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Mitchell McLean

What Are My Burial Options?

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Burial traditions across many cultures have one thing in common—that a permanent resting place is essential for honoring and remembering loved ones. When considering burial options for yourself or a loved one, be sure to choose a burial option (ground burial, interment in a crypt, natural burial, burial at sea, etc.) that seems befitting for both your loved one and family.

What Does a Traditional Burial Entail?

Funeral homes or services that provide traditional burial typically offer a full-service option that includes fees for the funeral director and staff, transportation of body, embalming, burial containers (casket and vault), facilities for a visitation or viewing, arrangements for memorial or funeral services, graveside services, opening-and-closing costs (gravesite preparation, back-filling, and landscaping), and the hearse and other necessary vehicles. Financial preparations could also include the cost of a cemetery lot or crypt, perpetual care of gravesite (sometimes added onto the total cost of a lot), a grave liner (if necessary), and the grave marker, monument, or headstone (which could include fees for installation).

Know Your Options

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Choices for burial options can vary greatly, depending on your preferences and budget. Cemeteries typically provide most, or all, of these property options for selection and purchase:

  • Single burial space – used for the burial of one person or cremated remains
  • Double-depth space – used for two individual persons, one buried at a deeper depth and the other buried at a normal depth on top of the first
  • Family lot – a designated area used for multiple family members
  • Mausoleum – a building, public or private, for above-ground placement of caskets within crypt spaces.
    • Private Mausoleum – a building, typically an adorned stand-alone building, that houses the remains of family members and creates a space of private visitation
    • Community Mausoleums – a community, usually climate-controlled building, where families can select the location and level of crypt and personalize crypt plates and crypt markers

What Should I Ask Before I Buy Cemetery Property?

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Be sure to do a little research on your area cemeteries to determine which options best fit your needs before purchasing cemetery property (burial spaces, lawn crypts, or mausoleums). There are three types of cemeteries:

  • Private cemetery – private property designated as a cemetery in which lots or burial spaces are not sold to the public and in which burials are restricted to members of a family by blood or marriage or friends of the family.
  • Public cemetery – a privately owned or municipal cemetery property in which burial spaces and lots are sold to the public.
  • National or state cemetery – a government-owned cemetery in which eligible veterans, their spouses, and dependents may be buried at little or no cost to the family. Learn more about veteran’s burial benefits.

Many cemeteries include fees for maintenance of the grounds, sometimes included in the property value, so be sure to inquire whether or not perpetual care is included or if fees can be expected for upkeep of the gravesite and any monuments, headstones, or markers that will be present. You may also want to request information about any rules or regulations that the cemetery might enforce, such as types of monuments or markers permitted, seasonal decorations on graves, the allowance of grave candles, and rules about flower placement.

Casket Options

Caskets come in many different materials and a variety of price points. The selection of a casket is solely up to you and your family. Modern caskets are typically made of wood or metal and are lined by varying kinds of interior fabric. The cost typically depends on the materials used for construction. Some caskets (typically made of metal) are designed to withstand outside elements, while others, such as those used in green burials (made of hemp, wicker, and other biodegradable materials), are meant to encourage the process of decomposition.

Outer Burial Container Options

In order to prevent uneven landscapes and avoid ground sinking, most cemeteries require that an outer burial container, typically referred as a burial vault, to be placed around the casket in the ground. Costs of outer burial containers can vary, but most containers are constructed from concrete and metal.

Natural Burial

Natural burial, or green burial, is a burial with minimal impact on the environment. Green burials may include nontoxic, biodegradable casket or a burial shroud. There is usually no embalming, or if embalming must take place, eco-friendly embalming fluid can be used. A green burial takes place in a dedicated green cemetery or natural preserve. Please note that green burial grounds are not available everywhere. Check the Green Burial Council’s website for a listing of certified green burial providers. A more natural burial can also be practiced in a conventional cemetery by allowing a wood or biodegradable casket to come into contact with the earth. If a vault or grave liner is required by the cemetery, it may be turned upside down without a lid to allow the casket to degrade naturally.

What if traditional burial isn’t right for me?

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The most common alternative to burial is cremation. Another option is donation of a body to medical science, however, this is not a true form of disposition since the body is usually cremated and returned to the family after about a year. Examples of less common forms of disposition are burial at sea, alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation), aquamation, or resomation.

Ancient forms of disposition include mummification, exposure or sky burial, practiced by Tibetans and some Native American tribes.

