Planning Ahead Can Reduce Funeral Expenses

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

Considering that the mortality rate of humanity is 100 percent, we’re not very well-informed about our options when the inevitable happens. In fact, a new survey finds that only 25 percent of consumers know that funeral homes are required to provide price quotes by phone and an itemized list at the funeral home.

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Virtually none — just five percent — are aware that funeral homes are required to accept a casket provided by the bereaved without charging a handling fee, according to the online survey of 2,009 representative Americans commissioned by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and undertaken by ENGINE (formerly ORC International) on November 18-22, 2020.

The survey findings come as the Federal Trade Commission considers revisions to its rules governing funerals. FCA and CFA, among other groups, have argued that this revision should include requiring funeral homes to post their price lists online.

“Online prices could be easily compared, obviating the need to visit a number of funeral homes to collect price lists,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s Executive Director, in a news release.  “One cannot expect a recently bereaved family under pressure to make quick decisions to take the time and effort to visit several funeral homes.”

Funeral prices have been rising faster than other categories in recent years, as this chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, making it even more important for consumers to be price-conscious when arranging a funeral.

You might think that limos, flowers and so forth are to blame for the rising prices but, according to the BLS, coffins are the biggest offender.

From December 1986 to September 2017, producer prices for caskets increased more than twice as fast as producer prices for all commodities, increasing 230 percent from December 1986 to September 2017, while producer prices for all commodities increased 95.1 percent.

See also: Funerals Don’t Have to Break the Bank

Seniors in the dark

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey found that older people are the least well-informed about their funeral rights.

Only 15 percent of those 65 years and older know that funeral homes are required to provide price quotes over the phone and a price list at the home, and 60 percent said they did not know the answer to this question. In contrast, nearly 30 percent of those aged 18-54 knew the correct answer. 

Moreover, 76% of older persons surveyed said they did not know whether funeral homes were required to accept a casket provided by the bereaved without charge.

“We were surprised to learn that older persons are least aware of their funeral rights because they are the age group most likely to confront funeral-related decisions,” said Slocum.

Cremation costs mysterious to many

The survey found that consumers are also in the dark about cremation, a more economical alternative to traditional burial. Only 17 percent correctly said that direct cremation is generally available for less than $1,200. Fifteen percent thought the low price was usually above $2,400, and 38 percent said they did not know.

“It is understandable that consumers who rarely purchase funeral services are not aware of well-established consumer protections,” said Slocum.

Funeral planning steps

FCA and CFA have produced a pamphlet that helps families plan economical funerals ahead of time. Key steps include:

  • Talk It Out Ahead of Time: Tough decisions about cremation or burial, venue of any memorial services, and related issues can be resolved without the pressures of immediate disposition of the body.
  • Know Your Rights: The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule provides specific rights including an itemized price list, a written price estimate, and acceptance of your casket without a handling fee.
  • Shop Around: Comparing prices at area funeral homes can lower costs by as much as 50 percent.
  • Keep It Simple: The typical cost of a full funeral is $7,360, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, yet in most areas a cremation without extras can cost only $800-$1,200
  • Avoid Expensive Extras: Most funeral homes offer dozens of service options, including sealed caskets, that may not provide you with value.

The tips, along with other information are available in an online pamphlet: Planning a Funeral: 5 Key Tips

“Planning a funeral ahead of time can reduce costs by well over 50 percent and provide peace of mind,” said Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow.

James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.