Question Topics

Funeral Service Industry
At the Time of Death
Tissue/Organ/Body Donation
Death Certificates


Funeral Service Industry
What is the average cost of funerals and cremation?
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national average cost for a funeral (not including casket, other merchandise, or cemetery charges) is $4,140.  According to the National Cremation Research Council, the national average cost for direct cremation among cremation societies is $1,110 (traditional funeral homes provide cremation services but generally charge more for direct cremation)

Why do funerals cost so much?
It is no secret that funeral services cost a lot, but the reasons for this are not very obvious.  It is not because of high wages of funeral directors.  The average salary for funeral directors is $48,600 per year, which is not out of line when compared to other licensed professionals.  Regulations probably play a minor role in that numerous (national and state) funeral industry specific regulations, along with zoning and licensing issues deter potential competitors from entering the market.  Profit margins for the owners are also not the main reason even though markups of 100-300% on caskets and urns are common.  Independent funeral homes (which account for 80% of funeral homes) have a reasonable 10% profit margin (consolidated funeral corporations earn a much higher 25% profit margin).  The main reason for the high cost of funeral service is the general overhead costs of operating a traditional funeral home.  This can be seen by making the following assumptions and calculations of an “average” funeral home: 115 deaths per year per funeral home in the US, monthly mortgage payment of $10,000 on a $1 million business mortgage, monthly salaries of $14,000 (2 funeral directors and support staff), and $5,000 for other monthly operating expenses (property taxes, utilities, etc.).  With the previous assumptions, the “average” funeral provider has to make almost $3,000 on every funeral and cremation provided just to cover overhead and salaries.  This has been guided by the consumer, whom, when funeral services are needed, looks for a local neighborhood funeral provider with an extravagant building and ample off-street parking.  Funeral costs often are only considered after the death has occurred and the final arrangements are being made with the funeral director.  For there to be a significant reduction in funeral costs, the business models of funeral service providers must be adjusted, and the consumer must be willing to compare costs and evaluate what they need in a funeral service provider.

What is the difference between a cremation society and a traditional funeral home that offers cremation?
With the word “society” in the name it is implied that the entity is a cooperative or fraternal organization.  However, this is not the case.  There is generally no difference in business structures between cremation “societies” and other funeral service providers.  Cremation “societies” are usually offshoots of traditional funeral homes that want to appeal to consumers who choose cremation.
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At the Time of Death
What happens if the death occurs at a medical or nursing facility? 
The facility’s staff will contact the next of kin and then the staff can contact the funeral provider when the family is ready for the deceased to be transported.

What happens if the death occurs at home?
If the death is unexpected, call 911 immediately, and the appropriate personal will be dispatched which may include EMT, police, chaplain, and/or the medical examiner’s death investigator.  If the deceased is registered with a hospice service provider, the hospice nurse will normally contact the medical examiner, but other than that the medical examiner will usually not be involved and the funeral provider can then transfer the deceased to the funeral home.  If the deceased was not registered with hospice, the medical examiner will send an investigator to the residence.  The death investigator may take the deceased to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy if they believe the death was not from natural causes or if the circumstances surrounding the death are of a suspicious nature. The medical examiner has the legal authority to perform an autopsy, even against the family’s wishes.  After the autopsy, the funeral provider then transports the deceased to their facility.

Is there a cost for an autopsy? 
If the death investigator calls for an autopsy, there is no charge.  If the family wants an autopsy and it is not deemed necessary by the death investigator, a “private” autopsy can be performed at the cost of about $2000-$4000. In either case there may be additional charges from the funeral provider, depending on the services provided, due to the additional restoration required due to the autopsy.