The most recent developments in body disposition include cryogenic freezing, space burial, plastination (preservation of body parts by replacing water and fat with plastics), and promession (freeze drying with liquid nitrogen and using vibration and dehydration to reduce the body to a dry powder).

Please note that not all forms of disposition are legally recognized by each state. Check with your state and local laws and regulations to ensure that the disposition method you wish to use is legally available in your state. You may also transfer a body to another location where your chosen form of disposition may be legally carried out.

What Is Green Burial?

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Green burials have become increasingly popular in recent years. Founded on the belief that death care practices shouldn’t be harmful to the environment, green, or natural, burials aim to leave minimal environmental impacts. In fact, many people who consider green burials take into consideration processes of burial that conserve resources, protect workers from potentially harmful chemicals, and reduce carbon emissions so that they can contribute to the restoration and preservation of natural habitats.

Numerous routes can be taken when approaching green burial, but most have a few common factors. For example, burials are typically considered green if non-toxic, biodegradable materials are used for burial, if harmful chemicals are not used during embalming, and if the casket is not covered by a concrete vault. In addition, many who choose green burials forgo traditional concrete headstones or grave markers and choose to mark graves naturally with trees, plants, or field stones.

Is Green Burial Common?

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The rise in green burials is likely a result of the growing rise in environmental awareness. A 2015 survey by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council revealed that interests in green burial had gone up 11 percent in five years, with more than 60 percent of respondents indicating some interest in green burials. The rapid rise in interest in green burials is evidenced by the Green Burial Council’s list of certified providers in North America, which has grown from 1 in 2006 to more than 300 as of 2017, operating in 41 states and 6 provinces of Canada (this includes funeral homes, cemeteries, and product providers). Please note that green burial options are not available in every state.

Is Cremation Considered Green?

Although the cremation process reduces land use, the practice is not considered green by either the National Funeral Directors Association or the Green Burial Council because cremation can potentially emit harmful substances, such as mercury, into the atmosphere. In addition, cremation burns fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource, and some argue that cremation impedes the body’s natural decomposition, preventing the natural ecosystem from benefiting from it.

The chemical process known as alkaline hydrolysis, which dissolves soft tissues leaving bone fragments and metals behind, produces similar remains as cremation and is considered to be more environmentally friendly. However, the option is not widely available nor legal in most states, and it is costly compared to cremation.

How Do I Ensure My Burial Is Environmentally Friendly?

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Like the everyday choices we make regarding our impact on the environment (recycling, composting, carpooling, etc.), green burial presents many ways that end-of-life choices can contribute to the preservation of our environment. Green burial options range from preserving cremated remains in eco-friendly urns, to service providers that only use natural materials (such as pine and wicker) to produce caskets. At first, the environmentally-friendly options may seem limitless, but the Green Burial Council considers certain practices best when planning and implementing a minimally invasive burial:

  • No Toxic Chemicals
    First, body preservation should not include any harmful or toxic embalming chemicals. Instead, refrigeration, dry ice, or eco-friendly embalming fluid should be considered. If planning ahead, be sure that your funeral will be held in a relatively short period of time, as refrigeration can be expensive.
  • Biodegradable Burial Materials
    Second, coffins, caskets, and shrouds made of biodegradable substances like bamboo, wicker, silk, or hemp should be used instead of modern materials such as metal or concrete. Wood that is sustainably harvested is also a good option.
  • Avoid Concrete Vaults
    Third, concrete grave liners and vaults should be avoided if possible. Many cemeteries require vaults to prevent the ground from sinking over time, however the manufacturing and transporting of vaults causes carbon emissions and uses great amounts of energy. There may not be a green cemetery or natural preserve in your area, so you may consider placing a biodegradable casket in contact with the earth and installing the vault upside down (without a lid) over the casket. This allows the casket to degrade naturally, while preserving the cemetery’s landscape.
  • Natural Grave Markers
    Many green cemeteries or natural preserves suggest the use of natural objects as grave markers (such as trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, or rocks). Unlike concrete monuments, natural markers preserve the integrity of the surrounding environment and reduce the use of concrete or other resources for large monuments. Many cemeteries provide GPS location so that a loved one’s grave can be easily found, and choosing a natural marker ensures that your last act gives back to the earth in a modest yet lasting way.

Where Can I Find More Information?

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For more information regarding green burial, be sure to refer to the Green Burial Council website, which shares other information regarding green burials, or The Natural End, which provides a map listing natural burial providers in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia.

