To Live and Die in LA...and be cremated also?
September 14, 2018 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I am shopping for cremation services for a death that'll happen in the next few days/weeks, in Los Angeles. What do I need to know?

The client -- meaning, soon to be dead person -- is receiving hospice care at home, and the intention is for them to die at home. We need a company to:
-- pick up the body, preferably ASAP when the family calls
-- cremate the body in the simplest manner
-- return the ashes in a box (or we can pick up the ashes)

That's literally all the family wants.

What do I need to know about this? What do I need to know about this in LA?

We are checking re: the hospice service signing off on the death certificate so we'll find out if they need to come and see the body or how that works upon the moment of death, but I need to arrange what comes after.

For Los Angeles companies, I have been referred to Hillside (cursory examination of website shows much higher prices, so that's probably out), Neptune, National Cremation Services, Nautilus Cremation Services. Any thoughts about those?

I am in a state of grief, but it is a focused, productive state of grief. Help me help my best friend go out of the world the way she wants to. Thank you.
posted by BlahLaLa to Shopping (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your impending loss

Cardboard coffins are the lowest cost option I think. You don't get told about them by the funeral company but they're available if you ask. We bought one for around $100.

I don't have other useful knowledge, sorry. Hopefully Coldchef can provide advice.
posted by anadem at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2018

Best answer: If I was in LA, I would want to work with Undertaking LA. They focus on supporting the rights and preferences of their clients and are very clear about their prices and services. Even if you don't go with them, their website offers excellent information.

Take good care of yourself. Your friend is lucky to have someone loving to help with this process.
posted by annaramma at 11:43 AM on September 14, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Undertaking LA are revolutionaries in the business, and they should be able to help you with any questions. (If you want to spend some time, founder Caitlin Doughty's youtube channel's Practical Advice playlist has lots about pricing, green options, etc.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:46 AM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

My Mom pre-arranged with Neptune Society. I learned later that they share facilities with Trident (in SoCal).

They did pick up from home hospice, provided death certificates (2 weeks later, if I recall correctly), and later ashes. There was some paperwork involved, but it wasn't onerous. It was all reasonably seamless.
posted by dws at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

For the transportation of the body, you will need a funeral director*, but you can find one who is friendly to direct cremation and at-home funerals and mourning. Midway down this page from the Funeral Consumers Alliance is a list of home funeral guides who can help smooth these decisions and act as an intermediary between the family and a friendly funeral home (full disclosure, I'm a member). They typically work on donation, but some charge, and I predict it would be in the range of $75-100/hr.

This is a similar list from the national Home Funeral Alliance, with more members listed.

At the very least, one of these guides could direct you to a funeral home that is amenable to a low cost and environmentally simple cremation.

*Or a family member assigned and willing to run around to get the paperwork, which can be a very involved process and probably not the way someone should spend their last days with a family member.

I'm sorry for your friend's approaching death, and wish you a kind grief through it.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:52 AM on September 14, 2018

Best answer: I'm sorry for your grief and wish your loved one a safe and comfortable passing.

IANAFuneral Director, but I've worked with many hospice patients and sent a lot of people off to cremation. I haven't worked with Undertaking LA, but before preview, I had already linked to their very good logistics guide to expected death. Their pricing also looks very good to me.

When the time comes, and it seems like she is gone, you'll call the hospice agency first. They will send a nurse out to officially pronounce the death and record the time of death. This will be enough to get the funeral home/cremation service to come out and pick up the body. You can't call the cremation service before that, because they will need the signature of the medical personnel in order to take the body.

If you record the funeral home information with the hospice agency in advance, they will usually even make the call for you. The important thing to remember here is to NOT call 911--it will just make things more complicated. You need to call the police for unexpected deaths, but in this case hospice will take care of it--it should be pretty easy from a logistics perspective.

Time to pick up the body can be very fast, within hours, but they will wait for you to be ready if it turns out you want to spend more time. The family should think about whether they want to be present while the body is transferred, or if they want to step out while it happens. The body will be prepared for transfer, placed inside a body bag, and put on a gurney, which can be stressful to watch for some people, and give good closure to others.

