Understanding Cremation and Burial Costs

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The decision to be cremated or buried is a very personal one, often involving faith, family tradition, and personal beliefs. Cost can also be a consideration because there is a substantial difference between cremation costs and burial costs.

When you choose cremation, you’re paying not only for the cremation itself but also your choice of urn and (in some cases) a vault or crypt. When you choose burial, you’re paying for the embalming, your choice of casket, and the actual opening and closing of the grave. In both cases, you’re likely paying for the transportation of the deceased as well.

In addition to these costs, you could be responsible for decisions about viewings, whether to have a memorial or funeral service, arranging family transportation, and gathering all of the official paperwork. Each of these comes with additional costs – some small, some very large.

The National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) most recent survey of costs for funerals and cremations estimates the median cost of a funeral with burial to be around $8,500 and the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation to be about $6,000. In both cases, however, certain choices will increase the expenses.

Here’s a breakdown of costs for each, as well as a general idea of how high the prices of certain choices can be.

 

What is the average cost of cremation?

 

Non-declinable basic services fees

In both cremation and burial, the NFDA estimates a $2,000 “non-declinable basic services fee,” which goes to pay the funeral home’s overhead, including the salaries of its employees and the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities.

  • Included:
    • Consultations with the family
    • Coordination of plans between facilities (such as the crematory, church, funeral home and cemetery)
    • Taking care of the body of the person who has died
    • Ensuring that all official documents and legal papers are handled properly
  • Not included:
    • Fee to transport the person who died to the funeral home (estimated around $300)
    • The “basic memorial printed package,” which includes such things as a register book, thank-you notes and prayer cards (estimated around $150)

 

Embalming and other preparation of the body

Embalming is not mandatory, especially if the family wishes to have direct cremation, which is cremation shortly after death. But most funeral homes require it if the family wishes to have a viewing. Other preparation of the body includes any cosmetic work and dressing done to prepare the body for viewing.

The median cost for embalming is about $700; the other preparations can run about $250. There is an additional fee of about $420 if the funeral home is used for the viewing, plus $500 if it is used for the funeral service itself.

 

Cremation fee, urns and caskets

There is a fee for the cremation itself; the national median price for this is $330 if the funeral home uses a third-party, which means the funeral home does not own its own crematory (the NFDA says this is the case about 65 percent of the time). If a family plans to scatter the ashes of their loved one, they may need only a basic urn; the median price is estimated at $280. That cost is generally for an urn made of ceramic, wood, or metals such as pewter or stainless steel.

If a family provides its own cremation urn, the price can run anywhere from $50 to $5,000 or more. The most expensive urns are made of precious metals or marble, may have one-of-a-kind engravings, and can include precious stones. “Keepsake urns,” which are small urns meant to keep only a portion of the ashes, can cost between $10-$250 depending on materials used.

A casket is needed for cremation if a viewing or funeral service is performed. The NFDA estimates the median cost at about $1,000, though some funeral homes have “rental” caskets that can be used during a funeral service before the body is transferred for cremation.

 

Burial cost breakdown

Understanding Cremation and Burial CostsNon-declinable basic services fees

As with cremation, this estimated $2,000 fee is “non-declinable.” Not included is the fee to transport the person who died to the funeral home, which is about $300, or the memorial register book, thank-you notes and prayer cards, which are estimated at around $150.

 

 

Embalming and other preparation of the body

Embalming is not mandatory if the family wishes to have a direct burial, which means burial shortly after death, independent of a funeral or graveside service. But embalming – at a median cost of about $700 – is needed if a viewing is desired.

The cosmetic work and dressing done to prepare the body for viewing is the “other preparation of the body,” and costs about $250. There is an additional fee of about $420 if the funeral home is used for the viewing, plus $500 if it is used for the funeral service itself.

 

Casket, vault, and hearse

The NFDA gives the median cost of a metal casket at about $2,400 and the cost of a vault – which many cemeteries require to protect the casket from the weight of the dirt above it – at about $1,300.

As with cremation urns, however, costs can vary wildly. Caskets can be made of steel, solid hardwood, bronze or copper, and can even be customized. The National Caregivers Library says the most expensive caskets go as high as $65,000 and the most expensive vaults add as much as $10,000 to that price.

 

Graves and headstones

The median $8,500 estimate for a funeral with burial does not include the price of a grave or grave marker. The National Network of Cemeteries estimates the average cost of gravesites by state with most in the $1,100-$2,000 range, except for California which is closer to $4,000.

There may be different price levels within individual cemeteries themselves as well, depending on the location and the type of the plot that you buy. Grave markers can be as simple as a granite plaque placed flush to the ground or as elaborate as a customized stone marker that sits upright. The average cost is about $1,500 to $2,000, according to the International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association, but can run upwards of $10,000 depending on size, shape, and material chosen.

 

How final expense insurance can help

It’s easy to see how quickly funeral costs can add up. Even considering national median prices, they cost thousands of dollars – which can be an unexpected burden for a family that has just lost a loved one.

An increasing number of people are using final expense insurance – also called “burial insurance” or “funeral insurance” – so this doesn’t happen. It’s specifically designed to help families cover any expenses – such as medical bills or funeral costs – left behind after a loved one dies.

For more information about final expense insurance and how it can help protect families from rising funeral costs, read Why Final Expense Insurance?

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