Los Angeles (Orange County), California

Low-Cost Funeral Tips for Los Angeles

As with everything in a part of the world where the term "the industry" means show business, the sky's -- let alone the stars -- the limit on what you can spend on making your Big Exit.  But you don't have to.  Of course, red carpets, limos, catering and the rest is yours to find in LA, but if you want to tone it down and lower the cost, try these tips:   

Plan -- Ever notice how often you grab items near the checkout stand and spend money you didn't want to? That's because retailers planned ... on your impulsive nature and lack of time to consider. And you didn't. It costs money to spend in a hurry. For that reason, thinking about your disposition, planning and communicating make for money-saving.

To help, we offer the perfect, free tool to help you think through the many decisions to be made. It's called MY FUNERAL. It is your online funeral planning tool. It's free! Click MY FUNERAL on the top menu bar and begin considering how you want to reflect your life, your values and your pocketbook. Successive clicks will move you through the seven steps of My Funeral, a planning process that will take between 30 and 60 minutes. You can stop at any time; your entries will be saved. You can return to My Funeral at any time to edit your choices as your preferences change. Just remember, if you choose to have your ashes shot from a cannon and you want Johnny Depp to pay for it, check with him first.

Shop -- Every funeral home is obliged by law to supply you a copy of its General Price List, a written itemization of the goods and the services offered by that establishment. They even have to tell you their prices if you call them on the phone. Some mortuaries put pricing information on their websites. Some offer "package discounts" if you purchase a casket at their mortuary. Be aware price markups on caskets can be steep and can negate savings on package deals. The government says you cannot be charged extra by a funeral home for using a casket you obtained elsewhere. Check particulars of the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule to make sure you aren't being taken advantage of. Give yourself plenty of time to shop and compare. As with any shopping, ask for discounts, negotiate. It never hurts to ask. Keep in mind your best opportunity for discounts will be with local, family-owned operations. The boss who has the discretion to make a decision on a discount is right there, and that boss isn't propping up layers of bureaucracy, payroll, inventory, property and all manner of other overhead as must bosses at big corporations. Shop well. Shop local.

Vet your benefits -- Honorably discharged veterans are offered a variety of benefits attendant to military service. Among them are burial benefits. Benefits extend to individuals who served full-time with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, or as commissioned officers of the Public Health Service, Environmental Science Services Administration or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or its previous version, the Coast and Geodetic Survey. Los Angeles National Cemetery on Sepulveda Boulevard on the West Side is closed to new interments, but space might be available in same gravesites to eligible family members. The much larger Riverside National Cemetery on Van Buren Boulevard in Riverside can accommodate casketed and cremated remains. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on San Diego's Point Loma has space for cremated remains. If you desire to be eternally located in natural splendor redolent with history, Fort Rosecrans is the place. At eternal rest here are notable veterans of the Mexican War, Indian wars and the Spanish American War through both world wars right to Iraq. This cemetery offers bay and ocean views. Among services and benefits at national cemeteries are: opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, government headstone or marker, burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate -- all at no cost to the family. Some veterans may also be eligible for burial allowances. Cremated remains are buried or interred in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains. Regardless of cemetery, a government headstone or a grave marker and a burial flag can be provided at no cost.

Remember, too, that the state has a veterans cemetery that offers complete burial services at no charge to veterans and for $500 to spouses and dependents. The Northern California Veterans Cemetery is in Igo, southwest of Redding. The caveat here is transportation; you will have to pay to transport the casket or the urn -- well, urns are easier, aren't they? -- to the cemetery. Work with a benefits
service officer to determine your full range of benefits.

The Navy provides burial at sea and remains scattering from aboard USN vessels. Active-duty personnel, honorably discharged or retired, civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command, and dependent family of active-duty personnel are eligible. Eligible individuals should make known their desire for such disposition in writing; vets will be surprised to learn the Navy has a form for this. Burial at sea of casketed or cremated remains is performed during deployment, thus family members cannot attend. California’s point of embarkation is San Diego.

Stay home -- Home funerals, which "de-industrialize" death and return decision-making to families, are slow to catch on in otherwise trendy LA, but they are available and represent a substantial saving. No embalming. No overselling. Home funerals allow personalization of the memorial, bring intimacy and healing to the closure process, and cost between $1,400 and $2,000. Olivia Bareham at Sacred Crossings on the West Side is out front in the LA area for creating caring send-offs. Eric Putt at Thresholds, longer established but in San Diego County, has worked with families as far north as Santa Barbara. Don't be put off at the thought of accommodating masses of mourners at a funeral in your home. A memorial service can be arranged for a larger space if needed. Home funeral specialists are trained in how to prepare, preserve and present the body for viewing, how to personalize rites and rituals, how to secure and complete necessary forms, and how to help the bereaved with the grieving process. Home funeral specialists oversee providing a casket, transporting the body, and witnessing cremation.

