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How to Control Funeral Costs

Wills-trusts-and-estates-coveredMost people are too overwrought to shop for the best price, but advance planning can help keep funeral costs from getting out of hand.

We know not to make major financial decisions in times of great stress, yet that’s exactly what most people do when they sit down with a funeral director after a loved one dies.

The median cost of a funeral today is $8,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. But a recent article in Kiplinger, “7 Ways to Slash the Cost of a Funeral,” notes that this does not even include the price of a burial site, marker and paid obituary. Also, that $8,500 price tag is the middle price—some funerals can cost more than $25,000. You can prepay for your own funeral to save on some expenses, but there are better ways to reduce funeral costs. Let’s look into this further.

  1. Shop around. Licensed funeral homes are required by law to give you a General Price List, or GPL, which is a breakdown of funeral expenses. Ask for a copy if it isn’t offered. Also, funeral homes are required to provide pricing information by phone.
  2. Create a budget. With all of the emotions and grief, families can rush into a decision, which can mean unnecessary costs and additional stress. Develop a budget and hold firm. Reputable funeral directors will either work within the budget or recommend a funeral home that can.
  3. Think outside the box. The median price of a metal casket sold by a funeral home is around $2,400, and the high-end ones can reach five figures. However, you don’t have to buy a casket from a funeral home, and the funeral home must accept a casket purchased elsewhere—even online. They also can’t charge you a handling fee for receiving a casket purchased somewhere else.
  4. Consider cremation. The median price of a funeral with a viewing and cremation is about $6,000—as opposed to $8,500 for a comparable funeral with burial. This expense can be cut further by declining the cremation casket (median funeral home price: $1,000). Funeral homes are required to offer inexpensive alternatives to cremation caskets, like simple containers. You can also supply your own urn and save another $300 or so.
  5. Skip embalming. Preserving the body with embalming isn’t a requirement for every death, but many funeral homes will require embalming if there’s going to be a public viewing. However, if a service is held within 24-48 hours with no public viewing, embalming may not be necessary. Even if the service can’t be held right away, refrigeration may be an acceptable alternative to embalming in many states. The median cost of embalming is $695.
  6. Make it a simple service. The median charge to use funeral home facilities and staff for a viewing and ceremony adds up to $915. If you really want a funeral home service but can’t afford the full deal, funeral directors will usually work with you to cut corners. You don’t have to buy a funeral home’s complete package. Just pick the goods and services that fit your budget and needs. A cremation memorial service could be held elsewhere for a lot less.
  7. Donate your body to research. This is not for the squeamish. Several companies act as go-betweens for whole-body donors and research laboratories. One such company, Science Care, covers costs for cremation, transportation and the filing of the death certificate. Cremated remains are returned to the family at no cost within three to five weeks. If the person has certain diseases, the donation may be rejected.

Reference: Kiplinger’s (July 5, 2016) “7 Ways to Slash the Cost of a Funeral”

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