How to Plan for Funeral Costs
Funeral costs today are no small matter. Whether you are being considerate about your own demise or handling the recent death of a loved one, planning for funeral costs is an important part of the process. Grave sites, caskets, cremation urns and catered parties after a death have a cost, and even the most basic service and mortuary services will need to be covered. You might even need to plan on setting aside some money for appropriate clothes to wear to a funeral.
The National Funeral Directors Association has determined that the median costs of a traditional funeral with burial is nearly $7,400. If you include the cost of the burial vault that nearly all cemeteries require, that price is over $8,500. If these numbers are high enough to surprise you, you are clearly not alone. Over 84% of our survey responses (respondents are from the use and aged 55+) indicated that they too thought these estimates were too high.
Today, we're here to help you discover the different types of funerals and their potential cost from beginning to end.
Estimate Your Funeral at $10,000
If you want a quick answer to set a budget and go, start with about $10,000. The basic services in most major cities cost between $5,000 and $9,000 depending on your choices. This does not include the cost of services, wakes, catering, will reading, or transportation; so it's best to round up.
If you want an extravagant, multi-event, or very traditional funeral, double the number to $20,000 at a rough estimate or higher. Funeral etiquette sometimes makes talking about costs difficult, but they are very real and it's likely your family and friends can also offer guidance if you tastefully ask them about it.
Burial vs Cremation
The next important question is burial or cremation. Both have the potential to come with additional or even maintenance costs depending on your final arrangements. Your faith, tradition, preference, and budget can all play a role in choosing.
Cremation costs about $1,000 less than burial on whatever scale you're dealing with.
Cost: $1,500 to $8,000
Burial includes a grassy place where relatives can come to visit. It is a tradition for many faiths and families. Many people prefer to be buried and even buy their plots ahead of time somewhere nice or near family. According to the statistics rolled up by the NFDA the national median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial is just about $7,400. This ranges widely depending on the specific services, venues, and event details that you choose.
Burial comes with the additional costs of lot rental (sometimes) and a headstone or even a crypt depending on the region.
If you have a church with a burial location available, they may offer you a different price and service arrangement.
Cost: $600 to $5,000
Cremation stores the deceased incinerated ashes in a decorative urn. Cremation urns are often stored in the garden walls of cemeteries or can be taken home to be kept by the family. Cremation also makes it possible to spread the ashes of the deceased over a favorite place or into the sea.
If you choose to have a cremation urn stored in a cemetery, it will be there for visitors and future generations but may come with extra costs for the slot and plaque.
Cremation is the most popular choice for sentimental and low-cost funeral arrangements. There are some options that might surprise you, like the privilege of viewing the cremation directly and even an option to delegate the pushing of the button that fires the burners to a family member or close friend.
Cremation also allow for the selection of a special memorial to hold the ashes. This cremation urn can be personalized in a number of ways and urns of many different themes, like motorcycle cremation urns, are available to remember your loved one doing the activity they most cherished.
Direct vs Traditional Arrangements
In the funeral business there are two types of arrangement. Essentially it comes down to whether there will be embalming or not. This is the direct vs traditional split. If you want to have an open-casket funeral, wake, or service then you'll need traditional funeral services featuring embalming. If you do not want viewing events you can choose to go with direct services.
Direct Funeral Arrangements
Cost: $600 to $4,000
Direct burial or cremation occurs in the first few days after death. No viewing or open-casket events are planned and no fancy caskets are required. The deceased is delivered to their burial site and buried or cremated quickly without delay. Mourners can forgo a service or hold services separately without interfering with the fast arrangements for the body.
Traditional Funeral Arrangements
Cost: $2,000 to $10,000
Traditional funeral arrangements include a great deal of time saying goodbye to the deceased. To do this with an open-casket wake, funeral service, or graveside service requires embalming and corpse preparation along with the significant addition of event planning costs.
You may feel obligated to hold a fully traditional funeral service for religious or cultural reasons
Traditional burials and memorial cremation services are often much higher in price than direct options because they require embalming, scheduling, and additional services from the funerary business.
Direct with Funeral Services
Cost: $1,500 to $5,000
Your third option is to arrange for the direct option while holding any services and memorials without the body physically present. If you don't need the casket at the funeral service, at the wake, or at the memorial then you can potentially save a bundle on funerary arrangements.
