The Unbelievable Cost of Burial Arrangements. Are You Ready?

My wife and I recently helped a couple in our family navigate the process of setting up funeral and burial arrangements. They wanted to have all the decisions made and paid for to relieve some of the demands on their kids surrounding their deaths. I thought it would be a quick and easy process, but I was wrong. Burial arrangements have about the same level of complexity as planning a wedding, without the accompanying joy.

After spending six hours at the mortuary, an additional two hours discussing the options at home, and completing 33 signed pages of documentation, the process was complete. That doesn’t count the hours and the dozen or so pages they had already completed to purchase the burial plot and pre-pay the opening and closing of the plot for each of them. These new 33 pages just involved the funeral arrangements.  Who knew this would be such an ordeal? This will help you understand the process better for when you have to go through all of this.

I think it is good to make these arrangements while we are alive and well. This pre-planning removes many difficult decisions from the plate of our spouse and children at a time when they are grieving our death. But it didn’t remove as much as I thought.

One of the things I did not like about the process, was that many of the decisions were not actually made in their entirety. The survivors will still need to make decisions at the time of death. The process was such that money was set aside for the purchase of things such as flowers, catering and the obituary announcement in the paper, but the final decisions will still need to be made at the time of death.

A good example is choosing the flower arrangements. We were shown multiple types of arrangements at today’s cost. We then picked out what we thought we would like and set aside enough money for that option. We decided that $600 for flowers was enough. But at the time of the funeral, the survivors would still need to pick out the flowers from the arrangements that are currently available. If what they picked out was more than the $600 that was prepaid, then they would need to pay the difference or choose a lesser arrangement. The time of year will play a role in what flowers are available and at what price. The process we went through was only to decide on an amount of money to set aside, the actual decision on what flowers to use will still need to be made at the time of death.

This was the way it was with many of the items. Not everything was specifically picked out, including the casket. Although we chose a casket, and paid for it, we can’t be completely confident that it will be available at the time of death. Will the company that makes it still be in business? Will the mortuary still be dealing with that manufacturer? If not, then the family will need to choose another casket.

There was a tremendous amount of upselling opportunity by the mortuary. Take the casket as an example. Prices ranged from $1,095 to $10,695, and this is an item that will be buried and never seen again. You could upgrade the cloth interior to a much more plush and “comfortable” material. I’m not sure why a corpse needs a comfortable material or a soft bed to lay on but it is available.

Next, you can personalize the casket. You can buy fancy corners to put on it that have a special meaning, medallions can be added to the sides of the casket, or even put pictures in the panel that is seen when the casket is open for viewing. For an additional small fee the lid can come with a lock.  Each of these options add to the price.

There were also some very extravagant items. You can ask for some of your ashes or some DNA to be sent into space to travel to a nearby galaxy for only $12,500.

All kinds of mementos were offered. Ashes in a necklace, portraits, video montages, online site for friends to leave comments, ashes in paper weights, flag cases, remembrance quilt with pictures on it, estate planning services, credit locking services, and many, many more.

Then there is the place of burial. A small plot of land, that one or two people can be placed in. That was an interesting money saver. Two people can be put into one $6,000 plot instead of buying two for $12,000. Side by side is double the price of above and below.

There will need to be a crypt placed in the grave site to hold the casket. The casket alone is not enough. The crypt is a sturdy container that will not collapse over time as the casket decays. This keeps the ground from collapsing, or the casket from floating away in a flood. Vaults come in several types and can also be waterproof, in case you don’t want the casket to get wet.

There is a charge for opening and closing the gravesite. And you will need a grave stone to mark the spot. Those can be customized to no end. Three toned pictures can be carved into the headstones or full color portraits can even be arranged.

It is amazing the number of decisions that are required to pre-arrange for your death.