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

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How Cremation Works

Cremation is the process of using high temperatures and evaporation to reduce a body to its most basic elements. With cremation, the body is placed in a specially constructed container and exposed to extreme heat and flame, resulting in the reduction of the body to bone fragments. After a period of cooling, the remains are processed into a uniform size and consistency, frequently compared to ash.

After cremation, the remains, which usually weigh somewhere between 3-7 pounds, are placed in a chosen urn or temporary container and returned to the family. From here, families have many options for memorialization.

The Frequency of Cremation is Growing

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Cremation has become increasingly common in the United States in recent years; in fact, the National Funeral Directors Association recently released a report stating that cremation rates surpassed burial rates in the United States in 2015. It is projected that by 2017 over 50% of the one million people who die on average every year will be cremated. Diminishing religious restrictions, considerations of the environmental impact of burial, the more mobile population of Americans, and the flexibility that cremation offers are among the top factors of the increasing popularity of cremation.

Is Cremation Really Green?

Although the cremation process reduces land use when compared to burial, the practice is not considered green by either the National Funeral Directors Association or the Green Burial Council because cremation can potentially emit harmful substances, such as mercury, into the atmosphere. In addition, cremation burns fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource.

Cremation Does Not Hinder Memorial Services

After the death of a loved one, grief experts agree that families are able to cope with the reality of the loss much more readily if a time is set aside to see the body and spend time saying goodbye. A viewing, public or private, can be arranged before the cremation takes place for those who wish to “say goodbye” before the body is cremated.

Cremation Presents New and Varied Options

shutterstock_463668569Like burial, cremation offers countless options for final disposition and many choices must be made about the person’s final resting place and his or her memorialization. The Cremation Association of North America cites that families approach memorialization of cremated remains (or cremains) in three ways:

  • Burial/Interment of cremains
  • Retaining cremains through inurnment
  • Or scattering cremains

Although these overarching categories may seem pretty clear-cut, when it comes to the options for memorialization after cremation, not even the sky is the limit.

Burial/Interment of the Cremated Body

When interring a cremated body, the remains may be placed in a columbarium niche, buried in an existing adult burial space, buried in a smaller plot for cremated remains, buried in an urn garden, or placed in a crypt in a mausoleum. Some families also choose to place cremated remains in cremation jewelry or other memorial items, such as cremation glass, cremation benches, memorial rocks, or grave markers.

Retaining the Urn at Home

The cremated body can also be placed in a decorative urn and retained by family members at home. Some families choose to split the cremated remains into portions that can be divided among family members and multiple keepsake urns, while others choose to contain the remains in one ceremonial urn.

Urns are typically chosen based on design and function. Types of urns vary from biodegradable urns that can be interred or put out to sea, to decorative urns made specifically to reflect the personality of the loved one. Decorative urns that can be displayed in the home are composed of all sorts of materials such as porcelain, wood, bronze, stainless steel, ceramic, marble, or glass. You can now even request custom urns that use 3D printing to create the absolutely perfect urn for your loved one.

Scattering

scattering

One popular option for memorializing a loved one after cremation is scattering, which can take place on private property, on public lands (such as national parks), in a cemetery, in a body of water, or shot into the air in a memorial fireworks display.

Families should remember that certain laws and ordinances do apply when scattering cremated remains and should consult any laws that may apply, on both public and private land. For instance, scattering at sea must be executed three nautical miles from shore and should be reported to the EPA within 30 days. Scattering in a national park such as Yosemite requires a permit and no memorial or trace left behind. Most states allow aerial disposition over unpopulated areas. Scattering cremains on public or private property without permission—frequently referred to as “wildcat scattering”—can result in fines.

Consider the Impact of Scattering

shutterstock_89689249Some families choose to scatter all of the cremated body in one location while others choose to scatter some of the remains in different locations or keep a portion in an urn at home. Be sure to consider the impact that scattering can have on loved ones.

For some, scattering all the physical remains of a loved one in one unmarked location can be extremely difficult, and even devastating in some cases. As humans, we have a need to know our loved ones have made a lasting mark. Usually the place chosen for scattering is tied to the memory of the loved one. Although this memory may be sufficient for some, many families choose to erect some sort of permanent memorial that can offer a physical reminder where family members can come for a time of reflection. For this purpose, a portion of the cremated body may be buried or inurned in a cemetery, even if a portion of the cremated body is scattered in a different place. Other options for creating a permanent memorial include setting plaque at the scattering site, an engraved tree planted above a biodegradable urn, a memorial garden, a memorial fund to help others in need, or even a virtual memorial in the form of a website.

