Personal Finance

What Are Funeral Cost

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 10 minute read

Considering finances so soon after the death of a loved one might feel cold and callous. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) estimates that the national median cost of a funeral is $7,000.

In reality, the sum does not account for actual cemetery expenses, which typically run between $2,000 and $4,000 for the site and grave monument. The cost of flowers, music, obituaries, and the celebrant’s fee add another $950, bringing the grand amount to $11,000.

Think about the funerals you’ve been to that stood out to you before you consign yourself to paying that much. The elaborate floral arrangements and brass-handled casket are probably not the first things that come to mind when you think of a death. Memories and stories told to you by loved ones stick out in your mind more.

Regrettably, when mourning a loved one, it’s easy to lose all sense of fiscal responsibility or end up spending thousands of dollars because there’s little time to deliberate about purchases. The best thing to do is to schedule some quiet time now to contemplate your own and your loved ones’ inevitable funerals. That way, you or your heirs won’t have to pay a lot of money when the time comes.

Understand Your Rights

The Funeral Law

The “Funeral Rule” established by the FTC shields consumers against deceptive practices in the funeral industry. The Funeral Rule ensures that the deceased’s loved ones have the freedom to select the funeral services they desire and are given accurate cost estimates for such services.

The following privileges are accorded to you under the rule:

  • Pick Your Product(s). Casket, embalming, a public viewing, and a funeral procession are all part of the services offered by certain funeral houses, but these options come at a high price. However, the Funeral Rule states that you are not obligated to buy all of these goods if you simply choose to purchase a subset of them. It is legal for funeral directors to charge a flat rate, or “basic services fee,” to cover the costs associated with the standard funeral process. This includes things like preparing and filing death certificates and notices, holding on to the body until burial or cremation can be arranged, and more. The coffin, the hearse, and the use of the funeral home for the service are all necessities, but the family is under no obligation to purchase them.
  • Shop around. You can acquire funeral home pricing information over the phone without having to physically visit the establishment, and the director cannot insist that you give them your personal details before providing it. If you decide to visit a funeral home in person, they must provide you with a general pricing list of all the products and services they provide, and you must be allowed to carry a copy of the list with you.
  • Pick Your Own Funeral Urn. You have a right to get a pricing list from a funeral home that details the costs of every single casket they provide, not simply the most expensive ones. The funeral home is not allowed to make you buy a casket or urn from them if you would prefer to purchase one elsewhere.
  • Do not embalm. Embalming is commonly seen as a prerequisite to burial by funeral houses. Funeral establishments are obligated to indicate that no legislation mandates such a disclosure.
  • Try to get it in writing. A funeral home is required by law to provide you with a written statement outlining the services you have requested and the associated fees before you make any payments. The declaration must include any mandated purchases you must make as a result of local, state, or federal law.

Managing Cemeteries

Although the Funeral Rule is helpful when dealing with funeral houses, it cannot be used in cemeteries. There is often no requirement for cemeteries to provide written pricing lists or let you pick and choose which services you choose. There are a variety of things that might add up to a hefty bill at the cemetery:

  • Land for Burial. You’re not buying a piece of property when you buy a burial site in a cemetery; rather, you’re paying for the privilege of being laid to rest there. This might be a traditional underground tomb, an above-ground mausoleum niche, or perhaps just a modest garden plot. This piece of land may be acquired for as little as $4,000 and as much as $10,000. Generally speaking, rural cemeteries run on the lower end of this spectrum because they are run by charities rather than for profit, whereas urban cemeteries run on the higher end since they are run by businesses. In addition, the cost of “opening” the grave, excavating it, and putting it back in is often an additional $200-$500.
  • Vault. A vault, or grave liner, is an exterior burial container that is placed around the casket before it is buried. Cemeteries may insist on it, and it can increase the price of a burial spot by $1,000 to $2,000. The average cost to construct a vault is roughly $200.
  • Gravestone. You have the option of selecting between a headstone that stands proud of the ground or a burial monument that lies flat. The typical price tag is between $1,200 and $2,000. You shouldn’t assume a cemetery will cooperate with your choice of provider.

Request a copy of the cemetery’s rules and regulations as well as a written, itemized price list before making any purchases from the cemetery. Don’t bother with the cemetery if they won’t offer you this info.

Price Comparison

It’s human nature to seek comfort in the things you know and have always done while grieving the death of a loved one. That’s why a lot of individuals just keep going back to the same mortuary their family has always used.

However, you can wind up spending tens of thousands of extra dollars if you do this. There is a considerable range in pricing for funeral services across the country.

The FCA is a non-profit group that advocates for reasonably priced funerals. Each of the 50 states is covered by a local branch, and some of those locations even provide pricing lists for all of the local funeral homes so that customers may easily shop around. Some of them may even be able to get you a discount on funeral services at a certain funeral home.

Find Low-Cost Caskets

A coffin may very well be the most expensive thing during a funeral. The Funeral Rule thankfully ensures that you can purchase a coffin from whatever store you choose, regardless of the cost. You may get reasonably priced caskets at one of these three places:

  • Costco. The typical cost of a coffin at a funeral home is $2,400, yet Costco offers eight elegant and well regarded casket styles for between $950 and $1,800.
  • Entrepreneurs that do business exclusively online. Coffins may be purchased from Funeral Casket Society for as little as $690, while DIY coffin kits from Overnight Caskets can be purchased for as little as $535. Each store provides free delivery. However, before buying from an online store, it’s important to look into the business’s reputation via the Better Business Bureau and other review sites.
  • Stores that are relatively close to the consumer. The FCA suggests conducting a web search for “caskets,” “retail caskets,” or “casket retailers,” with the name of your city or state. Your search results should show you retailers in your immediate area.

