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How Much Does a Funeral Really Cost

A Guide to Getting the Best Deal

Turn on your television for more than an hour or so these days an you are likely to run across an advertisement from a life insurance company declaring that the average cost of a funeral is up to $10,000. The most important thing to keep in mind about these startling advertisements is that, while they may indeed be based upon statistical studies (in fact, if they are legal ads, they must be based on such), it is very easy to manipulate statistics to support just about any claim. And life insurance companies have a vested interest in convincing the public that funerals costs as much as possible. Frightening customers into paying for funeral cost coverage is, of course, going to be a goal, albeit, perhaps an innocent one.

The real answer to the question of how much a funeral really costs is this: prices can vary greatly. Home funerals can cost close to zero, and elaborate funerals – such as that of the famous gold digging television star Anna Nicole Smith in 2007 – can cost millions. The following famous quip definitely applies: When Donald Trump walked into a crowded room everyone becomes a millionaire. Perhaps it's true that an “average” funeral costs $10,000, but, in reality, that figure tells us almost nothing.

Below is a realistic guide to helping consumers figure out how much a funeral they are planning might cost.

What are basic services

A family could go with only basic funeral services to help save money.Almost all funerals these days will require the services of a funeral director employed by a funeral home. (In all but a handful of states – which we won't name because laws in this area are changing rapidly, any list we would post would likely be outdated in a few weeks – funeral directors are not legally required, even though their use remains quite common. Hiring a funeral director may not always be a legal requirement, but it is still considered a valid practical requirement.) This involves a basic charge for services of between $700 and $1,500. All funeral directors are required by federal law to disclose their basic services charge very quickly upon entering their establishments or by simply asking for such information via telephone. Comparing prices among competitors in any locale should, therefore, be a fairly simple matter. Basic services include, basically, any services not specifically ordered and paid for separately: meeting with family members to arrange a funeral, death certificate application and other required paperwork, public notices about a funeral, coordinating with pastors, pall bearers and others involved in a service, coordinating with a cemetery, and greeting visitors during a viewing and/or before and after a service.

All funeral homes are required to provide a menu of services they offer on a federally mandated “General Price List” that they must provide to customers very quickly during their first meeting. This price list is required to list a basic service fee followed by an itemized list – including price – for all services not included in the basic service fee. Funeral home prices and policies vary greatly on what is included on this menu. (For example, some funeral homes include writing an obituary in local newspapers as part of their basic service fee. Others do not. Likewise with arranging for flowers in a chapel during a service.) So, consumers are advised to ask plenty of questions before signing contracts with a funeral home and, of course, to look over the General Price List of a number of different funeral homes as well.

What are optional services

As we note parenthetically above, optional services vary widely according to funeral home policies and practices. So, in reality, it is very difficult to say, in general terms, what services are optional. For general illustration purposes, however, we have included below, a typical list of optional services provided by several funeral director's groups and consumer's groups alike. It should be noted that prices for these services vary greatly at various funeral homes – often by hundreds of dollars. Careful price checking among competitors is almost a must for families planning a funeral.

Optional services lists often include the following: embalming, dressing, hosting a viewing, coordinating of cremation and burial, transportation of body, handling of a casket or urn, storage of a body, and opening and closing of a grave.

What can I get from outside sources

There are many alternative options to funerals that could save thousands of dollars.Many of the services that a funeral home provides involve the handling of products such as cremation urns, caskets, headstones, keepsake items and other such memorial goods. It should be noted that, while funeral homes usually offer these products on a retail basis, federal law prohibits them from requiring their customers to buy only from them. Though funeral home sales personnel may not always make this clear, all funeral home customers in the United States are allowed to buy their funeral products from any source, and funeral homes may not charge special handling fees for using products purchased from outside retailers. (To be clear, funeral homes may, indeed, charge handling fees. The word “special” in the previous sentence is key. In other words, funeral homes that ask for a handling fee for caskets must charge the same fee to all customers, no matter where the casket in question was purchased. Funeral homes are not allowed to wave that fee, for example, for customers who buy caskets from their own retail selection.)

Consumers who take advantage of this federal law – which was specifically adopted after years of political struggle so that competition in the funeral industry would keep prices naturally low – will often pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars less for their overall cost for a funeral than they would otherwise by simply buying all of their goods from funeral homes. Customers who select their caskets and/or cremation urns from a funeral home's inventory should understand that they are likely paying heavily for “one-stop shopping” convenience. If that is their choice, so be it. But funeral consumers who are seeking to keep their costs to a minimum will usually find it profitable to do a little comparison shopping for their various memorial products.

Summary

In short, families planning the memorial service for a loved one should not be mislead by publicized prices for “average” funerals. In truth, there is no way of estimating, precisely, how much a typical funeral will cost until all wishes and desires are accounted for an due shopping diligence has been done. Consumer research, combined with a little negotiating skill, will likely result in a funeral cost that will be reasonable for all.

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