During a recent drive, I tuned into an episode of CBC Radio’s Tapestry, an interesting program that focuses on issues of faith, spirituality and religion. This particular episode featured stories and interviews on the subject of ashes and cremation. As an estate litigator, a profession that is intrinsically linked to death and dying, the episode grabbed my attention.
Of particular interest was a segment called “Ashes Through the Ages.” This portion of the show was comprised of an interview with Professor Douglas Davies of the University of Durham in England. Professor Davies is an authority on the history, theology and sociology of death and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Cremation.
The interview deals mostly with the cultural history of cremation, a practice that goes back to ancient times and one that differs immensely across cultures and geographic locations. In India for instance, cremations are often very public outdoor rituals. In the West however, cremations are extremely private affairs. The body is burnt indoors in a private facility and the ashes are provided to loved ones so that they may perform a variety of personal rites and rituals.
In our society, ashes are usually either kept in an urn in a surviving loved one’s home or scattered in a place that holds some personal significance to the deceased. I’ve heard many touching stories of ashes being scattered in places such as a body of water where the person who has passed liked to fish, a golf course where they spent many hours playing golf, or simply a park where they liked to sit and enjoy nature.
Professor Davies mentioned one particular cremation practice I had never heard of before: turning a loved one’s ashes into gemstones. Because ashes are essentially carbon, they can be compressed into gemstones and turned into jewelry for a surviving loved one to wear as a reminder of or physical link to the deceased.
While you might think that this is a new idea, Professor Davies pointed out that people have been putting deceased loved ones’ locks of hair into lockets worn as necklaces for centuries. In my mind, this is merely a more modern and technologically advanced version of that practice. It’s also much more expensive. These “memorial diamonds” can range from $3,500 – $20,000 depending on the desired size of stone. Also, for animal-lovers, they can be made from a beloved pet’s ashes as well.
To my surprise, when I mentioned to a colleague that I had just heard about this practice, he informed me that his mother had in fact requested that her ashes be made into a “memorial diamond” upon her passing. She likes the idea of her ashes being turned into a shiny diamond as opposed being in an urn or in nature.
While I don’t see this practice becoming as commonplace as other cremation rituals, it is an option that some might want to consider when planning for their deaths. If you do find yourself wearing a ring made from a loved one however, make sure to be extra, extra careful around sinks and toilets.
On a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians matriarch of the family Kris Jenner decides to plan ahead for the entire family’s funeral. She takes the family to Hollywood Forever cemetery and considers building a private family mausoleum. She even goes as far as to climb into a luxury coffin to test it out. Kris said that pre-planning her funeral arrangements was a gift to her family, to relieve them of the burden of having to make those decisions at a time when they will be grieving her death.
The episode made me think about pre-arranging and pre-paying for one’s funeral – is it a good idea?
One article sets out the advantages and disadvantages of pre-paying for your funeral.
The advantages listed are:
- If they are eligible funeral expenses, as defined in section 148.1 of the Canada Tax Act, than any growth is non-taxable;
- It relieves the burden on your family of making these difficult planning decisions;
- The ability to ensure you will have your own wishes carried out. Requests for certain funeral arrangements found in Wills are not enforceable at law – so if there is not enough money in your estate to carry out your wishes, they can be ignored. If you want to spend the rest of eternity in a private mausoleum like the Kardashians, this may be the only way to guarantee it actually happens;
- If you have enough money to pre-pay for a funeral, then you can do it without any hassles. It’s not like buying life insurance to cover your funeral expenses, where medical testing or age restrictions may disqualify you;
The disadvantages listed are:
- They are a bad investment. The interest generated is minimal and you will have little or no choice in how your money is invested. From a purely financial perspective, they are not the wisest choice;
- You could fall victim to a scam. You have to take certain precautions to be sure that your money is protected. This includes making sure that if you move away or change your mind you can transfer your plan to another funeral service provider, or get a full refund.
The article concludes that investing your money in a Tax Free Savings Account is a better option than pre-paying for your funeral. That way you have control over how the money is invested and you can still prearrange your funeral so that your wishes are carried out how you’d like.
The article is written from a personal finance perspective, so although it is probably true that pre-paying for your funeral does not make good financial sense, if you are the type of person who wants to know that their wishes will be carried out exactly, then pre-arranging your funeral may not be enough.
Thanks for reading!
