Santa Cruz Forest

The Costs (Hidden and Otherwise) of Cremation, Burial & Spreading

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The stories of our lives matter, and with proper end-of-life planning, you can write a better ending to your own story.

To help you along in the process, Better Place Forests has put together an overview of common end-of-life options and their associated costs. In this article, we’ll cover the following common options:

  • Traditional Burial with Open-Casket Viewing: ~$10k-35k+
  • Cremation and a Cemetery Spot: ~$5-24k+
  • Cremation and Scattering: ~$3-8k+
  • A Forest Memorial with Better Place Forests: ~$4-6k

Traditional Burial with Open-Casket Viewing: ~$10,000-$35,000+ per person

  • PRO: A permanent memorial that your loved ones can visit
  • PRO: Option to host funeral service onsite to commemorate loved one
  • CON: Viewing must be performed within about 2-3 days of death; even with embalming, body will decompose after a week
  • CON: Embalming chemicals (about 3-4 gallons per body) are highly toxic and leak back into the soil as the body decomposes

A traditional burial and cemetery service can provide a meaningful sense of closure — not to mention a permanent memorial that family members can visit for years to come. One downside of traditional burials and open-casket viewings, however, is that they are time sensitive, typically restricted to only a few days after death. This presents a problem for friends and family who may not be able to travel to the site of the funeral on such short notice.

Furthermore, traditional burials rely on highly toxic embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenol, methanol, and glycerin. As the body decomposes, these chemicals are released back into the ground, permanently damaging the local flora and fauna around the site of the burial. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is especially dangerous and can be lethal in high doses. Unfortunately, about 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde are put into the ground each year in the United States as a result of burials.

Most funeral homes in California offer a base price of about $2,000, but additional add-ons quickly move the price to $10,000 for even the most basic traditional burial and funeral service. One way to save on costs is to skip the embalming (ask for a “direct burial”); this, however, limits options for a wake or funeral ceremony. Without embalming, the body will begin to pose a health hazard only 24 hours after death.

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Cremation and Cemetery Spot: ~$4,950-$23,500+ per person

  • PRO: Flexible timeline
  • PRO: A permanent memorial that your loved ones can visit
  • CON: High carbon footprint from cremation (~540 pounds of carbon dioxide per body)

Interring cremated remains in a cemetery offers many of the same benefits as a traditional burial and adds flexibility. Ashes can easily be transported and stored until a service can be arranged. The main drawback to a traditional cremation and interment is the high carbon footprint.

Many websites will advertise cremation for around $700, but you should budget at least an additional $2,750 if you want a basic service and a cemetery spot. Total costs can quickly rise to $18,850+ for those who wish to have their ashes rest in a mausoleum or a popular cemetery.

Cremation and Scattering: ~$3,400-$8,300+ per person

  • PRO: Flexible timeline
  • PRO: Flexible location (e.g. in nature)
  • CON: No physical, permanent memorial for your family to visit
  • CON: High carbon footprint from cremation (~540 pounds of carbon dioxide per body)
  • CON: Funeral service may be difficult to incorporate

Scattering is a cost-effective option that gives families the opportunity to return ashes to somewhere special, such as a favorite lake or park. However, popular scattering destinations like national parks often require permits (~$50-$500) and have strict regulations around scattering and visitation.

The main drawbacks of scattering are twofold. First, scattering in non-traditional locations will severely limit your ability to hold a final funeral service. Second, wilderness scattering does not include a permanent memorial, meaning that family members will not have a physical location to honor the deceased for years to come. Additionally, wilderness locations may not be protected against development, which may make it difficult for family members to join one day if they wish to share a final resting place.

The basic cremation will typically cost about $1,000-$3,000, but you will still need to budget for “hidden costs” such as transportation of the body to the crematorium, an urn, and scattering permits. Make sure to also budget for travel if your desired spreading location isn’t close by.

Better Place Forests: $3,900-$6,450 per person

  • PRO: A beautiful permanent, protected memorial and legacy that your loved ones can revisit
  • PRO: Grows with your family through the generations; pets and additional family members can be added any time
  • PRO: Permanently protect part of a forest and create new forest through Impact Trees (50-400 planted per memorial tree selected)
  • Con: Further away from major metropolitan areas
  • Con: May be breaking with family tradition

Choosing a forest memorial with Better Place Forests is choosing a better ending to your story. With Better Place Forests, you’ll have the opportunity to tour the forest and choose a tree that speaks to you. Your tree will grow with you and continue to grow for thousands of years to come. When you choose your memorial tree with Better Place Forests, we’ll also plant 50-400 Impact Trees in your name, helping reforest areas affected by fire and drought in Northern California.

Your memorial tree will be marked with a custom-engraved bronze marker, and your purchase includes a simple spreading ceremony in which your ashes will be treated and mixed with the native soil. Your loved ones will have the ability to visit your tree at any time. When their time comes, they will have the option to add themselves to your tree.

Our options range from a Young tree for $3,900 to a private towering Monument tree (about 40″ in diameter) for $12,900 and includes 2 ceremonies ($6,450 cost per person). Because the marker and funeral service are included, you will only need to budget an additional $1,350-$3,450 for transportation of the body to the crematorium, cremation, and a temporary urn.

Plan early to give yourself the gift of choice and time

Our best advice is to do your research and plan ahead. End-of-life planning provides the gift of peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Because pricing will vary based on who you pick as your services provider, we recommend getting multiple quotes on the options you’re considering and asking funeral directors to provide you an itemized list of costs so that there are no surprises. If you are interested in a memorial tree with Better Place Forests, please call 877‑830‑8311 or click here to make an appointment with one of our expert advisors.

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