Control the Extras

Flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, musicians, and the officiant are just some of the lesser costs associated with a funeral that may rapidly mount up to several thousand dollars. 

Either you can save money by purchasing these goods elsewhere than via the funeral home, or you can forego them entirely. Some suggestions on how to reduce these expenses are as follows.

  • Obituary. Contact the newspaper on your own if the funeral home charges a fee to place the obituary. Remember that inserting a photo often results in an increase in price.
  • Service. It is not necessary to have funerals in a funeral home. You may want to have the funeral ceremony at your place of worship and have the funeral home handle solely the burial preparations.
  • Incidentals. Deal directly with suppliers for additional items like flowers, guest books, programs, and thank you notes. This allows you to purchase only the goods you choose. Additionally, you are likely to discover a larger selection at lower pricing.

Plan Ahead

It may seem morbid to shop around for funeral costs at this time, but there are several good reasons to do so:

  • There is no hurry. There isn’t much time to shop around when someone passes away; you just have a week at most to deal with all the logistics and inform the family. You may take your time deciding on the ideal funeral home if you do your research ahead of time.
  • Absence of Emotional Coercion. You may avoid being coerced into buying something you don’t want or need if you go shopping early, when your emotions aren’t involved.
  • Expression of Desire. You can have a discussion with your loved ones on what should and should not be done during the funeral. Choose between a traditional burial or cremation, as well as the location and type of memorial ceremony, with your loved ones. Before I Go is a pamphlet published by the FCA that might help you prepare for your own funeral; it is available both in print and as a digital download.
  • Reducing Stress on Families. Your loved ones may focus on grieving without worrying about the details if you prepare for your funeral by purchasing all of the necessary items in advance and outlining your wishes in writing. Prearrangements can also be made by filling out a form and leaving it at some funeral houses.

Avoid Prepayment

According to the FTC, millions of Americans choose to prepay for their funerals and cemetery plots each year. Sadly, there are significant dangers associated with this:

  • It’s not always feasible to receive a refund if your intentions change or you relocate out of state.
  • It’s possible that you may pass away while traveling and your loved ones would have to choose another funeral home.
  • Without proper notification, your heirs may choose a different funeral home and find up paying twice.
  • It’s possible that the funeral home may close down.

The FCA advises forward-thinking without upfront payment: Visit funeral homes, make your plans, and inform your loved ones in full.

Alternatives must be evaluated.

A viewing, a ceremonial ceremony, a hearse, and a burial or cremation are the components of a standard funeral. This is the standard, and most costly, method of burial.

Fortunately, that’s not your only choice. If you don’t want to go through all that, you have other options, such as direct burial or cremation, or even body donation for scientific research followed by a memorial service.

Direct Burial

In a straight burial, the deceased is buried or cremated without any preparation. You still have to pay for the following, even if you can’t look at anything or go see it:

  • The standard funeral home service price (about $1,975)
  • Transportation and care for the deceased (about $800)
  • A cemetery plot (from $2,000 to $4,000).
  • A burial container, which can be as little as $100 for a plain box of unpainted wood.
  • A burial vault if required by the cemetery (between $1,000 and $2,000).

A direct burial can save you roughly $3,000 compared to a more typical funeral service. That doesn’t include extras like flowers and the officiant’s charge. An extra cost may be assessed by the funeral home if you choose for a service at the gravesite.

Cremation

Around 5% of funerals were cremations back in 1970. In 2013, the percentage of people choosing cremation over burial had increased to 45%. According to the NFDA, cremation might be the preferred method of disposition for over 66 percent of Americans by 2030.

The FCA reports that most funeral houses contract with an outside crematorium, where services cost between $200 and $400. If you compare this to the average cost of a burial site and headstone at a cemetery, which is between $2,000 and $4,000, you can see that this is a significant savings. The $7,000 fee is the same whether cremation is part of a typical funeral with a viewing, service, and procession or not.

The cost of cremating a body directly after death, known as “direct cremation,” is between $750 and $1,200. However, the cost skyrockets when you factor in things like viewing hours, a funeral ceremony, and a coffin.

An urn or other container to hold the ashes is an additional expense that comes up during the cremation process. The average price of an urn is $300, with a wide range of prices between $80 and $2,000. You shouldn’t feel obligated to buy an urn, though. You can have the ashes scattered or kept in a special container; the crematory can provide either option.

Organ and body donation

Anatomy Gifts Registry and Science Care are just two of the many groups that accept donated corpses for use in medical education and research. The family of the deceased must go through a brief screening process to ensure the corpse is suitable for the research purposes of the organization before the donation may be finalized through one of these programs.

They will then be asked to sign a consent form giving the organization permission to utilize the body in research. When the necessary studies are finished, the remains are cremated and returned to the family.

Some groups even write a letter to the family detailing the ways in which the deceased’s corpse has advanced scientific understanding. Donating the corpse to a medical institution for use in teaching and research is another choice.

Consider a Funeral at Home.

Having a funeral without using a funeral home is viable and legal in most states. The funeral can be held anywhere the family chooses, although in certain places a funeral director’s signature is required on the death certificate or they must be present to supervise the burial or cremation.

One obvious benefit of a home funeral is the financial savings, but there are other benefits as well. Many who have done so have found that attending to the deceased in person aids in the healing process. NPR and The New Republic both include touching accounts of people who opted to hold home funerals for their loved ones.

The National Home Funeral Alliance and Crossings advocate for home funerals as a more humane and environmentally friendly alternative to the conventional American funeral. Both organizations help families who are considering a home funeral by providing information and support.

Bottom Line

While few enjoy broaching the issue, doing so can ease the financial and emotional strain on loved ones after your passing. Gather your loved ones together today to have an honest conversation and go through your alternatives; you may do so with the knowledge that everything has already been planned for.

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