Part 1: Calculating the cost of a funeral

Funeral costs include basic services fee for the funeral director and staff, charges for other services and merchandise, and cash advances.

Any American funeral home or funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements.

If the funeral provider doesn’t know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written “good faith estimate.”

This statement also must disclose any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase specific funeral goods or services.

The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements. The following will help guide you on the cost of a funeral or cost of funeral services. You can also download our funeral calculator to help in your funeral planning.

 1. Embalming

Many funeral homes require embalming if you’re planning a viewing or visitation. However, its not necessarily legally required shortly after death if the body of the loved one is to be buried or cremated.

Consumers who decide to not choose the embalming service can save hundreds of dollars. Under the Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rule, a funeral home or funeral director or provider:

  • Legally must obtain permission from you to embalm the body.
  • The funeral home cannot falsely state that embalming is required by law.
  • The funeral home must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
  • The funeral home or director may not charge for embalming that is unauthorized, unless embalming is required by state law.
  • The funeral home or director must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, like direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
  • The funeral home or director must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.

2. Caskets

A casket or coffin can be the single most expensive cost of a funeral. Caskets range in variety, from wood to medal to fiber glass, and price ranges dramatically.

Remember, caskets are primarily sold for their cosmetic or visual appeal. Once the casket is buried, its no longer a visual aesthetic you’ll consider. Caskets range in type from wood to medal to fiberglass and plastic.

Caskets will range in price based on the workmanship, material and mostly the brand. Both a Batesville casket and an Aurora casket  have dominated the market as they were limited choices for a consumer before the FTC opened the market for 3rd party retailers to offer caskets for sale.

This would be similar to one or two automobile manufacturers dominating the market with their selection of vehicles, and the consumer is stuck with the options and pricing. Until the last decade, the Federal Trade Commission has opened the market to make it a more fair and ethical playing field for businesses, by allowing 3rd parties to offer caskets for sale direct as a retailer and eliminating the barrier of a funeral home from accepting these caskets.

The cost of an American made casket can range, where the average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, and some premium caskets costing as much as $10,000 or more.

Since the FTC has opened the market for 3rd party casket manufactures and retailers, the average price of caskets have dropped, giving the consumer the advantage of greater variety at lessor cost.

When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. However its recommended before you visit a funeral home you first get their price list on services and caskets, and do browser online or at a local casket store for comparison, just as you would when buying a new car.

Because industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three, be aware a funeral home who sellers caskets may be interested to start out by showing you higher-end casket of coffin models.

If you haven’t seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them — but don’t be surprised if they’re not on display in the showroom.

Traditionally, caskets were sold only by funeral homes. But more and more, retailers and websites operated by “third-party” dealers are selling caskets.

Consumers have the legal right to buy a casket from one of these online casket sellers such as CasketandCoffin.com, and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. A reputable casket seller can have the casket delivered in less than 3 days, and in most cases same day.

The FTC Funeral Rule requires funeral homes and directors to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and does not allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

Where ever you purchase your casket or coffin from, it’s important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation.

No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust.

The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket. And for many consumers who desire a religious burial, they’ll seek to have a casket erode and disintegrate over time to allow the body to go back to the earth, as per the versus from religious scriptures.

3. Cremation

Interesting statistics, whether its personal values or costs, show that in North America the further west you go, the more families choose to have their loved ones cremated.

In these cases, families may choose to rent casket for the funeral showing, and choose no burial and instead to cremate the remains.

Other consumers may choose for direct cremation without a funeral viewing or ceremony, and simply have a celebration of life, which is a gathering of friends and family at the home to celebrate the life of the loved one that has recently passed.

If you choose cremation, the funeral service provider must offer an alternative container or wooden box or similar (pressboard, cardboard, etc.) for the cremation of the body.

The FTC rules under the Funeral Rule states for funeral homes who offer direct cremation services, that…

  • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
  • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
  • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

4. Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

A burial vaults or grave liner are used to protect the ground above the buried casket from caving in when the casket deteriorates over time. Burial vaults or burial containers are placed in the ground before the lowering of the casket.

The major difference between a burial vault and grave liner is that a burial vault will surround the entire casket in concrete or other material, and generally is much more expense than a grave liner.

A grave liner simply covers the top and sides of the casket, and made of fiberglass or similar material. Its not as strong as a burial vault, but servers a similar purpose to protect the ground above from caving in when the casket erodes.

Federal and state laws do not require that a consumer use a burial value or grave liner. If a funeral provider insists you must have one, give us a call or contact the Better Business Bureau or FTC. But, many cemeteries may require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking. But again, the choice is yours if you choose to have a burial at the gravesite, or your choice of options for a burial vault or grave liner or none.

Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that’s not true.

Similar to funeral services and caskets offered by a funeral home, they must show you the price list of any burial container; whether vault or liner. Again, its your choice to use a less expensive burial container from a 3rd party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery, similar to your cost savings from purchasing a casket outside of a funeral home.

In part 2 of calculating the cost of a funeral, you’ll learn other related funeral costs related to funeral fees.

Compare funeral prices and casket prices from several sources before you select a burial vault model, grave liner and casket.

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