Friday, March 9, 2012

The Cost of Dying – Traditional Funeral Services & Burial

A Wedding
We love to plan and prepare for the major events in our lives; graduations, weddings, births, anniversaries, reunions, but when it comes to planning our death – that seems to flummox us like nothing else.  Yet, it is a major life event, and it does need our attention and planning.  Maybe now more than ever!

Invoice Example
Death is a $12 to $15-billion industry in the United States. As we continue to die, rates continue to climb.  Expenses for a funeral service can vary dramatically, depending on what type of funeral you decide on and where you are located.  According to the 2010 Funeral Price Survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), Americans spent, on average, $7,775.00 for an adult funeral in 2009, based on the elements of a regular, traditional funeral.

Grave monument
Opening a Grave
This does not include the cemetery costs which include the gravesite, vault, opening and closing of the grave, or the grave marker.  These charges can run another $2,000 to $3,000 for interment in  ‘regular’ cemeteries.  (Remember, the larger, more popular or exclusive a cemetery is, the higher the cost to get admitted.)  And the price of a grave marker or monument depends on what you choose.

Traditional Funeral
So what elements make up a traditional funeral?  What are you paying $7,775.00 on average, for?  Note: a funeral service involves a body being present, it occurs soon after death, and usually includes a viewing of the body.  If there is no body present – it is called a memorial service, does not require a funeral director to be involved and may be held at any time.

To begin the funeral process, you will need to pay for copies of the death certificate.  Then there’s a transportation charge to take the deceased to the funeral home of your choice. 
Studies have found that people make the decision on the funeral home based on these criteria:

Location – usually it’s the funeral home closest to them, or to where the deceased lived.

Family history – they continue to go to the funeral home the family has always used.

Personal recommendations – these are based on suggestions from friends and family. 

Funeral Planning
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) encourages customers (And yes, that is what you are,) to ask questions about anything you do not understand. If plans were not already in place and you are feeling stressed and emotional, ask a trusted friend to assist you in getting the funeral arrangements decided on.  A clearer head can be an asset to you and the funeral director when planning a funeral in a time of grief.  You do not necessarily have to accept the pre-bundled funeral services offered by funeral homes, although it may be easier to do so in certain circumstances .  You can pick and choose from the options available to find those that best suit your intentions and finances.

Itemized Statement
Once you have decided on the arrangements you want, the funeral home will present you with an itemized statement of the services and merchandise you have selected.  This includes an estimate of all cash advance fees paid on your behalf to third parties, such as the cemetery, organist, florist, clergy, etc.

A Funeral Cost Breakdown:

Offering Professional Services
Professional Services involve the services provided by the funeral director regarding advice, support, and dealing with third parties, external cleansing of the body, burial arrangements made with the cemetery, and securing all necessary certificates and permits.

Use of Funeral Home
Funeral Cars
Supplemental or Optional charges include transporting the deceased to the funeral home, use of the funeral home, the services of the funeral home attendants for custodial care and arranging the funeral, embalming, cosmetology, charges for the casket or urn, burial vault, obituary notices, flowers, music, prayer cards, memorial cards, acknowledgement cards, providing the hearse, and limousine or funeral cars for transportation to the cemetery for the interment.

Embalming is Optional

You do not have to have the deceased embalmed.  Embalming is never required for the first 24 hours after death. Also, you have a set amount of time to bury a body before embalming may be required according to your state law. There are several religions in the United States that do not allow a body to be embalmed.

Embalming Table
According to Funeral Consumers Alliance,  There is no public health purpose served by embalming.” However, the Federal Trade Commission does allow funeral homes to require embalming for public viewing.

Embalming does not preserve the body nor does it not stop decomposition.  It only slows it down for a period of time.

One of the largest expenses of a funeral is the casket. Caskets come in all makes and models.  There are very basic caskets - the unadorned pine box, - usually running $500 to  $1,000. 

14K Gold Casket

Bronze Casket
  More detailed caskets with gaskets, seals and liners can cost up to several thousands of dollars, depending on what extras you select.  Up to $10,000 can buy a bronze casket. $40,000 or more will buy you one adorned with gold or jewels!

