Final goodbyes are difficult during the best of times. Add in the hundreds of financial decisions that usually go with end-of-life matters, and the strain that families feel can sometimes be just as painful as the grief of losing a loved one.
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Many families are beginning to turn away from costly funerals and traditional burials and instead choosing to go with a straight-forward cremation instead. In fact, so many people are learning about the benefits of cremation and how cremation works that cremation has become the favored method of final disposition.
But what if a low-cost cremation is still financially draining? Well, if you’re in California, there are several ways that you can get a free cremation for your loved one. While these options may not be for everyone, we hope these no-cost opportunities might be able to provide you some financial relief when planning your loved one’s end-of-life services on a budget.
Places That Offer Free Cremation in California
Here are the top five free cremation programs in California to consider for your loved one’s cremation.
1. Omega Society
First on our list is the Omega Society Free Cremation program. The company collaborates with Science Care for whole-body donations and free cremation services. Science Care offers an extensive whole body donation service for anyone living in California.
Omega Society offers guidance to families from trained counselors and access to upgraded services if they need them. Omega Society and Science Care both encourage full-body donations to help with educational and medical research. In return, the companies completely cover the cost of cremation, which could save you up to $600 or more.
To get started, you'd need to contact Omega Society for your loved ones' registration or preregistration. Then, you'd fill out several required forms from the Society and Science Care. When your loved one passes away, all you’d need to do is call Omega Society, and they'll pick up your loved one’s body from the place of death and transfer it to their facility.
Typically, the sign-up process goes through several stages. Hospice patients can be pre-approved. If you need immediate approval, Omega Society will provide assistance in receiving approval from Science Care for donation clearance.
The time from donation to cremation can vary, so this may not be the option for you if you need your loved one’s ashes back during a specific timeframe. However, once Science Care has completed their research and cremates your loved ones, Omega Society can take over and provide upgraded options such as scattering services or urn purchases.
Omega Society offers guidance and counseling as you and your loved one work through the donation process.
2. Medical schools
Medical schools often accept body donations for use as cadavers in surgical education. It's an excellent way to get free cremation for your loved one, in addition to providing a legacy your loved one can be proud of.
You’ll need to check with specific medical schools to determine which type of donation will result in a free cremation. Most medical schools require whole-body donations to provide a free cremation after they are finished.
You’ll also need to pre-register the donor with a medical school or the national donation service before they die. You cannot do this on behalf of a loved one. The donor must be mentally stable, cognizant, and able to provide fully informed consent to sign necessary documents.
While you will receive a free cremation when you donate a loved one's body to a medical school, the process can take months to a year or more. Once donated, your loved one’s body will be available to the medical school for students to study and learn from. However, the school might not utilize the body immediately after death.
Note: If your loved one would prefer to donate a part of their body instead of their entire body, they may qualify for a corneal removal. The cornea is the transparent liquid layer on a healthy eye. This can get taken and transplanted to save other people’s eyesight. Typically, corneas are taken from a person’s body while at a funeral home.
3. Organ donation programs
While it might sound similar to medical school donations, organ donation programs exist separately and could get you a free cremation. However, the deceased must have agreed to a full-body donation to science while they were living.
There are also a number of restrictions once the person has passed away, even if they were already registered. To qualify for an organ or whole-body donation program, the person can’t have died from an infectious disease like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or tuberculosis. If any of these is the case, their former eligibility with organ donation programs becomes void.
4. Anatomical donation services
If you can’t find a medical school or organ donation organization to cover your cremation costs, you might check with other anatomical donation programs instead. These are whole-body donation programs on the private level, such as the Anatomy Gifts Registry and MedCure. California Transplant Services might also provide you with some direction.
Note: Most of these companies require pre-death registration.
5. Veteran reimbursements
If the deceased was a veteran, the family is eligible for reimbursements under the Veteran Administration. The compensation value ranges from $300 to $2,000. Depending on how much your family is compensated, you might find that you’re reimbursed for the entire expense of cremation services.
Typically, you get the most veteran death benefits if they died while on active duty or from sustained injuries after receiving an honorable discharge. The VA also covers transportation of the deceased if their death occurred at a military or VA hospital.
Tips for Saving Money on Cremation in California
These options for a free cremation may not be accessible to you or preferred by your family. If that’s the case, there are still ways to save on cremation in California. Here are several tips to help you save money.
Choose direct cremation
Sometimes, the body may be ineligible for donation programs that offer free cremation. If that’s the case, you might decide to choose a low-cost cremation service instead, such as direct cremation.
Direct cremation occurs when the crematory transports your loved one directly to the cremation center and cremates them. There are no services arranged before or afterward by the crematory. Your loved one’s cremains are then returned to you.
Since you'll be paying for this cremation cost, you should check with multiple cremation providers to find the best option and lowest price for direct cremation. Depending on the crematory, direct cremation can range anywhere from $600 to $1,000 or more.
Note: Omega Society offers low-cost cremation packages that are some of the best in the state.
Check for a preliminary plan
It’s always helpful to check and see if your loved one had a funeral plan already in place. This could include a range of things such as a paid life insurance policy, a funeral insurance policy, or a pre-paid cremation or funeral plan. If in place, these types of policies can greatly offset the costs your family incurs.
Set up a fundraiser
While this may not be possible for everyone, you could try and get other people involved and fundraise to help cover costs associated with your loved one’s cremation. While it might seem a bit untraditional, you might be surprised by the number of people that would be happy to donate and contribute toward this need in honor of your loved one.
There are many excellent fundraising services like Elegy and GoFundMe. These sites are ideal for raising money, connecting with friends and family, and creating a memorial page for loved ones to comment and share memories of the deceased.
See if you qualify for government assistance
Though only the lowest income levels qualify, it might not hurt to check with your local government offices, including the county treasurer and social security offices, for government assistance funds for funeral services.
Use a low-cost location for a memorial service
Much of the cost surrounding cremation or burial is associated with the memorial or funeral service itself. If you’re planning to hold a memorial service for your cremated loved one, choose low-cost locations and DIY options such as a public park, a loved one’s backyard, or a community center.
Choose to hold a potluck reception
Reception food increases the overall costs for any memorial or funeral service. Rather than having the event catered or holding it at a restaurant, consider holding a potluck reception at a park or family member’s home. Going this route will dramatically reduce expenses related to the cremation ceremony.
Choose not to bury the cremains
Burying cremains in a cemetery or interring them in a columbarium will cost as much or more than the cremation service itself. Rather than incur this expense, consider keeping the cremated remains on family land. You have the option to bury or scatter their ashes if you own the land. You can also keep them in an urn inside your home, share them among family members in multiple urns, or set up a garden memorial on your own property.
Obtaining An Affordable Final Disposition
Cremating your loved one doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. If your loved one qualifies for whole-body donation or VA benefits, there might not be any expense at all. Even if they don’t qualify for a free cremation, you can still obtain an economical cremation by choosing a non-traditional option such as fundraising or direct cremation. Thankfully, no matter how you go about it, you’ll still save a substantial amount of money when compared to the average cost of a funeral in California.