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Reducing the cost of death – Using Natural Burial or an Anatomical Donation

I appreciate the service a professional funeral director provides. This article is not intended to criticize their businesses. There’s no denying the comfort, certainty and range of services from a funeral home.

The average cost of a funeral with burial in Georgia is $7,461, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. LINK

This article is describes two alternatives my family explored on the death of my father earlier this year.

You should be aware of these alternatives for two reasons: they can be far less costly than using a funeral home, and they can satisfy the deceased’s own sensibilities about disposal of their remains.

My parents had explored and discussed both alternatives prior to my father’s death, long before he entered hospice.

Plan A was to donate my father’s body to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

This appealed to my father for many reasons. He was a doctor. He appreciated the opportunity to provide scientific value by letting the medical school dissect him. It also appealed to him because the medical school would bear the cost of cremation after they had completed their study of his remains.

The plan relies on a few prerequisites and many restrictions. He needed to register his anatomical donation with the Medical College of Georgia well in advance. We needed to arrange prompt refrigeration of his remains with a local morgue or funeral home, to be done within hours of his passing. We needed to notify the medical school while he was in hospice so the medical school could confirm they had capacity and could transport his body within 4 days of his passing. One additional requirement was added in 2020 to limit COVID liabilities during transport and study: he must not have had any respiratory disorder in his last 30 days.

All the requirements were satisfied except the last one. We needed a Plan B.

Fortunately we had a Plan B. Natural burial.

Natural burial is the interment of the body in the soil in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition and allows the body to be naturally recycled.

Natural burial appealed to my father’s conservation objectives and also to his lifelong objections to funeral ceremony and expense. “Honor people while they live,” he said. “Tell me now, not after I’m gone,” he would joke with intent.

My parents had explored two natural burial cemeteries, one of them in North Georgia, the other in Swansea, South Carolina. Both cemeteries are free of preservatives and growing healthy trees. They selected the cemetery in Swansea, Dust to Dust Cemetery.

The natural burial cemeteries all have similar rules. We needed to notify them as my father’s death approached. We did so, and they arrived to transport my father’s body within hours of his passing.

They offer a tent and chairs for a graveside service. They also can accept some natural gravestones and compatible plantings for the burial plot.

Someone in the family needs to act as funeral director. That was me. This is a form which designated me as responsible for obtaining the necessary medical release of remains and that I would be listed as funeral director on the death certificate and legally responsible for proper internment or cremation.

The acting funeral director (me) must also submit the medical cause of death to the county health department so they can issue a death certificate. Hospice Savannah provided me the medical form for cause of death. Expect delays during a pandemic which slows all paperwork and communication. Dust to Dust Cemetery helped us familiarize Chatham County with the natural burial process and with the family funeral director role. This learning curve is not unexpected and I’m thankful Chatham County recognized the process and accommodated our needs.

Natural burial cost less than $2000. As an environmentalist and as a financial advisor, I wish more of my clients were aware of this option.

Michael Dayoub, CFP®

Alpha Financial Management

copyright Dust To Dust Cemetery

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