Portland, Oregon

Low Cost Funeral Tips for Portland

Portland funeral costs nestle into the national average, a median cost calculated by the National Funeral Directors Association in 2006 as $6,195. That figure rises to $7,323 with the cost of a cemetery vault. In the best "your mileage may vary" sense, average costs do not include assorted cemetery charges such as monuments or markers, obituary services, death certificates, flowers, reception food, or other memorial costs. As with all "Who's going to pay for this?" situations, an informed approach can cut costs. Here's how:

Plan to save

As much as some people hate the phrase "failing to plan is planning to fail," planning can be a boon to saving money on disposition.

Luckily, we offer the perfect, free tool to help. It's called My Funeral. It is your online funeral planning tool. It's free.

Funeral directors welcome your wisdom in planning, and they have options for helping you choose within your budget at a time when decisions are not emotion-driven and can be given lengthy, deliberate thought. Informing yourself is your best plan. Comb through the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board Web site to learn more about the pros of funeral planning, and, especially, the cons. Notice that the Board posts names of funeral industry licensees whose licenses have lapsed. Oregon provides for a key aspect to decision-making in disposition with its form that allows you to set out who you want running the show. This decision can save time and aggravation.

Learn and compare

Funeral home directors are legally obliged to give inquirers a printed list of services and prices. A piece of paper to hold in your hand, to take away, to consider. It's called the General Price List (GPL), and it is one of the most important tools you can use to understand and to control funeral and burial costs, especially given the changing nature of the industry that has funeral homes incorporating more and more services. Funeral homes, especially those owned by megacorporations, have taken a big-box approach and offer everything from chapels -- built on site -- to flowers -- greenhouse in the back. The GPL lists package deals, their components and prices. It lists costs of services selected separately. (Many funeral home Web sites display this information, which, like taking away a GPL, gives the advantage of studying the situation on your own, without a salesman hovering.) By gathering GPLs from various funeral homes, you gain insight not only into services offered but into pricing policies and variances. The Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule" requires funeral directors to give customers a General Price List at the beginning of any discussion of arrangements. Acquainting yourself with the law on these matters will go a long way to helping you feel you have found prices and services that meet your needs and budget. And that you, as purchaser, are in control. As in any transaction, you can negotiate. Bear in mind that funeral directors at funeral homes belonging to large chains probably will be more constrained -- read: not authorized -- in deal-making. Locally owned establishments have more discretion to lower prices.

Look homeward

Increasingly popular home funerals offer familiar and comforting surroundings, and can be superinexpensive, as low as $200, if you know what you're doing. Granted, Oregon law outlines specifics as to body handling in the hours following death, but home funeral specialists are trained in preparing, preserving and presenting the body for viewing. They know how to personalize rites and rituals. They are schooled in the legal paper work. They tend to be caring, sympathetic people well-suited to helping the bereaved grieve. Home funeral specialists oversee providing -- or making -- a coffin, transporting a body, and witnessing cremation, which is the typical means of disposition for people choosing home funeral. In Oregon, a person conducting funeral arrangements for money -- that is, a funeral service practitioner -- must be licensed. So what some so-called death midwives in the Portland area do is educate through workshops and seminars. They teach you what to do -- turns out death certificates aren't all that difficult to complete. You can hire them to carry out some aspect of your plan, but you can be in charge of Uncle Mort's disposition. The optimal home funeral in Oregon calls for an individual writing out a "death plan" with very clear wishes and leaving that plan -- beforehand -- in the hands of someone in emotional control who is leader sufficient to carry out the plan. Portland yoga instructor, filmmaker, artist, lobbyist and poet Patricia Sweeney is at the forefront of the home funeral movement in Oregon. The nota bene in the mix is the condition of the body, says Randy Tjaden of Crown Memorial Services, which will conduct services at your home. Some bodies degrade more quickly than others even under refrigeration. "Nothing can override common sense," Tjaden said.

Be direct

Efforts to cut costs of disposition have led to the term "direct" coming into the lexicon. (The state of Oregon uses the word "immediate.") A direct burial leaves out embalming, viewing and funeral service; direct or immediate burial in the Portland area can be arranged for less than $1,000. For instance, embalming is not a legal requirement except in certain circumstances. Funeral directors urge embalming for presentation purposes if you choose viewing or an open-casket funeral, but Oregon law outlines why it isn't necessary. Embalming and viewing add costs. A no-frills approach to disposition allows for memorial services that in many ways can better appreciate and remember the individual. Direct cremation is similarly absent these amenities; a direct cremation in the Portland area can be arranged for less than $500.


