Funerals & Burials & Creamtions

The Basics About Planning Funerals

Almost no one wants to plan a funeral. Especially for themselves. When a loved one is terminally ill, sometimes the conversation and planning happens organically because we know that death is coming. But in situations where there is a tragic accident, unexpected death, or a somewhat expected death just because of someone’s age it is not an event most of us sit around and plan out. Pre-planning for events you know will occur can help alleviate some of the pain and frustration all the decision making creates and most certainly have a financial plan in place, like a final expense policy, will relieve an unbelievable amount of stress, heartache and financial burden.

If you’ve ever helped arrange a funeral, you know even the most basic funeral expenses can be difficult to afford. If you went into the process with a budget in mind, the add-ons alone could send the cost of a funeral spiraling out of control.

One of the best ways to control these costs is to plan by knowing the average funeral cost and what each of the items and services runs. Once you know, you can decide which items are must-haves, what would be nice to have, and what you can do without.

So, What are the Basics I Need to Know to Have an Educated Guess?

  • Decide on a final disposition. Choose between cremation, burial, or other alternatives. Other alternatives can be: scattering ashes at sea or a loved place by the deceased, specific cemetery, spelled out instructions, national cemetery for veterans, shipped to another country, shipped back to a country. Each choice is driven by rules, regulations, and laws.
  • *** Designate people or a person to be responsible for making decisions so that it reduces confusion and arguments.***
  • Choose a funeral home. Usually, some type of service is planned so that family and friends can show their respects and have an action to take to support the grieving process.
  • Select a final resting place. This may include a cemetery plot, a vault, columbarium, niche, vault or a place to scatter the ashes.
  • Decide if you will have an obituary. Depending on how small or large the gathering will be, when you publish the obituary, it provides an opportunity for people you may not know about that would greatly appreciate getting the notification or be able to look up the obituary after the fact. We never know how people are connected, and when someone dies, we all deal with it on an individual basis. Public notification may provide more comfort than you can imagine.
  • Decide on the type of ceremony. There are many ways to honor our deceased loved one, a formal or religious ceremony, casual gathering, military funeral, spiritual ceremony or no ceremony.
  • Choose what type of services. Is there going to be a viewing, calling hours, flowers, indoors, outdoors, formal event setting, videos, car rentals, order of funeral procession, are police escorts needed due to traffic concerns, who will speak, will there be a eulogy, reading of poems/scriptures, handouts, memorial cards, etc.
  • Decide on the order of events. Not everyone has been to a funeral. Typically, in that case, they just follow the masses. But when there is order in the room or good direction by people on the same page everything typically goes smooth. It is always helpful to a printed program to keep the flow of events flowing smoothly
  • Will there be a gathering after services? People love to make food and bring it to a gathering or just drop it off to the immediate family. This too, is an expression of love and part of the grieving process for others. It is a healthy way to decompress from the loss and help others deal with death especially if it is their first experience in their personal life.
  • Continue to update your plans. A funeral is an event, but it is also a process to pull it altogether and there is not usually much time to get all that needs to be done finalized. Write down your plans, assign duties, have the event planned out as much as possible in advance to help relieve the pressure and frustration if something doesn’t go quite as planned.

The Basics on Funeral Costs

Planning for a funeral is one thing, PAYING for it, a complete other story. Pre-planning and paying for a burial/cremation is not the most popular action but the first statement you will hear after you say,

“I’m so sorry for your loss,”

“My mom had it all planned, we didn’t have to do one thing or make any decisions. It was all taken care of!”

At that moment, for a split second, it is a fabulous idea and you put yourself in that situation and think, “I should do that.”

Well, you should. Why? Because if you’ve ever helped arrange a funeral, you know even the most basic funeral expenses can be difficult to afford. If you went into the process with a budget in mind, the add-ons alone could send the cost of a funeral spiraling out of control.

One of the best ways to control these costs is to plan by knowing the average funeral cost and what each of the items and services runs. Once you know, you can decide which items are must-haves, what would be nice to have, and what you can do without.

Funeral costs include basic services fee for the funeral director and staff, charges for other services and merchandise, and cash advances. Make copies of the checklist at the end. Use it when you shop with several funeral homes to compare costs.

