Truth be told, asking your loved ones about what sort of funeral they want—or making plans for your own funeral—probably isn’t at the top of your to-do list. In fact, it might be a conversation you actively have been avoiding. After all, discussing death isn’t most people’s idea of fun.
However, avoiding the topic won’t prevent the inevitable from happening. It will just leave you unprepared to deal with a difficult task at a time when you’re grieving. That’s why it’s a good idea to make funeral plans ahead of time—especially so you and your family can be prepared for the financial impact.
You’ll want to start by knowing what your loved one’s final wishes are. Then you can find out how much it would cost to follow those wishes. Finally, you can pinpoint what resources are available to pay for a funeral. Gathering this information ahead of time will make managing the financial side of a funeral easier during an emotionally challenging time.
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Know your loved one’s final wishes
Many people avoid talking about death. So the idea of asking a loved one to have a conversation about end-of-life planning might seem overwhelming. However, it’s so important to know what your loved one’s wishes are so you can follow them. At the least, find out preferences for the following:
- Burial, cremation or body donation
- Type of service
- Funeral home preference
- Type of casket, grave marker, cemetery plot or crypt
- What to be done with cremated remains
- Preferred organization for body donation
If either of you is uncomfortable talking about the topic, you could ask your loved one to put final wishes in writing. In fact, that can be ideal because the document can be shared with all family members so there’s no question about your loved one’s wishes.
How to calculate the cost of a funeral
Of course, the cost of a funeral can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, including your geographic region. However, here’s a breakdown of the basic costs from the National Funeral Directors Association.
The median cost of a funeral with a casket and viewing is $7,640, although there are additional costs for a burial in a cemetery.
- Includes $2,500 metal casket, $2,195 basic services fee and $750 for embalming
- Doesn’t include cemetery costs, marker and other costs such as flowers
The median cost of a funeral with visitation and cremation is $5,150.
- Includes $2,195 basic services fee, $750 embalming and $350 cremation fee
- Doesn’t include a cremation casket (or alternative cremation container) or a rental casket for a viewing
There are additional costs for a burial in a cemetery. According to end-of-life planning resource Everplans, the cost of a cemetery plot or mausoleum crypt, headstone, grave line, and digging and filling a grave can range from $4,100 to $11,600.
As you can see, a casket can be one of the biggest costs. Although the median cost is $2,500, a high-end casket could cost as much as $10,000, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The funeral director will likely show you a few caskets. Instead, ask to first see a list of all of the caskets the funeral home sells with prices. There could be more affordable models on the list than what you are shown. You also can shop around for caskets online because the FTC Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to allow caskets that are bought elsewhere.
If your loved one wants to be cremated, you can rent a casket for a median cost of $995 if there will be a viewing. Otherwise, the median cost of an alternative cremation container is just $150. Also, you can skip embalming and save hundreds of dollars if the body is cremated—or buried shortly after death without a viewing.
You might also be able to save money by using a site such as Parting.com to compare funeral home prices online. You also can reach out to funeral homes and ask them to provide you with itemized statements of the total cost of funeral items and services your loved one wants. The FTC Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide this information when you visit a funeral home to discuss arrangements.
Breakdown of funeral costs
How to pay for a funeral
Aside from personal savings (yours or your loved one's), there are a few ways to cover the cost of a funeral. First, find out whether your loved one has prepaid for part or all of a funeral with a funeral home. If your loved one already has died and you can’t find a contract for a prepaid funeral, call area funeral homes to check if your loved one made arrangements with any of them.
If your loved one has a life insurance policy, you could use the death benefit — if you’re the beneficiary — to help pay for funeral costs. File a claim with the insurance company as soon as possible to receive a payout.
Your loved one might qualify for a burial and headstone in a national cemetery at no cost if he or she was a veteran, service member or spouse of a veteran. You’ll still have to pay for funeral services, though.
Without any of the above resources, you might have to ask family and friends to pitch in with cash. Or you might have to get a personal loan to cover costs—at least until your loved one’s estate is settled and you possibly can be reimbursed.
If your loved one still is alive and you’re having end-of-life discussions, you could encourage him or her to consider buying a guaranteed life insurance policy. These policies are geared toward older adults typically age 50 and up and are meant to help cover final expenses. They are more expensive than other types of life insurance, but you can’t be turned down for coverage. So it’s a way for people with serious health issues to actually get a life insurance policy if they don’t already have one that can help cover final expenses.
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