if you don't have a funeral or burial.  Most burial/funeral packages include this expense in the total.  But if a cemetery isn't involved at all and if the crematorium does things on a line-item basis...you'll be paying this one separately.  You'll pay for it one way or another, but it's one more thing to think about.   A few hundred dollars, tops.

Cremation or Burial 
Cremation runs $2000 to $4000, although there are pre-pay plans running under a grand.  And that will include transporting your body from the hospital to the crematorium and afterwards to the cemetery or your home.  But generally, if you didn't arrange all this in advance, your family will be out two to four grand.  For a burial, tack on another three to five grand for opening/closing costs.

Casket or Urn
How much can a wooden box or a bronze vessel cost, anyhow?  Oh, holy shit you just wouldn't believe!  A cheap coffin will cost you a bill; a decent coffin is five big ones!  I don't spend that much for sleeping comfort while I'm alive! Now, urns are cheaper, starting at $150 or so.  If you want to manage this cost, you need to buy ahead of time.  How creepy, though, right?

Or bring your own box!  Nothing wrong with that, especially for cremation.  But if your relatives show up with a cut-and-taped refrigerator box to bury your embalmed body in, they're likely to get a little grief from the mortuary staff.

This can be a small expense or a huge one.  Depends on your preferences and available finances.  Some cities can offer residents plots for a couple hundred dollars, but these are going to be the proverbial pauper's graves, or little better.  You know those cemeteries - long, flat, undistinguished fields of sameness as far as the eye can see.  Then there are nicer places, landscaped in high park style; places that feel very restful when you visit while alive and would be lovely to rest eternally in.  These are going to run you baseline $2000 and on up to $10,000.  The benefit to purchasing in higher end cemeteries is at least two-fold: one, your family should find it relatively easy to get there and to find your grave, as opposed to it being a fucking pilgrimage just to get to you; and two, far less chance of having your old bones dug up and moved in order to accommodate development.

Side note:
This is an expense I don't have to worry about - my great-uncle left me a spot reserved for him when he decided to be buried in another cemetary next to his first wife.  He had two plots given him by my great-great-grandfather, Oscar Dopfer.  He gave one plot to my father and one to me.  I am... well, I'm extremely honored that my great-uncle thought of me and thankful to have a place for my body.  I am so eternally, deeply grateful that I'll be laid to rest near the founder of our family and my father, among others in the Dopfer/Dopher clan.  Thank you Uncle Walt!

Wait...you were forgetting about this, weren't you?  You were so fixated on the material part of dying that you forgot about the ceremony?  Remember, this isn't for YOU, it's for your loved ones.   What about the rental of limousines, hearse, etc?  Oh, this could get complicated!  $500 at the low end, for a simple, small funeral home service and that's it.  For bigger, fancier - the sky's the limit, but you should be planning for a couple thousand just in services.

The Marker
 Headstones, foot-stones, markers and the like are all somewhat pricey, starting at a couple hundred dollars for a simple granite flat marker w/ a small bronze plaque to $6,000 or more for the really nice models.  They come in a bewildering variety of materials, colors, shapes, and even purposes.  There was a time in my life I used to visit cemeteries almost weekly, doing rubbings, taking notes, researching the deceased as best I could.  I notice that some tombstones deteriorate relatively quickly, while others last seemingly near forever.  Go for the expense of bronze or granite and your loved ones will never have to worry.  Go for limestone, concrete, or marble, and they're going to have problems.  God forbid you be the sucker under the ground whose headstone is so weather-worn in 150 years that your name and dates...are erased.  Not so, the fate of those who purchase quality goods.

Death Certificate
Yes, your loved ones will need this.  These, actually, as they'll need multiple copies.  At least six, possibly a dozen or more.  Currently in NY state, copies are $45 each, plus a small transaction processing fee (not dependent on how many copies are ordered).  Wow.  Just like that, your executor needs to write a check for $600 or so!

Don't forget about the obituary.  And the reception/dinner/wake after the funeral.  Your family will have to book a venue for this and even if it's a bar, you'll most likely want it closed for a while.  Money.  The obituary, while optional, is a kind of standard thing and can cost as much as the burial or cremation!  $600, let's say.

So, what is your cost?  I'm looking this over and estimating a minimum of $14,000 for a decent, but low-key service and nice place to be buried and a good marker.

Now, obviously, many of these can be pre-purchased and it is not only good financial sense to do so (as the cost of these things will only keep climbing), but also brings peace of mind to you and your family.

For instance, you can obviously get your gravesite (or little niche where your cremains will be stored) purchased early - or plan to toss them overboard on your family's next cruise.  Whatever.  That's one thing considered and dealt with.  You can also purchase your marker ahead of time.  It will get half-finished and put in storage or even right on your grave plot ahead of time.  Date of death will be put on later.  You can usually purchase the box you'll be buried in somewhat ahead of time.  My father actually chose a box he already owned.  His cremains are in the box, in the ground.  Kind of a hybrid burial, I guess.  Anyway, some burial costs can also be prepaid ahead of time and you can actually get some very good deals on this.

But it remains up to circumstance as to what final costs will be once any lingering hospital or hospice charges have come in, the cost of toting your lovely corpse hither and yon, the cost of storing it for awhile until it can be taken to your final resting place, and the cost of getting multiple copies of your death certificate - for without that lovely document, even your legal executor will have problems closing accounts, liquidating assets, and canceling debts.

And all of the above assumes a straight-forward burial, as depicted in hundreds of movies since ever.  It gets so much more expensive one you start considering mausoleums, crypts, and columbariums!

How to guarantee this doesn't bankrupt your family?  Buy a life insurance policy.  I have one, a term policy.  Not very much, but enough to take care of the expected expenses.  If I didn't have CF, I could have a much larger one, but nobody is keen to insure someone they feel may kick the bucket at any time.  Boo.

Also - plan ahead.  I hope this post was helpful, especially hoping because I have very little experience in this!  I'm just starting to tackle these expenses myself and am overwhelmed at how fast it stacks up!

For more information and for some really good-to-know advance on all of this, check out the Consumer Resource Guide of the Internation Cemetary, Cremation, and Funeral Association.

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