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It pays to be proactive when it comes to funeral arrangements

Barbara Moser

March, 2010

Most of us don’t like to think about death. We’d rather not die. But every time we lose someone, we are reminded that we are not immortal.

You might have considered getting the particulars on pre-planning funeral arrangements and getting an idea of what it would cost for other members of your family who think they’re going to live forever.

I explored four scenarios or packages: a low-cost cremation; a full Jewish-style service with coffin and burial, one for a person of 86, the other for a person of 55; and a fourth for someone who wants to donate his body to a university. “None of the scenarios come close to the average $14,000 cost of a funeral in Quebec,” said John A. Jasko, co-owner of the AETERNA funeral complex in Ville St. Laurent. John comes from a family of funeral directors and his father, John, is a partner in the new complex along with Benoit Chagnon and Claude Paquet.

I was struck by the colourful wall of flags at the entrance. John explained that they put up a flag or flags requested by the family in the viewing room. I recognized flags from El Salvador, Israel, Croatia, and United States, along with Quebec and Canada. The complex will purchase any flag not in their collection.

My only experience choosing a coffin was when I helped the wife of a friend choose one for her husband who died suddenly at 43. It was an awful experience.

Seeing the casket room this time was different. I was not grieving and in a position to make a rational decision about what I wanted for my loved ones. The caskets range from $495 for a plain box to $6,795 for cherry wood and $8,495 for a plush mahogany model. It seems opulent, but it’s like a buying a car: Do you want a Lada or a Cadillac? Rest assured, you have never rested on linens like these in your life. And the pillows are to die for! The price of your casket might reflect your lifestyle and values, but if you don’t want your loved ones going overboard (or underboard), choose your own. Those who just want to look good for the service can rent a casket for $1,595, which features a pullout container for cremation.

Urns range from $175 for a metal box to $3,000 for a solid bronze model. But it’s not necessarily less expensive than burial. A family could opt for an expensive casket and cremate the casket with the body and then choose a solid bronze urn. You could also rent space in the columbarium at the entrance of the complex. Five years (at eye level) will cost $995. You may choose to have your ashes scattered or purchase an urn or some keepsakes (tiny urns) to take home.

Along the hallway to the viewing room and the chapel is a lovely distraction from the task at hand: Paintings are for sale by students from local schools.

Religious symbols can be brought into the viewing room or chapel. It’s comfortable and holds 200 people.

AETERNA offers a reception hall that can accommodate 100 people for a sit-down meal or a buffet with catering services available.

All rooms feature plasma TVs and audiovisual equipment for presentations of the life of the deceased.

John’s slipping into Yiddish confuses his partner, Claude Paquet, a French Canadian who plays Shuster to John’s Wayne. Paquet is the pre-need coordinator and provided a cost breakdown for the above scenarios.

For an 86-year-old, there are two options: Pay in advance or over 12 months. For a simple casket of $1,095, the cost of a funeral is $4,958.60 (taxes included). This includes $808 for administrative services, $250 for transportation, $690 for embalming and preparation, $100 for legal formalities, $200 for funeral co-ordination, $200 for chapel facilities, $350 for the hearse, $200 for the director, $200 for the lead car and an optional $300 for a limo for the family. On a pre-plan this funeral costs $426.48 a month over one year.

This does not include the cemetery costs. John suggested Notre-Dame des Neiges Cemetery on Côte-des-Neiges Rd. and noted that a single lot or grave has space for two caskets and a few urns, starting at $2780. The lot can be paid directly to the cemetery over five years at $52.30 a month. Opening the grave is an additional $1075 per person. For a person of 55, this funeral can be paid over 10 years at a cost of $59.50 a month.

Interested in cremation? For a 60-year-old, the cost over 10 years is $28.80 a month for a total of $2,215.74. However if you choose the plan and die after the 10-year period, at Aeterna the difference in what has been paid goes to the family. A $5,000 funeral would cost $7,800 over 10 years and the family would receive $2,800 at the time of death. This can be used to pay for such extras as catering, flowers or opening the grave.

If, in the case of a 55-year-old to 80-year-old, the person dies after two years and before 10 years, the balance of the funeral is paid for. You can buy insurance in case the person dies 100 kilometres or more from Montreal. AETERNA works with an insurance company, so the money is held in trust. If you plan to donate your body to a university, you need a donor card, which can be obtained by calling McGill (for instance) at 514-398-6335 or by contacting your local CSSS health and social service centres. The government must be made aware of the decision and transportation will be taken care of by the university; therefore, a funeral home is not necessary. There are restrictions on body weight and the condition of the body.

A pre-plan arrangement is like buying an insurance policy, with the exception that no medical questions are asked. It allows your loved ones the opportunity to grieve without being bombarded with decisions and financial burdens and family arguments at a traumatic time.

I chose AETERNA funeral complex, 55 Gince St., Ville St-Laurent, as an example. Now it’s up to you to shop around. Questions and comments welcome:



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