The Costs of Dying

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Written by: Alice Stevens | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: April 1st, 2020

casket with pink flowersUpdated April 1, 2020.

Many people create GoFundMe accounts to help cover unanticipated expenses, like high medical bills or funeral expenses.

"Most people have no concept of the cost of funerals, which is why you see GoFundMe's to pay for funeral expenses," says Elizabeth Kent, a former cemetery director.

To be prepared for leaving life, it's important to know funeral costs and associated expenses, as well as payment options. Understanding the costs associated with death will help you and your family be financial prepared.

The cost of a funeral

The National Funeral Directors Association (NDFA) reports the median burial and cremation costs in 2019: The median cost of a burial with a viewing was $7,640. With a vault, the cost was $9,135. The median cremation cost was $5,150. With a cremation casket and urn, the cost rose to $6,645.

“If you ever walk into a funeral home and you ask for a General Price list, the funeral home is required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to give you a General Price List, a Vault Price List, and a Casket Price List.  All of those things may be in one price list, but look for all three to make sure they are upfront. If the funeral home fails to comply, I would leave immediately and not work with them,” says Kent.

Tyler Yamasaki, CEO of funeral home comparison website Parting.com, and former cemetery director Elizabeth Kent identified the following services and fees that are associated with funerals:

  • Funeral home basic services fee
  • Death certificate
  • “Bring the body into care” fee
  • Embalming
  • Viewing
  • Funeral
  • Building rental
  • Graveside service
  • Casket
  • Hearse and transportation fees
  • Plot purchase
  • Opening and closing grave fees
  • Vault or concrete liner fee
  • Grave marker or headstone
  • Cremation

Funeral homes are obligated to be upfront and transparent about the cost of their services.

Yamasaki shared some insight into 2019's market:

  • Funeral home basic services: $1000-$3000
  • Casket: $1500+
  • Vault or concrete liner (required by most cemeteries): $1000+
  • Headstone or marker: $1000+

The expenses associated with funerals are pretty steep. However, Kent says, “The industry trend is that the cost of a funeral doubles every 10 years. That trend has been accurate for as long as the funeral industry has been around.”

Paying for a funeral

Cremation is cheaper than a traditional funeral with embalming services, large burial plots, and caskets.

“By going the cremation route, a family can potentially save on all cemetery costs, embalming, and even the basic services. What has become increasingly popular is the Direct Cremation. A direct cremation is a stand alone service that just transports the deceased from the place of death, files the paperwork, cremates the body, and returns the cremated remains to the family. This can be done, in some areas, for as little as $600. The family then can decide on their own disposition options,” says Yamasaki.

All funeral costs are due at the time of service. Life insurance, final expense insurance, or burial insurance can help cover these large fees with the death benefit payment.

Even if you have enough savings to pay for your funeral, your family members and friends may not be able to access the funds in your bank account immediately. The death benefit payout from a life insurance policy can greatly help your family as they pay for your funeral and their living expenses.

Another option is to pay for your funeral before you die. When people pre-pay for funerals, payment plans are available.

“A prepayment plan is called a Pre-Need and is usually done through an insurance company that the funeral home is associated with.  It is actually a really, really, really, smart idea to do a Pre-Need, because it locks the costs into place. If you die 30 years after you make it, the costs are guaranteed and the funeral home has to agree to the agreement. The only time a funeral home does not have to abide by the agreement is if you got the agreement from a different funeral home than the one providing the funeral services,” says Kent.

Other expenses

Matt Schmidt, CEO of Burial Insurance Pro, says, "When planning a funeral, many people tend to forget about the additional final expenses that come at the end of one’s life. Such expenses include medical bills, installment debt, cell phone bills, cable bills, and other monthly expenses.  If wanting to address all of the final expenses a person will face, you definitely want to account for those. Unfortunately there are more expenses then the basic funeral and burial costs."

Take some time to think about what would happen to your family’s finances and make a plan.

  • How much debt do you have? Whose name is it under?
  • How dependent is your family on your income?
  • Would your family have to pay for full-time childcare?

Purchasing a life insurance policy, buying final expense or burial insurance, pre-paying for the funeral, and knowing your options are all things that can help you and your family be financially prepared for an emergency and avoid funeral-expense related debt.

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