Transporting Remains Can Be Tricky, But Not Impossible

Transport of a cremated body via mail or escorted by air will necessitate the completion of proper paperwork and will require verification and certification. In the United States, the only postal carrier that will ship cremated remains is the USPS. Check here for instruction on packing and shipping cremated remains.

In addition, if flying, the TSA has specific restrictions. TSA allows escort of cremated remains. However, certain airlines restrict travel with remains, so be sure to check with the specific airline. TSA suggests placing remains in containers that can easily be screened by XRAY, such as wood or plastic, as this will likely facilitate easier movement through security checkpoints.

If traveling internationally, be sure to contact the embassy(ies) to allow more time for processing.

For more information on traveling and shipping remains, consult the Cremation Association of North America’s website.

Funeral Directors Can Provide Support

Funeral directors perform the same professional functions with cremation as with burial, such as transportation of the body, acquiring necessary permits, and filing for death certificates. Often, a licensed professional is required by law to perform such tasks. Funeral directors are among those who carry such professional licenses. In addition, many funeral homes offer multiple means of carrying out a meaningful celebration of life and can assist families in making decisions about finding a suitable option for final disposition.

Costs of Cremation

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The basic charge for cremation alone may in some cases cost less than immediate burial costs, but often the costs for cremation with funeral services are comparable. In most cases, the choice between cremation and burial comes down to family preference.

According to a survey in 2010 by the National Cremation Research Council, the average cost of direct cremation (which covers basic services like transportation of body, cost of authorizations, and the crematory fee) was $1,110.05. This is excepting fees for visitation, formal viewing, or any type of ceremony. Costs such as obituaries, death certificates, keepsake urns or jewelry, memorial plaques, placement in a columbarium, or other services should be taken into consideration as well as the cost of a direct cremation.

What if Cremation Isn’t Right for Me?

Not everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of cremation. If that is the case for you, there are many burial options that can be arranged ahead of time to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Consider the Needs of Your Loved Ones

Whatever your choice, whether burial or cremation, it is important to consider the needs of your family for mourning after a loss. Burial or cremation is not the only choice that is important to make. Loved ones will more than likely need to have a dedicated time to come to terms with the reality of the loss, understand the pain of loss, remember the one who has died, develop a new sense of identity, search for meaning, and engage their support system through a public funeral, visitation, or memorial service. Opting to skip the funeral or memorial could have lasting repercussions from unexpressed, or “carried grief.” Humans have had the need to honor life and memories of loved ones since the beginning of time. This article shares why funerals and memorials are so important.

 

What You Need to Know about Anatomical Donation

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What Does it Mean to Be an Organ Donor and a Whole Body Donor?

Anatomical donation typically refers to the donation of the whole body to medical or scientific research. Once donated, the body may be used for surgical training, scientific research, and anatomy lessons for medical students, promoting the advancement of medical science.

Organ donation, on the other hand, refers to the donation of organs after death that, if approved for donation, would be transplanted into another living person.

What Organs Can Be Donated After Death?

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Organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, small intestines, and kidneys can be donated after death along with tissues such as corneas, skin, veins, bones, heart valves, tendons, and ligaments. Because organs are living tissue and begin to decompose quickly after loss of blood flow, donation and transplantation must happen almost immediately after death.

The American Transplant Foundation estimates that “one deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save and enhance more than 100 lives through the lifesaving and healing gift of tissue donation.”

UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, along with other organ distributers, uses strict standards and criteria to match organs and ensure the fair distribution of organs to recipients. Organ and tissue donors are treated with the utmost respect, and an open-casket funeral is often possible after donation. No costs will be incurred by the donor’s family for organ and tissue donation, although costs may be applied for services carried out before official time of death. When being treated for medical reasons, organ donation cannot be considered until brain death has been declared by a physician. All donations are anonymous unless approval from the recipient is given.

For more about the laws and regulations surrounding organ donation, refer to the Uniform Law Commission’s summary of the Anatomical Gift Act of 2006.

Is It Possible to Be An Organ Donor And a Whole Body Donor?

It is technically possible to register as both an organ donor and a whole body donor. However, when registering for both, applicants should understand that organ donation for transplant will take first priority, meaning that if organs are selected and approved for donation, whole body donation will likely be refused for study at the majority of medical facilities or universities because of the compromised integrity of the body as a whole.