Crem de la crem -- No doubt about it, the biggest money saver on offer is direct cremation. "Eight out of 10 times, cremation is about cost," says a veteran employee of a Los Angeles-area crematory. Cremation can immediately save cemetery plot costs, casket costs, headstone costs, grave opening and closing costs, all sorts of costs. At the moment, the best rate for cremation in the vast Los Angeles area is $540, if you shop diligently, otherwise you're looking at $615 to $1,000 or, of course, more. The national average for a traditional funeral has crept to $6,500. "Cremation can save at least $2,000 off the cost of a funeral," says Angel Silvatierra of Arrowhead Aftercare in Highland, near San Bernardino. Cremation allows for scattering of remains in a variety of natural settings, desert to mountain, lake to sea. Cremation viewing is allowed, too, although facilities that keep costs down aren't typically appointed for accommodating guests in plush surroundings. So alert your expectation level accordingly. Also, keep the witness list to close family only and your request should be a-OK with customer-pleasing professionals.

Science magic -- Well before Chad Everett co-starred with UCLA Medical School in "Medical Center", body donation advanced medical studies. Three LA-area institutions, USC's Keck School of Medicine, Loma Linda University and UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, as the TV star is now grandly called, have donation programs. Each works differently. UCLA answers frequent questions on its website. USC prefers one-to-one communication to ensure potential donor understanding of the program. Loma Linda distributes a brochure. In general, programs will collect bodies at no charge within a radius of the university -- 75 miles for UCLA, 50 miles and within LA County for USC -- and do not accept sufferers of certain infectious diseases: tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, hepatitis and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. The obese and those who died by violent death or suicide will not be accepted. Bodies must be intact; organs cannot be removed for transplant. Body donation can be done at no cost, although necessary death certificates must be obtained through county authorities; the universities do not provide these or cover those costs. If what happens to bodies after study or the return of remains is important, check with the institution to make sure you understand its policy. UCLA, for instance, returns no remains. Keep in mind, too, that fast action is needed upon the death of a body donor; donor programs offer 24-hour availability to cover this. Loved ones can't wait for a will to be read to discover the plan. Embalmed bodies don't cut it. Communicating your wishes when a willed-body program is involved is vital.

Try society -- The power of community can save you money. Funeral societies contract with mortuaries to provide services at a fixed, lowered cost. In Pasadena, the nonprofit, volunteer Funeral Consumers Alliance of Los Angeles (formely Los Angeles Funeral Society), contracts with 14 LA County mortuaries. The one-time member fee is $50. Mortuaries and costs are listed on the website; lowest listed cost is for direct cremation ($600 to $1,045), with direct burial being less expensive, averaging $1,000, than service and burial, which range from $995 to $3,390. Other FCA affiliates in the LA area include FCA Channel Cities, which includes Ventura County and offers membership for $35, and Tri-County Memorial Funeral Society Inc., which covers Orange, Riverside and south San Bernardino Counties for $25. Funeral Consumers Alliance is the national organization. Not all funeral or burial societies are nonprofit but if the one you find meets your needs, it might represent savings through peace of mind.

Bring your urn -- California has a casket-free attitude to death, though few of its cemetery owners do. As if in answer to the mortuary-provided-casket industry, a find-your-own industry -- aided greatly by the Internet -- has arisen to provide all manner of caskets made of all manner of materials, and all manner of cremation urns similarly so. Even Costco Wholesale sells coffins. Web browsing will lead you to bargains. ABC Caskets Factory is LA's only local casket-maker selling directly to the public. Prices start at $356 with delivery free to mortuaries within 30 miles of ABC's North Indiana Street (East LA) address. As for urns, well, let's just say that cookie-jar collection needn't go unused after you pass on.

Plot well -- A sign of the economic times has been noted by that money-monitoring entity, Forbes.com, which notes that cemetery plot sales, especially by the elderly, are soaring. Citing Southern California cemetery plots that range between $20,000 and $83,000 in one Santa Barbara cemetery, Forbes has a line on why the cost of dying can be so dear. Californians increasingly thwart the threat by choosing cremation. Those who stick to traditional methods have found that using a broker can lower considerably the cost of a plot. No kidding. The thing to remember when buying or selling is that cemetery plots are not like other real estate. Standard real estate laws do not apply.

ThePlotExchange.com lets you search for cemeteries by ZIP code and will give an idea of prices. That said, another outlet for low-cost plots is a cemetery district. Cemetery districts are formed by communities where commissions are elected to administer those cemeteries. Cemetery upkeep is subsidized by local property taxes, which allows districts to restrict burial eligibility to area residents. It also means selling plots through a broker is illegal. Government-owned cemeteries require plot holders who change plans to sell their plots back to the district only. Remember that plot price isn't all you'll pay to be laid to rest. In addition to your spot, you'll have to pay for opening and closing the grave, a liner or a vault, a marker or a monument, care and upkeep, and record-keeping.

Then consider location. One LA County town, Acton, offers free cemetery plots to residents. Well, free except for a required donation needed for cemetery upkeep. Acton Community Presbyterian Church, to which the cemetery was willed in another century, handles the details.

Go public -- Few among us would reject a gathering of our admirers who assemble to remember. So there's no reason that assembly must be held in a building where charges apply. Memorial services can be held in parks, on beaches, in woods. Homemade music or handmade mementos can add a distinctive quality to a remembrance for little or no cost. Take advantage of being near the Idea Factory that is LA,
even if only by osmosis. A creative approach and a willingness to add a wrinkle to tradition or to write a new page altogether can produce a memory of a lifetime.