Looking at Funeral Expenses

Looking at Funeral Expenses

It’s no surprise: lots of families in our area come to us fearing that the cost of making funeral arrangements–whether the plan includes a traditional funeral, or a simple memorial service– will place a financial burden on them. That’s why we’d like to address the subject of funeral expenses here, opening the door to a later, more personal conversation with you. If you’re ready to chat about funeral expenses, we invite you to contact us today.

The General Price List Details Funeral Expenses

Every funeral home is required by the Federal Trade Commission to provide consumers with a copy of the firm’s GPL, or General Price List.

It's one of the basic tenets of the Funeral Rule; a set of strict guidelines developed by the FTC to govern the business practices of funeral homes across the country--and protect consumers. The GPL is a complete list of “all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one." If this document is not all inclusive, the funeral home must also provide consumers with a separate Casket Price List and Outer Burial Container Price List. (Source: FTC) Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult for consumers to navigate through all the details found in any of these documents; this is why it’s our practice to sit down with a family to review them together.

The Major Funeral Expenses

What you’ll pay a funeral home will largely depend on your cremation/burial decision; but your final funeral expenses will also include the services and products you select during the arrangement conference, such as memorial folders, a newspaper obituary, or any post-service reception costs.

The major funeral expenses include the cost of cremation; or if you’ve selected traditional burial in a cemetery, additional major expenses will include the cost of a casket, burial plot and headstone. But no matter what, there’s one funeral expense you will always be required to pay: the Basic Services Fee.

It covers the professional services of the funeral home staff to compensate for the time spent in the arrangement conference and in funeral planning; obtaining copies of the death certificate and preparing applications for the required permits, caring for the physical remains (commonly called "sheltering"), and coordinating arrangements with any third-party providers, such as crematories or cemeteries. You will always pay the funeral firm’s Basic Services Fee. On the webpage simply titled "Statistics" the National Funeral Directors Association detailed the 2014 median costs for an adult funeral, putting the nationwide average Basic Services Fee at $2,000.00.

Many firms charge far less than that; please call us for the details of our firm’s charges. (According to the FTC Funeral Rule, we are required to give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. And you don’t have to give us any of your contact details–your name, email or physical address, or telephone number first.)

Additional Funeral Expenses

There are also “cash advance items” for things like flowers, musicians, clergy or celebrant honorariums, as well as the fees charged by newspapers for the publication of the obituary. You should know a funeral home is allowed to place a surcharge on their services in obtaining these cash advance items; but if this is the firm’s practice, the Funeral Rule requires full disclosure 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.” (Source: FTC)

The FTC also requires funeral firm’s to provide a customer with a written statement of your selections, “after you decide what you want, and before you pay.” This document must detail exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item, and the total cost immediately after you make funeral arrangements.” (Source: FTC)

Let’s Have a Conversation

We know you have concerns about funeral expenses, and we’d like the opportunity to address them face-to-face. We believe part of our work lies in education: it’s our job to explain available end-of-life options (cremation and burial, for example); and it’s also our responsibility to honestly disclose and discuss funeral expenses. Interested in knowing more about funeral costs? We invite you to read our article “The Average Cost of a Funeral”. Or contact us directly. We’d be honored to hear from you.

Online Sources:

Editorial Staff, "The Lowdown on Funeral Costs", Kiplinger, Updated January, 2015
"The FTC Funeral Rule", Federal Trade Commission, accessed September, 2016
Federal Trade Commission, "Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist", accessed September, 2016

Average Cost of a Funeral

Are you concerned about funeral costs? It’s not surprising if you are; living in a consumer culture makes us very much interested in the relative cost of things. And we’re asked, all the time, about the average cost of a funeral.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot like asking what the average cost of a wedding is; or the average price of a new automobile. The facts are interesting, but knowing the average cost of anything isn’t all that useful. It’s just a number and carries very little weight.

Despite its lack of value–since you’re reading this, we assume you’d really like to know the average cost of a funeral. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the average North American “traditional funeral” with casketed burial will cost you $8,300, while the cost of a funeral where the body is later cremated is $6,078.

If you’re interested in comparing the average cost of a funeral to that of a wedding or a new car, you’ll be surprised at how much less expensive it is to make funeral arrangements. In 2016, the cost of a wedding averages $32,641. This is just under the average cost of a new car which, according to data from the experts at Kelley Blue Book will cost you $33,560. In other words, both those things are–on average–four times more expensive than a funeral. Geography also plays a large part in the determination of the average cost of a funeral. For example, it's cheaper to make traditional funeral arrangements in Seattle ($5,708) than it is in Dallas ($8,052).