Once the body is at the funeral home, they will offer you different container options; you do NOT need to buy a wooden coffin for a cremation and you do not need to buy a fancy urn if you will not be storing the cremains in one. They will have cardboard/"biodegradable" containers you can purchase instead. You also do NOT have to be embalmed before cremation in California.

The funeral home/cremation service will be part of making up the final, official death certificate. It's a good idea to order additional copies of that certificate, because you will need to provide official copies to many more places than you had thought imaginable.
posted by assenav at 11:55 AM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

(Correction: the playlist I linked is missing some of the videos I thought were there on green/simple options, but you may want to watch the Know Your Rights video here if you're going to go with a traditional funeral home or funeral business. And also I should note these videos are wry and jokey and that may not be the thing you want to see right now, but they are also respectful and acknowledging of grief as a strange huge thing and death/death care as a scary uncomfortable thing for a lot of people.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2018

Please reach out to mefi's own ColdChef, who is a funeral director, although not in California. He's a good guy, and can steer you well. I'm certain he both can and will assit.
posted by anastasiav at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

One small but surprising thing it may help to know: the box will likely be bigger and heavier than expected. Pre-mom, since I'd just heard people talking about "getting a nice urn" or "putting grandma up on the mantle", I had no idea. Her box was probably 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide and deep, and heavy. I also encountered way more feelings than I expected, the one time I had to handle the box. So part of your conversation should be, where does the box go until the service/scattering/whatever her plans are next.

I hope everything goes as well as it can.
posted by joycehealy at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: BlahLaLa, you are doing such a loving thing right now. I've done this myself for a loved one, on a birthday no less, and although it was hard I was proud to be able to make the arrangements for someone who could not.

This is in Colorado, but:

- The hospice people had all sorts of documentation, including a list of cremation services.
- I picked one and went down to the funeral home myself five days before my loved one passed. This funeral home was in the Dignity network.
- The term they used was "pre-need." It's essentially an insurance policy -- you pay for the service in advance and then call it in when it's time. At this facility, "pre-need" policies are less expensive than calling them at the time of need. It was helpful to know if the loved one had any metal or implants.
- You will get several options on the cremation alone. In Colorado, they have to use a box for the process -- you can choose cardboard or various types of wood, and the pricing varies. You do not have to buy an urn. The ashes came in a sturdy plastic box that was a nice size to hold, and we preferred that to the urn we eventually received, and eventually we bought something specifically for the niche.
- The morning my loved one died, we called the hospice nurse. She came to our home, established time of death and completed paperwork, destroyed the medications, and helped us wash and dress our loved one. We were able to select another outfit for our loved one to be cremated in (and had to disclose whether that outfit had any metal snaps etc.) She offered to call the funeral home for us, or we could if we wanted more time. The funeral home might take 30 minutes to 3 hours to arrive, depending. For us, the seasons were changing that that seems to be a time when people pass.
- More time was better for us.
- The funeral home people, two young men, arrived wearing dark suits. They were very respectful and kind. They allowed us a few more moments with our loved one.

The next day, we went back to the funeral home to sign final papers. They gave us additional options if we wanted other services like memorial jewelry, etc. They also handle the death certificates. They handled our local obituary but you can do that yourself if you plan to do an announcement. They returned the ashes back to us in a few days.

We had a service three weeks after my loved one died, then another service three years later when we placed the ashes in the niche. We needed a lot of time.

You're such a familiar name to me here and I'm wishing you a lot of strength. Your friend has a true friend in you.
posted by mochapickle at 12:31 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Came in to also recommend Undertaking L.A. They will almost certainly offer the best experience and price.
posted by catatethebird at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The information in this thread is good and correct. Feel free to shop for prices, but use your best instincts. Family funeral homes are usually better on service, corporate funeral homes tend to be better on prices, but watch out for the upsell.
posted by ColdChef at 1:02 PM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A little off topic, but something I had never even thought about with my father's home hospice death - the funeral director took the bottom sheet off the bed when they transferred his body to the stretcher. I'd bought lovely fancy sheets for him, and I lost the bottom sheet. Small, and I didn't really mind, but it unnerved me a little that they needed to do that.
posted by citygirl at 1:15 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Always listen to ColdChef is my advice.
posted by terrapin at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've done this research for myself to plan in the San Francisco Bay Area and the prices and services offered by Undertaking LA are in line with the most reasonable prices for comparable services here. Also, you'll note that if you go with Undertaking LA, the services include pickup, so you don't have to try to jigsaw puzzle your way through. The biggest issue will likely be trying to figure out how many original copies of the death certificate you'll need. The cremation service can often give you assistance with that.
posted by quince at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2018