Many times, however, those registered as organ donors are often not in the position at time of death to be candidates for donation. In fact, many potential organ donors are not approved for transplant after death because of the stringent restrictions and criteria for organ donation and the timing of immediate donation after death. Cancer, heart disease, lung disease, potentially malignant tumors, and other preexisting conditions often rule out organ donation candidates. In addition, proximity to the hospital or the need to perform an autopsy (when means of death are questionable) can also prevent organ donation. Because of these restrictions, many bodies of organ donors remain uncompromised and could still be donated to science or willed to a university after death if the donor so wished.

Registering as both is technically possible, but if whole body donation is desired, it is wise to register as only a whole body donor to ensure the fulfillment of final wishes.

How Do I Donate My Body?

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When considering whole body donation, the first step is to be sure to communicate your wishes to relatives and next of kin to avoid any confusion after death. Next, contact the medical facilities (often university-affiliated) where you would like to donate your body, fill out the necessary paperwork, and request information and educational materials so that you and your family members can understand the specific procedures, requirements, and restrictions of whole body donation at this specific location. To be well informed, be sure to ask questions about the facility, costs associated with donation, and the procedures of donation. Check this list by Donate Life Texas for some helpful questions to ask donation facilities.

To find a facility near you that accepts whole body donations, visit the University of Florida’s website that lists whole body donation programs in each state. You can also organize whole body donation through private organizations, such as United Tissue Network,  Science Care, and others.

Then, be sure to provide the contact information of your chosen donation facility and instructions for your relatives so they can be prepared and know who to contact upon death. Finally, you will want to produce a clear, written directive and inform your primary doctor about your intentions.

What Does Whole Body Donation Cost?

There is no set answer to the question of cost for whole body donation because policies differ among donation facilities. Be sure to consult with your donation facility of choice to plan for costs that will not be covered by the facility. Many times, donation facilities will arrange and pay for body transportation (unless the body needs to be moved a lengthy distance), eventual cremation, and the return of cremated remains to family. The family should expect to pay for the cost of legal documentation of death and any funeral services conducted before the release of the body to the donation facility.

Under no circumstances will your family receive monetary compensation for your donation as the buying and selling of bodies is prohibited by Federal law.

Procedure of Whole Body Donation

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Some donation facilities allow a certain amount of time after death for a funeral service to be performed. However, some facilities require that notification and transportation of the body occur soon after death, meaning that funeral services with the body present may not be possible.

After the death of a loved one, family members should notify the facility of the donor’s death and proceed appropriately. Often, this means coordinating with a representative of the donation clinic who will review acceptance protocol and determine, along with a health care representative from the hospital, medical facility, or hospice facility where the death occurs, whether the body can be accepted.

Whole body studies are typically completed under two years, but can also last as long as five years. Upon the completion of study, bodies are typically cremated as the means of final disposition, unless otherwise noted by the donor’s family.

Whole Body Donation Restrictions

Although universities and medical facilities are in constant need of whole body donations for study, most programs reserve the right to refuse donation. For example, organ donors are frequently refused for the reason that the body can best be studied when it is intact (for this reason, if you intend to donate your body to medical science, you may consider removing yourself from the organ donation list).

In addition, bodies may not be accepted if the body was significantly damaged in a car accident, the body is morbidly obese or emaciated, the donor has a contagious or infectious disease (HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C, etc.), the body has been autopsied, or for the simple reason that donations are not needed by the facility at the time. Check with your chosen university or facility to learn more about specific restrictions.

What You Need to Know About Veterans’ Burial Benefits

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Many veterans and their families are uninformed about the burial benefits they can expect to receive at the time of death. Some veterans assume that Veterans Affairs (VA) will pay for all funeral and burial costs, while others assume that all of their cemetery costs will be covered. In fact, neither assumption is completely correct. While VA does offer many very helpful burial benefits to honorably discharged veterans, their spouses and dependents, this organization does not cover all funeral expenses.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to veterans’ burial benefits:

Discharge papers are crucial

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First and foremost, if your family cannot locate your discharge papers, they will not be able to file for any benefits.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs urges veterans to advise their families of their burial wishes and where to find their discharge papers. On their website, VA states:

You should advise your family of your wishes and where your discharge papers are kept. These papers are very important in establishing your eligibility.

At the time of need your family would contact a funeral home who will assist them with making burial arrangements at the national cemetery. You may wish to make pre-need arrangements with a funeral home.

