Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Do-it-yourself funeral is one available option

It's legal in Ohio to handle the burial of your loved ones, but you must go by the rules. Other nontraditional alternatives include cremation and donating the body.
Besides a traditional wake and funeral, there are a variety of options for parting with the dead.

Do it yourself

It's rare and not for everybody, but it's legal in Ohio and most states to handle disposition arrangements with no involvement from a funeral home. That includes a viewing, ceremony and burial or cremation.

Here's how, according to local and state health department officials and Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead — Your Final Act of Love.

• Place of death. If the decedent died in a hospital, the hospital might store the body for you in its morgue until you're ready to pick it up. Miami Valley Hospital will do this for its patients at no charge, a spokeswoman said.

If death occurs in a location other than an institution, it must be reported immediately to the police or emergency medical services. Often the squad or police department will contact the coroner's office, which might send an investigator.

• Death certificate. Death certificates must be filed electronically these days for security and other reasons, and only licensed funeral directors, coroners and a handful of others have access to the state's Web-based filing system.

Some funeral homes might assist you with this process and handle it quickly. There might be a fee, but it's worth asking.

In the absence of a funeral director, call the Ohio Department of Health's help desk at (614) 752-5190.

The caller will be required to send in documentation — such as the police or coroner's report or a statement from a medical provider certifying the death occurred — to verify facts related to the decedent and the disposition of the body.

The state will electronically forward the information to the local health department, where the family can obtain a hard copy to present to the physician or coroner for certification of the cause of death. This must be done within 48 hours after death.

Meanwhile, it's important to keep the body cool to slow decomposition.

"Basically, at 70 degrees or less, you're probably fine for two or three days," said Carlson, the Caring for the Dead author. "So if it's winter, turn off the heat and crack the window. If it's summer, turn on the air conditioning and get dry ice."

Once the death certificate has been completed by the physician or coroner, you must file it with the local registrar (vital statistics division of the health department) of the district in which the death occurred.

• Burial permit. With the death certificate filed, you'll then need a burial or cremation permit from the registrar ($3 in Montgomery County), which allows you to transport the body, as well as bury or cremate it.

Cremations require a completed death certificate and cremation permit. For burials, cemeteries require the burial permit but will inter the body if the death certificate is pending as long as a physician's signature has been obtained.

• Timing. Ohio has no law saying the dead must be buried or cremated within a certain time frame, but the quicker the better.

If the family is trying to bury the remains on private property, most communities require that a form be completed indicating the body is free of infectious or communicable diseases. The family should call the health department in their district as well as local zoning officials to find out specific ordinances governing a home burial.

For more information, see:

• Dealing Creatively with Death — A Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial by Ernest Morgan

• Funeral Consumers Alliance, www.funerals.org

• www.Crossings.net — Provides "do-it-yourself" disposition advice for a fee.


Cremations are on the rise in the United States, growing from 6.5 percent of dispositions in 1975 to 32 percent in 2005, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

"Cremation has become a viable option to burial," said Rick Snider of Baker Hazel & Snider Funeral Home and Crematory, 5555 Philadelphia Drive.

Snider expects to cremate more than 400 bodies this year for his and other funeral homes in the Dayton area, well over twice the number of cremations in 2002, the crematory's first full year of operations.

Families still can have a traditional viewing and funeral before cremation, or they can go with a direct cremation.

In this arrangement, you pay for the funeral director's basic services, a non-metal container for the body, the cost of transporting the body to the crematorium, a crematory fee of around $250 and a container for the ashes. You can provide your own cremation container and urn — a simple cardboard box will do — and you can keep the ashes, scatter them or bury them in a cemetery.

In the Dayton area, funeral homes charge from $700 to more than $3,000 for direct cremations, not including the cremation container, urn and other incidentals.

Direct burial

This option involves no embalming, viewing or ceremony with the body present, except perhaps at the grave site.

A package price for immediate burial would include the funeral director's fee, transportation and care of the body. In most cases, burial containers or caskets are extra. Consumers have the right to furnish their own. Ask the cemetery if a casket is required.

Dayton area funeral homes charge anywhere from $600 to $3,000 for this option, not including the cost of the casket, vault and cemetery charges.

Anatomical donation

The least expensive, and some say most noble, way to go is to leave your body to a medical school to educate students and researchers.

In some cases there might be a transportation fee to the medical school, but generally no charges after that.

Locally, there's the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine's Anatomical Gift Program, the largest such program in Ohio with nearly 15,000 donors registered and more than 5,000 received in its 32-year history.

Dr. Frank Nagy, who leads the program, said most donors are motivated by altruism, not economics.

"These are just people that really care about doing something for somebody else ... to give back, to leave something for the benefit of other people," Nagy said.

The school generally keeps a donor's remains for about a year, Nagy said. All remains are cremated, then returned to the family or interred (for free) at Rockafield Cemetery on Wright State's campus during the annual memorial service for donors.

"We don't sell body parts or anything like that," Nagy said. And rest assured, he added: Medical students don't clown around with donor bodies or parts.

"If there's anything we do here, it's to accord these people the highest level of respect we can," Nagy said.

For more on this option, call (937) 775-3066 or visit www.med.wright.edu/agp

Financial help

Several funeral directors in the area say they'll work with lower-income families to provide a dignified service at an affordable price, so it pays to inquire.

For veterans, financial assistance is available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and county veterans service commissions.

The VA will contribute at least $300 and up to $2,000, depending on qualifications, toward a veteran's funeral as well as a free headstone and grave at a VA national cemetery, said Jim Knowles, executive director of the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission. Additional benefits might be available from the county to residents who demonstrate financial need. Call 225-4801 for more information.

Also, a limited amount of burial funds for the indigent may be available through your local government. Contact city or township offices for specifics.


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