So what does all this add up to? Assuming you chose a basic funeral and are not looking for a space flight, at today’s prices here is what you will pay in the town we were working with:

The Place
$6,000 Cemetery plot
$1,395 Open and close plot
$2,000 Vault for casket
$295 Vault instillation
$2,384 Granite Headstone
$545 Installation of Headstone
$12,619 Total for the plot

The Funeral
$2,420 Basic funeral service (overhead fee)
$395 Pick-up body from place of death
$295 Hearse Rental
$695 Refrigeration of up to 5 days ($50 per day afterward)
$695 Embalming
$2,695 Medium range casket, no embellishments
$295 Dressing and casketing of deceased
$50 Hairdresser
$595 Use of facilities for viewing of open casket
$1,195 Use of facilities for funeral
$995 Decorating facilities for the funeral
$1,000 Flowers
$160 Bi-fold service folders
$100 Guest register book
$1,495 Catered reception
$395 Pastor/celebrant for services
$100 Musician
$695 Staff for graveside service
$1,000 Obituary announcement in the paper
$150 Thank you cards
$15,420 Total for funeral, no frills or mementos

$28,039 Grand total for each person

Money could be saved by having an immediate burial so embalming and viewing are not included. Having a church that will provide the building for the funeral and some volunteers to make food for after the service will also save money. Some churches have their own cemeteries and will provide a free burial plot to their members. There were also many extra services and products that I did not cover. Some of these products are also offered in a package with a slight discount. Being buried in a low cost of living area will be less expensive than if you live in a high cost area.

Once you have established the grand total, then the paperwork starts. I was under the impression that we would pay the mortuary and they would hold the money in escrow until it was needed. That is not what happens.

They will fill out all the insurance forms for you to purchase a whole life insurance policy that will pay out the total agreed upon at the time of your death. The mortuary is the beneficiary of this policy. As soon as the mortuary completes the arrangements, after you die, they get paid by the insurance company. They will also get the commissions for selling you the life insurance policy. I presume, they will also keep the difference between what you pay today and what the actual policy will cost, which is based on your life expectancy.

After all the papers were filled out and printed, I read all 33 pages before anything was signed. By the look on his face, I suspect the papers are rarely read before signing. I commented that the cost of dying was so high that I think I will just skip it. But I suppose that will not be possible.

Even though making plans for your death is difficult, your survivors will appreciate not having to make and pay for the arrangements upon your death. Your final time here on earth will be of your choosing and paid for at today’s prices. The biggest savings is possible with the burial plot. Buy it now, before inflation gets to it. Better yet, buy a plot someone bought many years ago and decided not to use. Those plots can usually be found at a discount.

When my grandmothers died, they each had pre-paid many of these things, but the paperwork could not be found. The mortuary did not save copies of these pre-paid services. Everything except the plot itself had to be purchased again. Later, when cleaning out the estate, the paperwork and receipts were found. My parents were able to take the receipts back to the mortuary and get a refund for the items they could prove that had been paid in advance. Be sure to save all the signed documents and receipts in a place where your survivors will find them or give them a copy immediately after signing.

At some point it is good to start planning for your death. After all, everyone will die, we just don’t know when. Your loved ones will appreciate all the decisions that you made and paid for in advance. Do all you can to lift the burden of your death from your loved ones. Allow more time than you think it will take and understand the cost will be much higher than you imagine.

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13 thoughts on “The Unbelievable Cost of Burial Arrangements. Are You Ready?”

  1. Wow.
    Crazy-expensive.
    When my Dad was getting sicker, my brother and I asked him about his preference for arrangements.

    His answer was classic and direct. “Whatever is cheapest.”

    We opted for cremation. We bought a beautifully illustrated box with a nature scene on it. A friend of the family made the cemetery arrangements for minimal costs. My father had served in the Army as a young man and so was a veteran. That earned him Taps, a military service graveside, and a granite headstone. We made a small cash contribution for a prayer service and that was about it. It can be done without breaking the bank.

