Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Paul Calvert of Holman’s Funeral and Cremation Service in Portland discusses planning a funeral years ahead. 

Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Paul Calvert of Holman’s Funeral and Cremation Service in Portland discusses planning a funeral years ahead. 

It’s a final act of love. 

Those who plan their own funerals give survivors a major gift, allowing them to grieve instead of agonizing over caskets, liturgical music and cost. 

“It’s going to take that pressure off people down the road who don’t know what you want,” says Paul Calvert, a funeral director at Holman’s Funeral and Cremation Service in Southeast Portland. Even if people can’t pay ahead of time, they should write down what they want, Calvert says. 

Funeral directors agree that one of the hardest situations they enter is a death for which there was no preplanned funeral. Here are some things people can decide on ahead of time. 

The first choice is whether to be buried or cremated. Catholic teaching allows for cremation, but the strong preference is that it happen after the funeral, so the body can be present. To help make that more affordable, funeral homes have two options. 

First is a rented outer casket for the funeral. The body is placed in a removable inner liner and never touches the rented casket directly. After the funeral, the body and inner lining are removed to be cremated. Renting a casket and purchasing the liner costs about $800. 

The second option is a casket designed to be burned. They start at about $300. These least-expensive cremation caskets may indeed look a bit cheap, but during Catholic funerals coffins are covered with a large cloth, or pall. 

Cremation is a cheaper option than burial, mostly because it removes the need for a burial plot and a burial casket, which will cost at least $700. Brown estimates that a traditional Catholic funeral with burial will cost $8,000 to $10,000 and up. The same rites, but with cremation and a niche for the remains, will cost about $4,000. 

Catholics should know that their church wants cremated remains treated with the same respect a body would be given, says Rebecca Tjaarda, funeral director and preplanning specialist at Mt. Scott Funeral Home in Southeast Portland. Tjaarda often speaks at Catholic parishes about Catholic practice. 

That means no scattering, no dividing up the ashes and no keeping an urn on the mantle or in the closet. Cremated remains, the church teaches, should have a niche at a cemetery or mausoleum. Practical experience also argues for this. Many people rue the fact that they have lost track of cremated remains, or have no sacred place to visit their dead loved ones. 

Those who preplan their funerals can choose what kind of services they want. Catholics can decide on a funeral Mass, a vigil, a rosary or a graveside rite. They may want a viewing. The more services one chooses, the higher the cost because of staff time for funeral directors. 

But planning a funeral ahead will save money. That’s because the costs are frozen at the time of purchase. Greg Brown, a family counselor at Riverview Abbey in Southwest Portland, knows of couples who purchased mausoleum spots decades ago for $500. Those vaults may now cost $5,000. 

Preplanning also usually offers a savings because grieving people tend to feel the need to honor the person who has died with the more expensive options. 

“They almost always spend more at the time than if the person preplans,” Brown says. 

To fund a funeral ahead of time, a person can pay in a lump sum or make regular monthly payments. If someone dies before the funeral is paid off, insurance often makes up the rest. 

The money a customer puts down for a funeral does not go into the funeral home’s accounts. Preplanning is highly regulated by state authorities. Funds are held by a third party in a trust or in a type of insurance account and only released at the time of death. If someone plans a funeral with a mortuary in Portland, then ends up moving to Arizona for example, the money and whatever interest it has earned goes along. However, Tjaarda warns, the Arizona funeral home would not be bound to honor the prices agreed upon in Portland and will likely apply the funds as a credit toward whatever things cost then and there. 

When it comes to the two types of accounts, Tjaarda recommends the tax-free insurance over the trust. 

The preplanning process can take care of paperwork required by the state, including biographical information, which loved ones might have trouble finding after a death. People can choose the priest, the readings and the music for a funeral. They can stipulate what clothes they want to have on for burial or cremation and select flowers. They can write their own obituary then choose a headstone and say what will be engraved on it. All the information will go into a file, to be consulted when the time comes. 

Preplanning has hit the digital age at Tualatin Valley Funeral Alternatives. An online funeral planning section allows people to choose what they want for a funeral while sitting at home. 

For more information on Catholic teaching on cremation, go here.