Whether it’s called a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life, honoring the deceased is a custom upheld by most families and communities. When planning such an occasion, there are many elements that need to be considered, including the following:
• Cremation or burial? • What to do with the ashes? • Who organizes, conducts, sings, speaks, and prays? • Where will the service be held? • In which cemetery will the burial take place? • Who will be invited to attend? • What type of casket or urn will be used? • What will the headstone look like and what will it say? • When will the service be held? • Who will be the pallbearers? • Who will prepare the body for burial? • What will the deceased wear and who will dress the body? • Open or closed casket? • What type of flower arrangements are needed? • Will there be a post service reception? If so, who will organize and run it and what food and drink will be served? Where will it take place?
Though each of these components could be a blog all by themselves, today we’re going to address what may be the driving force behind how you answer each these questions -- cost.
Death is expensive. In 2021, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reported that the median cost of using a funeral home to transport and prepare the deceased’s body, host a viewing and burial, and provide a basic casket is $7,848. If a vault is required by the cemetery to protect the casket from the weight of the earth, then that pushes the average cost to $9,420. The median cost of a funeral with cremation is not far behind at $6,970. Neither of these estimates include the purchase of the cemetery plot and headstone.
The costs for cemetery plots can vary significantly. The local cemetery where Kris is buried is small, operated by volunteers, and depends on the service of community members to help care for the property. As of this writing, their prices range from $500 for a small plot that can accommodate a couple urns to $1500 to accommodate a casket. Larger cemeteries located in prominent locations, have historical prominence, and are owned by for-profit businesses are usually more expensive, but they are meticulously maintained and often have more services available to the family. One cemetery in Portland, Oregon reported that their low-end pricing starts at $2795, for which limited headstone options are available. Another indicated that the plots with the best views, private access, and/or more headstone options go for as much as $90,000.
Headstones vary in cost based on size, detail, and content. Because our plots are in a quiet, scenic cemetery that includes beautiful views of the countryside, we opted for a bench where one can sit, ponder, and reminisce. We purchased it from a small company whose sole business is making and installing headstones. We checked with them about their current prices and found that the small, “flat grassers” that are set in the ground and are flush with the grass start at $500. Pillow or bevel headstones, which have a similar look but are set on a stone that is raised up several inches above the grass, begin at $1000. Benches and the more traditional slanted headstones or monuments are the most expensive and can range from $1500 up to several thousand dollars if you want big, bold and elaborate.
Church rental fees, post-service receptions for family members, flowers, and travel expenses for family living afar are a few of the other expenses that can add up quickly. If you'd like to honor the deceased with an obituary, be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars with a local, small-town newspaper or a few thousand dollars for a popular regional publication.
Planning ahead is the key to prevent overspending. Without it, family members are subject to “wanting the best” for their deceased and/or buying without thinking for the sake of “getting it over with,” approaches that are sure to dig deep into the bank account. Advanced planning also minimizes family disagreements about the arrangements because everyone already knows the plan.
Planning and preparation can take on many forms. Burial plots and even all the funeral services from a mortuary can be paid for in advanced, allowing you to lock in today’s prices for something that may not happen for several years down the road. Funeral insurance is another option to consider. Having a large enough life insurance policy is also a form of preparing financially for these end-of-life expenses. With any option you consider, seek out referrals, ask questions, and read the fine print so that you understand what you’re receiving and not receiving.
Like all aspects of getting your end-of-life affairs in order, it’s much easier to have conversations about your own memorial service and burial when everyone is in good health. Planning is easier and having many of the arrangements already in place eases the burden on the survivors and allows them to grieve appropriately.
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.