Death may be an inevitable reality, but considering funeral arrangements is an essential activity to make the process easier for yourself and your loved ones. By preparing for the associated financial costs, you can protect those you leave behind or honor the life of a dearly departed.
Below, we explore funeral laws and typical costs so you can decide on the items and services you want or need. We’ll also explain alternative types of funerals that can honor those who passed away at a more affordable price.
- The FTC’s “Funeral Rule” provides numerous rights for those needing to make funeral arrangements.
- While traditional burial and cremation funerals have a median cost of $6,645 to $9,135, alternatives exist that allow you to pay your respects for as little as $800.
- Direct burials and cremations without a viewing can cost less than $2,000.
- Government, state, local, and non-profit groups may be able to help cover funeral costs for those who qualify.
Laws About Funeral Expenses
Consumers have several protections under the FTC’s “Funeral Rule.” The rule gives you the right to:
- Pay only for the goods and services you want, need, and select. This could be by pre-arrangement before death or after the death of a loved one.
- Shop around for funeral homes. Get their pricing information over the phone, and have them give you a written and itemized price list (General Price List or GPL) when you visit. If the casket pricing isn’t on the GPL, you can ask to see a written casket price list. The same holds for outer burial containers.
- Use an alternative container for cremation. You can buy one with the funeral provider or somewhere else. The funeral home can’t charge you a fee to handle caskets or urns bought elsewhere or require your presence when they receive the delivery.
- Forgo embalming in direct cremations or immediate burials. Some states require you to embalm or refrigerate the body if it isn’t cremated or buried within a certain period. You can ask the funeral home if they offer refrigeration instead of embalming when preservation is necessary.
- Get written explanations. The funeral home should describe in a written statement any legal cemetery or crematory required expenses it charges.
Typical Burial Costs
Many people think of funerals as simple affairs, but often, numerous goods and services are needed to have the types of burials that loved ones imagine. These costs add up quickly and vary by location, which is why it’s important to create a financial funeral plan ahead of time.
According to the most recent data from the National Funeral Directors Association, here’s how prices break down nationwide for an adult funeral with a viewing for a burial or cremation.
|Item||National Median Cost (Burial)||National Median Cost (Cremation)|
|Non-declinable basic services fee||$2,300||$2,300|
|Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home||$350||$350|
|Other preparation of the body||$275||$275|
|Use of facilities/staff for viewing||$450||$450|
|Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony||$515||$515|
|Printed materials (basic memorial package)||$183||$183|
|Metal burial casket||$2,500||N/A|
|Cremation fee (if a third party is used, most common)||N/A||$368|
|Total cost of funeral with viewing and burial (without vault)||$7,848||N/A|
|Total cost of cremation with viewing (without cremation casket and urn)||N/A||$5,366|
|Total cost of funeral with viewing and burial (with vault)||$9,420||N/A|
|Total cost of cremation with viewing (with casket and urn)||N/A||$6,970|
You can choose an alternative cremation container for less than $200.
Additional costs to consider are:
- Cemetery plots: $3,581, on average in 2021. But they can range from under $1,000 to well over $10,000 depending on location and the type of plot purchased (below ground or above-ground mausoleums and crypts)
- Headstones or markers: $1,000, on average, but can cost well over $2,000 depending on the type (bevel, lawn-level, slant, upright) and material.
- Flower arrangements: Flowers aren’t required but are a thoughtful touch that can run from less than $100 for a single bouquet to $800 or more for a complete funeral floral package.
By knowing your rights under the FTC’s Funeral Rule, you can avoid paying for expensive extras that funeral homes may try to sell you. Sealed caskets, for instance, don’t keep bodies from decaying, and simple concrete grave liners are acceptable rigid outer containers for cemeteries requiring them. Be aware that funeral packages may include items you don’t need, which drives up costs.
By eliminating embalming, preparation, and viewing of the body, you can save thousands of dollars.
How to Pay for Funeral Costs
Most of us would rather not contemplate our own or a family member’s death. However, planning ahead to cover funeral-related costs is a way to take care of those who will be financially and emotionally affected by a death in the family.
Life insurance is often the go-to financial resource for paying funeral costs without dipping into personal savings. It provides a (typically) non-taxable lump-sum payout to beneficiaries when the person insured by the policy dies, which can be used to pay burial expenses. Term life insurance policies expire after a certain number of years, but you may be able to convert a term policy to a permanent policy, which is designed to last a lifetime. Specific final expense or burial insurance policies are usually easy to qualify for and provide a death benefit up to $25,000 or $50,000, depending on the company.
Other ways to cover funeral costs in advance or at the time of death are:
- Personal savings
- A payable on death account (a special bank account that can be used for funeral costs)
- Cash, check, or credit card to pay in full upfront—or in installments, if the funeral home allows
- Borrowing funds (as a last resort)
- Prepaying with the funeral home
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises caution when prepaying directly with a funeral home. Laws vary by state regarding your protections and how the funds you prepay with are used. Make sure you’re protected if the company goes out of business, and know under what conditions you can get a refund or transfer the prepaid services (in case you move or die out-of-area).
If your loved one’s death was attributed to COVID-19, you might be able to get as much as $9,000 of COVID-19 Funeral Assistance from FEMA for funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020. See FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQ page for more eligibility details, and call (844) 684-6333 to apply.
Less Costly Funeral Alternatives
You can save a lot of money by choosing one of these simpler, less costly funeral alternatives.
Burials with a viewing but without a vault (outer burial container) cost a median of $7,640—these costs are detailed in the chart above. By cremating the body instead, you could potentially save thousands, especially if you forgo a casket.
Another option is direct cremation, for which there is no ceremony, viewing, or visitation, and therefore no preparation or embalming services are required. Reasonable costs here range from $800 to $1,200.
Bodies are buried soon after death in direct burials, usually in a simple container and without embalming. While you can still use a casket, a simple shroud or other natural burial option may suffice in home burials (if your state allows it) or in green cemeteries. Reasonable costs are $1,000 to $1,500 plus a casket, if one is used, and cemetery fees.
Donating your loved one’s body to a medical institution may not cost anything, but you might still need a funeral home to transport the body and complete the death certificate.
Instead of using a funeral parlor for the ceremony, you could save $925 or more by avoiding staff and facilities costs and having the service at home, a religious location, or another venue.
Some nonprofit organizations and churches provide help for funeral expenses, such as for children and infants. State, local, and government programs such as Social Security, FEMA, or the VA may be a source of assistance for low-income families and qualifying individuals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can you lower the costs of a funeral?
Simple funerals with cremations or burials without viewing and visitation can significantly decrease funeral costs, as can shopping around. Also, the Funeral Consumers Alliance may have groups in your area with cost-comparison surveys, which can help you find affordable funeral homes locally.
Are burial costs tax deductible?
You can’t deduct burial costs on your tax return, but burial costs may be deductible for estate tax purposes.
Does Social Security help with burial costs?
Yes, an eligible surviving spouse (or child, if there’s no surviving spouse) may receive a one-time payment of $255 if the deceased qualified for Social Security benefits.