No matter the price of real estate, doing without it in your disposition saves money. A National Funeral Directors Association compilation for 2005 put Oregon's cremation rate at 63.2 percent, surpassed only by those of Hawaii, Nevada and Washington. That percentage is projected to reach 65 percent by 2010. For good reason. Unless you ferret out an unusual situation, cemetery residence is spoken of in terms of thousands of dollars. With burial go costs for opening and closing the grave, crypt or niche, costs for a grave liner or vault -- typically required by cemetery owners to keep the lawns level -- costs for headstones and markers ... costs keep on coming when ceremony adds to ritual: flowers, music, motor escorts, remembrances. Cremation, by which a body is reduced to ashes by burning, remains the least expensive means of disposition. Direct cremation, that is, absent ceremony, lowers even those costs. Crematories allow loved ones to view the process and will work with survivors to meet wishes. As with most businesses, you can ask about services and negotiate costs.

Join up

People power saves money. This principle was established in Portland some 35 years ago when some lawyers and some clerics got together to address mean situations faced by clients and parishioners squeezed by hard-selling mortuary types. The result was the Oregon Memorial Association, now called Funeral Consumers Alliance of Oregon, a group who set about educating people that they have choices when it comes to the expenses of death and that they could have the meaningful send-off they wanted for themselves or loved ones without it breaking their respective personal banks. The group set about using the concept of co-op. With perseverance, they lined up providers and locked in prices. Their efforts extended to informing people about prepay arrangements that can go sideways and lobbying government to set guidelines for the funeral industry, and while some might see the resulting Funeral Rule of the Federal Trade Commission as a law with rubber teeth, something exists that didn't before. As the current name implies, the group is affiliated with a national organization, Funeral Consumers Alliance and works to give consumers a voice in what it calls "the after-death industry" by lobbying at local, county, state and federal levels. In a situation distinct to Portland among West Coast cities, FCAO success has prompted some Portland area mortuaries to meet or beat member prices. The FCAO serves all of Western Oregon (Eastern Oregon prices are comparably low without an alliance), and Southwest Washington. Even if you don't belong to FCAO, you can benefit by mentioning the name in a mortuary as a tactic to lower rates. Membership is $35 suggested donation for individuals and $45 for families. Persons wishing to change membership from another consumer alliance organization will pay a $15 transfer fee.

Help science

Medical science offers a measure of nobility to disposition. It also lowers the cost dramatically. Would-be donors in Oregon and southwest Washington have an accommodating facility in Oregon Health and Science University. On "Pill Hill" as its Portland location in the Southwest Hills is known, the concentration of medical facilities includes 12 that use donated bodies. A further 37 programs around the state benefit, too.

Distinct from other West Coast medical schools, OHSU uses funeral homes to deliver donor bodies. That lays down costs that schools that collect donor bodies don't incur. A mortuary will expect to be paid by the donor or the donor's family. A spokesman said the university might change the policy in the coming months. Like other programs, OHSU reserves the right to refuse a body in poor condition. Infectious disease carriers are right out. That's hepatitis, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis et al. The grossly obese will be rejected. Known intravenous drug users and overdose victims at the coroner's office will be refused. A donor was recently refused for severe edema. Check on requirements with program administrators. Unlike other programs, in which embalming is verboten, Oregon Health and Science donors can have traditional funerals before their bodies are whisked off to the lab. Funeral homes start an embalming process completed by the university before donor bodies are distributed throughout the health-science educational programs in Oregon. Of course, traditional funerals aren't known for lowering costs. Once in the program, bodies are embalmed, stored, distributed, tracked and retrieved if assigned beyond OHSU. Studies are completed within one to three years, after which cremation and return of cremated remains to a donor's family begins. If donor families do not wish to have cremated remains returned to them, the university, which has its own crematorium, will scatter the remains at seas. Medical students hold memorial services for donors at the end of their studies. In a significant difference to many other programs, OHSU can store remains for up to 10 years in the event donor families lose touch. Further, the university can arrange for whole bodies to be returned to families if the donor prefers; they will be returned to the funeral home that collected them.

The university offers a worksheet that lets potential donors compare programs. While assuring would-be donors it does not pay for donated bodies, the university indicates a market exists. Know who you're dealing with if you choose to donate your body to medical science.

Contain costs

The state doesn't require you to be buried in a coffin, but certain handling issues have made one customary. Same thing with an urn to hold Uncle Mort's creamted remains. You can save money with a bring-your-own-container approach. Per the Funeral Rule, funeral directors cannot charge a fee if you wish to use a casket not purchased at their mortuaries. Thus, you're free to shop around. You can spot a casket at a mortuary and trim hundreds from your cost by buying it elsewhere. Or you can ask funeral directors if they have other models they don't display. One area funeral home has coffins that start at $290 (and go to nearly $4,000), and cremation urns that start at $59. (A cremation urn could be a cookie jar, for all anyone cares.) Of course, a mortuary owner is perfectly free to stock a lower-cost casket in dull finish that you don't like and not mention that a bright-finish model you might like is available through a casket dealer. Costco Wholesale sells caskets. So do others. As the Portland area lacks a coffin manufacturer, you might benefit by going online. A Portland outlet for all-natural burial capsules, Natural Burial Co. offers a range of prices. Similarly, urns to hold cremated remains are available in hundreds of shapes and materials, particularly online. Costs range accordingly. Taste and use will direct your choice. Remember, as far as the state is concerned, you can make your own container.