When my mom died last year the hospice facility (she received in-home care until the last few days when she went to a place she had chosen) suggested a place which wasn't any of the places we had looked at. We were a little taken aback ("Is this an upsell?") and then we did our own research and consulted with ColdChef and realized that no, they just see an awful lot of people die and have a pretty good idea of who does what.

We were actually able to be present for the cremation which was something we wanted very much (complicated family issues) and the crematorium could facilitate for a small extra fee. They can do fancy stuff like having a visitation or a formal viewing but this was literally being there when they put the (cardboard) box in and we could put a keepsake or two in with her. We came back to the facility a few hours later and received a box of warm ashes which saved us some postage and was the way we wanted it. This is not for everyone, but after a sort of hectic and crappy few weeks, it was nice for my sister and I to have a part of this whole process that felt personal and felt like ours. I am sorry for your impending loss.

The only thing that was a surprise to me was getting follow-up contact from the crematorium offering to sell us things made from her ashes or with my mother's fingerprint on it, etc. I thought this was ghoulish (ymmv) and told them so and we have not been contacted by them again.

You are a good friend and again I am sorry.
posted by jessamyn at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

If the client is willing to donate their body to science, Science Care will pick up their body, donate what is beneficial to research, and return cremated remains. They handled a family member’s body in Pomona, arrived within an hour of the call late at night, and were very kind and professional the whole time. The cremated remains were returned by mail a few months later (I think they have to wait for science to get done before they can cremate.) It cost $0 and inspired my mom to sign up. Couldn’t have been easier.

I’m sorry for your loss.
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:48 PM on September 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for these answers. Undertaking LA does, in fact, seem to be the right match for us. I phoned them and spoke to one of the co-owners and we have started the process. I'm grateful to have such an open, transparent service available here.

And thank you, very, very much, for the kind words.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:30 PM on September 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

I arranged my best friend’s cremation and picked up the ashes. Picking them up was harder and weirder than I expected. If you’re not buying an urn, I suggest you bring your own box, because the free boxes and bags they give you are disconcerting, in my experience. I also strongly suggest that whoever picks up the ashes brings a friend — it’s too much to do alone.

My heart goes out to you and your friend and her family.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:23 PM on September 14, 2018

Look into the Los Angeles Funeral Society (or an equivalent Memorial Society). Membership allows for access to discounted, pre-negotiated fees that can save you a lot, and I've found my local group (not in LA) to be very helpful in negotiating all the options out there without it being presented by a salesperson who has something to gain from what you choose. Many of these groups offer Emergency Membership so you can use their services after the person has died, but if you know it's coming, it is something you can do now to prepare.
posted by Emmc325 at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2018

Ten copies of the death certificate was about the right number when a family member recently passed away. If in doubt, order more than ten, but don’t order fewer.
posted by conrad53 at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2018

Response by poster: Putting this here for future reference: Californians, FYI by law you do not require a licensed funeral director to facilitate the arrangements for your deceased loved one. Watch for this assertion when dealing with some funeral/cremation providers -- it's just part of their up-sell.

Undertaking LA, which is who we are using, has been fabulous and totally up-front and clear about what is required and what isn't. They have done literally zero up-selling.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:17 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Now that the entire process is done, I want to say that Undertaking LA was absolutely wonderful, and seems to be the most reasonably priced option in LA. 10/10 would use again for all undertaking needs.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:09 PM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older iTunes with a Chromebook -- Advisable? Annoying?...   |   Things To Do Outside Denver Before I'm Dead Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.