Most people prefer not to think about death. However, no matter how much a person might try to avoid the topic, it is still a part of life that no one can control. A funeral, on the other hand, is something that a person can influence with some preplanning. Getting the send-off you want by preplanning your own cremation and celebration of life party can bring immense peace of mind for yourself and the family that will one day survive you.
With that in mind, here is how to plan your own cremation and a memorial you might want. We will look at cremation over burial, as it is the final disposition that a majority of people choose. However, much of the advice here applies to any funeral. Although at Eirene, we specialize in preplanning cremation.
Before you begin planning your own cremation, it is a good idea to initiate a conversation on the topic with family and friends. Discussing your own death and funeral may be difficult for some people, but remember that planning your funeral helps ensure your wishes are followed. It also ensures that your family has the resources needed when the time comes to pay for your end-of-life choices. This relieves much of the emotional and financial burden that comes with funerals, allowing family and friends to focus on remembering and memorializing you instead.
It is also helpful to have a conversation with a funeral provider like Eirene to better understand what is involved in the cremation process and associated arrangements. Bring your questions to the meeting and include any questions or concerns you might hear from your family so that you can ensure everyone receives the information they need. (Incidentally, you do not have to meet in person with the staff at Eirene. If you wish, you can meet via phone or teleconference, like Zoom, Skype, or other virtual meeting technology.
Once the conversation has been initiated with your immediate family--usually with your spouse and adult children-- be sure to discuss all the details about cremation and funeral services. Below are some things to consider when having those conversations.
Final disposition: Cremation and Aquamation vs. Burial
One of the first things that should be considered in the planning process is how you want your body handled after your death. Two options are the most common – cremation or burial. You also may instead choose to donate your body to science.
Cremation is a funerary process in which a dead body is reduced into "cremated remains" or "ashes." The ashes can be kept in a decorative container called an urn. They can be buried or placed in a columbarium in a cemetery. Or they can be scattered. There are two main types of cremation – flame cremation and aquamation. Learn more in our "Cremation Questions and Answers" article.
Flame cremation exposes the body to extremely high temperatures in a cremation chamber. Organic material in the body is consumed by the extreme heat in the chamber, except for bone and any non-combustible materials. The remaining bone fragments are mechanically processed into fine particles of dust and placed in an urn.
Aquamation -- sometimes called water cremation or liquid creation -- uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis to cremate remains. In this process, a body is treated with a combination of water, alkali (a chemical called potassium hydroxide), heat, and pressure, which produces a reaction that speeds up the body's decomposition. When complete, it leaves behind bone fragments, which are reduced to a powder and placed in an urn. The sterile liquid is also a byproduct of the aquamation process, and it is disposed of into municipal wastewater.
The funeral planning for cremation and burial do not differ greatly in terms of options. However, they do tend to differ based on cost and sustainability. For example, cremation typically ranges from $2,000 to $10,000. Whereas burials and entombment typically range from $4,000 to $12,000. Between the two cremation options, aquamation is generally a bit more expensive than flame cremation. However, the prices are often not drastically different. The price for aquamation typically ranges from $2000 to $3000. Flame cremation can range anywhere from $800 to over $3000. See more on cost of cremation here, including all-inclusive fees offered by Eirene.
Both cremation options are often viewed as more sustainable than burial, which requires substantial resources, including a coffin or casket, a headstone, and a grave plot.
Cremation options require fewer resources with typically no upkeep of a gravesite. Cremation also leaves less of a physical and environmental footprint. However, flame cremation requires more energy and results in the emission of greenhouse gases. Aquamation produces no direct emissions of greenhouse gases and does not require the burning of fossil fuels. It uses less energy than flame-based cremation.
Each option has its pros and cons. Discussing them with your family and your funeral provider can help you make the right choice for you.
Funeral Ceremony and Service
Funeral ceremony and service options are relatively unlimited. However, the type of ceremony or service options may differ slightly depending on the final disposition. For example, a burial is more time-sensitive, especially if the body has not been embalmed, which is a chemical process that delays decomposition allowing more time for a viewing.
In contrast, cremation services and ceremonies can be held months after death. Families may also choose to handle most of the funeral arrangements independently. This is called a home funeral. More information to help you learn about home funerals can be found here.
Since there are many options to choose from, this is a good point during your planning to ask for input from family and friends. Although you can relay your wishes to family, this is not an aspect fully planned ahead of time. Depending on when in your life you make your plans, usually you do not know when you will die, so you cannot book a venue ahead of time. For this reason, it is best to give your family a general outline or idea of the type of service or memorial or celebration you would like and try to provide them with the necessary resources to carry out those plans. For example, let your family know where you want your ashes scattered, if you have a specific location that appeals to you.
There are many options for funeral ceremonies and services. Some ideas can be found in the following articles on our website:
End of life documentation
One of the most important documents you should create before planning a cremation or funeral is a will. A will is a legal document that outlines how estate, assets, and custody of children, if applicable, will be handled after death. The will has an appointed administrator, called an executor, who is responsible for distributing your estate. They are also often in charge of funeral arrangements or assigning funeral responsibilities to someone else. Without a will, many of these responsibilities fall to the next of kin, which may not be who you want in charge of these duties, so having a legal will ensures your wishes are followed.
If your will outlines funeral responsibilities, then there will be less of a chance of uncertainty or misunderstandings when planning down the line.
There is also documentation that must be completed before funeral services can begin. This includes the Medical Certificate of Death, Statement of Death, and burial permit. Most of these are completed after death; however, the information needed for these documents can be obtained beforehand. For example, the Statement of Death form includes information such as family history, which can be outlined and made available to the family beforehand, so they do not need to go searching for this information.
Cost and prepayment arrangements
As mentioned above, some aspects of your funeral may not be clearly defined and decided beforehand. However, having a general idea can allow you to estimate the cost and ensure you will have enough money reserved or outlined in your will to cover arrangement costs.
Some may also choose to enter into a prepay final arrangement contract. It is advised and important to have appropriate legal representation when entering into this contract. In Ontario, the contract is one that you have with either a service provider or insurance company.
If you prepay with a funeral service provider, you can have the money held "in trust" by a bank, trust company, or independent trustee. If you choose this option, your money is protected in Ontario by the Prepaid Funeral Services Compensation Fund administered by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario. If the money is placed in a trust for services and supplies, the service provider is required by law to hold it in safe investments.
If you buy a policy from an insurance company to fund a contract, you need to sign an insurance contract and a prepaid contract with your service provider. This helps ensure the money is used for supplies and services. Your money is also protected under Ontario's Insurance Act.
Included in the contract is:
If prices go up, the income earned on the prepayment will be used to offset cost increases. At the time of death, providers must provide a statement that shows how much money an insurance policy will pay for arrangements or how much money is held in a trust, and what services requested cost at the time they are delivered.
If prices go down, then there will be leftover money. What happens with this leftover money after everything has been paid for depends on the date of the contract. Leftover money will be paid to your estate or person specified on the contract if:
A refund is not required for a contract signed before these dates.
The contract can be canceled any time before the services are provided via written notice to the provider, but you may or may not get all the money back. If the contract is canceled within 30 days of being signed, all money is returned. After 30 days, the provider may keep a cancellation fee of 10% of the amount in the trust, up to a maximum of $350. Insurance contracts can also be canceled, and a refund depends on the terms of the contract.
If you are interested in making pre-arrangements, please visit Eirene's pre-paid webpage.
If you have further questions about preplanning a cremation, funerals, or about end of life planning, don't hesitate to get in touch with us at Eirene. Our team of funeral professionals is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via phone or email.