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lisa Jan 14th, 2004 08:45 AM

a grim question -- what if he dies on vacation?
My future father-in-law, who lives in NJ, flew to California to visit some family while there, had a heart attack, and is now in intensive care. He is on Medicare and apparently also has some secondary health coverage as well. His prognosis is iffy but he is getting good care.

This may seem like a gruesome question, and may seem ignorant, but I thought someone here may have had experience with a family member in this situation. If he were to pass away out there, what then? He has a will, etc. and a cemetery plot in NJ. But how does he get back east? I assume airlines transport corpses, but does anyone have any idea how much this costs, etc.? Is this an expense that is covered by some insurance plans (I don't know what he has)? I doubt he has travel insurance although I don't know.

This just happened and it may not even be something we need to worry about, but it occurred to me and I thought someone might have some insight since it's a situation I've never even considered before. Thanks in advance.

mm Jan 14th, 2004 08:51 AM

My brother died of a heart attack in Miami about 3 hours before 17 family members, including young children, were to embark on a cruise.

It was a nightmare.

I will share my experience with you if you via email or phone rather than this site.


BeachBoi Jan 14th, 2004 08:57 AM

lisa...If he has a cemetery plot, there is a good chance he has a preplanned funeral/arrangements.I would contact the cemetery where he has the plot,first.If they have no info,they can recommend a funeral home they work with.Contact the funeral home.They will do the rest.It happens all the time.The funeral director will certainly have questions of someone who will have to be "in charge" of the disposal arrangements.The funeral director will have costs/alternatives.The will comes after the funeral.And I apologize in advance if my response is "morbid".I am just trying to help.Good Luck....Stephen

wemr Jan 14th, 2004 09:23 AM

Like I tell my brother sometimes, you are wayyyy over thinking this thing.

If anything bad does happen, things will fall into place in the natural coarse of events. Bodies do get trasported every day across America and there is no need to worry about all this stuff because it serves no purpose.

hope this helps in some way.

TedTurner Jan 14th, 2004 09:37 AM

Why so harsh, Leona? I think it's a very good travel-related question.

Regulations vary from state to state and country to country, but aren't all that mysterious. There are plenty of websites providing details on how this is done.
Essentially once a death certificate is available, there are companies that provide transport services for corpses. International transport is a bit messier, but there are companies that take care of everything from beginning to end for a flat fee.
Urns (cremated remains) are much easier, of course.
Many travel insurance programs provide for corpse transportation expenses.

Here are some key bits of info:

Cremated remains:
You are allowed to carry-on a crematory container, but it must pass through the x-ray machine. If the container is made of a material that prevents the screener from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container will not be allowed through the security checkpoint.
Under no circumstances can the screener open the container at any time.
If the contents are not clear going through the carry-on x-ray machine then there is a possibility that it will be unclear going the checked baggage x-ray machine and therefore will not be allowed on the airplane. For this reason, at that point it is recommended that the crematory container be shipped through a private shipping company.

For deaths overseas:
There are flat rate companies that take care of everything from customs regulations to casket provision to actual shipping. For example, a company called Euro-City Direct lists the following details: Euro-City Direct specializes in the transportation of human remains, offers a flat rate system across international zones to give a cost saving of up to 40%, compared with the conventional method of charging per kilogram. Typical repatriation cost for a 150kg coffin from LHR (London)-LAGOS (Nigeria) would be £1296.00 using Euro-City Direct flat rate system, the cost would be £850.00 regardless of the weight being transported. This unique flat rate system allows all parties to be fully aware of the overall cost of the transaction at the time of arranging transport, enabling the bereaved to purchase a casket without regard to its weight.

You can find more detail than you need by poking around on Google.

GoTravel Jan 14th, 2004 09:42 AM

When I travel internationally, I make sure that my health insurance covers emergency medical evacutations and transport in case of death back to my home.

His medical insurance very well may cover this. Call his provider and find out.

If you don't know who his provider is, you can call your own and find out if this is generally covered in health insurance.

His life insurance may also cover transportation.

Is he a veteran? If so, call your local VA hospital and talk with them.

I will agree that this is a strange question to be posting on a travel forum but I suppose it is related.