This is because a funeral plan will help you get organized and put all your important documents in one place so that your family can actually claim the benefits that they are entitled to receive.

Payments are now issued automatically

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Rather than being reimbursed for actual expenses, VA has recently made the process of payment of benefits much simpler. According to the VA’s burial benefits website, effective July 7, 2014, VA is authorized to pay most eligible surviving spouses basic monetary burial benefits at the maximum amount through automated systems rather than reimbursing them for actual costs incurred.

Although automated payments will help to speed the process of receiving benefits, certain eligibility requirements must be met. Please note that VA is not responsible for making funeral arrangements or performing cremations. These arrangements should be made with a funeral or cremation provider. Furthermore, any items or services purchased from a funeral home or cremation facility are at the family’s expense. For the latest statistics about the average cost of funeral goods and merchandise without burial, visit the the National Funeral Directors Association website. Families should be aware that VA’s $2,000 maximum burial allowance will certainly help, but that the family will likely incur costs for funeral expenses that will not be covered or reimbursed by the VA, even when the death is service-related.

Your cash allowance for burial depends on how the veteran died

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Members of the armed forces who die in service to their country receive the most generous burial allowance. For service-connected death, the VA Burial and Memorial Benefits Fact Sheet states: “If the Veteran died on or after September 11, 2001, the maximum service-connected burial allowance is $2,000. If the Veteran died before September 11, 2001, the maximum service-connected burial allowance is $1,500. If the Veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, VA may reimburse some or all of the costs of transporting the deceased Veteran’s remains.”

Regarding non-service-connected death, please click here for the latest information regarding burial and plot allowances.

Effective October 1, 2011, there are higher non-service-connected death rates payable if the Veteran was hospitalized by VA at the time of his or her death. For the latest information, please click here.

Where you want to be buried matters

veteran-headstone-optionsAn honorably discharged veteran is eligible to be buried in one of Veterans Affairs’ national cemeteries (as space allows) at no cost to the family. A headstone or marker is also provided by the government, as well as a U.S. flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and military honors. Spouses and dependents may also be buried in a national cemetery along with the veteran or even before if they predecease the veteran.

If a private cemetery is used, burial benefits remain the same, other than the burial space: the headstone or marker, a U.S. flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and military honors are provided at no cost to the family. The burial space in a private cemetery is at the family’s expense. Certain costs may also apply to setting the headstone or marker in place. No benefits are available to spouses or dependents buried in a private cemetery.

Please note that eligibility for benefits must be established on an individual basis and certain requirements or qualifications may apply.

Many veterans and their families don’t realize that they are responsible for funeral expenses that are not covered by the VA, including a casket or urn, services of the funeral director, embalming, cremation, flowers, obituaries, police escort, and more. The VA makes it clear that these and other services provided by the funeral home or crematory are not covered by the government, other than the burial allowance for certain qualifying individuals referred to above.

While veterans’ benefits can be a complicated issue to understand, especially during a time of grief, you can usually find a funeral home in your area that is very knowledgeable about veterans’ burial benefits, military honors, and the claim process. You can also select a knowledgeable funeral home in advance and make prearranged funeral plans to further assist your family if you are a veteran.

What Are My Burial Benefits as a Veteran?

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When a veteran dies, the surviving spouse may receive a Veterans Administration allowance as partial reimbursement for an eligible veteran’s burial/cremation and funeral costs.

The benefit is higher if the death was service-related, offering up to $2,000. If the veteran is buried in a VA National Cemetery, a portion or all of the cost of moving the deceased may be reimbursed.

For non-service-related death, the Veterans Administration may provide a limited amount of compensation for burial and funeral expenses and/or transfer of the body, depending on eligibility. Please contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office to find out if you are eligible for any benefits.

Besides a possible burial and plot allowance, all honorably discharged veterans are eligible for the following benefits:

Headstones and Markers

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A deceased veteran, discharged under any condition except dishonorable, is entitled to a standard government headstone or marker. Upon request, at no cost, the VA will furnish the headstone or marker for the gravesite.

Flat markers are available in granite, marble, and bronze. Upright headstones are available in granite and marble. The style must be consistent with existing monuments or markers at the burial site.

United States Flag

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The VA will provide a United States flag, at no cost, to drape over the casket or urn of a deceased veteran. Only one flag is provided per veteran. In general, the next of kin receives the flag; however, the VA will furnish the flag to a friend upon request.

