Fulltime RVer – Death while on the road

Fulltime RVer – Death while on the road

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.”

##RVT829

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28 thoughts on “Fulltime RVer – Death while on the road

  1. Jed

    We have discussed this issue and plan to cremate whenever and wherever one of us passes away. Good Sam Travel Assist will get the rig home in the event it is me or I am incapacitated at the same time. You never mentioned the requirements of re-entering the country. I assume Canada Customs or US Customs will have to be engaged as well

  2. Lorin

    We have Travel Assist too. The thought of transporting everything back “home” just seemed like a nightmare. It’s a different company that supplies the Travel Assist than Roadside Assist. It is just sold by Good Sam so I don’t think I’d worry about them not showing up with your deceased loved one on the side of the road.

  3. al aslakson

    We’re leaning toward “whole body donation” – our remains will be consigned to a company or institution who can use it. Many go to medical colleges for training purposes, many are “parted out” and used in transplants, etc. All at zero cost to the survivors. If there are any “leftovers”, they are usually cremated and survivors can get the ashes back. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but if you’re in to recycling . . . .

  4. Pam C

    We’ve told our children that if one of us passes while full timing, cremation will be done wherever we are and the ashes will be brought home for services and funeral. It’s too expensive to transport a body.

  5. JB

    I thought about this for awhile then went to a MASA presentation,which after more thought,joined paying the full price.I know this sounds like a sales pitch,but if there is any doubt look up MASA.They will airlift, or use a wheeled ambulance, from anywhere in the world if the needs arise.And your belongings will be taken care of,as well as you.All you have to do is tell them where you want your belongings,including an RV,and your body to be sent,and they will see to it.Check them out,they are bona fide.

  6. Carl

    Thank you for covering an important issue that most of us want to ignore. My wife and I have now discussed our plans should this happpen.

  7. Eileen

    Thanks for addressing an important, but usually neglected, topic for RVers to consider. As a solo full-timer, I really should do some research, make a plan, and put it in place. Thanks again.

  8. Jillie

    I really don’t want to offend any one here but in all seriousness what happens if the post office looses the body? The cremains? I mean that can really get stressful. I have thought about this myself and didn’t realize that if I die on the beach of the Florida Keys do I want to be shipped back to Michigan? Maybe. But then I hope to be retired and in my 80’s and not traveling as much. Unless I am like my mother. 85 and still hopping planes at record speed. I hate to say I have thought about this as well.

  9. Gene Bjerke

    While not full-timers, my wife suffered a serious fall while we were on the road. She passed away after a month in the hospital in Mobile, AL. In that time, her children (from a previous marriage) were able to visit her, and her son, who was her executor (and a lawyer), thankfully took care of all the details. She was cremated in Mobile, and another son and I carried the ashes back home to Virginia for final disposal.

    I was not aware of all the legal requirements, so I don’t know whether we complied with them or not, but I did not run into any problems thank goodness.

    1. RV Staff

      Thank you for sharing this information, Gene. We are very sorry for your loss. This is another example of why it’s important to be prepared — we just never know what’s going to happen, or when, or where. Kindest regards. Diane at RVtravel.com

  10. Susan Callihan

    While in Florida, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This brought our traveling plans to an abrupt halt as we settled down in Orlando for chemotherapy. The cancer moved very swiftly, and he passed away only 10 weeks later. While his death was not an overnight event, we nevertheless were stuck away from friends and relatives in a city strange to us. In order to spare me the expense and hassle of dealing with remains, he applied on line to donate his body to science. His body was picked up by a funeral home, and I had no expenses or other arrangements to make, other than a memorial at a later date.

    1. RV Staff

      We are very sorry for your loss, Susan. Thank you for sharing this information so that others can consider this option. Take care. —Diane at RVtravel.com

  11. Rose Marie Moran

    While I am not rving,,,,years ago I signed up for NEPTUNE. I added Traveling to the program….it is additional but I hoped to be traveling. You receive a card with your name and your acct. number.
    The number for Neptune is listed. They would have to be contacted and they ( the company ) would take care of things from then on.
    The card does say that they (Neptune) must be contacted First or there would be additional charges.

  12. Wolfe

    I gotta give RVT credit… THIS is a topic I haven’t seen covered elsewhere!

    1. RV Staff

      I thought the same thing when I first saw Russ and Tina’s article, Wolfe. Not a pleasant topic, but necessary, I think. —Diane at RVtravel.com

  13. Patti L.

    Thanks for this reminder about taking that final exit ramp. Thank goodness my dear spouse and I both opt for cremation and a trip to the Pacific, but it bears thinking about to make sure things can go more smoothly.

  14. Charles Yaker

    MASA provides remain return service and it’s possible Skymed does as well

    https://www.masaassist.com/benefits

  15. Janet

    And what needs to be in place if one is full timing solo, or independent as I like to call it! What needs to be in place? Thanks!

    1. Cheryl

      We have done two things. One is make sure someone we trust knows our travel plans (leave/return date) and route for each trip. We have a travel book that has contact info and instructions in it. Barring RV fire, it should be there even in accident for those who need it. Also make sure you label a phone number in your phone as “Emergency contact(s)”. Authorities are using personal phone to find contact numbers now a days.

      1. Martine

        Since my smart phone has this feature, I’m guessing most others do, too. I was able to custom the screen when locked to show ICE (my husband’s name) phone number. ICE is short for In Case of Emergency.
        That way if someone finds that they need to contact someone on my behalf, they will see it on my phone’s locked screen.

  16. Buzzelectric

    I have GoodSam travel assist. They will have your remains returned home. They will drive your rig home. They will bring your mate home. They will bring your pets home. They will use their concierge service to help you in a lot of ways.

    1. Cheryl

      Well best read some of the current reviews on their actual service; we no longer trust them to be there for us after our experience with them on the road.

      1. George

        I’ve called Good Sam Road Side Assistance twice in the last 5 years and they have yet to arrive.

        1. RV Staff

          They’re probably looking for you in Canada in the winter and in Arizona in the summer, George. They’re still out there looking for you. 😉 –Diane at RVtravel.com

          1. Buzzelectric

            Is this funny or rude? I don’t get it coming from “staff”. Maybe a staff opinion column needs to be started.

          2. RV Staff

            Sorry, Buzzelectric — I certainly didn’t intend for it to be rude. I just know that he’s a snowbird and thought maybe that’s why they “have yet to arrive” after his calls. —Diane at RVtravel.com

        2. Buzzelectric

          Roadside assistance is not the same as Travel Assist. And by the way I have had wonderful service from GoodSam roadside assistance. Sorry that you haven’t.

    2. Jillie

      No offense here but what if the driver spooks easy? I am seeing dead people. Thanks for the tip.

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