The Price of Death

(Photo: Jonelle B.)

By Christopher Peralta
Bronx Journal Staff Writer

When death touches our lives it brings confusion to the families involved.It can be an emotional and physical strain, and many people are often blindsided by all the costs and hidden charges.

Such was the case for Milagros Heredia’s family. They were stunned when the 53-year-old Bronx resident died suddenly on her birthday in August. The cause was of an apparent accidental reaction to prescription medication. “Her death came suddenly,” said Raul Heredia, Milagro’s husband. And so did the bills.

In New York, funeral customers reserve the right to pick and choose procedures or packages that can be purchased to suit specific requests. But the costs have been steadily rising in urban areas and these prices can come as a big surprise to any family living on a modest income. In the Bronx, the median household income is approximately $34,000. According to the The National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of an adult funeral was $7,323, up 45 percent since 2001.

Heredia’s funeral cost was approximately $9,500. Her family wished that her body be sent to her homeland, the Dominican Republic. Transferring her body cost her family an additional $2,000. “The cost was shocking,” said Mr. Heredia with somber eyes and quivering voice.

Costs can quickly add up and confusion can lead to bad decisions, but as a customer you have options as well as rights. Federal regulations are in place to protect you as a consumer, funeral watchdog advocates advise.

(Photo: Brian X.)

You can obtain general price lists and shop for different merchandise. For many people, these costs seem outrageous, but some argue more is spent on weddings and cars. The Funeral Directors Association’s official website says pre-planning for a funeral “ensures peace of mind, and relieves the individual’s loved ones of a decision-making process at a stressful time.” Pre-planning also sets aside funeral funding so that the family will not have to deal with monetary considerations when a death occurs.” But for the Heredia family, the premature death of Milagros Heredia caught them off guard. “She was still so young and full of life,” said her husband. “We weren’t ready.”

The average cost of a funeral has been steadily rising in the past decade. Deciding on non-traditional means like cremation has become more popular because it is only a fraction of a burial cost. “Direct cremation is increasing in popularity,” said Russlle Rennscit, a funeral director in the Bronx.

Rennscit says this allows people to be cremated and then given to the family for any cultural traditions.

These practices, although affordable, may not be in line with all religious views. This is changing. The church once looked down upon these procedures, but now there is empathy for the growing lack of space and the economical strain, according to Rennscit.

(Photo: Janet Pak)

Rennscit says the church still set guidelines, but as long as remains are not scattered and kept on hallowed ground, it is allowed by the Catholic Church.

Over all, Rennscit says the death of a loved one is a sensitive moment in people’s lives. “It is a tight rope to walk,” he says. “I get bad days like everyone, but I don’t let it get to me because I know my clients are having a worse day.” Funeral homes offer many services for families and will handle many of the confusing aspects of the process.

Consumers are warned that some services may not be a necessary. Funeral homes offer pre-planned packages and specialty procedures.

One procedure that is often talked about,  but is not required in New York State, is embalming which is unnecessary unless the family requests a viewing of the body.

Under a funeral director’s pricelist a family can still be charged up to $1,625, even though they have already purchased the burial plot. That additional cost goes to the digging of the grave.

Ultimately, dealing with death is a business and the price tag can leave you dead broke. Talk with family and loved ones to plan ahead, officials say. They say it will save you unneeded stress during an already difficult time.

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