Understanding Funeral Costs

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Funerals can be expensive: The national median cost is more than $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and that’s not including cemetery expenses, such as buying the headstone or opening the grave. When you factor in all of the extras and upgrades that are available, it’s easy to see how some funerals can quickly top $10,000.

In past decades, it was hard to parse exactly what went into the total price tag. But a 1984 regulation passed by the Federal Trade Commission, called the Funeral Rule, requires funeral homes to present an itemized price list before you commit. You have the right to buy only the goods and services that you want, and you don’t have to accept a package that includes items you don’t want. You can also purchase products and services elsewhere.

To make the best choice for you—and stay within your budget—experts recommend comparing price lists from a few funeral homes. But for a quick sense of what different goods and services might cost, consider this list:

Service fee: $500-$3,000

National median: $2,100  

This covers the cost of the funeral director’s time and expertise. Even if you want to DIY as much as possible, there’s no way of avoiding this cost (typically called the “nondeclinable basic services fee”).

Transfer of the remains: $125-$500

National median: $325

The fee to pick up the body (from the hospital, hospice, or your loved one’s home, for instance) and transfer it to the funeral home.

Embalming: $225-$1,200

National median: $725

If you plan on having an open-casket funeral or viewing, funeral directors will typically recommend embalming, but this is not required by most states. And if the body will be transported over state lines, local laws might require this service. However, there is no federal or state law that requires embalming for every death. You may be able to use refrigeration instead of embalming to preserve the body before burial or cremation, or have an immediate burial or direct cremation without any preservation at all.

Cosmetic preparation of the body: $50-$350

National median: $250

This may cover hairstyling and make-up, as well as dressing the body and arranging it in the casket for viewing.

Use of facilities and staffing for funeral service: $150-$1,200

National median: $925

If you decide to have the viewing and/or funeral service at the funeral home, then you’ll be charged for use of the facilities and staff time. (The funeral itself will likely cost around $500, with the viewing adding $425.)

Hearse: $150-$530

National median: $325

This covers use of the vehicle as well as a driver, to transport the body from the funeral home to the burial site. You might see an additional expense for a lead car, which is a separate vehicle that drives at the front of a funeral procession to alert other drivers (average cost $150).  

Memorial printed package: $65-$305

National median: $160

This typically includes printed programs for the service and a memorial guest book, for visitors to sign before the service and a loved one to bring home for a keepsake. Some funeral homes will also offer prayer cards, bookmarks, and thank you cards. You can create these yourself or purchase them from another source.

Casket: $350-$12,000

National median: $2,000

A casket is often the single most expensive item at a traditional funeral service, and individual prices can vary considerably. Simple caskets can cost around $1,000, while ornate bronze or mahogany options can cost $10,000 or more. You don’t have to buy a casket from the funeral home, and you may be able to save money by purchasing a casket elsewhere. The funeral home is required to accept it, and they are not allowed to charge you an extra handling fee for using it.

Vault: $795-$14,000

National median: $1,395

Also known as burial containers, these concrete structures prevent the ground above the casket from caving in or sinking, as the casket deteriorates over time. Whether you buy a vault will depend on the cemetery you select (state laws don’t require them, but some cemeteries do).

Cremation fee: $175-$800

National median: $350

Typically cremation itself doesn’t cost much, but many funeral homes offer a cremation package, which can include things like a container for the body during cremation and storing the ashes until they can be picked up. Review the itemized list to understand what you’re paying for.  

Cremation casket and urn: $130 to $2,500

National median: $1,275

While families can opt for an “alternative container” (usually a simple wood or cardboard box) for the cremation itself, or rent a casket from the funeral home for the service only, many still purchase a cremation casket (for around $1,000). An urn can add an additional $275. 

Flowers: $100 to $1,200

There are two floral arrangements unique to funerals: the casket spray that rests atop the casket, and a standing easel of flowers that is generally set up next to the casket. These floral arrangements range in price from $100 to $600, though for out-of-season or hard-to-find blooms the prices can be much higher.

Clergy or celebrant fees: $50 to $500

A member of the religious clergy or a celebrant may be called upon to officiate. Some funeral homes have officiants on staff, so ask if those services are included in your funeral package.

Musicians: $100-$200

Many musicians charge by the hour, but some may have a flat fee for the service. Before hiring a musician, you can also ask the funeral director if recorded music is included in the basic package, or if there are speakers you can set up to play from a playlist.

Obituaries: $200 to $500

Newspaper obituary fees can vary immensely, both based on the circulation and the size of the obit (many print newspapers charge by the line). A small biography in a local or online newspaper may print for free, while national newspapers may charge as much as $600. The funeral director can help you arrange the obituary and may be able to answer questions around pricing options in your area.

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