Understanding Funeral Expenses

Funeral expenses come at the worst time for family members and other survivors. Not only does a funeral take place in an emotionally difficult time, but the high costs often come as an unpleasant shock. Legal and financial issues already surround most deaths as beneficiaries go through probate or examine trusts. The extra challenge of funeral expenses is never welcome.

However unwanted, it is impossible to avoid all funeral costs. Knowing how much a funeral will cost before facing the trauma of a death in the family, and all the work afterward, will ease the burden. Prepare yourself by learning how funeral expenses work and what you can expect in terms of financing and processes.

First, remember that you as the consumer have specific rights. The Funeral Rule, enacted in the United States in 1914 and updated in 1994, serves as protection for the emotionally vulnerable by defining how funeral businesses are allowed to offer services. Specifics of the Rule include:

  • Funeral companies cannot claim that embalming is required (it is not).
  • Funeral companies must not charge a fee for services like embalming that you did not specifically authorize – so pay close attention to all paperwork.
  • Funeral companies must always disclose if other services, like a viewing, making additional expenses like embalming a required purchase. In fact, all additional goods or services must be disclosed in writing, no matter what.
  • No funeral company can claim that state law requires a casket for direct cremations.
  • If state laws do require any action, the funeral company must clearly show it in writing.

These laws and similar sections of the Funeral Rule help keep funeral companies from committing fraud. However, expenses still tend to be unexpectedly high. Keep in mind the average cost of a funeral in 2011 was around $10,000. 2012 rates were between $8,000 and $10,000 on average. A low-cost funeral may be only a few thousand dollars, while a high cost funeral can easily exceed $25,000 – the point at which many life insurance policies actually start paying for funeral costs.

Burial Costs

Burial costs refer to all costs associated with the burial itself. Clothes cost several hundred dollars, and burial shrouds often cost even more. Basic caskets cost at least $1,000 unless you are using a casket for cremation, since cardboard versions tend to be only $150 to $300. Grave markers can cost up to $2,000 or more, and buying a grave plot can easily cost more than $400. Even simple services like burial vault storage and grave opening and closing can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000. For cremations, urns tend to cost much less than caskets, only several hundred dollars on average (although you can use your own earn.

Funeral Fees

In addition to the basic burial fees, there are a number of additional funeral fees to consider. These are incurred when you choose any of the traditional funeral events or features. Embalming costs $500 to $800 for average rates. Flowers cost several hundred dollars. The fees for the funeral ceremony itself cost at least $200 – and the list goes on. The funeral coach, the guest register book, the obituary…each can cost up to $100 or more.

Viewing and visitation fees are several hundred dollars, and even if you do not schedule a viewing, the funeral home will typically charge a services fee for basic consultation. Meeting with and discussing your options will cost $500 on the low end and is an unavoidable step in the process.

You can also opt for a traditional or direct burial package, which often includes discounts, but these will still cost several thousand dollars and do not include any cemetery fees – just transporting the body to the grave plot. Direct burial packages usually do not cost more than $3,600, but traditional packages can go much higher. Cremation packages, on the other hand, vary so much it is difficult to predict their pricing. Some are only several hundred dollars, while others are as expensive as burials.



Payment Plans and Prepayment

These cost details should make one point obvious: Funeral homes are for-profit businesses, and are trying to make money however they can. If you want a traditional funeral, you will need to find the means to pay for it. This is where funeral insurance, funeral loans, and funeral payments become an key part of the process.

  • Insurance: As mentioned before, life insurance policies may not begin paying for funerals until they reach a certain level, such as $25,000. Policies specifically for funeral insurance do not have such strict limitations, but they came with another collection of caveats. There may be age limitations (no payments after 80, for example) or expense restrictions that leave many expenses in your hand. Reading the fine print of these policies may be worthwhile if a death is expected, but it is still an arduous task.


  • Loans: Be very wary of funeral payment plans as well. While easy, these funeral home loans often have high 12% interest rates and require “administrative fees” that only add to the cost. If you have no choice but to seek a loan, consult the rates on your credit cards or bank loans and see if they are better than a funeral loan. In most cases, they will be.


  • Trusts: Because there are so many trusts, it can be difficult to choose one that works well with funerals. In theory, a good trust will let a person pay into an account, earn interest on that account, then have their relatives use the trust after death to pay for the funeral. Some trusts, such as Totten Trusts, make this process highly efficient. Other trusts may put as little as 60% of the deposits directly into the account, so research is again required.

Additional Resources:

The Funeral Site: Funeral Costs – A Detailed Breakdown

Funeral Tips: How to Plan an Affordable Funeral

Term Life Insurance: Understanding Funeral Insurance

Funeral Help Program: Payment Options