If you’re reading this article, you may be wondering, “how much does a funeral cost?” When dealing with end-of-life arrangements, funeral and burial costs can be challenging. A funeral service should celebrate the deceased loved one’s life and pay tribute to them. Sadly, the average burial cost can shift the focus to money instead.
Many families have no idea of the typical costs of funeral services; when someone dies, they are unprepared for the expenses. Family members should be aware of arrangements the deceased has made to be buried or cremated. If nothing is in place, it’s essential to understand what funeral home fees and other expenses will involve. Whether you’re arranging your own funeral or someone else’s, it’s vital to be prepared.
In this article, we’ll explore the national median cost for funeral services and how different types of funerals affect overall costs. We’ll also look at how life insurance can cover costs and what to do if it doesn’t. Finally, we’ll explore additional associated expenses and what you can do to avoid incurring debt with personal loans or desperately looking for financial assistance at the last minute.
Funeral Services – Basic Costs To Consider
Before planning funeral arrangements, it’s essential to know how average funeral costs add up – the ceremony is only a minor part of it! Here’s a breakdown of the elements typically included in funeral expenses based on where you will likely incur costs.
At the funeral home
Before you choose a funeral home, you must know and understand your options. It’s best to contact several funeral homes to get a range of prices and services. According to the Funeral Rule, funeral homes have to give you general pricing over the phone.
Here are some of the basic expenses you expect to incur at the funeral home:
Funeral home service fees
Funeral homes usually charge a basic services fee regardless of specific goods, services, or arrangements. These are non-optional service fees and average around $2,000 to $2,500.
Included in the basic services fee are:
- Obtaining copies of the death certificate.
- Securing permits required.
- Housing the remains.
- Coordinating funeral and burial or cremation arrangements.
Embalming and preparing the remains
Embalming costs can start at around $500 and rarely exceeds $1,000. It’s not always required, depending on how quickly the remains are buried or cremated. An alternative to embalming is refrigeration, which can cost several hundred dollars. You can avoid embalming costs if you choose to have a direct burial or direct cremation, but embalming is essential for visitation.
Preparing the body for viewing requires makeup and hair styling, which can incur an additional fee of between $250 and $400.
A headstone or grave marker
A standing headstone can cost more than $2,000 to $5,000. Grave markers lie flat and are significantly cheaper at around $1,000, depending on the material and design. Headstones and grave markers in stone and bronze are generally the most affordable options.
You can purchase them from most funeral homes and cemeteries or buy them from third-party retailers. With this option, you may come across exceptional savings while also enjoying the opportunity to have a highly customized headstone or grave marker made. The type of headstone or grave marker you choose depends on personal preference and on which section of the cemetery the gravesite is. Cemeteries have different rules for different areas; checking with them is best to ensure your choices are compliant.
Caskets vary widely in design, style, material, and price. It is usually the most expensive part of the average funeral cost and can run between $2,000 and $5,000 – some even as expensive as $10,000 or more.
Again, it’s essential to know that you don’t have to buy all the funeral items from the funeral home. Buying a casket from a third party can save you thousands of dollars. Most retailers will ship the casket directly to the funeral home. By law, funeral homes must use the casket you choose and can’t charge additional fees to handle a casket not sold by them. An eco-friendly casket is a cost-effective option. We’ll discuss eco-friendly funerals further on in this article.
Flowers and wreaths
For an elegant flower display, you can set aside between $500 and $700. If you would like to save costs, you could ask guests to bring flowers to the service. A family member may find this a comforting way to pay tribute to the deceased loved one. Alternatively, look for a funeral home that has arrangements with local florists and can provide flowers as part of the funeral package and include it in the overall cost of the funeral.
Wreaths are displayed around the casket during the service and typically cost around $100 to $200 each. Casket wreaths can cost up to $700, depending on the size, the type of flowers used, and the florist.
Talk to the funeral home about a potential “church fee,” which can be around $100 if the family wants to conduct a memorial service at a church or anywhere other than the funeral home’s chapel. It covers the cost of transporting personnel and equipment to the funeral site.
If you want to play recorded music during the service, check with the funeral home if a licensing fee is payable or if it’s part of the basic service fee. Some funeral homes charge for it separately, amounting to $50 or more.
