The Recession Even Affects The Dead


The New York Times today has an article about a practice that it claims is growing in popularity due to the bad economy: home burial. And not just for your cat or hamster -- it means for your loved ones. In an example it gives, after a family member passes, the family cleans up the corpse, builds a coffin and buries him on their farm in New Hampshire. This family only spent $250, compared to $6000 for average funeral services. Could this really catch on?

In most states, there are surprisingly few barriers. From the Times:

In Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New York, laws require that a funeral director handle human remains at some point in the process. In the 44 other states and the District of Columbia, loved ones can be responsible for the body themselves.

Families are typically required to obtain the death certificate and a burial transit permit so the body can be moved from a hospital to a cemetery, or, more typically, a crematory.

There are sometimes local ordinances, however. Check with your neighborhood's homeowner association if you're planning on saving some money by burying grandma in the backyard. And this website is also quite informative.

I wonder, as the baby boomers begin to pass away, if this phenomenon could gain popularity. I can't speak for all of those from the "greatest generation" who are, sadly, almost gone, but many of them had some savings put away to take care of funeral costs. My grandparents were all modest, blue collar workers, but had enough savings not to be a burden on their children. Unless the baby boomers drastically change course, their children won't have it as easy. Their children aren't exactly savers either, so where will that $6000 on average come from?

If home burial does begin getting more popular, I'll be curious to see if the government starts stepping in to stop it. There are definitely some undesirable outcomes that you can imagine resulting from home burial, since we don't all live on farms with lots of acreage to create memorials for our loved ones. What if you move into a new house and rover starts digging in the backyard only to find a coffin? What do you do if you go to put in a new swimming pool and find a body? And what happens in the case of foreclosure -- do you take your corpses with you?

As society continues to become more mobile, and families don't live in the same house for generations, I find it hard to believe that this practice can gain much popularity. The idea of handling your dead relatives yourself -- in a literal sense -- is sure to be too overwhelming of an experience for many to handle. That is, unless our lack of savings forces us to get past the emotion.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
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