When a loved one dies, grieving family members and friends often are confronted with dozens of decisions about the funeral — all of which must be made quickly and often under great emotional duress. What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral provider should you use? Should you bury or cremate the body, or donate it to science? What are you legally required to buy? What about the availability of environmentally friendly or “green” burials? What other arrangements should you plan? And, practically, how much is it all going to cost?
Funeral service and cremation prices vary widely. A simple direct cremation — with no ceremonies, viewing or casket — can range from $495 to $7,595, according to a 2016 survey from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and Consumer Federation of America; a 2015 survey revealed that full-service funeral prices ranging from $2,580 to $13,800.
Many people have very little experience planning funerals and are unaware of their rights guaranteed by federal law under the Funeral Rule".
Missouri Revised Statutes, chapter 194, governs dealth and disposition of dead bodies.
Missouri Revised Statutes, chapter 333, governs the occupation of embalmers and funeral providers.
Missouri Revised Statutes, chapter 436, sections 400 – 425, governs pre-need funeral contracts.
Funeral Planning Tips
Many funeral providers offer various “packages” of goods and services for different kinds of funerals. When you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy goods and services separately. That is, you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want. Here are some tips to help you shop for funeral services:
- Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Remember that you can supply your own casket or urn.
- Ask for a price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services.
- Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don't really want or need.
- Avoid emotional overspending. It's not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one.
- Recognize your rights. Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It's a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires you to purchase and which are optional.
- Apply the same smart shopping techniques you use for other major purchases. You can cut costs by limiting the viewing to one day or one hour before the funeral, and by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of costly burial clothing.
- Shop in advance. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion, and lifts some of the burden from your family.
Types of Funerals
Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. Funeral practices are influenced by religious and cultural traditions, costs, and personal preferences. These factors help determine whether the funeral will be elaborate or simple, public or private, religious or secular, and where it will be held. They also influence whether the body will be present at the funeral, if there will be a viewing or visitation, and if so, whether the casket will be open or closed, and whether the remains will be buried or cremated.
“Traditional” Full-service Funeral
This type of funeral, often referred to by funeral providers as a "traditional" funeral, usually includes a viewing or visitation and formal funeral service, use of a hearse to transport the body to the funeral site and cemetery, and burial, entombment, or cremation of the remains.
It is generally the most expensive type of funeral. In addition to the funeral home's basic services fee, costs often include embalming and dressing the body; rental of the funeral home for the viewing or service; and use of vehicles to transport the family if they don't use their own. The costs of a casket, cemetery plot or crypt and other funeral goods and services also must be factored in.
The body is buried shortly after death, usually in a simple container. No viewing or visitation is involved, so no embalming is necessary. A memorial service may be held at the graveside or later. Direct burial usually costs less than the "traditional" full-service funeral. Costs include the funeral home's basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body, the purchase of a casket or burial container and a cemetery plot or crypt. If the family chooses to be at the cemetery for the burial, the funeral home often charges an additional fee for a graveside service.
The body is cremated shortly after death, without embalming. The cremated remains are placed in an urn or other container. No viewing or visitation is involved. The remains can be kept in the home, buried, or placed in a crypt or niche in a cemetery, or buried or scattered in a favorite spot. Direct cremation usually costs less than the "traditional" full-service funeral. Costs include the funeral home's basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body. A crematory fee may be included or, if the funeral home does not own the crematory, the fee may be added on. There also will be a charge for an urn or other container. The cost of a cemetery plot or crypt is included only if the remains are buried or entombed.
Funeral providers who offer direct cremations also must offer to provide an alternative container that can be used in place of a casket.
Choosing a Funeral Provider
Many people don't realize that in most states they are not legally required to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. However, because they have little experience with the many details and legal requirements involved and may be emotionally distraught when it's time to make the plans, they find the services of a professional funeral home to be a comfort.
People often select a funeral home or cemetery because it's close to home, has served the family in the past, or has been recommended by someone they trust. But limiting the search to just one funeral home may risk paying more than necessary for the funeral or narrowing their choice of goods and services.Comparison Shopping for a Funeral Home/Provider
Comparison shopping doesn't have to be difficult, especially if it's done before the need for a funeral arises. Thinking ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. It allows you to choose the specific items you want and need, and to compare the prices several funeral providers charge.
If you visit a funeral home in person, the funeral provider is required by law to give you a general price list (GPL) itemizing the cost of the items and services the home offers. If the GPL does not include specific prices of caskets or outer burial containers, the law requires the funeral director to show you the price lists for those items before showing you the items.
Sometimes it's more convenient and less stressful to "price shop" funeral homes by telephone. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide price information on the phone to any caller who asks for it. In addition, many funeral homes are happy to mail you their price lists, although that is not required by law.
When comparing prices, be sure to consider the total cost of all the items together, in addition to the costs of single items. Every funeral home should have price lists that include all the items essential for the different types of arrangements it offers. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than buying individual items or services. Offering package funerals is permitted by law, as long as an itemized price list also is provided. But you can't accurately compare total costs unless you use the price lists.
