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A funeral needn’t be costly

You can shop around for caskets.

By Karen Datko Oct 1, 2009 7:05PM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.

The memorial for Michael Jackson cost the city of Los Angeles $1.4 million, according to The Associated Press. While most of us won't be remembered at the Staples Center in front of 11,000 people, funerals are expensive.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a traditional funeral costs about $6,000, and many funerals run well over $10,000. Costs include the casket, embalming, the service, cemetery site, and grave liner. In short, death is big business in the United States.

And to make matters worse, most of us plan a funeral while dealing with the emotional trauma of the death of a loved one. We find ourselves making important financial decisions in the midst of an emotional crisis with very little time to consider our options. Our sadness for the loss of a loved one, moreover, sometimes expresses itself in high cost funeral decisions.

With a little effort, however, we can plan a respectful memorial without breaking the bank. What follows are a number of tips, resources and links to help you plan a low-cost funeral.

Know the Funeral Rule

The Funeral Rule, which is enforced by the FTC, requires funeral directors to provide you with certain information. For example, if you ask in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral home must give you a written price list of the goods and services offered by the home. The idea is to prevent a funeral director from showing you only the goods or services he or she wants you to purchase. And if you want to buy a casket, the funeral provider must show you descriptions of the available selections and the prices before actually showing you the caskets.

Here are some additional requirements of the Funeral Rule, as stated by the FTC:

  • You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
  • The funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list.
  • If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
  • The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
  • A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.

The FTC offers additional information on the Funeral Rule.

Here are other things to consider:

Direct burial or cremation. With direct burial, the body is buried shortly after death. A direct burial avoids the cost of embalming, and a memorial service can still be held at the cemetery or after the burial.

Likewise, direct cremation occurs shortly after death. As with direct burial, direct cremation avoids the cost of embalming. It also avoids the cost of a casket.

Keep in mind that state laws vary on whether the deceased must be embalmed. In some instances, it depends on how quickly after death the body is buried. Here's one resource that lists the state laws on embalming.

Caskets. The cost of caskets can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The average casket costs about $2,000, although some mahogany, copper, and brass caskets can exceed $10,000. According to the FTC, "Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three."

If you've opted for direct cremation, the only purpose of the casket is to transport the body to the crematory. Some funeral homes even rent caskets for this purpose. And if you've elected for direct burial, a simple casket can be purchased for about $1,000. In addition, you don't have to buy the casket from the funeral home. Shop around, and if the best deal is found somewhere else, the funeral home must be willing to use the casket without an additional fee.

Veterans. All veterans are entitled to a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave market. This benefit also extends to spouses and dependent children, to some civilians who have provided military-related service, and to some Public Health Service personnel. You can find more information by visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs' Web site or calling (800) 827-1000.

Additional resources

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful in planning a low-cost funeral:

Related reading at The Dough Roller:

Published Aug. 7, 2009


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