VA Benefits For Surviving Spouse

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One of the most difficult tasks for a survivor after the death of the veteran is the completion of numerous claims forms for VA survivor benefits. To help facilitate the process of claiming a veteran’s burial benefits, below is a list of documents you will need to bring with you to the VA office:

  • Proof of veteran’s military service (Form DD214)
  • Service serial number or Social Security number
  • Veteran’s birth certificate (to determine a parent’s benefits)
  • Veteran’s death certificate
  • Marriage license (if applicable) or divorce decree
  • Children’s birth certificates (if applicable)
  • Government life insurance policy

Please call the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or visit their website at www.vba.va.gov, for more information regarding veterans’ benefits, including who is eligible and what forms need to be completed.

 

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

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veteran-checklist

As a veteran, you can ensure that you and your family receive the burial benefits you are entitled to with a little advance planning. Below is a checklist to assist you in planning ahead as a veteran:

  • Locate a copy of your DD Form 214.
    -The veteran’s DD Form 214 or equivalent is required to access veterans’ burial benefits. This form identifies the classification of discharge. If a veteran has anything less than a general discharge, he or she may not qualify for burial benefits. Make sure your next of kin knows where you keep your DD Form 214.
  • Request a DD Form 214 or equivalent form from the VA if you do not have a copy.
    -If the DD Form 214 is misplaced or lost, contact Veteran Affairs or your local Veteran Service Officer to request a replacement form.
  • Record your wishes about military honors.
    -Normally, your funeral director will contact the honor guard of the veteran’s military branch if military honors are requested. One burial flag will be presented to the next of kin. Make a note of to whom the flag should be presented.
  • Plan for your eligible dependents.
    -You may request burial sites for eligible spouses and dependents, even if they predecease you as a veteran. Please note, gravesites cannot be reserved in advance. If you are requesting burial in a national cemetery, contact the National Cemetery Administration to make burial arrangements at the time of need. The funeral director, next of kin or person making arrangements will fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow up by calling 1-800-535-1117. For more information, visit the National Cemetery Administration website at www.cem.va.gov. Burials at Arlington National Cemetery are reserved for military retirees, Medal of Honor recipients or service members who die on active duty.
  • Understand your benefits and what is covered at a national cemetery.
    -A veteran buried in a national cemetery is eligible to receive an opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, government-furnished headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a grave liner at no cost to the family. Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried, even if they predecease the veteran.
  • Understand your benefits and what is covered at a state cemetery.
    -Burial benefits may also be available at your local state cemetery, including opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, grave liner, and the setting of the government-furnished headstone or marker. An eligible veteran buried in a state cemetery is still entitled to receive a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Check with your funeral director for burial benefits that may be available for eligible dependents at your local state cemetery and any fees associated with burial.
  • Understand your benefits and what is covered if you are buried at a private cemetery.
    -Veterans buried in a private cemetery may be eligible to receive a government-furnished headstone, marker or medallion, one burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery are not eligible for any VA benefits. Contact your local Veteran Service Officer to determine eligibility.
  • Understand that the VA will not pay for cremation or funeral costs in full.
    – The VA may pay the next of kin a burial allowance, depending on the circumstances and eligibility of the veteran. The VA recommends making arrangements with a funeral home to ensure that funeral costs will be covered.
  • Understand that certain conditions affect burial allowance eligibility:
    VA burial allowances are paid to offset an eligible veteran’s burial/cremation and funeral costs. Burial allowances are paid if at least one of the following conditions are met:

    • The veteran dies due to a service-connected disability
    • The veteran is receiving a VA pension
    • The veteran was entitled to receive a VA pension or compensation but decided not to reduce his/her military retirement or disability pay
    • The veteran dies while in a VA or contracted-VA hospital or under VA care
    • The veteran dies while traveling under proper authorization and at VA expense to and from a specified place for the purpose of treatment or examination
    • The veteran had an original or reopened claim pending at the time of death, and it has been determined he/she is eligible for compensation or pension from a date prior to death
    • The veteran died on or after October 9, 1996 while a patient at a VA-approved state nursing home.

Contact your VA office to determine eligibility for a burial allowance.

 

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

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veteran-questions

What are my burial benefits as a veteran?

The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. The VA offers eligible veterans a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available, at no cost to the family. Burial spaces may not be arranged in advance but are offered to families as the need arises. In addition, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. Be sure to check with your local state cemetery about any fees or charges that may apply. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

Will the VA pay for my funeral?

