One thing that we rarely think about, that we should is the end of life costs and expenses.
We pay most of our bills without a second thought, but these are often much smaller amounts than the average funeral.
It’s actually a very common occurrence for a family not to have enough money on hand right now to give a loved one the funeral they deserve.
In the USA everyone who dies will be disposed of in a humane way either by their family or by the state. The local governing body is charged with providing basic disposal of remains, but without a public ceremony. The ashes or the site of the communal grave can be requested, but for a small fee.
Therefore, you should never be worried that your loved one, or even yourself, will never be buried or cremated with dignity. It may just be without a traditional funeral.
This is the worst-case scenario for a family and usually can be avoided if proper steps are taken.
So, below I will highlight some ways that you can cut down on funeral costs and the cheapest options available to help you plan during this difficult time.
How much does a funeral actually cost?
The average cost of a funeral ranges from $6,000 on the low end and easily get over $12,000 without even having all the extras.
This is for burials that include a viewing, basic services, transportation, a casket, embalming, and other preparations. Although The average cost for cremation is slightly less than a burial, they are both very expensive no matter how you look at it.
Who legally has to pay for the funeral?
Most funeral homes will not even hold a funeral unless you have paid or have a plan set up. This means that no one has to pay unless services are rendered.
If there is no funeral insurance or funds set aside, the next of kin and/ or the estate of the deceased will pay for the funeral costs. This is if they agree that the money will come from places like savings, checking, or investment accounts.
If there isn’t enough money in the accounts of the deceased whoever signs the contract is responsible for the balance.
If absolutely no money is available. You can sign over the body to the county corners office where they will cremate or bury the body in a communal grave at no cost to you.
What are the cheapest funeral options?
You are not alone when it comes to having issues with funding a funeral. The next of kin often struggle with the exorbitant cost of the funeral and related services.
Not everyone can always afford what the funeral home will charge them, and this is understandable. Here are a few ways to have a cheaper, but still dignified, funeral and some costs you can totally avoid.
- Direct Burial- If you are still set on having a burial, a funeral home’s least expensive option is usually a direct burial. This is similar to having a traditional funeral but with a few things not included such as the body is not embalmed and there is no visitation. The largest costs when it comes to burials are the casket, burial vault, cemetery plot, and interment fees which you can bypass with this type of burial.
- Direct Cremation– This is a similar idea to direct burial and is another good option. Direct cremation, is when the body is cremated very quickly after death. Usually within 24-48 depending on state laws where they might have to refrigerate the body for a certain time. The body is cremated without embalming, viewing, or visitation. You can also opt-out of a casket or rent one for the body to be cremated in. To learn more about renting a casket read here.
- Green Funeral- This is a newer trend that is becoming popular not only for the costs but as well for the environment. A green burial has many different meanings and “shades” of green, but one way to have green burial and save money is to be buried without a casket and no embalming fluids. There now is a lot of companies that specialize in this and can help you. Read more about being buried without a casket and green burials here.
- Donate their body- This is also another option if you have no money as many universities and medical research laborites will pay for all of the costs. The one issue that arises is that some of these businesses need the actual donor to sign the paperwork themselves. The next of kin cannot choose this, but it varies on state and county so check with your local corner. Also, some medical conditions could disqualify a donor. Another benefit to this is that if you wish the cremated remains will be returned to you, it just may take a while possibly up to two years.
- Home Funeral- Almost all of the states besides eight allow the next of kin to allow the whole funeral process to happen in their homes without involving a funeral director. You can do almost everything on your own from storing the body to burials on your property in some states. See my article here for more details on home funerals.
What are some ways to cut costs?
Just because you are cutting costs does not mean that you have to sacrifice the quality of the funeral or service. It is just being responsible with your money and understanding what is important in your life.
So, here are some tips to save some money:
- Shop around- By contacting several funeral homes in and around your area to get the different prices for the services are thinking about is a good start. All funeral homes are required by federal law to give you general pricing information upon your request. If you visit the actual business they have to have a written copy/ price list of all the services they offer, even the cheapest of options.
- Outside suppliers- If you still want to use a funeral home but want to save some money you purchase items online or from other retailers. Some things that you can buy from other sources are caskets, liners, and even headstones. By price shopping and getting these items from a third party, the next of kin can save thousands of dollars without having to sacrifice the quality or the wishes of the deceased. For a good guide on how and where to purchase a headstone check my article here.
- Decline services- Even though you are at a funeral home you do not have to purchase and use all of their services. They may pressure you but you are never obligated to purchase anything from them. The Federal Trade Commission has rules against it and outlined at the end of this article you can learn more about your rights as a consumer. Some things that you can opt-out of are their visitation services, memorial services, and even the embalming process. A body does not legally need to be embalmed in most situations. You can read more about embalming here.
- Choose a different venue- You can do a funeral in parts and at different places. There are no hard and fast rules where everything must take place. If you want to have the service at a church and then go back to your or a friend’s house for the wake you can do that. Never feel like you need to have a reception at a restaurant or bar. The idea of the funeral is to remember the deceased and wherever you do that, is going to be enough.
- DIY (Do it yourself)- This can mean a lot of things such as having the venue at your home to making the casket. By making something for the funeral can mean a lot, not only to you but the others that may attend. You can make almost everything from the pamphlets to the actual headstone if you so choose. If you are going to make the headstone and casket while still burying your loved one in a cemetery please check with the cemetery first as they may have rules and regulations about such things.
