In the days following the loss of a loved one, funeral planning can add an extra burden to already fragile grievers. Not to mention the stress that comes from having to make a myriad of important decisions within a short period of time. And then there’s the shock of cost.
Currently, the average funeral in the United States costs anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000. This range includes the services at the funeral home, burial and installation of a headstone. And keep in mind that prices may vary greatly, depending on different funeral homes and their location in the country. Here is a list of some reasonable average costs that are involved in a basic funeral:
- Funeral Director’s fee: $1,500
- Casket: $2,300
- Embalming: $500
- Using the funeral home for the actual funeral service: $500
- Grave site: $1,000
- Grave digging cost: $600
- Grave liner or outer burial container: $1,000
- Headstone: $1,500
This list includes just the main items. Other costs incurred could include the fee for placing an obituary in the newspaper and flowers. Other questions that could arise include what type of service should take place, should the deceased be buried or cremated, and depending on which is chosen, what kind of casket or cremation urn should be picked? What about which funeral home to choose—family-owned or not? What about the possibility of donating the body to science?
Costs can vary, but the average cremation is $2,000 to $4,000. Cremation is generally less expensive than traditional funeral services. If no viewing or visitation is involved, and there is no entombment, the remains can be kept in an urn in the home or scattered, so there are no burial or casket costs. Every funeral home should provide itemized costs if asked.
In considering all these different issues, it’s no wonder that most family members have difficulty planning a seamless ceremony, free from anxiety and conflict.
How to Talk About What Your Loved One Would Want
Norman Fishman, a family adviser at Hillside Memorial in Culver City, Calif., says that since most people are in denial about their imminent end when a loved one dies, that denial is ever-pervasive at the exact time they are forced to make decisions with long-lasting consequences, often with other family members who have differing opinions.
“When you’re pressed to make these big decisions, you’re gonna make a wrong one,” says Fishman. “I’ve seen so many siblings get into battles, asking each other, ‘What did dad want?’” Many times the family has no idea what the departed’s wishes were, so Fishman recommends having the hard discussions and taking care of everything beforehand.
Since most people don’t have a grasp on what “everything” means when it comes to organizing end-of-life services, here are some Federal Trade Commission guidelines to follow that might make it easier to navigate what can be the hardest time in a family’s life.
- Do some shopping around in advance. Compare prices at several funeral homes (at least two), and remember that you don’t have to buy the casket or urn at the funeral home, but can purchase it on your own. You can either visit each funeral home and get a pricing list, or it might be easier and less stressful to interview potential service providers over the phone.
- Ask for an itemized price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services. When comparing prices, make sure to consider the total cost of all the items together as well as the single costs of each item. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than buying individual services.
- Don’t feel pressure to buy goods and services you don’t really want or need. Although family advisers like Fishman are, in all reality, salespeople, their main goal should be to guide the family in the softest way possible to make the right decisions. Feeling pressure from a funeral home service provider may be the information that you need to shop around more for a better fit.
- Avoid emotional overspending. Realistically, it’s not imperative to have the fanciest, most expensive casket or the most elaborate funeral ceremony in order to honor a loved one. Grief may manifest in many ways, so be wary of the urge to spend beyond your means.
- Recognize your rights. Funeral and burial laws vary from state to state, so be sure to know which goods and services you’re required, by law, to buy and which are optional. Also, in most states, using a funeral home is not legally required, but, because of most people’s inexperience and lack of knowledge regarding the whole process, turning to the professional services of a funeral home can be a great comfort.
- Try to apply the usual smart shopping techniques you use for other major purchases. You can cut costs by having one viewing instead of two, or by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of expensive burial clothing. Think of creative alternatives where appropriate, just like you would when making any other big financial purchase.
- Shop in advance, if possible. This way you’ll have no time constraints and less pressure. It will also allow for family discussion, which will lift some of the burden from the family and assure that there will be as little conflict as possible.
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And then there is the question of getting there, often on short notice: Several airlines offer last-minute bereavement discounts on tickets. United does a 10% fee reduction if you're traveling within six days of the funeral or to visit a gravely ill immediate family member. You just need to give the name and address of the deceased (or dying) and the attending physician when booking. If you've already booked the ticket and you need to change or cancel a flight, they offer a "compassion fare."
American and Delta also offer bereavement rates; however, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin do not. Simply ask the booking agent about any bereavement discounts when you're buying your ticket.
Finally, when planning an actual funeral ceremony, the most important tip is to think ahead. Although the subject of death is avoided by the majority of people, planning ahead for end-of-life wishes is the secret to making sure surviving loved ones are not caught up in the chaos of grief and confusion because no plans have ever been discussed. Just make sure that your funeral wishes are given to your family ahead of time, as opposed to just written into your will, which might not be read until days or weeks after the funeral.
“If loved ones would simply write down what they would like to see happen, just like they would a will,” says Fishman, “all the trouble and heartache could be avoided as well as any huge amounts of money spent because no one is prepared. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a family walk through these doors in shambles.”
One simple tip, he says, is to ask other friends, family members or religious leaders you trust for a reputable funeral home they've used. From there, you'll be in the hands of caring professionals who can help guide your decisions.