A common goal among many aging seniors and their families is to put money aside for funeral and burial expenses. Most, however, are unsure how much to save and how prepared to be in the event of a death. It is certainly easier for one’s family if arrangements through estate planning, funeral pre-planning and funeral trusts are made. We encourage this. Even then, many unforeseen details and expenses can burden the family of the deceased.
A common tendency among families in the days and weeks leading up to a death is neglecting to find an affordable funeral provider. Another challenge is finding ways to fund all of the various expenses involved with a funeral and burial. Generally, this is due to emotional stresses and a simple lack of time and preparation. Most often, families will use the same funeral services their relatives have used. Time constraints will force many to overlook important questions like, “are we paying too much for this” or “is this best for the deceased and their survivors?”
Others, who have lost a veteran or their survivor, believe the Department of Veterans Affairs will cover all the costs associated with a funeral and burial. Although there are several allowances and benefits available to veterans and their survivors for funeral and burial, these will not cover the entire cost. Read the Senior Veterans Service Alliance’s article on VA Burial Allowances for rates and more information.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 6,700 people pass away in the U.S. every day. Although funeral costs can easily be upward in the 10s of thousands of dollars, the average cost nationwide in the United States for a traditional funeral (including embalming and a metal casket) in 2013 was $6,000, according to data from the National Funeral Directors Association. In 2014, the national average cost rose to $7,181. Currently, the average cost for a traditional funeral is over $10,000.
Types of Funerals
Traditional Funeral Services
Traditional funeral services usually include embalming, dressing of the body, funeral home rental, a viewing, body transportation (via a hearse) to the funeral site, casket cost, and a cemetery plot or crypt. This is the most expensive type of funeral because many types of services and additional add-ons are available.
This burial is a simpler version of a traditional service. A direct burial would likely include a simple container, no viewing or visitation, and no embalming. A memorial service would still be held at the graveside if desired.
The body is cremated after death without embalming. Remains are kept as the family desires. Costs are compounded as services are added.
General Information about Service Fes
Basic service fees are charged by the funeral provider and prices do vary. These fees are required and cover services such as: consultations, preparation and filing of permits, coordinating arrangements and third parties, overhead expenses (e.g. legal, accounting, professional licenses, insurance, maintenance and administration). According to the National Funeral Directors Association average fees are now over $2,000.
Casket styles vary from simple cardboard all the way to metal and fine wood. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced. Although there are many casket options, pine caskets are generally less expensive and funeral homes rarely display them. An average casket will cost around $2,200.
Many cemeteries require caskets be placed inside an outer container known as a grave liner or burial vault. These are rectangular boxes made of concrete, composite plastic, or metal. These vaults and liners are made to last forever and will even preserve the cemetery’s lawn and grounds. A casket buried without a vault or liner will eventually deteriorate and collapse resulting in uneven ground. This in turn can tilt a head stone and dirty the interior of the casket. An average vault will cost around $1,300.
The pick up and transport costs for newly deceased body from a residence, hospital or other location to a funeral home can be expensive. The further away the body has to be transported the higher the costs you will incur. The cost for removal can range from $125 to $500.
The practice of embalming grew popular during the Civil War when bodies had to be transported long distances back to their families. This practice involves draining a body of fluids and replacing them with chemicals to temporarily preserve the body. This practice is growing out of favor as people are more environmentally conscious. Embalming is not legally required and many choose refrigeration as an alternative. However, if a body must be transported a long distance, embalming may be required. Embalming fees range from $225 to $1,200.
Dressing, Hair & Makeup
This is different than embalming. Preparing a body for viewing and visitation by applying makeup, styling hair, dressing the body can be a worthy expense as this is the last time many will see the deceased. The average fee for this service is $200.
Many families like the burial clothing to be new. Funeral homes offer special burial clothes designed especially for the occasion. See table below for clothing costs.
