February 23, 2020

How much does a funeral cost?

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

How much does an average funeral and body burial cost? I need to make funeral arrangements for my aunt, who’s terminally ill, and would like to have a cost idea going in so I can plan and budget appropriately.

The Executor

Dear Executor,

It definitely pays to know what charges to expect when pre-planning a funeral. Most people don’t have a clue, and can often be upsold thousands of dollars worth of extra services you may not want or need. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect.

Funeral prices 

The first thing you need to be aware of is that funeral costs will vary considerably depending on your geographic location, the funeral home you choose and the funeral choices you make. With that said, here’s a breakdown of what an average funeral costs, nationwide, according to recent data from the National Funeral Directors Association.

Professional services fee

This is a basic non-declinable fee that covers the funeral provider’s time, expertise and overhead. $2,000

Transfer of the remains

This is for picking up the body and taking it to the funeral home. $310

Embalming and body preparation

Embalming is usually mandatory for open-casket viewing, otherwise it’s not required unless the body is going to be transported across state lines. Embalming costs $695. Other body preparations, which includes hairdressing and cosmetics run $250.

Funeral viewing and ceremony

If the viewing and funeral ceremony is at the funeral home, you’ll be charged for use of the chapel and any necessary staff. Costs: $420 for viewing, and $495 for funeral ceremony.

Metal casket

This is a big money maker for funeral homes, with markups of up to 300 percent over the wholesale price. $2,395.

Funeral transportation

Use of hearse and driver $318 to transport the body to the cemetery. Use of a service car/van $143.

Memorial printed package

This includes printed programs and memorial guest book. $155.

In addition to these costs, there are a number of other related expenses such as flowers for the funeral (around $200 to $400), the daily newspaper obituary fee ($100 to $600 or more), the clergy honorarium ($200 to $300) and extra copies of the death certificate ($5 to $35 per copy depending on the state).

And, a number of large cemetery costs like the plot or mausoleum fee, the vault or grave liner that’s required by most cemeteries, and the opening and closing of the grave, all of which average between $2,000 and $4,000; and the gravestone, which typically costs between $1,000 and $3,000.

All told, the average cost of a total funeral today is around $11,000 or more.

Ways to save

If you aunt’s estate can’t afford this, there are ways to save. For starters, you should know that prices can vary significantly by funeral provider, so it’s wise to shop around.

If you need some help finding an affordable provider, your area funeral consumers alliance program may be able to refer you. See Funerals.org/local-fca or call 865-8300 for contact information.

There are also free websites you can turn to, like Parting.com that lets you compare prices, and FuneralDecisions.com that will provide estimates from local funeral homes based on what you want.    

When evaluating funeral providers, be sure you get an itemized price list of services and products so you can accurately compare and choose what you want.

But, the most significant way to save on a funeral is to request a “direct burial” or “direct cremation.” With these options your aunt would be buried or cremated shortly after death, which skips the embalming and viewing. If she wants a memorial service, you can have it at the graveside or at her place of worship without the body. These services usually run between $600 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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