  2. Sorry to keep adding but I got interested and did a deeper dive. There is a group sort of like Consumer Reports for funerals. I found the website on another retirement group blog. There may be a yearly fee (in Arizona) a single fee (in Virginia) or no fee but donation requested (in Texas)
    https://funerals.org/consumers/
    They have state by state and county by county breakdown of each part of the funeral process including cremation, embalming, paperwork, refrigeration, pickup, service, things I never thought of. It is broken down by funeral home. In that comparison 1 funeral home had $775 for cremation but many small fees and 1 had a bundled set of fees. The one in the Black part of town was $2000 less than the one in the Hispanic part of town and $1000 less than the richest part of the county. So prices are all over the place. Neptune was comparable to funeral home in my area but charged by the mile if more than 50 miles from site of purchase. I found the website complex but very deep and have bookmarked for future study. I’ll be changing some of my plans based on what I found. Thank you for this topic You probably saved me thousands and a great deal of hassle.

  3. Sorry to keep adding, but I got curious and did some research. There is a nationwide consumer advocacy group
    https://funerals.org/consumers/
    This website will go to a county level state by state and compare the costs of funerals, caskets, cremation including line by line what is covered and what is not with each option by funeral home. I found in Texas that the one I thought had the best price was $3000 more than one down the street. I have updated the information to my children and will update to my church in a timely fashion. This is a group like consumers reports that has no affiliation with any of the companies. They also note online options for casket purchase (including Amazon and Overstock) much more comprehensive. Found the information on another financial blog.

  4. in Texas anywhere from $685 to $3000 depending if prepaid, which funeral home and how nice an urn as of 9/2019. Military site for ashes is free in military cemetaries. Usually 1 near every large city. Scattering ashes is free but there are limits by law of where and how. Many churches have ceboriums in the walls of the sanctuary.
    Donation of body to science is free, and includes the cost of cremation and return of ashes with a ceremony. The bodies are not always used for medical student dissection though and in Texas there was quite a scandal recently. Also they can’t take bodies with cancer or infectious diseases.

    Don’t forget to consider donation of organs, bone, skin, eyes etc. Those parts can spread life to others. My blind mother was able to use her corneas to help others see. She had chosen organ donation and the knowledge gave her great comfort in the last months of her life.

    And finally, please have a will

  5. Jolene and I have arranged for prepaid cremation through the Neptune Society. This service covers wherever we are in the world when death occurs. I learned about this from my grandmother; both my grandmother and my mother used this service. Saves considerable time and money. Our ashes will be scattered at sea.

  6. The usual rules in our life are
    –whoever is driving the car when it breaks down is IT. It is that person’s responsibility to arrange for towing and repair and alternative transportation.

    I guess our current plan with death and funerals is the same
    –last to survive is IT

    We should look into preplanning . At least some of the decisions can be made ahead of time instead of on the spot. We don’t like the whole life insurance part though. Wills, Trusts can go along way to help prepare for the eventual.

  7. What an eye opener. What a total waste of time, effort and useful resources. We come into this world naked, are covered with a diaper and a little blanket(and a big bill from the hospital!). What is the cost when someone dies destitute and the coroner disposed of the remains in a contracted cremation at the rate negotiated by a municipality? What about an Irish wake in the home of a family member or friend? How about sending 25k of that 28k to charity? I will be absolutely infuriated from beyond the grave if anyone heaps that kind of ridiculous sentiment upon my mortal remains.

    • Nathan Kemalyan, It was quite the ordeal. I brought up the question of the homeless person who dies alone. They get an immediate cremation and the remains are in a basement in the county somewhere. Eventually they all get put into a community grave. If someone comes to claim them later, they must pay the cost of the cremation to take the ashes. The charge for a cremation in a cardboard box is still over $3,000.

  8. You can purchase a casket at Costco or online. In Texas you are able to use that at any funeral home. If the deceased is military there are dignified and beautiful services available free or at significant reduction. Cremation is much cheaper than in ground burial. Another option is to go through these options with your priest or church and have a file with the church. Some faiths have online sites that walk families through the process and store all information up to and including hymns chosen and obituary language at no cost. My thrifty parents used some of these options. It made our lives at the time much easier. They kept the money aside. Many companies sell small burial policies far less expensively than a whole life policy from a funeral home.

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