Here is a break down of funeral costs, provided by the National Funeral Directors Association for 2010.

Average Funeral Service Costs:

Professional Services                               $1,800
Transfer of Remains to Funeral Home       $250
Casket (Metal)                                       $2,295
Embalming                                            $628
Cosmetology                                          $200
Use of facilities/staff for viewing               $395
Use of facilities/staff for Funeral Service    $450
Use of Hearse for funeral                         $275
Use of Limo                                            $125
Service Van                                            $125
Basic Memorial Cards                               $125
Graveside Service                                    $405
Average Funeral Service Costs                $7073.00
This does not show average cost for flowers, death certificate, refrigeration fee (when embalming is not selected,) publishing obituaries, organist, clergy, etc.

Cemetery Burial Costs:
Digging a Grave by Hand
The first cost for a traditional interment is the price of the burial.  The charges associated with this include the grave opening and closing.  (Formerly known as digging the grave and filling it in.)  And there may be a charge for annual or perpetual care, (also known as grounds and grave maintenance.)

Installing a Vault
Concrete Vault
Most cemeteries also charge for a vault.  Known as the outer burial container or a grave-liner, these vaults may be made of concrete, steel or fiberglass.  Their purpose is to keep the ground from sinking in as the casket deteriorates over time.  This also makes it easier to use heavy equipment in the cemetery when needed.  Just as caskets do not prevent the body from decomposing, neither do vaults.  No state requires a vault be installed, but most cemeteries do.  Vault prices range from $1,200 to $2,000.  The price of installing the vault may be included with the vault price.  If not, figure another $300 on average.
Family Mausoleum

Stacked Mausoleum
Other burial options instead of in-ground burials include mausoleums and columbariums.  Mausoleums are above ground structures where the casket is placed in a drawer-like space.  Mausoleums may be private or public.  Private mausoleums were especially popular during the late 1800’s through the 1920’s, mainly for well-to-do individuals and families.  Private or family mausoleums have regained some popularity, but look less like small buildings and more like stacked drawers.
Public mausoleum
Some cemeteries also offer public mausoleums.  This consists of a large public building where hundreds, even thousands of people are entombed.  Many public mausoleums offer the advantage of visiting in a quiet, comfortable place, regardless of the weather.
Columbariums are smaller versions of mausoleums, offering a niche for urns to be placed.  The urns are the receptacles for cremated remains.  Plaques attached to the niches bear the name and information about the deceased.

Rules on Decorations

Cemetery Information
As with funeral homes, cemeteries should provide you with an itemized price list before you buy.  Be sure to read and get a copy of the cemetery’s rules and regulations.  Information on stone size and requirements will be listed here.  Also find out the rules on grave decorations and plantings, and become familiar with the cemetery’s hours for visitation.  Public cemeteries may cost more than not-for-profit cemeteries, especially when considering their location and popularity.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, cemetery charges for 2010 average as follows.

 Average Cemetery Burial Costs:

Cemetery Charges                                    $1,400
Vault                                                       $1,195
Average Burial Costs                                 $2,595
(Perpetual Care is usually between 5 to 15% of the total sale.)
This number does not include the cost of a gravestone, monument, urn, or space in a mausoleum or columbarium.   These costs vary greatly depending on what you have selected and where the cemetery is.

Total Cost for Average Funeral & Interment       $9,668
(Not including third party charges as listed after funeral service costs and cemetery burial costs.)

Graveside Service
Direct Burial
You also have the right to select direct burial.  This means there is no embalming, no public viewing of the body; no funeral home services need to be performed. You will need to get a death certificate and set up burial with the cemetery.  You also have the option of holding a graveside service at the time of burial and or/a memorial service at a later date. 

All told, for a basic, traditional funeral with viewing, hearse and burial, expect to spend around $10,000 to $15,000 dollars.  As my grandfather used to say, "Death is not for the faint-of-heart!"
~ Joy


  1. Joy,
    This was an excellent article. I've been waiting for this for a long time. This information needs to be accessed by most mature adults and their families so that they know how to prepare as most people do not possess life insurance. Also it would be an excellent followup to know the costs of cremation in comparison as many people have an idea that this is a more economical way to dispose of their dead. Thanks again Joy.