What’s included in this average cost of a funeral? At its most basic, the fee for a traditional funeral charged by a funeral home includes the professional services fee, casket cost, the various fees charged for the preparation of the deceased, use of the funeral home facilities for the funeral, the cost of opening and closing the grave site, the grave liner and headstone. The professional services fee includes “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” (Source: Federal Trade Commission). But is knowing the average cost of a funeral in 2016 going to help you plan a meaningful funeral? We say “no”.

Why the Average Cost of a Funeral isn’t Relevant

If you’re planning a funeral for a loved one or making your final arrangements ahead of time, we’re fairly confident you’re not interested in hosting an “average” funeral. After all, your deceased family member wasn’t “average”, and if you’re making your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you’re certainly not “average” or ordinary (we think those people who preplan their funeral are not only smart; they really understand the real value of a funeral).

The funeral you plan should be as unique as the individual it’s for; and while cost is important, it shouldn’t define the event.

What makes a good funeral isn’t the amount of money spent. A good funeral is one which supports the mourners while clearly shining a spotlight on the personality, social contributions, and achievements of the deceased. It’s not “average” or ordinary.

Call on Us

In short, we’re here to serve. That means being open and honest with you about funeral costs. Find out for yourself: give us a call. Ask us questions about what concerns you most; whether you’re interested in our prices or simply want to know more about the details of funeral planning. We’ll be pleased to share all we know about planning extraordinary funerals while–at the same time–staying within your budget.

Online Sources:

Federal Trade Commission, "Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist", July 2012
Hickson, Ally, "Here's How Much It Costs to Get Married in 2016 (Spoiler: It's A LOT)", Refinery 29, April 5, 2016
XO Group, "Wedding Spend Reaches All-Time High as Couple Look to Make the Ultimate Personal Statement", April 5, 2016
Healey, James, "Average New Car Price Zips 2.6% to $33,560", USA Today, May 4, 2015
Josephson, Amelia, "How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost?", Smart Asset, March 2, 2016


What You Should Know About Prepaid Funeral Plans

It’s not uncommon for money to play a major role in funeral planning; today many families are attempting to avoid high funeral costs by purchasing a prepaid funeral plan from a local provider. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of negative press about prepaid funeral plans; so we’re here to set the record straight. In short, pre-paying funeral arrangement expenses can save your survivors a lot of time and money. Here’s what we’d like you to know about prepaid funeral plans. After you’ve read through this page, as well as our online article “An Honest Look at Funeral Expenses”; we’d like you to contact us to learn more about the prepayment options our funeral firm offers.

The “Why” of Pre-Payment

To help ease their survivor’s burden of making funeral-related decisions and paying for their choices, "an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals, designating their funeral preferences, and sometimes even paying for them in advance. In fact, many elder law attorneys advise prepayment as a way to invest in assets that will not be countable by Medicaid or SSI." (Source: ElderLaw Answers)

Pre-paying for projected funeral expenses has certainly become more popular, despite consumer concerns. "Based on a recent survey conducted for AARP, almost 17 million adults age 50 and above have prepaid some, or all, of their funeral or burial expenses." (Source: Better Business Bureau) Popularity aside, the question here is really a personal one: is pre-payment right for your situation?

What is a Prepaid Funeral Plan?

"A prepaid agreement", asserts the BBB; "consists of a contract and a funding mechanism to pay for the funeral or burial plan. Under state laws, the funeral home or cemetery places a percentage of the payment in a state regulated trust or purchases a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery. Most, but not all, prepaid contracts guarantee that the price of the funeral or burial will cost no more at delivery than what was paid at the point of purchase."

The Debate about Funeral Pre-Funding

There are concerns, however. The Federal Trade Commission's booklet, "Shopping for Funeral Services" offers suggestions on the questions to ask if you decide to sign-up for a pre-paid funeral plan:

  • What happens to the money you've prepaid? What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
  • Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home?

You need to remember two things: every state has different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services. Also, some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but it can cost you, or your surviving relatives, more money to do so.

Let’s Talk

The fact you’re reading this page implies you have questions about prepaid funeral plans and funeral pre-funding. Perhaps you’ve learned all you need to know from this article; but chances are also very good that the information provided here has caused you to come up with new more personal questions, like: “Is funeral pre-funding right for my situation?” If that’s the case, contact us. We’ll sit down with you to fully–and honestly–explore your options.

Online Sources:

"Pre-Paid Funeral Plans: Buyer Beware", ElderLaw Answers, updated May, 2014, accessed September, 2016
Better Business Bureau, "Prepaid Funeral and Burial Plans", January 23, 2014