The cost of funerals varies substantially throughout the USA. It is important for you to do some homework before you sit in front of a funeral director so that you are not making emotional decisions. Walk in with an understanding to make financial decisions.

Funeral Fees

The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers have to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. These include funeral planning, securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates, preparing the notices, sheltering the remains, and coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties. The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise.
Cost starts at $500 up to $3,000+

Charges for other services and merchandise, include costs for optional goods and services such as transporting the remains; embalming and other preparation; use of the funeral home for the viewing, ceremony or memorial service; use of equipment and staff for a graveside service; use of a hearse or limousine; a casket, outer burial container or alternate container; and cremation or interment.
Costs start at $250 up to $10,000+

Cash advances are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, officiating clergy, and organists and soloists. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to the cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn’t require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts, or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.
Cost starts at $100 up to $4,000+

Calculating the Actual Cost of a Funeral

The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements. If the funeral provider doesn’t know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written “good faith estimate.” This statement also must disclose any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase specific funeral goods or services.

The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.

Services and Products Embalming

Many funeral homes require embalming if you’re planning a viewing or visitation. But embalming generally is not necessary or legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars. Under the Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:

  • 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.


For a “traditional” full-service funeral:

A casket often is the single most expensive item you’ll buy if you plan a “traditional” full-service funeral. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they’re constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. Although an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets sell for as much as $10,000.

When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.
So it’s in the seller’s best interest to start out by showing you higher-end models. If you haven’t seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them — but don’t be surprised if they’re not prominently displayed, or not on display at all.
Traditionally, caskets have been sold only by funeral homes. But more and more, showrooms and websites operated by “third-party” dealers are selling caskets. You can buy a casket from one of these dealers and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn’t allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

No matter where or when you’re buying a casket, it’s important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.

Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges — the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wooden caskets generally are not gasketed and don’t have a warranty for longevity. They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or oak, or softwood like pine. Pine caskets are a less expensive option, but funeral homes rarely display them. Manufacturers of both wooden and metal caskets usually offer warranties for workmanship and materials.

***Always check if you can purchase your own casket. Costco still has some of the most competitive prices for the same exact caskets that are offered by funeral homes. People have saved $1,000’s of dollars by buying their own casket from another store other than the funeral home.***

***When your loved one is 300+ pounds, you will have to pay more for a casket***

Cost starts at $2,000 up to $10,000+

Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in “traditional” full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner, and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, keep in mind that many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future. Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that’s not true.

Before showing you any outer burial containers, a funeral provider is required to give you a list of prices and descriptions. It may be less expensive to buy an outer burial container from a third-party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery. Compare prices from several sources before you select a model.

Cost starts at $400 up to $2,500+

Preservation Processes and Products

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, people have used oils, herbs and special body preparations to help preserve the bodies of their dead. Yet, no process or products have been devised to preserve a body in the grave indefinitely. The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you that it can be done. For example, funeral providers may not claim that either embalming or a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.

Cost starts at $80,000 up to $200,000+

Basic Checklist to Take with You

“Simple” disposition of the remains:

  • Immediate burial
  • Immediate cremation
  • If the cremation process is extra, how much is it?
  • Donation of the body to a medical school or hospital

“Traditional,” full-service burial or cremation:

  • Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff
  • Pickup of body
  • Embalming
  • Other preparation of body
  • Least expensive casket
  • Description, including model
  • Outer Burial Container (vault)
  • Description
  • Visitation/viewing — staff and facilities
  • Funeral or memorial service — staff and facilities
  • Graveside service, including staff and equipment
  • Hearse
  • Other vehicles
  • Total

Other Services:

  • Forwarding body to another funeral home
  • Receiving body from another funeral home

Cemetery/Mausoleum Costs:

  • Cost of lot or crypt (if you don’t already own one)
  • Perpetual care
  • Opening and closing the grave or crypt
  • Grave liner, if required
  • Marker/monument (including setup)

Calculating the Actual Cost of a Funeral

There are just as many choices with a cremation as there is with a burial. We will start off from the simplest cremation to the most elaborate cremation.