Storage and Refrigeration
Funeral homes have a daily charge for storing a body, even if it is embalmed. Other homes may charge a lump sum for a set number of days. Storage fees range from $35 to $100 per day.
The viewing is an opportunity for friends and loved ones to say their goodbyes, offer condolences, and see the body one last time, embalmed or not. Often this is an event which will last a few hours. The viewing is usually held in a church or funeral home reception area with displays of pictures, and floral arrangements. Food and beverages can also be coordinated as many have traveled long distances to attend. Funeral home fees for viewings can range from $150 to $1,200.
Funeral Ceremony Staff
This charge is for coordination and supervising the funeral arrangements and assisting with the ceremony. This fee can be competitive of facilities who also charge a fee. Funeral staff fees range from $500 to $800.
Printed Programs are a great way for family and friends to take something from the funeral to remember the deceased by. These can be very basic to full color programs with pictures. Price varies depending on quality. Other printed material such as prayer cards and acknowledgement cards can also be arranged.
A Guest Register is a special book for attending guests to sign and/or write short condolences. See table below for guest register costs.
Two distinctive flower arrangements are available for funerals, the casket spray and a standing easel display. Urns can also be decorated with a flower wreath or garland.
Clergy or Celebrant Fees
Clergy are ordained leaders by a religious denomination and celebrants may or may not have any religious affiliation but may have ceremonial training on how to perform a eulogy. Some funeral homes have these people on staff.
Soloists and groups usually charge by the hour, others may donate their time. The more professional the musician(s), the more the musician(s) will likely charge. See table below for musician’s fees.
Hearse or Funeral Coach
At the head of the funeral procession, hearses or coaches typically carry the casket and body to the cemetery. Average hearse or funeral coach fees are $300.
Limousines, service cars, and flower cars all vary in sizes and costs. The average fee for a vehicle is $300.
Real estate pricing varies by location and whether the plot is in a private or public cemetery. See table below for grave plots fees.
Grave Opening and Closing
This expense can be significant and may cost as much as the plot itself. Weekend and holiday rates can double or even triple. See table below for grave opening and closing fees.
A graveside service is a brief ceremony at the cemetery next to the place of burial. The funeral home can coordinate the delivery of the casket and the ceremony. Additional fees may be incurred for items such as tents, chairs, flooring, decoration, etc.
Temporary Burial Marker
This marks the location of the grave pending a permanent marker or headstone. See table below for temporary burial marker.
Newspaper obituary vary in costs by number of lines. Smaller newspapers or online publications may cost less or even be free. Death notices, which have a limited number of lines and no biographical information, are inexpensive or free.
Cremated remains are not considered biohazard and do not require any special container. Most people choose to purchase an urn. Engraving is optional but can be a great way to personalize a loved ones remains. See table below for urn fees.
Grave Markers, Monuments and Headstones
Many of these can be purchased locally or online. Along with the actually marker, monument or headstone, fees may include engraving, delivery, foundation and installation. See table below for total cost.
Always a good idea to obtain a few copies as insurance companies, government agencies, and creditors may need an original. See table below for death certificate fees.
The Federal Trade Commission, Funerals & Your Rights
The Federal Trade Commission has created sets of rules that funeral providers must follow. These rules do not cover cemeteries and mausoleums unless they sell both the funeral goods and services. The rules include:
- may not provide embalming services without permission.
- may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
- must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
- may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law.
- must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, like direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
- must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.
- may not claim that embalming will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.
- may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
- must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
- must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.
- Federal and state laws do not require a vault or liner, however some cemeteries may require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future.
- funeral provider is required to give you a list of prices and descriptions
Caskets and Urns:
- requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices before showing you the casket.
- funeral provider cannot limit your use of a casket or urn you bought elsewhere and doesn’t allow them to charge you a few for using it.
- may not claim that a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.
- do not have to accept a package that includes services you do not want.
- general price lists must be available for all the items and services the funeral home offers. (These can be requested over the phone as well as in person)