In addition, there's a trend toward consolidation in the funeral home industry, and many neighborhood funeral homes may appear to be locally owned when in fact, they're owned by a national corporation. If this issue is important to you, you may want to ask if the funeral home is independent and locally owned.
Parting.com provides a free price comparison tool that details price lists by ZIP code and type of funeral.
Buying a Cemetery Site
When you buy a cemetery plot, the cost is not the only consideration. The location of the cemetery and whether it meets the requirements of your family's religion are important, as well.
Additional considerations include what, if any, restrictions the cemetery places on burial vaults purchased elsewhere, the type of monuments or memorials it allows, and whether flowers or other remembrances may be placed on graves.
And then there's cost. Cemetery plots can be expensive, especially in metropolitan areas. Most, but not all, cemeteries require you to purchase a grave liner, which will cost several hundred dollars. Note that there are charges — usually hundreds of dollars — to open a grave for interment and additional charges to fill it in. Perpetual care on a cemetery plot sometimes is included in the purchase price, but it's important to clarify that point before you buy the site or service. If it's not included, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and groundskeeping. If you plan to bury your loved one's cremated remains in a mausoleum or columbarium, you can expect to purchase a crypt and pay opening and closing fees, as well as charges for endowment care and other services. and mausoleums
Unlike funeral homes, the FTC's Funeral Rule does not cover cemeteries and they are not required by law to give you a printed price list before you buy, unless they sell both funeral goods and funeral services; and no federal regulations give cemetery customers the right to buy only the services and merchandise they want. Only a few states require cemeteries to give you a copy of the rules pertaining to allowable markers, grave decorations, and visiting hours before the sale. In addition to the cost of the grave, the cemetery can charge an opening and closing fee at the time of burial, and a maintenance fee to cover upkeep of the grounds and graves.
All veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also extends to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel. Spouses and dependent children also are entitled to a lot and marker when buried in a national cemetery. There are no charges for opening or closing the grave, for a vault or liner, or for setting the marker in a national cemetery. The family generally is responsible for other expenses, including transportation to the cemetery. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs. To reach the regional Veterans Affairs office in your area, call 1-800-827-1000.
In addition, many states have established veterans cemeteries. Eligibility requirements and other details vary. Contact your state for more information.
You may see ads for so-called "veterans' specials" by commercial cemeteries. These cemeteries sometimes offer a free plot for the veteran, but charge exorbitant rates for an adjoining plot for the spouse, as well as high fees for opening and closing each grave. Evaluate the bottom-line cost to be sure the special is as special as you may be led to believe.
Planning Your Own Funeral
To help relieve their families, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals, designating their funeral preferences, and sometimes paying for them in advance. They see funeral planning as an extension of will and estate planning.
Funeral Planning Tips
Thinking ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. It allows you to choose the specific items you want and need, and compare the prices offered by several funeral providers. It also spares your survivors the stress of making these decisions under the pressure of time and strong emotions. You can make arrangements directly with a funeral establishment.
An important consideration when planning a funeral pre-need is where the remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. In the short time between the death and burial of a loved one, many family members find themselves rushing to buy a cemetery plot or grave — often without careful thought or a personal visit to the site. That's why it's in the family's best interest to buy cemetery plots before you need them.
You may wish to make decisions about your arrangements in advance, but not pay for them in advance. Keep in mind that over time, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. However, in some areas with increased competition, prices may go down over time. It's a good idea to review and revise your decisions every few years, and to make sure your family is aware of your wishes.
Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members and your attorney, and keep a copy in a handy place. Don't designate your preferences in your will, because a will often is not found or read until after the funeral. And avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safe deposit box. That's because your family may have to make arrangements on a weekend or holiday, before the box can be opened.
Millions of Americans have entered into contracts to arrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. Laws of individual states govern the prepayment of funeral goods and services; various states have laws to help ensure that these advance payments are available to pay for the funeral products and services when they're needed. But protections vary widely from state to state, and some state laws offer little or no effective protection. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery.
If you're thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it's important to consider these issues before putting down any money:
- What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?
- What happens to the money you've prepaid? States have different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services.
- What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
- Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
- Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
- What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.
Be sure to tell your family about the plans you've made; let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn't aware that you've made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don't know that you've prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements. You may wish to consult an attorney on the best way to ensure that your wishes are followed.
Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Missouri?
Missouri law determines who can make decisions about funerals and body disposition — that is, burial or cremation — after someone dies. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:
- your attorney-in-fact, if you grant this power in a durable power of attorney
- your surviving spouse
- any surviving child
- any surviving parent
- any surviving sibling
- your next of kin
- any person or friend who assumes financial responsibility
- the county coroner or medical examiner.
If there is more than one member of a class — for example, you have many children or several siblings — a funeral director may rely on the instructions of any one of them, provided the director has no knowledge that another member of the class objects. (Missouri Statutes § 194.119.7.)
Tyrone Muhammad, a frustrated funeral director was tired of seeing dead young people and gave an urgent message directed to black boys and young men. If you know any at-risk youth, urge them to watch this eye-opening and mind-changing plea and testimonial.
Part of a series: Shopping for Funeral Services