Quite often, people ask, “can’t you get a cremation for free ?” When a cremation is “free,” it will be due to the fact that the person that has passed, has no living relatives or if the family is significantly financially devastated, their loved one will be cremated by the state or county and placed in a no name grave. One other situation, would be based on the individual qualifying to donate their body to science and then the cremated remains returned to the family.

In general, there is almost ALWAYS going to be a cost to cremate a loved one that has passed, so be prepared and have a final expense plan in place so that there is NO financial burden to anyone.


Finding an Urn

Purchasing an urn for a loved one is usually a very personal purchase. Crematoriums & funeral homes typically have a small expensive collection. It is worth the time to shop it around on-line to find the best price and to see many different selections at one time. As you look for what works for your loved ones, there are lockets, smaller keep sake urns for smaller amounts of ashes as well as large elaborate and costly urns. In general, a modest and personalized urn costs around $180. It truly is a personal choice but the minimum cost is $50 and ranges to $500+. It is up to you.

Direct Cremation

The least expensive cremation is a direct cremation with no funeral or memorial services. The cost can range from $750 – $4,500.

There is an increased cost if your loved one is over 300 pounds.

If you are obese, you can be cremated. However, having a person who is larger than average in size may necessitate more complex and costly procedures to handle. A larger cremation chamber or retort is required when trying to cremate an overweight body, which can be an initial stumbling block for a family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 42.4% of adults in the United States are clinically obese, and 69% are overweight or obese. Obese people can be cremated as long as their cremation chamber is large enough to accommodate them. There are no crematory or funeral home chambers large enough to hold an obese person. A standard cremation price can be set at 300 pounds for a deceased person. An oversize cremation will almost certainly cost you more than a standard cremation, ranging from $100 to $500. By 2030, more than half of the population of the United States could be clinically obese, and the cremation rate is expected to increase to 80%.


Direct Cremation with a Service

Families can choose to have a direct cremation and then a small service at home, in a chapel, funeral home or other locations that accommodate the amount of people anticipated to attend. The urn is usually present, with a photo of the loved one whom has passed and seating accommodations.

The cost of the service will depend on the venue which could range from FREE to $3,000+.


Cremation with a Viewing

When a viewing of the body is planned prior to the cremation, you can rent a casket for the viewing. You do NOT need to purchase a casket in order to have a viewing of your loved one. When the cremation takes place, you can request the options that the crematorium has to offer. The least expensive is a sturdy cardboard case.

The additional cost will at minimum include the venue, the casket and any other additional items requested.

At minimum, the additional cost will start at $500.

Cremation, Viewing and Grave Side Service or Columbarium

What is a columbarium? A columbarium is a structure used to store and often display urns containing cremated remains. The structure is typically a wall, room, or building that can be indoors or outdoors.

Columbariums are usually located in cemeteries, but they can also be found in churches, crypts, outdoor monuments, crematorium sites, and more. They can be structures that stand alone or are part of other burial monuments, such as within a mausoleum.

Sometimes, you will also hear the word niche. A niche is a permanent, above-ground location in which to place an urn that contains cremation ashes. Niches are typically located in a cemetery, mausoleum, or chapel. Niches typically have three variations: granite-front, bronze-front, and glass-front. For granite-front and bronze-front types, the niche is sealed. The bronze front is similar to a headstone and can be customized to include information about the deceased.

A granite-front niche is more challenging to customize and add an inscription. However, a bronze plaque can be added for that purpose. Glass-fronted niches allow the urns to be displayed visibly alongside inscriptions, small pictures, or tokens related to the deceased.

In terms of the columbarium itself, it is often made of brick or concrete. The style/design of a columbarium depends on the cemetery. For example, customization options at a public/shared columbarium are limited, in most cases, to the niche selected.

Private or custom columbariums are possible in some cases and can provide a family with more say in the design. However, the cost to have one designed would be significant.

Overall, this additional cost starts at $500 up to $5,000+.

There are many different arrangements offered by funeral homes, cemetaries, crematoriums but the most important factor is to follow your loved one’s wishes and to have the funds to pay for the services you agree to.

On that note, DO NOT PAY any funds until you have a written contract stipulating exactly what is being paid for and what is expected to happen so that everything goes as planned. Too many times, people have stories of how they were required to pay more money after they thought everything was said and done. That is why it is imperative, to have everyone on the same page before the first dollar is paid.


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