Paying for the Inevitable: Funeral Planning

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It has been said that the only two things that can be counted as certainties are death and taxes. Uncle Sam ensures the payment of taxes every April 15, but there is no such uncle forcing Americans to prepare for the other inevitable event: funeral expenses.

When asking consumers if they were financially prepared to pay the funeral expenses of a loved one, the recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) online poll revealed that an overwhelming 83% either were either not prepared to take on the financial responsibilities associated with a funeral, or had no idea what a funeral costs.

Today the average cost for expenses associated with a funeral in America is estimated to be between $7,000 and $10,000. Even though it may be difficult to think about, making decisions in advance will pay off both emotionally and financially.

Funeral decisions can become complicated, generally involving multiple entities such as the funeral home, the cemetery and purchasing a headstone or grave marker. The funeral home may offer to provide all of these services as a package, or the consumer may opt to contract with each entity separately.

Additional costs that may be incurred include transporting the remains, embalming, using the funeral home for a viewing, visitation, or ceremony, and the use of a hearse or limousine. The list continues with the purchase of death certificates, flowers, obituary notices, officiating clergy, organists and soloists.

With so many decisions to be made, the NFCC suggests that consumers consider the following when planning a funeral:

  • Know the funeral preferences of your loved ones, and make sure that those responsible for your burial are aware of yours. Put preferences in writing, give copies to family members, and keep a copy in a location others are aware of.
  • Comparison shopping may sound crass, but what other $10,000 expense would a person make without comparing costs and features? Check the prices for the same services at two local funeral homes. Apply the same smart shopping techniques that would be used for other major purchases.
  • Avoid emotional overspending. It's not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one. Remember to resist any pressure to buy goods and services that aren’t truly wanted or needed.
  • The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires the provider to present an itemized statement of the total cost of the goods and services selected when the arrangements are being made. If certain costs are unknown, they must provide a written “good faith estimate.”
  • Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It's a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires and which are optional. For instance, although many funeral homes require embalming for a viewing or visitation, it is generally not legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death.
  • The casket can be the single most expensive item purchased for a funeral, with an average casket costing slightly more than $2,000 and continuing up the scale to as much as $10,000. The FTC’s Funeral Rule applies here, too. Before the viewing of any caskets, the funeral director must provide a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices included. Further, the funeral home cannot refuse or charge a handling fee for a casket purchased elsewhere.
  • Some people may prefer to enter into a pre-arranged funeral plan where some or all of the expenses are paid in advance. State laws governing these products vary widely, making it critical that consumers fully understand what they are paying for. For instance, purchasers should know what happens to their money if the firm goes out of business or if they change their mind and want a refund. It is important that the family be informed if a pre-need plan exists.

Each and every year people put thought into paying their taxes, creating a plan to responsibly meet that obligation. A one-time preparation for funeral planning should be seen as equally important.

For help finding money in your budget for funeral planning, reach out to an NFCC Member Agency. To find the location closest to you, call (800) 388-2227, or go online to For assistance in Spanish dial (800) 682-9832.

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