If you plan to use live music, there shouldn’t be additional costs, but check to ensure it’s allowed and that there are no additional fees. Some facilities will only allow certain types of music.
Placing an obituary
Some funeral homes cover the cost of placing an obituary announcement in the local news, but others pass this change to the family. Since it can cost several hundred dollars, it’s essential to consider whether a printed obituary is necessary. There are more cost-effective options available. For example, you can create an online obituary that you can share with relatives and friends worldwide.
Transporting your loved one’s remains to the funeral home and the burial site or crematorium would incur around $350 to $900, depending on the type of van or hearse used, the cost of the driver, and whether it is included in the funeral home’s package.
A hearse costs around $200 to $400, and a service car will be approximately $100 to $150 extra if the funeral home does not include it in their service fee. For those who want to have a stylish and elegant funeral, there is an option to have a horse and carriage funeral. It’s not available everywhere, and the cost of it is usually significantly higher than a hearse.
Besides the cost of embalming and other viewing preparations, there are usually additional fees to pay. These fees are for using the facilities and staff to manage the viewing process and will add around $400 to $500 to the cost of a funeral.
Ceremony or funeral service costs
Whether you have a service at the funeral home, in a church, or a graveside service, somebody has to preside over the proceedings. Even those who do a direct cremation or burial will likely choose to have a memorial for the deceased. It honors the dearly departed and comforts those who attend.
This cost depends on whether it is included as part of the basic service fee by the funeral home or if the family has a religious official they would prefer to lead the funeral ceremony in a church or at the burial plot. It can be anything from a $50 voluntary donation to around $200.
At the cemetery
Unless a pre-purchased funeral plot is available, the burial site will likely be the most significant funeral expense. This is more or less what costs you can expect to incur at the cemetery.
The funeral plot
Funeral homes and cemeteries are separate, and each carries its own costs. Many people don’t realize that the burial plot will be an additional cost of anything between $350 and $5,000. In some metropolitan areas, a plot may even cost more. There’s also a fee to open the grave, place the casket, and close the grave, which can cost around $1,000 at a public cemetery and can be as much as $3,000 at a private cemetery.
When you purchase a funeral plot, ask how the cemetery will maintain the gravesite, whether the maintenance is included in the price, or if there is an annual or monthly service fee.
Grave liners or burial vaults
Most cemeteries require grave liners or burial vaults. These pieces of steel or concrete are installed in a grave before the casket is lowered into it. Cemetery owners insist on this for landscaping purposes so the dirt doesn’t cave in around the casket, keeping the ground level and safe.
Grave liners or burial vaults can cost between $800 and $5,000. It’s usually best to go for the least expensive version since most cemeteries require them, and it won’t make much difference to the funeral proceedings.
Headstone setting fee
Most cemeteries require a set fee for installing the headstone. It is unavoidable and will cost between $50 and $500.
At the attorney’s office
In addition to the funeral home and cemetery bills, families must also pay legal fees related to settling the estate. A simple, uncontested will can usually go through a probate system with minimal hassle and very little to no fees.
However, even a slight abnormality could result in thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs. If there is a risk of a contested will, it’s best to talk to an attorney who will give you an idea of what to expect and budget for.
Other funeral and burial costs included in final expenses may include:
Thank you cards
Most families have much help from friends and loved ones during the time. Thanking them for their help and care and others for attending the funeral is a meaningful and therapeutic act. Compare prices from the funeral home and local stationery or office supply stores.
Thank you cards can sell for as much as $2 each, plus postage. You may also need to sign up for an online address-searching service if it’s a large funeral and you don’t have everyone’s address details.
Time off work
This is one of the most often overlooked final expenses of a funeral. Sometimes one family member takes more responsibility for this because they have better organizational skills or knowledge of the estate, or their work schedule is flexible. Families should discuss some form of compensation for this time spent.
Travel, accommodation, and food
When a loved one dies, family and friends may travel long distances to get together for the funeral. This incurs expenses for travel, accommodation, and food. Some families will chip in for this, and others will expect each person to look after their own arrangements. Depending on where everyone is coming from, costs will vary.
Why People Tend To Overspend On Funeral Arrangements
It’s common for families to overspend by hundreds, and even thousands, when arranging a funeral service for various reasons. The emotional impact of losing someone dear to us can cloud judgment, and some funeral homes and cemeteries take advantage of this. Many families have never had to plan funeral services before, and there are usually time constraints.