Moira Visoiu – Click here for more information on Moira Visoiu.
Cremation Solutions has come up with “a new and exciting way to memorialize your loved one.”
The company offers a number of cremation urns and other mementos. One of their most notable products is the “Personal Cremation Urn”. The company offers to create a custom cremation urn in the image of your loved one, favourite celebrity, hero, or even President Obama.
The urns are made from a tough polymere compound, and come on a solid marble base. The company will create the urn using a photograph or two of the subject.
Cremation Solutions says that the urns can have hair added digitally for short haired people, or, for longer haired subjects, a wig can be added.
The urns come in two sizes: full size, 11” tall (to hold the ashes of an adult) or keepsake sized, 6” tall, to hold a portion of the cremated ashes. Full size is $2,600 US, and keepsake sized is $600 US. Delivery is free.
Thank you to Gerry Beyer and his blog Wills, Trusts and Estates Prof Blog for the reference.
Have a great week.
Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
At present, the City of Toronto can provide help with funeral costs to Toronto residents who do not have enough funds in their estate to fully cover funeral expenses.
The program provides assistance for funeral services, burial services or cremation services. With respect to funeral services, the program can pay for the transfer of the body. If there is to be a burial, the program can pay for the purchase of a burial lot, or if the deceased owned a lot, can pay for the opening and closing of the grave. If there is to be a cremation, the program can pay for the cremation, and a standard urn, and the cost of scattering the remains in a cemetery.
Eligibility is based on the financial situation of the deceased and his or her spouse at the time of death. A caseworker will be assigned, who assesses the assets, income, RRSPs and life insurance of the deceased.
If the deceased person was on Ontario Works, or ODSP, the funeral home can assist in obtaining benefits. (The Province of Ontario can also provides assistance to those on ODSP or Ontario Works.) If the deceased was not on Ontario Works or ODSP, the family or estate trustee should contact the City of Toronto’s Employment and Social Services office. The Employment and Social Services office must be contacted, and must authorize services before a contract is signed with the funeral home or cemetery.
For more information, see the City’s website, here, or call 416.392.1666.
Thanks for reading.
Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
Ever dream of being an astronaut? If you were not one in life fear not, there is still the chance that you can travel in space after your death. According to a Toronto Star article by Nicole Baute, it would appear that when it comes to burial possibilities, the sky is not the limit.
Celestis Inc. is a company co-founded by commercial space age pioneer Charles Chafer that specializes in “Memorial Spaceflights”. The ashes are placed in aluminum capsules inside a Celestis spacecraft, which is a small cylinder that hitches a ride on a rocket heading elsewhere. The spacecraft breaks away from the rocket once it is deep in space and then orbits the earth for anywhere from a few years to several hundred years, depending on how far into space it goes. Solar wind and the natural degradation of the orbit eventually pull the spacecraft back into the earth’s atmosphere, where it incinerates like a meteor upon contact. The cost is anywhere from $695 to $12,500 $US.
If space travel isn’t for you, Baute reports on other unconventional options. Perhaps you would like to have your ashes pressed into a vinyl record for family and friends (the sound quality is a little scratchy and you might have to supply the turntable) or even an attractive paper weight. Those who are concerned about the environment can have themselves composted. As for me, I think I’d like to be turned into a diamond.
Considering all the burial options out there, with a little imagination, you can go to infinity and beyond!
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
A cemetery in the UK is dealing with the awkward question of what to do about a man who was buried in the wrong grave.
The 26 year old was vacationing in Spain when he was stabbed to death. After being returned home to Britain, he was inadvertently laid to rest in a grave reserved for the widow of another man (the widow and her late husband had bought side-by-side plots so they could be buried next to each other).
The two families have been unable to reach consensus as to what to do. The murder victim’s family, who had to wait two years for the body to be returned to them due to the criminal investigation, wants the man to remain where he’s been buried. On the other hand, the widow, who had bought the plot with her husband so they could be buried together, wants the body exhumed so that on her death she can be buried where she, well, paid to be buried.
At this point, as the families can’t agree it appears that the Church court for the Diocese of Lichfield in England will make the final decision in the new year.
What a horrible situation – clearly neither family is at fault, and, no matter the decision, someone is going to wind up devastated.
On a more pleasant note, have a great weekend!
Megan F. Connolly
Megan F. Connolly – Click here for more information about Megan Connolly.