What are my rights as a consumer?
I make sure to put this in with every article I write about paying for funerals. The US FTC does a great job and lays out the rules and your rights as a consumer very clearly on its website.
Before you start the process is essential that you, know you have specific rights when it comes to this. The “Funeral Rule” is there to stop funeral homes from pressuring people into buying goods/services they don’t need or want.
You can read more about the rule here but the main tenants that you should know about are listed here.
- Purchase only the good and services you want
- Be informed of all the prices on the phone without hassle.
- Be given/ shown an itemized statement of all goods and services no matter how cheap or expensive.
- Shown a full list of casket prices.
- Offered a price list for outer burial containers that might not be shown.
- Be given a written statement/ itemized bill before a purchase is made.
- Use and be informed that you can use an alternative container for cremation.
- Provide your own casket, coffin, or shroud.
- Choose not to embalm the body.
What questions should I ask the funeral home?
There are so many things to think about during this time and you may forget to ask some questions.
We ask questions about all the other services we use and we don’t think about it. When it comes to funerals we may feel awkward, stressed, or just forget to ask certain questions.
You are paying good money and these questions will not only help you to feel at ease but could save you time and money later, so I have added a few more questions to ask the funeral home or director.
- Can I have a hard copy of the funeral price list?
- How long have you been a funeral director?
- How long has the business been around?
- Are all your services handled in-house or done through other vendors?
- What kinds of packages do you offer?
- Can I customize the funeral service?
- What are my payment options?
- What are the basic costs?
- Will there be any additional expenses?
- What are the cheapest funeral options?
- If anything is not on that price list can you have it in writing as well?
- Are the packages all-inclusive?
- Do you work with insurance companies?
How can I plan ahead?
If your loved one is ill or you are just planning ahead for the future there are a lot of ways that you can plan ahead to make the funeral and burial easier financially.
This sounds simple enough but when times are tight and you need to pay for things this can be difficult. But if you can spare even a little a month to any sort of fund, this will ease the burden on you and or your next of kin during this trying time
Savings- You can simply just put a few dollars into a regular or joint saving account this can accumulate over time to a hefty sum to cover your a burial or funeral service.
If you choose a regular savings account and do not a joint one upon the death the next of kin would not be able to access it quickly. The funds could be in probate for months.
The funeral home may be willing to take payment upon the completion of probate but probably will need some sort of guarantee in writing. The best option is to have a joint account set up so the next of kin can use the money as soon as possible.
Payable on death account– This is similar to the savings account and can be set up at almost all banks. This special type of bank account lets the funds set aside for the funeral to be used right away without the hassle of courts and probate.
The difference between this one and a joint account is that the others listed on this cannot access it until the person has died. Also, whoever’s account it is can use the funds at any time, like if they need any emergency medical or long term treatment.
Insurance- There are a few types of insurance that you can use to plan ahead for funerals but these are usually long term and not accessible for those with a short amount of time left. If you do have time to set some up look into life and burial insurance as the top two options.
Prepaying- When you prepay for the cost of the funeral, the funeral director will most likely place the money into an interest-bearing trust. Where they will serve as the trustee.
After the death, the money will be used to pay for the funeral, there are many types of these, and best to get a lawyer if you are thinking about setting one up.
How do I pay for a funeral for a loved one close to death?
A lot of the time we don’t have time to set up expensive things such as trusts or burial accounts. Death of a spouse is sudden and we have to pay for the costs soon or right away.
The options we have are not always the best but sometimes they cannot be avoided.
- Cash/Credit/Check/Loans- Most of the time when sudden death occurs families will use cash, check, and/or credit cards to pay for the funeral expenses. You usually have to do this as the majority of funeral homes expect the full payment upfront. If at all possible avoid using credit cards or taking loans as they usually have extremely high-interest rates and are difficult to pay off.
- Installments- You can sometimes pay for the funeral in installments but it may be hard to do for some. Read here for more information about paying for a funeral installment.
- Check with the employer- Some companies, especially one that had high-risk jobs have survivor benefits available for the family of the deceased. This also applies to almost all unions.
- Veteran benefits- If they were veterans, all of them are eligible and entitled to burial in a national cemetery, with no charge for the gravesite, headstone, vault, and interment. If this does not cover all the costs read about how to pay for a funeral as a veteran here.
- Victims of crimes- if they were a victim of a crime or in an accident, most states will help families with funeral expenses through their Victim Compensation Program.
- Social Security– If they are eligible recipients can receive a lump-sum death payment of $255.
- Family- Don’t feel that you have to pay for all the costs yourself, ask your family and friends for help. This is a trying time and you should not have to shoulder all the costs on your own.
- Fund-raising- You can also ask for help from a local business or have fundraising even such as car washes or bake sale. If your family and friends are spread out around the US and world crowd-funding websites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo are great options.
- Religious organizations- Churches, temples, and mosques usually have some sort of service set up to help out families that are in need and want to have a proper funeral.
What organizations and charities can help me pay for the funeral?
There are also many local and national charities that you can contact to help you pay for a funeral.
These charities will offer different levels of help and support depending on your case and location. To help get you on the right track, I wrote a more in-depth article on the topic here.