Coping with Loss, Part 1: Funeral and Burial Costs

By Carol Church

Few of us enjoy thinking about money after the death of a loved one. We are grieving and disoriented. We may be in emotional shock or not thinking clearly. Family members, including those we do not get along with or whom we do not see often, may be voicing loud and strong opinions. And now we must make decisions regarding choices for burial and a funeral. This is a vulnerable moment.

With all this in mind, it may come as no surprise that personal finance experts have long cautioned families to be careful when it comes to funeral and burial expenses. Otherwise, customers may find themselves spending more than they want or intend to.

In the case of the death of service members or veterans, financial assistance may be available from the military, including cost-free burial in a VA or national cemetery. This can help a great deal, and will be covered in Part 2 of this series. However, there will still be monetary decisions to be made in most cases.

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Reducing High Funeral and Burial Costs

One issue with this service is that it’s often very hard to know what to expect or what businesses in the area are offering. It may seem impossible to “shop around” or understand the options.

Overall, experts say consumers can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 for a “full service” funeral that includes embalming, transportation of the body, burial, and a service, with about $8,000 being average. Obviously, this is a huge range, and not all families opt for all services. How can consumers make sensible and informed choices?

Everyone should be aware that by law, funeral homes are required to provide itemized price lists to consumers. This is the best way to compare prices and understand what you are getting. Some funeral homes now provide these prices online, but in many cases, you will still have to call.

It’s also very important to know that the Funeral Rule, put in place by the Federal Trade Commission, states that you do not have to accept a “package” deal from the funeral home and can accept and decline services as you need them, using outside providers as well. For instance, services some may choose to seek elsewhere include flowers and caskets (which can be bought online and even at places like Walmart and Sam’s Club). Opting out of costly embalming services is a possibility, if the funeral can be held within a few days and an open casket is not desired. Funeral costs can also be reduced by holding the service at a local house of worship, instead of the funeral home, or choosing a memorial at a home or other private location.

Cremation is typically a far less costly alternative than ground burial, and one chosen by more and more families. As with caskets, it is not necessary to purchase an urn from the funeral home. A container you choose will suffice, and can be purchased at a reasonable price online.

Consumer Assistance

The Funeral Consumers Alliance performs a valuable service by providing a variety of helpful information for consumers on lowering funeral costs. It also consolidates funeral service price information for consumers and may even offer discounted options. Parting.com also offers funeral home comparison services. The Federal Trade Commission also offers a useful series on Shopping for Funeral Services.

Planning Ahead

Although many of us might prefer not to think too much about our eventual passing, all of us are mortal. As with so many other areas, the financially prudent thing to do is to plan ahead. This way your family will also have the comfort of knowing which items are important to you and which are not. Consider making a plan for your funeral and burial to be a final gift to your loved ones.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss the various burial, funeral, and memorial benefits available to service members and veterans.

References:

WikiHow. (n.d.) How to reduce funeral expenses. Retrieved from http://www.wikihow.com/Reduce-Funeral-Expenses

Kiplinger. (n.d.) The Lowdown on Funeral Costs. Retrieved from http://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T021-C000-S001-the-lowdown-on-funeral-costs.html

Parting.com. (2017). Save Money on Funeral Costs by Making Arrangements at a Low-Priced Funeral Home and Cemetery. Retrieved from https://www.parting.com/blog/category/tips-to-lower-funeral-costs/

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