When we shop for cars, computers, or other items, we shop around and get the best price for the best product. When you’re arranging a funeral, you must make many on-the-spot decisions while going through an emotionally charged time. It makes it challenging to price shop for funeral costs. The average funeral can cost as much as any other large purchase, but because it’s not a pleasant or common purchase, people tend to pay the “sticker price” for funeral services.
You can save money if you plan for funeral expenses and shop around for a funeral home and cemetery. Since the average funeral cost is as much as $10,000, it’s a good idea to find ways to cut costs instead of depleting your entire savings account. Let’s look at some handy hints to help you save money.
Save Money On Funeral Costs
These tips can help you to save money if a loved one dies without a life insurance policy that covers their funeral expenses.
#1. Shop around
Talk to several funeral homes about general pricing based on the services you’re considering. Take note of their service fee and other costs and compare prices. Also, consider the cost of funeral items like caskets, liners, flowers, and memorial stones. These items don’t have to form part of the funeral home fees; you can shop around and purchase them from other vendors outside the funeral home.
#2. Save on embalming costs
According to the Federal Trade Commission, you don’t have to embalm the remains for every death. However, there are regulations about preserving remains before burial or cremation. It is related to the time between death and disposal.
If you choose to have an immediate burial or cremation, you can have a direct burial or direct cremation, which means you may eliminate the embalming process. Please note that this means you cannot arrange visitation or memorial services with the casket present. So if this is important to the family, direct burial may not be an option.
#3. Have a private memorial
You can hold a memorial at home or in a place that has special meaning to the deceased loved one. Many people choose to have a graveside service, especially families that are not religious. You can still have a meaningful service at a fraction of the average funeral cost.
#4. Was the deceased loved one a veteran?
Talk to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about burial allowances. The organization will cover an honorably discharged veteran’s funeral and cremation costs to a family member like a spouse, child, or parent. This allowance includes the costs of transporting the remains but does not cover additional funeral expenses like catering, family transportation, flowers, and obituary notices.
#5. Did the person die in a disaster area?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers FEMA Funeral Assistance that takes care of the final funeral costs for a person who has died in a federally declared disaster area.
The Funeral Rule
Before you begin making funeral arrangements for yourself or a family member, you must know that you have rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the “Funeral Rule” in 1984 to prevent funeral homes from overcharging anyone arranging a funeral or pressuring them into buying funeral goods and services they don’t need or want. The Funeral Rule gives you the following rights:
- To only purchase the goods and services you want.
- To be offered prices and information by phone.
- To see a price list for caskets.
- To see a price list for outer burial containers.
- An itemized statement of all items and services provided.
- To see a written statement before making any payments.
- The option to select an alternative container for a cremation.
- To provide your own vessel, such as a casket or an urn.
- The choice to decline embalming.
With the Funeral Rule, the person arranging the funeral can be protected from depleting their traditional savings account for the funeral’s final expenses. However, there is still the risk of not being able to afford a burial. Cremation costs can be significantly less. Let’s explore that.
What To Ask Your Funeral Provider
Whether planning a funeral for someone who has recently died or for the future, one of the most important questions to ask a funeral home is whether it is independent or part of a corporation. Prices from corporation-owned funeral homes can be up to 70% higher than from independent funeral homes.
Sometimes the more prominent corporate funeral homes offer packaged deals for different types of funerals and won’t sell goods and services separately. According to the Funeral Rule, you are entitled to buy goods and services as you see fit. You don’t have to include items not part of your funeral planning.
Other questions you should ask the funeral home are:
- May I have your general price list?
- Are the prices for items like caskets and urns on the list? If not, may I see a general price list for those items?
- Does the price list cover options for embalming, viewing, visitation, cremation, and the type of funeral or memorial service?
- What is your payment policy?
- Do you work directly with insurance companies?
Average Funeral Cost: Cremation Costs vs. Burial
A cremation can be a cost-saving option depending on the various fees paid to the funeral home. Cremation costs range from $1,000 to $8,000, while the average funeral cost is up to $10,000 and more.
A casket can cost several thousand dollars, and other items like headstones, grave liners, and transportation costs can also add thousands to the bill. To establish an average funeral cost breakdown, we look at a survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA.)
