Most people avoid thinking about funerals until a loved one dies. If you wait until then, it can be hard to make the necessary decisions. In Canada, the provinces and territories regulate the funeral and burial industry. Municipalities also have by-laws regarding their local cemeteries.
There are two methods of burial. The first is an earth burial, in which the body is usually placed in a casket and lowered into the ground. The second involves permanently placing the body and a casket in a mausoleum, or tomb, above or just below the ground.
Cemetery costs vary widely. Before you sign an agreement to purchase a plot, ask for a written statement listing all costs and a copy of the cemetery's rules and regulations.
What Kind of Casket?
A casket can account for half the total cost of an average funeral service. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for a cloth-covered casket to thousands of dollars for a metal or hardwood casket.Most provinces require funeral homes to maintain either a catalogue with pictures and detailed written descriptions of the caskets and urns they offer, or to maintain a display room with samples of the caskets and urns that they offer. Plywood caskets can usually be purchased on request. In some areas, you can save money by renting a decorative casket shell for use during the funeral and graveside service. Discount or big box stores offer caskets in some cities in Canada.
Ask if you can use a casket or urn acquired from a source other than the funeral home (i.e. another retail outlet or homemade) and if the funeral home would charge a handling fee to use such containers.
Think carefully about spending more than you can afford. Consider asking a trusted friend or relative to accompany you when you decide which casket to buy. Consider too that a casket is not required for cremation but the crematory may require a cremation container to be used which is much less expensive than a casket.
Embalming: Extra or Essential?
Embalming is replacing blood with a chemical fluid to temporarily preserve a body. Consider the benefits of embalming and the wishes of the deceased and next-of-kin when deciding about embalming. Let the funeral services provider know your wishes as soon as possible.
In most provinces, embalming is legally required in some limited instances when transferring remains by air or otherwise to another province or territory, or out of the country, unless embalming is contrary to religious beliefs.
Cremation means the remains are subject to heat until only ashes remain and usually costs less than burial.
In some Canadian jurisdictions, the body must be examined by a medical examiner and a Medical Certificate of Death signed by the attending physician before cremation can occur.
Some funeral chapels and crematoria require that the body be placed in a cremation container that is combustible, of rigid construction and equipped with handles. You may supply your own container that meets these specifications.
After a cremation, all that usually remains is two to three kilograms of pulverized bone and ash, and perhaps some parts of artificial joints. These materials represent no health risk. However, if scattering of the cremated remains is planned, please ensure you have the permission of the landowner, whether on crown land or private land, prior to the scattering of the remains. Most crematoria and funeral homes will provide temporary storage of the ashes until you decide what is to be done with them. You may also choose to bury the ashes in a cemetery plot.
A funeral is a service in a church or temple, or funeral chapel, with or without the body or ashes present. The following services are usually included in the price the funeral home or cemetery charges:
- moving the body to the funeral home
- using funeral home facilities
- embalming and cosmetic application
- the price of the casket
- using a hearse for transportation to the cemetery or crematorium
- arranging funeral services
- registering the death and obtaining the Burial Permit
- preparing newspaper death notices or obituaries
Flowers, receptions, programs and publication of obituaries will add to the costs.
In most provinces and territories, funeral homes and cemeteries are required to provide families with a detailed cost breakdown of all the products and services they provide. This will enable you to select only those services you require and can afford.
A memorial service is usually held without the body being present. For example, the body may have already been buried, cremated or donated for medical research. Family and friends who live in a different city than the deceased often hold a memorial service at a time when they can all meet. A memorial service is most often held within a few days or weeks of the death. Memorial services, as with funerals, can be large or small, and held in a church or temple, or funeral home chapel, hotel, private club, or family home.
A memorial service is most often held within a few days or weeks of the death. Memorial services, as with funerals, can be large or small, and held in a religious institution such as a church or temple, funeral home chapel, hotel, private club or family home. Arrangements are usually simple. Embalming, viewing and other services associated with a conventional funeral are eliminated, reducing the cost.
Prearranging a Funeral Service
When looking for a prearranged plan, ask the following questions.
