Q: For years I've wondered how to plan the least expensive burial for myself. I see no reason to rob my family of several thousand dollars. Although I most likely will die in Maryland, my burial site is in Virginia. Can you furnish me with the names of inexpensive morticians, caskets, etc.? -- W.R., Baldwin, Md.
A: The best way to cut down on your funeral and burial expenses is to plan ahead, which you seem ready to do.
You also will need to discuss your wishes with family members. If they know that you have no desire to spend any more money than necessary, they will be more comfortable carrying out your plans -- and less susceptible to any feelings that they are shortchanging you in some way.
You already have a burial site, which takes away one of the major costs that could be incurred by your family. But you do need to worry about expenses for preparing your body and transporting it to the cemetery.
The Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule requires funeral directors to disclose costs on the telephone, so it should be easy for you to do some preliminary planning simply by calling the funeral homes in your area.
Explain your situation and your preferences and ask about their price range for caskets and fees for other services. Also ask what they would recommend for transporting your body to Virginia.
Some funeral homes will transport a body directly to a distant cemetery by hearse, usually charging by the mile. Others will ship the body to a funeral home near the cemetery, but this could add several hundred dollars to your costs since each funeral home will charge a service fee.
Perhaps your best resource for planning a simple, inexpensive funeral and burial is a memorial society. These groups can be found around the country, and many of them have contracts with funeral homes that have been negotiated to give members the most reasonable prices possible.
The average cost of a funeral (excluding burial and cemetery fees) is about $4,000, with the casket often being the single most expensive item. But according to John Blake, executive director of the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies, members of these groups are, on average, able to plan simple funerals for less than $1,000 and cremations for less than $500.
Most members can afford more expensive funerals, but prefer a simpler approach. In some cases, the family may make the casket and even prepare the body themselves.
This philosophy may or may not be in keeping with your own family's approach to funerals. Either way, a memorial society can be helpful.
For instance, members might have some good advice on planning inexpensive ways to transport your body to Virginia. The least expensive way would be for your family to transport it themselves in a station wagon or van, and the memorial society can help you work out the details.
There are 147 memorial societies in the United States and 30 in Canada. For more information about memorial societies and for a contact near you, call or write the national organization.
A toll-free number -- (800) 458-5563 -- will give you a recorded message with the address and direct phone number: Memorial Societies, 6900 Lost Lake Road, Egg Harbor, Wis. 54289-9213; (414) 868-3136. (If you write for more information, include a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope with your request.)