    1. Thank you Lydia!! You gave me the idea last August and indeed, the numbers were surprising! The blog on cremation and costs ran last Friday, March 15th. Enjoy!

  2. Another great article! Grandpa was right, they're "not for the faint-of-heart" or the weak pocket book. Plan ahead! Protect your loved ones from dealing with it at the time of loss -- buy a plan! Be kind to your family!

    It's amazing to me how many people refuse to be proactive about this. A lot of people seem to think they are signing their own death warrant by purchasing a plan (I've been told that so I'm not making it up). Got news for you, you're gonna go when it's time. Period.

    I have a small chuckle -- someone asked me recently if we are all cremated. "Huh? No... we have cemeteries???" I guess they thought we only have lava rock and no soil. Uh, Hawaii has a lot of soil, too, I promise. :) Alaska has that problem -- too much ice. I don't know for sure but I imagine Alaska must have burials as well. Not sure.

    Thanks for making a point of this life event, Joy!

    1. Thank you E.L!

      You are right - planning for the future, regardless if it's for a birth, retirement, or death, is necessary. And also the best way to ensure your wishes are carried out.

      You have some gorgeous cemeteries in Hawaii!! Hoping I can get there some day to see them.

  3. Nice Blog! I am being paid tired of looking at mindless web sites so I appreciate your well thought out conversation. I just wish here were more educated responses. Thanks again

  4. Thank you WRC! I try to 'report' what I find and make it interesting.

  5. This funeral home service usually takes place a couple of days before the funeral. However in some cases this is not always possible, for example if the deceased's family are traveling from a fair way away, or if the deceased is elderly as they are not able to travel as much.

  6. The Beinhauer Family Funeral Services provide transportation of the deceased to our facility,they arrange for the burial site and grave, they help families by providing closure and the opportunity to say good-bye.. i am glad that i made the right choice..

    funeral services pittsburgh

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  8. I just recently needed help. My local church here in El Paso connected me with some members that run a free service called Shared Sorrows. I urge anyone if you are in the process or think you might be losing a loved one to start planning. It's a little overwhelming with everything... so much going on. But try to find services that help you put a plan together. It was easier for me to see everything bundled together. I personally didn't want to step outside or talk face to face with someone. But ANYWAYS! There are people that can help if you don't feel like leaving the comfort of your home. All I say is take a deep breath and you can get through this.

    Heres the group of people I worked with. Maybe give you some ideas. Don't worry its free.

  9. You’re right, Joy. There will always be a moment of confusion on whether how to approach a funeral planning, and like with other life events, it is indeed inevitable. However, I think it should not be too grandiose. What is important is that it is complete, and has the following components: a selected date, guest list, location, the clothing and jewelry, eulogies, and musicians.

    Margo Loveless

  10. This post gives the light in which we can observe the reality.This is very nice one and gives indepth information.Thanks for sharing this nice article.
    cremation in ga

  11. Most people lose their consciousness after listening to news of their loved one's death. And they may not be able to arrange all things for their funeral. At that time, they can get help from Funeral Services companies and should always ask.

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    1. Hi Joy, it's my first visit to your beautiful website. I had a great interest to acquiring a bit more knowledge on funeral insurance. So, today's journey was to get some relevant sites online and dive into. My finger was busy with scrolling down the mouse pointer on the google SERP and suddenly stopped on the eye-catching title of your content. "High cost of dying traditional funeral"- seems everything is in the title. Anyway I entered your nice page and discovered myself into vast informative and useful document. This is brilliant. The way you depicted each cost category is entirely amazing and admirable. Funeral Cost Breakdown, Caskets, Average Funeral Service Costs everything helps me to enrich my learning cell. Saying thank you will perhaps be less expression than I feel to you. Surely people landing on this web with no or few idea on funeral insurance must leave gaining some extra knowledge and fresh feeling.

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  14. Nice Blog !
    Now a day this is very expensive to arrange a Funeral. when I was searching for a suitable place at a reliable price to host a funeral service for my grandfather , my colleague had referred a place named Heritage Park Sale. Because of them we had done our funeral at a very affordable price with a peaceful environment.

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