LoriNY Jan 14th, 2004 09:50 AM

I would probably contact a local funeral home to assist with the transport. I'm also sure that the hospital can provide information and procedures to you. Hopefully it won't come to that tho

BuzzyJ Jan 14th, 2004 10:20 AM

You would contact your own family funeral director; he or she will make all the necessary arrangements and take care of the paperwork and will contact a funeral home near where the death took place.

lisa Jan 14th, 2004 10:47 AM

Thanks everybody (well, except Leona). Much of this is very helpful.

rjw_lgb_ca Jan 14th, 2004 11:07 AM

This is a tough situation, IF it comes to that sad end. I'm sure the hospital also has experience in this, so you and your fiancé's family can probably relax and focus on the future FIL's recovery (the process will, as others note, probably involve a local funeral services company as well as one in NJ, depending on applicable existing insurance and prepaid funeral plans). They can also coordinate services in both CA and NJ as necessary.

But we'll all pull for his recovery, OK? Keep up the positive thoughts-- they do help.

ParrotMom Jan 14th, 2004 11:37 AM

Beachboi...nice to know your still around... where are you going next? We are off to the D.R. to La romana...How is life treating you?

Kennedy3 Jan 14th, 2004 03:13 PM

I know someone who died while vacationing across country. The body was embalmed by a local funeral home and shipped in a casket via a regular airline. (The funeral home made all the arrangements.) The cost was surprisingly inexpensive. It was only $350 for a cross-country flight into a small town with a regional airport.

abram Jan 14th, 2004 05:26 PM

In my work helping clients with health insurance issues, my experience has been that health insurance benefits end at death. I have never heard of a health insurance policy that covers transportation of the body. Travel insurance often does.

I agree that the funeral parlors will be very helpful in dealing with this problem, should it arise. It's something they assist with regularly.

I don't think you're at all foolish, as some peole sem to be suggesting, to gather information now, rather than when your family is in complete crisis.

Seamus Jan 14th, 2004 06:40 PM

Along with previous posters I wish your future father-in-law the best, but also understand your concern. I agree that you would do well to not go too far down the path of planning for managing remains, rather stay focused on wishing for recovery. This topic may be too involved for this site, so check out or for more info

Allison Jan 14th, 2004 07:03 PM

Lisa, I'm sure that you are praying for a full recovery for your future father-in-law. And I am also certain, that in the event that for what ever reason he doesn't make it, your new family will be very grateful that you had the foresight to get some answers regarding a horrible situation. I am a nurse, and there is nothing worse than trying to guide a family who have just experienced a loss and are having a hard time coping with that, never mind the details of all that would be involved. Yes, a funeral direcrtor would help you thru everything, but it never hurts to have some family member with the foresight to lead the way so to say. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Best of luck to all..

pollyvw Jan 14th, 2004 09:50 PM

Just went through this procedure in reference to my mother who, right now, is in good health. She lives away from her home of 78 years which is the place where she wants to be buried (she does not want to be cremated which is an entirely different issue). We talked to the funeral director in her home town and made all her arrangements. The one thing that he told me that pretains to you is that when she DOES pass away, HE should be the first person I call. I SHOULD not call a funeral home in the area where she lives. I should call him and he will make the local arrangements. Funeral homes have directories of all facilities in the nation. They know who to call.

We are also looking toward transporting her remains by airplane and he suggested that a prepayment of $1500 would be sufficient. I thought it would be more than that.

Most likely your father-in-law's family has past dealings with a funeral director close to his home, someone who has taken care of arrangements for other members of his family. This is the person you should speak to and do it before the fact.

sandi_travelnut Jan 15th, 2004 10:02 AM

Things "don't just fall into place" by themselves. Family member have to think of these things and it's far better to think of them now than in the time of grief. I think it shows a lot of concern on your part. You'll be able to help keep things under control since you'll know more than anyone if that time comes. Good Luck.

easytraveler Jan 15th, 2004 10:50 AM

lisa: Firstly, my sympathy to you and your family for what you are going through right now.

Secondly, you are very much on the correct path. Do continue to think of practical things that have to be done. As some of the other posters have said: some one has to. And your family is fortunate to have you doing precisely that.