Does a funeral home have to be involved in the final disposition of the deceased?  According to Minnesota law, the legal next of kin or a noncompensated person designated by the next of kin may transport the deceased, prepare the body for disposition (except for embalming) and arrange for final disposition, to the extent that all other provisions of Minnesota law 149a are complied with.  However, all medical examiners’ offices, most hospitals, and some nursing homes have policies that they will only release the deceased to licensed funeral directors. There are many other issues to consider if you plan on taking care of the arrangements yourself. If you are interested in this topic, you can watch A Family Undertaking – a documentary by PBS.
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Tissue/Organ/Body Donation
What are the differences and similarities between tissue, organ, and whole body donation?  Choosing any of these options of donation is a way to help other people in post mortem.  With whole body donation, you may be helping in the education of students in the medical field.  The two local options for whole body donation are the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic . With organ donation, numerous lives can be saved that would otherwise be lost.  However, since many organs must be procured at the exact time of death, organ donation is normally limited to cases of traumatic injury where life support is temporarily used.  With tissue donation, the lives of many people can be improved (and saved in burn victim and defective heart valve cases).  Tissues commonly procured include skin, bone, connective tissue, eye corneas, veins and arteries, heart valves, and peripheral nerves.  Local tissue procurement companies include the Lions Eye Bank, Life-Source, and American Donor Services. Unlike with organ donation, tissue procurement does not need to happen immediately.  It depends on the type of tissue and the specific company’s policies, but there is roughly a one day time window for tissue to be procured.

Is everyone eligible for donation? 
Most people are eligible for all three options of donation.  However, there may be restrictions based on underlying illnesses of the donor.

Are there any costs associated with donation?
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Death Certificates
How are death certificates filed? 
The funeral director collects the necessary information from the family (including place and date of birth, social security number, parents’ names, etc.) and electronically files the first portion of the death certificate.  Then either the doctor of the deceased or the medical examiner files the second portion of the death certificate.

How many certified copies of the death certificate are needed? 
This depends on how many financial institutions have accounts that need to be changed or closed and how many pieces of property have deeds that need to be changed.  It is also hard to know how many are needed without contacting the financial institutions being that some only require photocopies of an original.

How much do certified copies cost?
The cost in Minnesota is $13 for the first copy and $6 for each one thereafter. If at a later date you need additional certified copies, the cost will again be $13 for the first copy. Death certificates are normally ordered through the funeral home at the time of final arrangements.

How are additional certified copies of the death certificate ordered at a later date?
The easiest way is to go to any government service center in the state. They can take payment and print certified copies on the spot. If you live out of state, or are unable to go to a government service center, then the funeral home can order additional copies.

How long does it take from the time of death to receive the death certificates? 
It normally takes 2-4 weeks.  Depending on the nature of the death, or depending on the doctor, there may be delays in the filing of the death certificate that are out of the control of the funeral director.
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What is the Process of Cremation? 
Cremation is the reduction of a human body to “ash” or “cremains” through burning – high temperatures, vaporization and oxidation. What remains is mainly only the calcium from the bones. The process of cremation in a modern crematory normally takes between 1 and 2 hours and uses about 2000 cubic feet of natural gas.

Are there additional authorizations and fees relating to the cremation process? 
Because of the finality of the cremation process (an autopsy is not an option after cremation like it is after burial) there must be written authorization for cremation from the doctor of the deceased, the next of kin, and the medical examiner.  The medical examiner charges a small fee for this authorization which varies depending on the county (Hennepin is $35 and Ramsey is $25)

How long does it take for the cremation to be completed from the time of death? 
Because of the written authorizations that must be secured from the doctor and medical examiner, it normally takes 2-4 business days for the cremation to be completed.   However, it may take longer due to events that are out of the funeral director’s control (such as if the doctor is on vacation).
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What is embalming? 
The modern method of embalming is essentially the use of the body’s arterial system to distribute a preserving, sanitizing, and color tinting mixture throughout the body. 

For how long is an embalmed body preserved? 
The purpose of modern embalming is short-term preservation and there are no guarantees for length of preservation. However, for what it’s worth, the body of Vladimir Lenin was embalmed in 1924 and can still be viewed at Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.

When is embalming required? 
Minnesota state regulations were relaxed in 2010.  Prior to those changes, embalming was normally required if there was a funeral with viewing, or if the body was not buried or cremated within 3 days (6 days with refrigeration).  Since the changes, mechanical refrigeration or dry ice can legally be utilized in lieu of embalming in most cases (funeral homes may have their own policies that go beyond the state regulation).
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Crescent Tide Funeral & Cremation
774 Transfer Rd., St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: (651) 315-8214
fax: (651) 203-3534