Follow the plot

Shop for a cemetery; prices vary. The thing about cemetery plots is the space in the ground is not enough. You have to pay for the labor to open and close the grave, line the grave, and take care of the grave. If you can be convinced, you will pay for an elaborate vault that for some cemetery owners is a boat-payment bonus. Wonderfully enough, the regional government Metro owns 14 cemeteries -- only one of them opened as late as the 20th century and that one was in 1914 -- all but one of which offer plots for $1,000 for full burial of an adult. Plot costs at the exception, Lone Fir Cemetery, start at $1,200. As with all aspects of funerals and burials, labor costs -- called overtime -- drive up costs for weekend services. In Metro's pioneer cemeteries, overtime applies weekends and starts at 3 p.m. weekdays. That said, without OT, opening and closing costs are $650 and liners $450. So you' re looking at $2,100 for cemetery burial. It could be higher. All 14 cemeteries are in Multnomah County, one as far east as Corbett.

Metro's management falls under what are called cemetery districts, such as in Clark County, Wash. Municipalities that own cemeteries usually run them with a board of elected members and offer reduced plot prices because the municipality receives tax monies. The Portland metropolitan area includes several such districts. Some districts strictly require residence -- because local taxpayers benefit from the tax distribution -- but others, like the Rainier district, allows payment of a fee. On the Columbia River across from Longview, the Rainier district has nine cemeteries, where plots go for $650. Opening, closing and lining bring that to around $1,500. The nonresident fee is $100.

As with any purchase, you can ask for price reductions on cemetery plots. Family-owned -- as opposed to corporate-owned -- entities will be in better position to deal.

Consider, too, that the state of Oregon doesn't legally bar you from burying Uncle Mortimer on your own property, but no one recommends it. The days of family cemeteries were pioneer days when families expected to stay on their land for multiple generations. We're far too mobile a society these days for this to be a practical solution. Could you sell your property once a prospective buyer knows your relative is buried there? Are you willing to dig up Auntie Tilda when you want to move? The state considers ground where people are buried "sacred" and no longer available for any other use: "Those contemplating private property burial should seriously consider the extent to which the burial ground will remain sacred to future owners of the property." The state also recommends checking with local authorities about any ordinances, restrictions or conditions. (Scattering cremated remains does not apply here; the state considers the crematorium the place of final disposition.)

Although cemetery plots are like real estate insofar as they occupy land, some circumstances exist under which plots can be sold. Check with your cemetery owner. Sometimes plans change, and plot holders' needs change. They turn to cemetery brokers to shift those plots. You can pick up a bargain. The Plot Exchange is one place to start. Grave Solutions is another broker. Another place to look is craigslist.org Seriously.

Free associate

Portland remains home to the largest acreage of city-limits park parcels in the nation. At 5,000 acres, Forest Park is the largest "natural area" in the United States. Portland Parks and Recreation [ welcomes memorial service gatherings. Bringing friends and loved ones together to remember the dear and departed is a natural for a park setting. Consider what a fine setting the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park would be as venue to commemorate the memory of your favorite philanthropist, flower arranger, or former Rose Parade queen. How about the Shakespeare Garden to honor a literate thespian with a reading? Or the Royal Rosarian Garden to honor the civic-minded? How about a hike through Forest Park shouting anecdotes over your shoulder in celebrating your favorite tree-hugging outdoors recreationist. So far, demand is underwhelming. Portland parks play host to perhaps a half-dozen such services each year. A permit is required. As for scattering cremated remains in Portland parks, forget it, not allowed.

Scatter brainstorm

Oregon law regards cremated remains as nontoxic, nonhazardous, nonpolluting. No state law prevents scattering ashes but none addresses it, either. Oregon holds with common sense. Ask if you're thinking of scattering Uncle Mort on private property other than your own. At least be discreet if scattering Aunt Tilda at the beach, all of which is public land, as provided by the legislature in 1913 and confirmed by Tom McCall's signing of the Oregon Beach Bill in 1967. In Washington, scattering in national parks calls for asking the chief ranger for permission, scattering in public waterways is allowed, scattering on private property requires permission. As ever, scatter don't dump.

Arrange to save

Portland flower growers sell bulk flowers. Buy them loose and arrange as suits or make individual favors for funeral or memorial attendees. Buy plain bound notebooks and decorate them into remembrance books. Create a Web site dedicated to your loved one. Write a commemorative poem or story. Compose a piece of music. Solicit favorite phrases about your loved one from friends and combine them into a remembrance collage.