The VA does not directly pay for funeral or burial/cremation expenses such as the cost of a casket, embalming, cremation, viewing, flowers, obituaries, or transportation of the remains and family. The person who paid for the funeral expenses of a veteran may be eligible for a reimbursement or allowance for a portion of the funeral and burial/cremation expenses. You may wish to make arrangements with a funeral home in advance to ensure that all the costs of a funeral are covered for your family.

What type of reimbursement or allowance does the VA provide for funeral expenses?

The VA offers an allowance to cover a portion of funeral and burial/cremation costs. If a veteran dies due to a service-connected cause, the family of a veteran may be eligible for an allowance of up to $2,000.  For a non-service-connected death, the VA will pay a specified amount to the family. For the most updated information, please review the Veterans Affairs fact sheet. Plot interment and burial/cremation and funeral allowance amounts are dependent on the date of death and whether or not the veteran was under VA hospital care at the time of death. You can submit a claim using the Application for Burial Benefits form.

What determines eligibility for VA burial benefits/allowances/reimbursements?

To receive VA burial benefits, you must be a veteran of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard) with a discharge other than dishonorable. If a veteran has anything less than a general discharge, he or she may not qualify for burial benefits. Certain discharges other than honorable are considered on a case-by-case basis by the VA Regional Office to determine eligibility. Reservists and National Guard members may qualify based on their retirement status and whether or not they have died while on active duty or on official orders. Spouses and minor or disabled children of an eligible veteran may also be eligible for burial benefits. In some cases, parents of an eligible veteran may be eligible for burial benefits as well. To determine your specific eligibility status, contact your VA Regional Office or visit www.cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits/eligible.asp for a complete list of eligibility requirements.

family-veteran-benefits

What benefits will my family members receive?

Burial benefits are available for eligible spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery. Benefits include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family.

How does my family request military honors?

Your funeral director will contact the honor guard of the veteran’s military branch to request military honors. One burial flag will be presented to the next of kin. Let your funeral director know to whom the flag should be presented.

How can I ensure my family receives the benefits they are entitled to?

First, ensure that your family is aware of your veteran status and your desire for them to access your veterans’ burial benefits when you die. They will need a copy of your veteran’s DD 214 form or equivalent to access veterans’ burial benefits. This form identifies the classification of discharge. If the DD 214 form is misplaced or lost, contact Veteran Affairs or your local Veteran Service Officer to request a replacement form.

What is the difference between a national cemetery and a state cemetery?

State cemeteries offer burial benefits to veterans, which are similar to those available through national cemeteries. State cemeteries are owned and operated by the state. In many cases, state cemeteries are funded by VA grants and must adhere to federal eligibility requirements. Burial benefits often include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, grave liner, and the setting of the government-furnished headstone or marker, at no cost to the family. An eligible veteran buried in a state cemetery is still entitled to receive a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Some state cemeteries may charge for interment of spouses and dependent children. Check with your funeral director for burial benefits that may be available at your local state cemetery and for any fees or charges that may be associated with the burial of a non-veteran.

Will I still receive benefits if I decide to be buried in a private cemetery?

Veterans buried in a private cemetery may be eligible to receive a government-furnished headstone, marker or medallion, one burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. The VA will not pay for cemetery plots or opening and closing of graves at private cemeteries. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive any VA benefits. Contact your local Veteran Affairs Officer to determine eligibility.

What happens if my non-veteran spouse or child dies first?

Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried in a national cemetery, even if they predecease the veteran.

How does my family file a claim for burial benefits?

For burial allowance or plot allowance, submit the Application for Burial Benefits form. If requesting burial in a national cemetery, contact the National Cemetery Administration to make burial arrangements at the time of need. The funeral director, next of kin, or person making arrangements will fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow up by calling 1-800-535-1117. For more information, visit the National Cemetery Administration website at www.cem.va.gov.

veteran-cemetery-questions

As a veteran, can I be buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

Burials at Arlington National Cemetery are reserved for military retirees, Medal of Honor recipients, or members who die on active duty.

Does the VA cover the cost of transportation to a national or state cemetery?

If a veteran dies as the result of a service-connected disability, is under VA care at the time of death, or is receiving a VA pension or compensation, some or all of the costs for transporting the veteran’s remains to a national cemetery may be reimbursed. The VA will advise the next of kin or person making the burial arrangements on this matter.

Where can I go for more information about my specific benefits?

Contact your VA Regional Office to speak to a qualified Veteran Services Officer to determine your or a family member’s eligibility for VA burial benefits, allowances, or reimbursements.