By Russ and Tiña De Maris
It’s not something we like to spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s when we finally “hang up the keys” for the last time. At this point, death is inevitable for all of us. But if you’re a fulltime RVer, or spend a lot of time on the road, here’s a question: What happens if you die away from your home base? We’ll look at both the immediate situation, and the longer-term issues.
For our purposes, we’re going to assume that our dearly departed was not under hospice care, and so the death was unexpected. That means the survivor will need to get a “legal pronouncement of death.” For example, if you find your loved one has died while you’re parked overnight in an RV park, you’ll need to call 9-1-1.
The response from authorities will likely include police and paramedics. Unless the deceased had filled out and signed a “do not resuscitate” document, it’s likely paramedics will start emergency procedures. If they’re not authorized to make a death pronouncement, then likely the deceased will be transported to a hospital, all the while resuscitation efforts are carried on, until someone can make an official death pronouncement. Meantime, law enforcement may be doing an investigation to rule out “foul play” in the death.
It goes without saying this will all be extremely stressful for the traveling partner, if there is one. Normal thinking will be out the window, so expect you won’t be able to remember phone numbers. Do you have the phone numbers of those who you can call on for support and understanding programmed into your phone’s contact list?
That’s the immediate. The next step in the process is where things can get tricky, and by doing some advance planning, life for those who continue living is going to be a whole lot easier.
Just what happens to the loved one’s body? For those on the road, this is a significant question. What’s your view of how you want your “remains” handled? Are you willing to have your body cremated, or are you emphatic that burial is the only route? For those who want their body left intact and buried somewhere, say “back home,” advance planning will be a must.
We say this, as transporting a physical body, even within the United States, can be a complicated process. Yes, you probably heard about the widow who transported her husband’s dead body in their motorhome back home for burial. Trouble is, there is no clear-cut cross-country rule on that subject. Transporting of bodies within a state is up to state regulation. Some states allow individuals to transport bodies; others allow only licensed funeral industry employees to undertake the task. If you need to transport a loved one’s body across several state lines, after they’re dead is not likely the time that you’ll want to be on the phone trying to hash out the details.
Federal law has its own requirements for flying a deceased person home within the United States. The process has to be handled by a “known shipper,” meaning you’ll need to get a funeral home involved at both the sending and receiving ends of the process. Costs typically associated with flying a body home run $1,000 to $3,000. In addition to that you’ll also end up paying the receiving mortuary company fees, said to run anywhere from $800 to $2,500. That’s just the cost of the shipping – not any other services normally associated with a funeral and burial.
Bottom line: If your only wish is to be buried after death, you’re well advised to make arrangements in advance, including coverage that will handle both the costs and the details of having your remains transported.
On the other hand, if cremation is an alternative you’re open to, then expenses – and details – become much easier to cope with. Once the body of your loved one has been released by the authorities, it’s a matter of having a crematorium pick it up, and later turn the remains over to you. They’ll need to give you a “cremation certificate” which will allow you to carry the remains across the country.
What if you don’t want to transport the remains yourself? Cremains can officially be transported by the Postal Service. They require a container within a container – and those can simply be cardboard boxes. You’ll need to include a copy of the cremation certificate. No, Uncle Sal won’t travel by Priority Mail – it has to be done by registered mail with a return receipt. Other options include taking the remains with you via commercial flight as luggage. If you’ll take the remains as carry-on luggage, whatever they’re in MUST pass the normal luggage screening procedures, passing through an X-ray machine. If you have the cremains in an urn, it must not be anything that won’t allow a scanner to see through it, or the urn will be rejected. TSA folks will not open the container to inspect it, even if you ask them to.
How will you pay? Some folks opt to have a “pre-need” funeral policy, where they’ve already laid their money down, leaving no hassles for their loved ones when the time comes. It is CRITICAL that you make sure that the policy is transferable to any location where you may travel. One popular plan is handled by Neptune. We called the company and asked – what if I have your plan, and die away from home? Should be a simple enough question, right? It’s been three weeks and repeated requests, and still, no answer. Whatever company’s pre-need policy you consider, GET IT IN WRITING.
Others have put their money into a “pre-need funeral trust.” Your money is ready when the need arises, and earns interest in the meantime. Generally they’re “portable,” meaning, they’ll go wherever the need is. However, once you’ve plunked your money into a trust, you can’t change your mind and get your money back – they are irrevocable.
Finally, you could simply set up a savings account where you set aside money for your needs. Make sure your family and loved ones know about the arrangement, and can access the funds when they’re needed. Since banking laws vary, have a heart-to-heart discussion with the financial institution and explain what your needs are so that you can be guided so that the money is available when you finally “hang up the keys.”