Whether arrangements are being made for a burial or a cremation, there are many choices to make and you should compare costs so you don’t pay too much. Think about the specifics you would like and how much you want to or are able to spend.
Once you’ve decided on the type of funeral to have, there are still many decisions to make when deciding what to do with the remains:
- Funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoriums – information and costs
- Funeral Rule
- Choose a casket or burial urn
- Choose a cemetery
- Select a grave marker
- Deal with the ashes (if the body has been cremated)
There are 21,528 funeral homes and 1,971 crematories in the United States.
Source: National Funeral Directors Association and Crematory Association of North America
You are not legally required to us a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. However, unless a family member has had experience with the details and legal requirements involved, it may be easier to hire a professional to handle this for you.
You may be like many others and select a funeral home, cemetery or crematorium because it is close to your home, your family has used it in the past or it has been recommended by a friend. But if you don’t check out at least two facilities, you could end up paying more than necessary for the funeral or not getting the goods and services you want.
Your local “family-run” funeral home may in actuality be owned by a large, corporate conglomerate. It’s not always the case but that may result in higher prices. Many of the big groups can afford to hold their prices, while individually owned homes may be more willing to cut their prices in order to earn your business. Ask who owns the funeral home and be prepared to negotiate.
To protect consumers from abuse by the funeral industry, the Federal Trade Commission instituted a regulation known as the Funeral Rule. Because of this rule, price comparisons are easy.
The Funeral Rule requires the funeral industry to categorize goods and services with common definitions provided by the FTC. This enables the consumer to compare prices between different funeral providers. According to the Funeral Rule, mortuaries and funeral homes must provide itemized prices as well as information about goods and services (funeral arrangements, embalming, cremation, caskets, cremation urns) whether the inquiry is in person or over the phone.
If a state law requires the purchase of certain goods or services, the mortuary must provide a written statement of the specific law that mandates the purchase. If the mortuary adds a fee to its cost, they must also disclose this in writing. Finally, the mortuary must provide an itemized statement showing the total cost of the funeral goods and services chosen.
Mortuaries often offer a variety of package made up of commonly selected items and services that comprise a funeral. However, you have the right to buy individual goods and services; in most case, you don’t have to accept a package that includes things you don’t want. The law requires that the mortuary provides you with individual prices and. for the most part, sells you what you want. For example, if you’d prefer to buy a coffin or cremation urn elsewhere, the mortuary cannot refuse to accept it. If you do want to buy a casket from the mortuary, the mortuary representative must provide descriptions of the caskets available and their prices prior to showing you the actual caskets.
The packages often have incidental charges to watch for; make sure you understand what they are and agree to them before committing to a specific mortuary package.
Some of the usual fees include:
- A service fee for the involvement of a funeral director and staff. Regardless of the individual services you select, you will most likely be required to pay this since it covers the cost of funeral planning, obtaining any necessary permits, getting copies of the death certificate, preparing the obituary or other notices, keeping the body until burial or cremation and coordinating the selected arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other organization that is involved.
- Optional charges for things you may select include a fee for transporting the body, embalming, use of the mortuary for the viewing an/or funeral service, use of staff and equipment for a service at the gravesite and use of a hearse.
- Cash advance fees charged by the mortuary for goods and services it buys on your behalf. These include such things as funeral flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers (if you don’t select friends or family to perform this task) and the priest, minister, rabbi or other person you may choose to perform a religious ceremony. If the mortuary adds a fee or receives a discount or rebate from the supplier for any cash advance item, they must disclose this fact to you.
Once you’ve chose the things to be included in the funeral, the mortuary must provide an itemized statement of the total cost that you will incur. If they don’t know the exact cost of any item, they must give you a written “good faith estimate”. The statement they give you must also include any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that mandate you purchase specific goods or services.
When you are comparing mortuary prices prior to making your final decision, be sure to check out the total cost of all items together so you can accurately review the various proposals you’ve acquired.
If there is something that is required by either local or state law, the mortuary must disclose that on their price list. In addition, if you wish to utilize something purchased elsewhere in the funeral, the mortuary cannot charge you an extra fee for that or refuse to handle it. Finally, if you decide on cremation and don’t want to buy an expensive urn, the mortuary must offer an alternative, less expensive container.
Resist the pressure you may get from mortuary personal to accept goods or services that you really don’t want or need or would prefer to buy elsewhere. It is important to remember that a mortuary is usually a profit-making enterprise – the funeral director is not trying to save you money but, rather, would like to sell to you as many expensive items and services as possible. So don’t tell the director how much money you’re worth or how much you can afford to, or want to, spend.
When Hugo L. Black, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court died in 1971, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and a funeral service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Although there was a great deal of pressure on his children to put his remains in an elaborate coffin “worthy” of a Supreme Court Justice, they chose the cheapest box which, unfortunately, was covered with pink organza. To the horror of the coffin salesman, they ripped off the organza, revealing the plain pine box underneath. And that was the box in which he was buried.
Why was this decision made? For years he had given his children three directives related to his funeral: simple, cheap and no open casket. Source: www.funerals.org
When selecting a casket, be aware that they may cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. And if you need an oversized casket, it can cost up to twice as much.
According to funeral industry studies, the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models they see,usually the one priced in the middle. So, obviously, the funeral home will try to show you the higher-end models since it’s to their advantage to sell you the elaborate, bronze and silk lined model instead of the plain pine box. If you don’t see one in your price range, ask the funeral director to show you the lower priced options that may be hidden in a back room.