Whether it’s technology or tv trends, Japan seems to be light years ahead. And we play catch-up (ok, not so with the stupid game shows). Japan’s median age is 43.5, Canada’s is 39.1. But since Japanese live longer (life expectancy of 82.12 versus Canada’s [still respectable] 81.23), we’re really only a few years behind. So what can we learn from their population, which is a few years ahead of ours in dealing with an aging population?
The answer is: forget about cars, dvd players and even robots. Funerals are very, very big business in Japan. According to this Bloomberg article, the Japanese funeral industry is worth US$18 billion. Last year, 1.14 million Japanese died, and funeral companies charge about $26,094.62 per funeral. By 2040, 1.66 million will be dying every year. Future growth is in death, and as Bloomberg notes, "everyone from railway companies to retailers wants a slice." Funeral companies are stampeding towards Japan.
Unfortunately, things won’t be so rosy in Canada. This is because Japanese funerals are mostly Bhuddist funerals, which are elaborate multi-day events involving chanting monks, flowers, meals, cremation ceremonies, jade urns and the like. They are elaborate, exhausting events. Our funerals are fast-forwarded commercial breaks by comparison. But it is still a glimpse into the future.
Have a great weekend,
Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.
Cobourg Union Cemetery caters to the eco-conscious. They insure that nothing goes into the ground that is not harmless and biodegradable. The Cemetery permits no markers, headstones, concrete vaults and avoids digging by machinery. The costs for a green burial, in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 are significantly less that costs for a conventional burial.
A funeral business group in Columbia is meeting the needs of another community.
Prevision Exequial sells funeral insurance to Columbia immigrants who live in United States. There was a need in the community to provide affordable funerals for new immigrants from Columbia. For a low monthly cost of $4.12 a month that group guarantees covering the costs of transporting the body or remains to Columbia or the costs for a burial and funeral service in the United States. It also assists with the related paperwork associated to obtaining a death certificate that may be daunting to new immigrants.
The funeral industry has adapted to provide a more personal service and meet the changing needs of the population. And while planning your funeral might not be a fun thing to do, there are a lot of choices out there.
On a less morbid note, enjoy the long weekend!
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Earlier this month, Elsie Poncher posted on eBay her late husband’s crypt for sale. The unique feature about the crypt is its location directly above the crypt of Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe in Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery. Mrs. Poncher decided to sell the valuable crypt and move her husband’s remains to another part of the cemetery in order pay the $1.6 million mortgage on her Beverly Hills home.
Last week, someone purchased the crypt with a winning bid of $4.6 million. That bid has since fallen through with the bidder unable to pay but there were a number of other multi-million dollar bids which may now become the winning bid.
In Ontario, the Cemeteries Act
prohibits the private resale of burial plots or crypts. When someone purchases a burial plot, they receive interment rights in perpetuity, not property rights. The property rights belong to the cemetery and if required, transfer to a third party requires the consent of the cemetery and the cemetery maintains the right to buy back the interment rights.
However, in the United States many states do not have similar legislation and some suggest that the reselling of burial plots have increased in recent economic times .
Thanks for Reading,
Diane Vieira – Click here for more information on Diane Vieira.
As, no doubt, everyone is aware, Wednesday was National Dog Day in the United States. In Atlanta, they celebrated the day with a special groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the construction of the latest addition to the Deceased Pet Care family.
For those who do not know, Deceased Pet Care operates funeral homes and crematories with the mission being to allow people to “celebrate, honour, remember, and cherish” their deceased pets.
Operating out of Georgia, Deceased Pet Care offers pet funeral home ceremonies, cremations, and the opportunity for the pet to be buried in one of the pet cemeteries the company owns. It also offers various funeral “accessories”, such as caskets and grave markers. For those who want to avoid the stress of grieving a pet while trying to plan the funeral, the company offers “pre-need planning” for those who wish to plan in advance.
The extent of the services the company offers is really quite impressive and its website is easily as sophisticated, if not more so, than many of the more traditional funeral homes (i.e. those who offer services for dead people).
Although it might seem like the emphasis on pets (either through commemorating them or for providing for them in the estate planning process) is relatively recent, Deceased Pet Care has obviously been well ahead of the curve – it is a family run business which has been operating for thirty five years.
And this year, it surely should be proud – that funeral home they’ve just broken ground on in Atlanta will be the largest of its kind in the United States.
Have a great weekend!
Megan F. Connolly