Average costs according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)
This survey, done in 2021, established the median cost of a basic funeral without a burial plot, headstone, flower arrangements, or an obituary. The survey concluded that the average funeral cost was $9,420 with a vault included and $7,848 without a vault. The median cost of a basic cremation was $6,970.
Paying For Funeral Costs: What You Should Know
When a loved one has died, it’s challenging to think about things like the median price of a funeral or typical expenses associated with it. However, once a valid death certificate is produced, the next of kin has to make arrangements.
The first step is to consider how you will cover funeral costs. If something is in place to cover the median price of an adult funeral, you can start making arrangements and cover any sundries out of pocket. But, what if the person did not have an end-of-life insurance policy or a savings account available to make a lump-sum payment to cover funeral costs? Here are some of the options to consider.
Life insurance and funeral costs
Any life insurance policy can help cover funeral costs. More people are taking out life insurance policies to cover burial costs or cremation fees when they die. They want to help prevent their families from the financial burden.
Monthly funeral insurance costs are generally affordable and cover funeral costs and other end-of-life expenses. Even a modest policy should cover the median price of a funeral. Life insurance is the most efficient and trusted way to cover final expenses like medical and burial costs.
It’s important to note that sometimes life insurance only pays out smaller death benefits, and it’s best to look at the insurance specifically for funeral expenses.
Pre-paying funeral expenses
If you don’t have life insurance and you’re worried about rising average funeral costs and leaving the financial burden of your death on your family, you can pre-pay funeral costs. It’s an excellent way to ensure your final wishes are carried out.
A smart way to pre-pay your funeral and burial expenses is to take out a final expense insurance policy. Also called funeral insurance or burial insurance, the purpose of this policy is to make a lump-sum payment of between $10,000 and $25,000 as a death benefit. The payment covers funeral and other end-of-life expenses like travel costs for family members, medical expenses, and unpaid bills.
Talk to a final expense insurance company about a quote to help you determine what type of burial insurance is available to you. Final expense life insurance usually doesn’t require a physical or medical exam and is generally affordable and easy to apply for.
What if I don’t have burial insurance or life insurance?
Those who are not comfortable with life insurance or final expense insurance can use what they would spend on monthly premiums and start a savings account to cover costs. It is a sensible way to ensure your final wishes are taken care of and that your loved ones are not left without financial assistance or forced to take out personal loans to cover funeral expenses.
Saving Funeral Costs With Different Types Of Funerals
Funerals can be as unique as the people they are honoring. Different cultures, religions, and races have different types of funeral services with different associated costs. Depending on your financial situation, you may want to consider a different kind of funeral that will save on funeral costs.
For those arranging a funeral for someone who didn’t have burial insurance or savings, the cost of a funeral service and burial or cremation could be impossible to cover. If someone can’t afford funeral home fees and other end-of-life expenses, they could consider a direct burial or direct cremation.
With this option, the remains are not embalmed, and there is no visitation. This service is more affordable and will cost several thousand dollars less. A direct cremation also does not require a burial plot, grave liner, transportation, or other funeral-related costs. It will, however, require a cremation fee.
Military funeral costs
Military veterans and their spouses and children are entitled to a free, dignified burial in a national cemetery as well as a grave marker if they were honorably discharged. If the person died as a veteran, the surviving family members might also avail of death benefits depending on eligibility.
Although military funeral costs are usually several thousand dollars less than civilian funerals, it doesn’t cover all expenses. Contact your local VA office for help with the funeral costs and funeral planning.
A green funeral
Eco-friendly funerals save families hundreds or thousands of dollars on funeral costs and are also a planet-friendly choice. Biodegradable caskets are significantly cheaper than traditional caskets. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), these caskets cost around $1,500. They’re simple structures made from sustainable wood and are not treated with chemicals.
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person can experience, and the median cost of funerals is rising. The funeral cost could be a massive burden on family members left behind if the deceased did not have a death benefit or a life insurance policy covering the funeral costs.
Some funeral homes take advantage of this by recommending unnecessary funeral expenses that drive up the cost of a funeral beyond what the family can afford. Because they feel pressured to ensure their loved one’s final wishes are respected, family members may go into debt or deplete a savings account instead of going for the cheapest funeral costs available. With careful planning, you can avoid this from happening.