Ninety-three years is a long time to live. My paternal grandmother was that age when she passed away this past Saturday. I attended her funeral, a graveside service, earlier this week. She lived in Florida, but she was flown up to Long Island to be buried with her husband, who died in 1968.
A couple of weeks ago, my maternal grandmother entered hospice care, with the doctors offering a prognosis of days or weeks, maybe months, due to Parkinson’s disease and, I believe, complications after hip surgery. She lives in California and is in her mid-eighties, and since receiving the news I’ve been mentally and logistically planning to travel out to the west coast at any time with one day’s notice.
I was then surprised when I heard from my father this past weekend that his mother had also entered hospice care. While my mother’s mother continues to have bad days and somewhat better days but is surviving, my father’s mother passed away after one day. My family in Florida held a ceremony for her on Monday, and more family in New York was on hand on Tuesday for the burial. This quick pace is not uncommon; Jewish funerals typically occur quickly, without a wake or viewing.
Occasions like these often bring together distant relatives who have been out of contact, and this Tuesday was no different. It was great to see relatives and friends of the family I had not seen in decades and meet other friends and relatives.
I wasn’t involved in the financial aspects of this event, but it was apparent that a funeral can be a very expensive event. Despite the morbidity of the though, a funeral should be financially planned. In our case, the plot was purchased a long time ago, when prices were surely much lower than they are now. In my grandmother’s case, I would imagine the transportation from Florida to New York was the most expensive part of the day.
How much does a funeral cost?
The National Funeral Directors Association conducts a survey every year or so to gather information about the cost of funerals across the country. As you would imagine, the costs increase every year. The 2006 survey produced these averages for itemized funeral services:
|Non-declinable basic services fee||$1,595|
|Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home||$233|
|Other preparation of the body||$203|
|Use of facilities/staff for viewing||$406|
|Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony||$463|
|Use of a hearse||$251|
|Use of a service car/van||$120|
|Basic memorial printed package||$119|
|Subtotal without Casket:||$3,940|
|Subtotal with Casket:||$6,195|
The cemetery where my grandmother is now buried also has a yearly fee for keeping the plot tidy but has an alternative option for “perpetual care.” Perpetual care is a one-time fee, currently $2,000 at this particular cemetery, that covers trimming the hedges and other landscaping.
The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral directors to provide itemized prices for all services related to the funeral, so make sure you ask as many questions as possible.
Planning for a funeral
In 1968, when my paternal grandfather died, the average total funeral cost was $708; in 2006, the average total cost was $6,195.
One of the best ways you can help those you leave behind afford this expense, if you can manage to help, is to set aside money to care for the events surrounding your own death. In the real world, there are many things that can get in the way of this planning such as the cost of health care. Even though there are often financial obstacles as you age, any consideration will help your family.
The first thing you could do, if and when you have settled down to live in a certain area, is purchase a plot in a cemetery that fits your family’s tradition or religion. Buying the plot in advance will save money down the road as the cost of plots and practically everything else associated with a funeral increases at a rate higher than inflation.
If it is not offensive to you, or your religion, cremation is a less expensive option. Consider cremation if this is aligned with your personal values.
Don’t forget to comparison shop. If you want until it’s too late, there may be pressure to make decisions quickly. This increases the chances of spending money unnecessarily.
For those looking to cut costs on a funeral, Christopher Solomon has suggestions for planning a funeral for $800 or less.
Coming to terms with mortality
I never said William Shatner is a great singer. His first album, The Transformed Man, established his status in music history as not a great singer. But paired with Ben Folds for the more recent Has Been, he came up with the poignant “You’ll Have Time,” which reminds us all that we are going to die at some point. “Live life like you’re gonna die, because you’re going to…”
There’s never been a better reason to stop procrastinating.
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published August 13, 2009.