Keep in mind that the main purpose of a casket is to move a body before its burial or cremation. There is no casket that will preserve a body forever. Some coffins are touted as having gaskets or sealers; these features are intended to delay water from seeping into the casket, to prevent rust and to keep bugs out. However, they’re probably not worth the extra money. In the end, they don’t make much difference. No matter what is done, all bodies decompose once they’re in the ground.
In the past, caskets were only sold by funeral homes. Today, a funeral home cannot refuse to accept a casket or urn bought elsewhere. There may be a local casket or coffin store in your town that sells directly to the public; in addition, a Google search brings up thousands of sites that will sell a casket to you and promise next day delivery. You can even buy a casket from Costco. Since the average markup on a casket ranges between 300 – 500% at a funeral home, you may be able to save money by going directly to the manufacturer.
If you have chosen cremation, consider just renting a casket to be used during visitation. If you are not having a viewing and decide to purchase it from the funeral home, they cannot force you to buy an expensive casket; they must offer an inexpensive wooden box or alternative container that will be cremated with the body. One very inexpensive alternative is a cardboard coffin. You might be able to find one for less than $50!
If you decide on cremation, you will need to choose an urn. Urns can be made of many materials such as glass, wood, marble, pottery or even silver; they can be very simple or incredibly elaborate. An urn can range in price from $30 to several thousand dollars, depending on how elaborate or unique it is. For example, the Batesville Casket Company creates one-of-a-kind urns and, once the piece has been cast, they literally break the mold.
If you choose to be buried or to bury a recently deceased loved one, you will need to select and buy a cemetery plot. There are several things to consider about a cemetery as well as the exact location of the gravesite:
- Is it in a desirable location?
- Does it meet your religious requirements?
- What does it cost? A plot can be very expensive, especially in a major metropolitan area. A plot in a suburban location will cost much less. In addition to the plot itself, there will be a charge for opening your grave and then filling it in. The cemetery may also have an incremental fee for perpetual care and other routine ground maintenance.
- Can adjacent plots be purchased by other family members who would like to be buried nearby?
- If you (or the deceased) want to be buried with a spouse or other family member, can burial be side-by-side or will the cemetery require burial in a multiple-depth single grave? Because many cemeteries are running out of room, this is becoming the norm in some locations.
- Will the cemetery permit burial with a domestic partner or other non-related person if so desired?
- If it has been purchased in advance, will the cemetery permit resale of the plot? What are the rules? Is all of the money returned to the family or does the cemetery keep a percentage?There are several websites that advertise such resales. You can even bid for a cemetery plot on eBay. On a recent day, there were more than 20 sites being offered. They were located across the United States.
- Does the cemetery require a grave liner (or have restrictions on the use of one purchased elsewhere? A liner is often used in traditional funerals. Made of reinforced concrete, it is placed in the ground and then the casket is lowered into it. Its sole purpose is to prevent the ground around the grave from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. State laws do not require a grave liner; however, many cemeteries do. It may be less expensive to buy a liner from a third-party dealer than from the chosen funeral home or cemetery. A burial vault (sometimes called a grave vault) is a form of grave liner that is stronger and more expensive; it’s usually made of steel-reinforced concrete and totally surrounds your casket. However, a grave liner costs hundreds less than a vault and does the same thing.
- What types of monuments are allowed?
- Can flowers or other things be placed on graves?
- Was the deceased a military veteran or a spouse, minor child or unmarried adult child of an eligible veteran? If so, he or she may be entitled to a no charge burial or interment of cremated remains at Arlington National Cemetery, one of 124 national veterans cemeteries or one of 63 state VA cemeteries. In addition, if buried at a military cemetery, there will be no charge for the opening and closing of the grave and the deceased may be entitled to a headstone or gravemarker. For further information, go to www.cem.va.gov/
If you are flexible about the location of the cemetery plot, you may be able to find a grave that is being resold by someone who purchased it and then later decided not to put it to use. Perhaps the purchaser had bought several, envisioning a large family plot; then the children married and chose to buy plots with their spouses instead.
Once location has been chosen if burial is the choice, a grave marker must also be selected. Some cemeteries allow only flat markers; others permit all sorts of upright structures. Within the limitations of the cemetery rules, the size, shape and color need to be chosen as well as the material out of which it will be made. Most monuments used to be made of marble but today they are made of granite. There is a huge range in price, depending on the type of monument or marker selected.
If the decision is made to cremate the body, the ashes can be handled in several ways. Someone can:
- Arrange for them to be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum.
- Have them buried in a cemetery plot or special urn garden.
- Have them retained at the home of a friend or relative. If you are arranging this prior to your death, the person you’ve named to carry out your wishes will have to sign a Permit for Disposition showing that your ashes were released to him or her. Upon the death of the person to whom they were released, arrangements must be made for their disposition.
- Store them in a church or religious shrine, if local laws permit this.
- Request that they be scattered in a land area where no local prohibition exists, in a cemetery scattering garden or at sea. You might find it interest that some people chose ash scattering because they worry about their ashes getting stuck in the back of a close or up in the attic. Be aware that a special permit may be needed for cremains scattering.
- Look for something unique to do with them. There are some companies springing up everyday with new ideas about what can be done with cremains. For example, one company uses the deceased’s ashes to make stone statues, planters or other items for a home or garden. Another encases a small amount of the ashes in a piece of jewelry that can be worn as a remembrance.
- Have some sort of a permanent memorial, even though the ashes have been scatter. One option is to have the deceased’s name listed on a scattering plaque in a cemetery’s cremation garden. Or relatives of the deceased may retain small portions of the ashes and store them in keepsake urns.
- Have the ashes (or the body for that matter) placed in a special container or put in the ocean with those of others to create reefs.