My Mother passed away in September, 2002, after a long illness, so I can offer you a bit of advice from experience.

The poster who referred you to the funeral director in the city where your FIL has his plot is 100% correct. If you have no funeral director, now is the time to pick one. These are professionals and they know how to handle these matters in a professional way.

In my Mother's case, we had had discussions with the funeral director several months in advance, so that when the time came, he took charge and things were handled very smoothly.

The people who actually came to prepare my Mother for her last trip to her final resting place were from the Neptune Society. You may try to contact them and see what their advice would be.

My Mother had to be transported to another location within the Greater Bay Area. I don't know if the Neptune Society operates outside of the Bay Area, but, again, you should contact them to find out, since you did not indicate which part of California your FIL is presently under care.

The Neptune Society people were extremely professional and helped greatly during a time of inexpressionable pain for us.

Hope this helps! And again, my sympathies.

Underhill Jan 16th, 2004 04:25 PM

A very dear friend of ours died on St.-Maarten two years ago after a freak accident. Fortunately he was air-lifted to Miami before he died; otherwise transporting his remains could have been a great problem for his widow. This is why it can be a good reason to have travel insurance so there's someone to call for help. You have my sympathy; it's a hard situation.

RandyK Jan 16th, 2004 07:14 PM

I run a hospital and have had staff involved in shipping remains to many different areas of the U.S. Just on a hunch, I checked with some of our local funeral directors to see how this is typically handled. Whenever the deceased has pre-planned, I'm told that the advice to contact the funeral home at home is the best first step. Still I asked about the cost of transportation of remains (a useless fact for all of us: on average EVERY transcontinental flight has at least one passenger who is not being offered peanuts and a drink!). My contacts all said that there are fees on both end of the shipment---the funeral home that prepares the body for transport home as well as the receiving funeral home. These fees are usually about $1500 regardless of the distance the body travels.

Don't give up on your father-in-law just yet, patients who make it to a hospital have already overcome their biggest hurdle. Getting to the hospital alive greatly increases his chances of survival. The treatment for AMI and other heart disease has improved dramatically in the past 10-15 years both due to new drugs and interventional procedures. Here's to hoping he's there to dance with you on your big day!!.

Connie Jan 17th, 2004 06:10 AM

Most hospitals have a social worker type person. Go by and have a chat with them. Then you'll have a friendly face to help you on that end, if it comes to that.

jtp Jan 17th, 2004 07:20 AM

Lisa, lots of prayers to you! How is your Father-in-law?
November my Dad died out of State. My sister & I flew immediately to Florida to be with our Mother, our husbands contacted the NJ funeral home we have "always" done business with. Dad had a history of a heart condition, the fineral home in NJ worked directly with aMOrt. in Florida and Dad actually arrived home before we did -- this all took less then 72 hours. It was not inexpensive.
Because Dad had a round trip ticket, the airline reembursed my Mother for the "unused" seat... It took about 3 weeks to get the death certificate from Florida, and it went directly to the NJ Funeral Home, but everything was very well coordinated.

lisa Jan 20th, 2004 08:42 AM

Bless all you fine people here on Fodors for your good wishes. I flew out to visit him over the long weekend. He got out of intensive care yesterday and is awaiting heart surgery sometime later this week. He is surrounded by family, and we are all more hopeful than we were last week.

Interestingly, it turns out that at the same time when he purchased his burial plot, he also purchased a prepaid plan through his local funeral home which will eventually cover all his funerary expenses, including the cost of transporting his body from the place of death (wherever that is) to the funeral home. He has made some quite specific plans, including choosing a coffin. None of his children knew this however. So as a result of this health scare, we all know a lot more about what to do for him when the time comes (and what has already been arranged).

Although not pleasant to think about, this is something we are all going to have to deal with someday, and I actually think it was quite courageous of him to have taken care of so much of this in advance, so that it will be easier on his family at what will certainly be a difficult time.

And it also reminded me how important it is not only to plan, but to communicate those plans to loved ones.

Statia Jan 20th, 2004 09:59 AM

Thanks for the update, Lisa. Although I had no advice to offer you, I have been following the thread and I'm glad to hear things are working out. I hope he makes a full recovery.

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