Sunday | September 2, 2001

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Death is expensive

Petulia Clarke, Staff Reporter

PLANNING ahead to cover the cost of a funeral may be the best investment you make. Since death is certain and funeral costs are rising, a loved one's sudden expiration could leave you thousands of dollars poorer if you are not prepared.

Excluding hospital bills, there are several things that you need to take care of when someone dies. The cost to rent or buy the casket if you choose to bury, flowers, suit or shroud for the woman, chapel and programmes are just a few. The costs at funeral homes vary, but if you shop around you can get a fair no-frills package for around $70,000 with the highest going at around $195,000 excluding the burial plot.

Funeral homes sometimes charge around $500 per day to keep a body and an estimated $2,500 to dress it for the funeral. A wrapped casket may cost over $35,000 while a coffin will sell for about $15,000. Burial grounds like Dovecot charge about $21,000 for a single vault and $30,000 for a double vault. A hearse can be rented for as much as $7,000 for a Dovecot or Meadowrest trip.

A $70,000 package quoted by one Downtown Kingston funeral home includes a covered casket, a hearse(includes transport to burial grounds around Kingston, they'll go to Meadowrest, St Catherine); keeping the body for up to two weeks, black and white programmes, a half vault (sharing the space with another body) and transportation from the hospital morgue. The lowest package price they had was $45,000 and the highest $150,000. This varies with the vault, the casket and the location of the cemetery to which the body will be transported. (May Pen Cemetery in Kingston equals $45,000, while to go to Dovecot will up the price to $70,000+).

Coffins and caskets

Note that coffins are cheaper than caskets ($15-$22,000) and it is cheaper to cremate a body and have an urn and rented casket 'burial' than to secure an expensive burial plot. Also note that in thinking about costs, cremation may be a wiser option if the only choice for burial is in a Parish Council (PC) cemetery. You have to consider things like overcrowding and improper drainage. It could cost a high of $60,000 for a package at a funeral home to cremate someone.

Herbie Roberts, a certified licensed funeral director, embalmer and owner of Roberts Funeral Home in St. Catherine said that persons can get burial packages as low as $25,000 excluding the burial spot where the costs differ depending on the cemetery. He said that each PC cemetery cost was different.

Cemetery fees

Last year, the St. Catherine PC increased its cemetery fees in the parish with the cost of sepulchers moving from $6,000 to $9,000, vaulting from $3,000 to $4,500, mausoleums from $10,000 to $18,000. Reserving a burial spot will cost somewhere in the $9,000 mark and erecting a tomb, $3,000. The cost of a grave spot is $1,500. At privately owned cemeteries like Dovecot and Meadowrest, the lowest costs for a double vault ranges from $24-25,000 and the highest up to $49,000 for a complete grave.

Mr. Roberts lists the casket and the burial spots as the main and most likely most expensive factors. His funeral home offers a chapel for viewing and grief counselling for the family as part of the package which would include the casket, hearse, radio announcement, programmes and a service charge excluding the grave spot. He can also get cremation done, rents caskets and can arrange for videotaping and a marching band.

Entertainmen-wise, if you're into it, you also need to have a 'nine night' (remembrance on the ninth night after the death) for friends and family, with food, drinks and rum. This could set you back a few more thousands. Transport to the funeral for family and friends who might live out of the area, the cost of using the church if the person was not a member and the after-funeral get- together should also be considered.

For Jamaicans living abroad funerals can be a very expensive business with the elderly insisting that they want to lie in Jamaican soil on passing away. To keep the folks happy (and who would deny a dying person's wish) means coughing up a carriage airfare as well as transportation when the casket or coffin arrives at Kingston or Montego Bay, not to mention the added cost of the funeral back home in Jamaica. You may well find yourself in front of your bank manager to meet that kind of expenditure.

More often than not, funeral expenses have to be borne by those left behind and that usually means the children who are just beginning to establish themselves.

Then again, rural Jamaicans may well have the right idea in keeping down funeral costs. There is a tradition of taking a cedar tree and cutting it into planks for a coffin and then keeping them in the cellar until that faithful day. This forward planning could save a bundle and should go some way in alleviating the stress on those who have to pick up the tab.

How to afford it

Insurance companies like LOJ offer insurance coverage in the event of death. If death occurs within the first year of payment, the family will be refunded the premium and the full amount will be given after two years and more under the scheme. Payments can be made monthly, and after the presentation of the death certificate, the company can make a cheque out to the funeral home in three days. They offer coverage up to age 75.

For those who really can't afford the lavish funeral expenses, the Government provides a simple coffin for burial in the pauper's lot in the May Pen Cemetery, Kingston.

Make plans before your death. Advise your family on whether you would prefer to be cremated and whether you would opt for a less than grand affair.

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