A memorial service without the body averages at about $900 to $1200.
Some funeral businesses will allow you to hold a quick graveside service during a direct burial while others will increase the price on the grounds that it is now a traditional burial. Find whatever balance of services and event planning works for your needs, traditions, and budget.
Funeral Event Arrangements
A big portion of funeral arrangement costing is not actually dealing with the body, but the events that make up a funeral experience. Your family and friends may expect a wake, a religious service, or a graveside service depending on your traditions. It's up to you and your budget on how to plan these hosted or DIY.
Each event can be hosted with a casket as part of traditional burial or separately as a celebration of life.
Catering vs Potluck
Some wakes and services are catered, others rely on community potluck. Catering can add thousands of dollars to your plan but also provides a sense of order and formality to a wake. Catering fees may also be considered if hosting your wake in a favorite bar or venue.
Potluck wakes can be held at home or a shared community location, but you may still need to rent enough tables and chairs for everyone along with decorations and any additional event details you want.
Religious or Memorial
If your family is religious or sentimental, a service may be expected. Religious services can cost money or you might be able to ask your church to provide one for a deceased congregation member.
If you are not religious, a memorial service serves the same purpose. It grants everyone a chance to say their piece and pay their respects.
Even with direct arrangements, you may be able to coordinate a graveside service for a few words and goodbyes before the body goes into the ground, is cremated, or the urn is placed.
Planning Ahead for Funeral Costs
Most Americans surveyed (56%) don't have the approximate $7,000 ready to pay for their funeral expenses. If you are like most other Americans, here are some ideas to take action today.
If you are courteously planning ahead for your own funeral, then arranging for the costs is the natural next step. It's important to know where the approximate $10,000 will come from to take care of the arrangements you've made and the services you'd prefer.
Life insurance is the most traditional way to provide for the final costs of your funeral and estate. In many cases, a parent can have a very low cost rider that will cove a significant amount of the funeral costs for a child. What is usually the least expensive life insurance option, term life insurance, it not a good fit for the elderly as they premiums will be way to high to justify the benefit. That leads us to our next suggestion.
Final Expenses Insurance
If you are over 50, you may be able to get a final expenses insurance policy which is often exactly $10,000 to pay for the approximate cost of today's funeral arrangements. Typically this is lower cost as it is only going to cover the specific costs associated with a funeral. Usually, the payout is limited for the first one to five years of the policy so this does need to be planned out ahead of time.
If the first two options are not available, you could start putting money aside into a savings account on a regular basis so that there are funds available there where needed.
Financing a Funeral Now
If you are looking to cover the funerary costs of a loved one's recent demise, there are also options for last-minute funeral financing arrangements.
Some financial lenders offer a specific loan package to help cover the costs of a loved one's burial and funeral. Funeral financing can go as high as $40,000 from some lenders but a small loan is often all you need to financially bridge the gap. Be mindful of high APR's that can approach 200%!
Life Insurance Financing
If your loved one had life insurance, the pay out may have been intended, in part, to cover the costs of a funeral and arrangements. However, if the insurance will take a while to come through, you may need to decide to get a loan or pay out of pocket now to be repaid later.
You can also take a private loan to cover the costs of a funeral and defray the total financial impact over time. This may be more viable of there will be inheritance to cover the costs after probate and insurance approvals take place.
Home Sale Recoup
Likewise, if you are inheriting and plan to sell a home, the profits may help to eventually cover the costs of a funeral.
We surveyed over 1,500 adults aged 55+ who are residents of the United States via an online survey in February 2020. Questions on this survey asked respondents to indicate if they thought the published median costs of traditional funerals were actually too high or too low. Additionally, they were asked if they were prepared to pay this median costs for their own funeral. This data was compiled in order to be presented here.
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If you are looking to determine the cost of a funeral today or in the future it is important to map out every aspect of your plans. The arrangements you make for the body and for events like a wake and services will significantly influence the cost. However, by planning ahead, you can provide for that cost and make sure that the funeral is as stress-free as possible for family and mourners. For more insights into how the funeral, memorial service and urn selection process works, please consult our full list of guides and articles.