Body donation. Contact local medical schools and teaching hospitals. Most accept donated bodies. In some regions you will be referred to a statewide donation program.
Cost: Usually free, though some programs require that donors’ families pay body transportation costs.
Direct cremation. This involves simple cremation, without costly memorial services. If your family wants a service, they can have this at home after the cremation, in the presence of your remains. Any funeral home that offers cremation must by law offer direct cremation.
Cost: $500 to $1,000.
To trim costs…
- Select an “alternative container”—a simple reinforced cardboard or pine box.
- Provide your own urn. The urns sold by the funeral industry are way overpriced. Your descendants are legally entitled to collect your remains in any container.
- What to do with the ashes…
- Scatter them. Laws may prohibit the scattering of remains on public lands, at sea or on your own property, although they are rarely enforced and it goes on all the time. Check the law and ask permission if it’s private land.
- If you have deep pockets and wish to be more creative with your remains, Space Services Inc. will send a small portion into space on a rocket ($695 and up, 281-971-4019, www.memorialspaceflights.com).
- LifeGem will compress a portion of your remains into a diamond ($2,700 and up, depending on carats and color desired, 866-543-3436, www.lifegem.com).
Direct burial (also known as “immediate burial”). Skip the embalming, viewing and ceremonies. If your loved ones wish to hold a memorial service in your honor, they can do so at home without your body. All funeral homes offer direct burial.
Cost: $1,000 to $2,000, plus the cost of a cemetery plot—ranging from less than $1,000 to more than $7,000.
Mausoleum. Above-ground interment is a popular option among those squeamish about being eaten by worms underground or being burned in a crematorium. However, a mausoleum may be a poor solution. Sealed coffins kept above ground often leak or explode as bodies decompose.
Check that any mausoleum you consider has extensive ventilation and drainage. Take a whiff inside—a bad smell is a bad sign.
Cost: From $4,000 to $10,000. The top crypts in high-walled mausoleums often cost less because they are above a visitor’s eye level.
Backyard burial. It usually is legal to bury bodies on private land in rural or semirural regions, though there often are rules specifying how far the grave must be from the nearest home or property line. Your family typically will have to obtain a death certificate, and permits might be required. Contact city or county offices for details. Local zoning laws typically ban private-land burials in urban and suburban regions. Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New York require that a professional funeral director assist with all burials, even those on private land.
Drawback: Future property owners might be able to prevent your descendants from visiting your grave—this varies from state to state—but it is unlikely that they could legally disinter your remains.
Cost: Backhoe rentals typically cost several hundred dollars for a day, though family and friends could do the digging by hand if they have the energy. Some regions charge a small fee to record the grave on your property deed…and there might be transportation costs if you don’t die at home, unless your family is able to transport the body. (Some states require transport by a funeral director.)
Burial at sea. Members of the military, veterans honorably discharged from the military and their dependents have the right to request burial at sea from a US Navy vessel. Families typically cannot be present for these burials. Contact the Navy’s Burial At Sea program for details (866-787-0081, www.navy.mil/navydata/questions/burial.html).
Cost: Free, for veterans.
Civilians will find it more difficult to arrange burial at sea. If your family or friends have access to a boat, they generally can legally bury your body at sea so long as the burial takes place at least three nautical miles from land in water at least 600 feet deep and your body is weighted to ensure that it sinks rapidly to the bottom. The EPA asks for notification of sea burials within 30 days after the burial. Additional restrictions apply in certain regions.
Caution: Some states have laws on the “proper disposal of bodies” that could be interpreted as banning burial at sea. Contact your state’s health department for details.
“Green” cemetery burial. Your body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud…without embalming chemicals or a burial vault…and possibly with no gravestone, except perhaps an engraved indigenous stone. Some green cemeteries are maintained in a natural state, not mowed and manicured.
Cost: Less than $1,000 at a cost-conscious green cemetery, such as Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, New York (607-564-7577, www.naturalburial.org), but some facilities charge $5,000 to $10,000.
Cryonic freezing. Your body is frozen, then—theoretically—defrosted when medical science discovers a cure for whatever killed you. Reality: It is extremely unlikely that science could ever undo the massive damage done by freezing. Companies offering this service include Alcor Life Extension Foundation (877-462-5267, www.alcor.org) and Cryonics Institute (586-791-5961, www.cryonics.org).
Cost: At least $28,000, and often more than $150,000, depending in part on whether you want to freeze your whole body or just your head in the hope of being able to transplant it to another body.