Instead, Slocum recommends that consumers set up a payable-upon-death bank account, also known as a Totten trust. It's a fund paid upon death to a designated beneficiary, outside of probate, to cover funeral expenses.
It's highly flexible in that it can travel and even be drawn upon if you suddenly need some money while alive.
California law doesn't require a casket for burial, although most cemeteries do (plus, in many cases, a vault to keep the box from sinking).
If you ask to see the caskets for sale at a funeral home, the business is required to give you a price list of all they have to offer. That way, you can ask about caskets that might not be on display.
Many funeral homes offer an "alternative container." That's industry code for a simple box, sometimes made of humble cardboard. Meyers said he had sold only one for burial in his 27 years in the business. The price was $75.
You can also get a casket from a factory-direct shop, membership stores such as Costco or even on the Internet. It's unlikely they'll carry the exact same models, so a direct price comparison probably won't be possible. But you can get an idea of what you want.
Most third-party casket providers, including Costco, have the ability to deliver their products quickly, sometimes by the next day.
Of caskets in general use, the cheapest are usually made of cloth-covered, inexpensive wood. At ABC Caskets, which sells to the public from its East Los Angeles factory, those start at $356.
Metal caskets, which are the most popular now, generally go for about $1,000 at ABC. The most expensive are solid wood, which can run about $6,000.
You can pay a lot more. At Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries, which has several locations, the most expensive casket is an all-mahogany model that costs $20,000.
Cremation is usually less expensive than burial on several fronts. It does require a combustible box, which can be of the "alternative-container" variety. Forest Lawn has one for $39.
But urns, for keeping the ashes, can get elaborate. Forest Lawn has one adorned with brass dolphins for $1,400.
There's also a specialty market in urns. Eternal Image Inc. has announced it would be selling urns in the colors and logos of major league baseball teams. You can honor the Dodgers' deadly season.
The plot cheapens
Where do you go when you want a bargain in life? Craigslist, the Recycler, Pennysaver, right?
You can go there in death too. Each of those classified services regularly has burial plots for sale.
Just last week, the Craigslist for Los Angeles listed 13 plots. Lowest in price was a plot at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, for $1,950 (maybe it's near comedian Oliver Hardy or wrestler Gorgeous George).The most expensive listing was a single plot in Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles for $20,000, billed as "next to Al Jolson Memorial."
Even EBay gets in on the act. Last week there was a plot at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills up for auction. Starting bid: $5,000.
One of the main reasons plots are resold is that people move to a different city. Or they get divorced and don't favor the idea of eternal rest next to an ex. And sometimes, death planning takes a back seat to the sudden need for living expenses.
Death at home
For the ultimate do-it-yourselfer, you can plan to have a funeral in the comfort of your home. There's nothing in federal or state laws that requires use of a mortuary or any type of funeral professionals.
But several steps must be taken to prepare for burial or cremation, according to the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.
Proper paperwork, including a certificate of death, has to be filed with the local registrar of births and deaths. A casket or combustible cremation container must be provided. And arrangements must be made with a cemetery or crematory.
No embalming or refrigeration is required for a body to be kept at home. But take heed of this warning from the state bureau's consumer manual: "Generally, decomposition will proceed more rapidly without refrigeration or embalming."
Not a good option for procrastinators.
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The key to having a funeral in line with your preferences, at an appropriate cost, is all in the planning. After all, you won't be there to see it through. Here are some tips from consumer advocates:
Funeral home package deals are available, but they constrict choices and can cost more.
Comparison-shop for the best deals.
Get a general price list from every funeral home visited.
Caskets and urns are available from third-party sellers.
Prepaid plans are available to cover some expenses but could cost more than a payable-on-death bank account.
Online publications include:
Federal Trade Commission consumer guide: www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs
California consumer guide: www.cfb.ca.gov/formspubs
Funeral Consumers Alliance tips: www.funerals.org
Funeral home charges, including casket and burial vault, have pushed past $6,500 per death, according to a 2005 survey. Not included are cemetery and cremation costs.
Staff services concerning arrangement, documents and other matters
Other body preparation
Facility, staff for viewing
Facility, staff for ceremony
Transportation of body
Source: National Funeral Directors Assn.