SAVVY SENIOR -Simple and inexpensive final farewells

Dear Savvy Senior,

My husband and I are looking for the simplest and least expensive way to dispose of our bodies when we die. We hate the idea of wasting a lot of money on high-priced funerals and would like some advice on some simple and cheap send-offs. 

Simple Seniors 

Dear Simple,

With the average cost of a full-service funeral running around $11,000 today, many people are seeking simple ways to make their final farewell more affordable. Depending on how you want to go, here are several low-cost options to consider. 

Direct Cremation

If you and your husband are interested in cremation, a direct cremation is the simplest and least expensive way to go. It includespicking up the body, completing and filing the necessary paperwork, the cremation itself and returning the cremated remains to the family. There’s no embalming, formal viewing or casket. A simple cardboard box called an “alternative container” is used to hold the body. 

Depending on where you live and the funeral home you choose, the average cost for a direct cremation runs between $1,000 and $3,000. If you want additional services beyond what a direct cremation offers, ask the funeral home for an itemized price list that covers the other services cost, so you know exactly what you’re getting. All providers are required by law to provide this.

To locate nearby funeral homes, look in your local yellow pages, or Google “cremation” or “funeral” followed by your city and state. You can also get good information online at Parting.com, which lets you compare prices from funeral providers in your area based on what you want.    

Immediate or Direct Burial

If you’re interested in being buried, an immediate/direct burial is the most basic and low-cost option. With an immediate burial, your body would be buried in a simple container shortly after death, skipping the embalming, viewing and use of the funeral facilities. 

If your family wants a memorial service, they can have it at the graveside at your place of worship or at home without the body. 

These services usually cost between $1,800 and $3,500, not counting cemetery charges, which can run you an additional $1,000 to $3,000. All funeral homes offer direct burial.

Green Burial

An eco-friendly green burial is another affordable way to go that costs anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the provider. With a green cemetery burial, the body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud, without embalming chemicals or a burial vault. 

The Green Burial Council (GreenBurialCouncil.org, 888-966-3330) has a state listing of cemetery operators who accommodate green burials, as well as funeral professionals who provide the services. 

Anatomical Donation

If you’d like to eliminate your cremation/burial costs all together, as well as help advance medical research, you and your husband should consider donating your bodies to science. This option won’t cost you a cent, however, some programs may charge a small fee to transport your body to their facility. 

After using your body for medical research projects, anatomy lessons and surgical practice, your remains will be cremated and your ashes will be buried or scattered in a local cemetery or returned to your family, usually within a year. 

To locate accredited university medical school body donation programs in your state, see the University of Florida’s U.S. program directory at Anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms, or call the whole-body donation referral service during business hours at 800-727-0700.

But be aware that Social Security has limits on how much a family can receive in monthly survivors’ benefits – usually 150 to 180 percent of the worker’s benefit. 

Switching Strategies

Social Security also provides surviving spouses and ex-spouses some nice strategies that can help boost your benefits. For example, if you’ve worked you could take a reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and switch to your own retirement benefit based on your earnings history – between 62 and 70 – if it offers a higher payment. 

Or, if you’re already receiving retirement benefits on your work record, you could switch to survivors benefits if it offers a higher payment. You cannot, however, receive both benefits. 

You also need to know that if you collect a survivor benefit while working, and are under full retirement age, your benefits may be reduced depending on your earnings – see SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf.

For more information on survivor benefits, visit SSA.gov/vbenefits/survivors.