- Does the funeral home have a good reputation? Check with your provincial government regarding the status of a funeral home's license to sell pre-arranged funeral services, and if any disciplinary actions have been taken against the funeral home. Find out if there is a procedure for notifying your if the funeral home is sold, moves, or otherwise ceases operation. Some provinces require certain notification be given to the purchases of a pre-arranged funeral services.
- What are your payment options? Does the funeral home offer funeral insurance products to fund pre-arranged funeral agreements?
- Will interest be paid on the money in the prearranged plan? If so, compare rates at various funeral homes. Will you or your estate receive the interest or will the funeral home?
- If you choose to pay in installments, will you be charged for late payment? Ensure the pre-arranged agreement includes an installment schedule for payments and ask for a copy of the installment schedule.
- Ask what documentation you can expect to receive regarding the pre-arrangement (i.e. a copy of the agreement) and regarding the payment of funds in trust (most provinces requires notifications from the funeral home and/or the financial institution where the funds are held in trust). Ask how soon the funds will be deposited into trust. Most provinces have a time limit by which funds received for pre-arranged funeral services must be deposited into trust. Ask what the funeral home’s procedure is for notifying you if you miss an installment payment and what are your options for getting back into good standing.
- Does the contract specifically describe all goods and services to be provided and all other fees charged?
- Does the plan meet your religious needs? Does it allow for a service in your own religious institution such as a church or temple, or must you use the funeral chapel?
- Is there any plan to cover the increased cost of the prearranged service due to inflation?
- Is the pre-arranged agreement a guaranteed contract? Some province only permit pre-arranged agreement, if they are a guaranteed contract. A guaranteed contract means that the total price for all goods, services and fees indicated in the pre-arranged agreement is guaranteed to be the total price of the pre-arranged agreement and no additional charges can be added at the time the agreement is executed.
- What is cooling-off period for you to reconsider the pre-arranged agreement and cancel it with no penalty. Most provinces require funeral homes to provide a minimum cooling-off period.
- What happens if you move? Can you transfer your pre-arranged agreement to another funeral home, if you move or for any other reason?
Once your arrangements have been made, make sure you keep your documentation in a safe place and inform any family or friends of where they can find the paperwork, if and when needed.
Buying a Cemetery Plot
You can also buy a cemetery plot and a grave marker in advance. Before signing a contract, get answers to the following questions.
- What happens if you move or change your mind for whatever reason? Would you be able to sell the plot or transfer ownership?
- What are your payment options?
- What penalty would apply if you failed to make the payments?
Mausoleums and Columbariums
An alternative to buying a cemetery plot is to purchase a compartment in a mausoleum (a structure, wholly or partially above the ground designed for a casket) or columbarium (a building or wall of niches designed for the storage of for cremated remains). As with prearranging a funeral or buying a cemetery plot, it is important to ask questions about fees and services ahead of time.
- What are you getting for your money?
- Is there an extra charge for the nameplate or for a flower vase to put in front?
- What are the options for paying?
- Can you get a refund if you decide not to use the niche?
You should also ask about the opening hours for a mausoleum or columbarium, since they are unlikely to be open all the time. This is particularly important if your family lives in a different city from the mausoleum or columbarium and will only be visiting occasionally.
Memorial societies are voluntary, non-profit organizations dedicated to helping people arrange simple, dignified and inexpensive funerals in advance. They encourage the donation of bodies or body parts for medical science.
Most memorial societies have either a legal contract or an agreement with one or more local funeral homes to provide services for members. Memorial societies that are unable to get such agreements give advice to people who want to prearrange their funeral. Members are given a form on which they indicate their desired arrangements. The society and/or the cooperating funeral home keep a copy of the form. If you move, your membership file can be transferred to the local memorial society near your new community.
Donating a Human Body or Organs
Medical science makes valuable use of donated tissues and organs, for research, teaching and transplants. The entire body, or just certain parts, may be donated but not all bodies are accepted for donation. You should contact a local medical school for information on this type of program.
If you want to donate organs to tell your next-of-kin about your wishes and to carry a copy of the signed instructions or a signed donor card in your wallet. Your driver's license may have an attached universal donor card, which you can fill out and sign.