The emotional pain of losing a loved one is obviously top of mine for most grieving people — but the financial burden is important to consider as well. The median cost for a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,640 in 2019, according to National Funeral Directors Association. For a funeral with a viewing and cremation, the cost went down to $5,150. This is because you can rent the casket for a cremation, instead of having to pay $2,000 to $10,000 to buy one. If you’re worried about how your survivors will pay for your funeral, you may be considering final expense insurance. But you may also want to consider hiring a financial advisor, who can help you with your overall estate planning, including your end-of-life planning.
Average Funeral Costs: The Basics
The average funeral costs $7,640. That includes a viewing and burial, embalming, hearse, transfer of remains, service fee and more. It doesn’t, however, include the cost of the cemetery site, gravestone or vault (many cemeteries require this cement container that prevents the ground from caving in). It also doesn’t include, say, a catered luncheon with drinks after the memorial service, which can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the cost.
Between 2014 and 2019, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial increased about 6.4%, from $7,181 to $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). That may not seem so bad, but from 2004 to 2014, the cost spiked 28.6%.
As of 2019, there were 19,136 funeral homes in the U.S., according to the National Directory of Morticians Redbook (yes, it’s a thing). About 89% of funeral homes are privately owned by families or individuals. There’s a reason why it’s a big industry. Everyone will need a funeral sooner or later.
Burial vs. Cremation
As mentioned earlier, according to the NFDA, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation is $5,150. That’s nearly $2,500 less than the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial. And some sources put the average cost of a cremation even lower, at $2,000-$4,000.
The cost differential between burial and cremation may be part of the reason that cremation rates are rising and burial rates are falling. In 2005, cremation accounted for 32.3% of funerals, burial 61.4%. By 2015, cremations were at 47.9% and burials at 45.2%. The NFDA projects the trend to continue in favor of cremations. By 2035, the NFDA projects that cremations will represent close to 75% of funerals and burials only 20%.
During the Great Recession, the number of Americans whose bodies went unclaimed because their families couldn’t afford funeral costs rose. In the worst case scenario, a family without financial resources will simply not claim the body of a loved one, in which case the local or state government will step in to help cover the cost of a simple burial or cremation. While this trend fell out of the news with the economic recovery, it may return to the headlines because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Budgeting for a Funeral
It’s probably a good idea to budget more than $7,640 (or $5,150 for cremation). Why? Because those numbers don’t include things like traveling for the memorial service, meals and lodging around the time of the funeral, catering for guests, special clothing and more.
Most experts recommend rounding up to $10,000, which is why final expense life insurance policies often come with a $10,000 benefit. If you don’t have $10,000 to stash in a money market account to cover the cost of your funeral, you can always buy final expense insurance and name a loved one as the beneficiary of the policy.
That way, he or she won’t be out of pocket $10,000. Having a final expense policy can make it easier for your loved one to get that money. If you had $10,000 in a savings account, it may take your loved one longer to access that money, particularly if he or she is not listed as a beneficiary on your bank account.
Some final expense insurance policies are only available to those 50 or older. So what do you do if you’re under 50 and you don’t want your funeral to be a financial burden to a loved one? You can set up a dedicated savings account and share access to the account with your loved one, or buy a bond for the person who would be responsible for planning your memorial service. In some cases, you can pre-pay for a funeral with a funeral home, but doing this too far in advance can lead to complications if you move or if the funeral home goes out of business.
Tips for End-of-Life Planning
- If thinking about how much the average funeral costs makes you worry about how your survivors will come up with that much cash, it may be time to start saving. If you’re eligible for final expense life insurance, you may opt for that. Because of the low policy benefit, these policies tend to come with low premiums, too. Or, you could buy a bigger term life insurance policy that your beneficiary could use to both pay for your funeral and cover other expenses.
- Consider turning to a financial advisor for guidance on estate planning. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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