When it comes to paying for a loved one’s final arrangements, the adage that when you die “you can’t take it with you” may prove financially true for many. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost for a funeral, including the basics of a casket, funeral service, embalming, professional fee service and transfer of the remains, ran about $7,500 in 2017. Furthermore, these expenses do not include purchasing a final resting spot, whether that is a cemetery plot, lawn crypt or mausoleum chamber. The hidden costs of burials can scare the life out of anyone who is not prepared for the final bill when a loved one passes.
To help curb exorbitant prices for funerals, the Federal Trade Commission has enacted the Funeral Rule that lets consumers choose and pay for only the goods and services they need when making funeral arrangements. The Rule also requires funeral homes to give a written price list of items and services, and the Rule allows for comparing prices among funeral homes. Such federal regulations generally do not cover cemeteries and mausoleums. State laws typically govern cemeteries.
Most grave plot charges are not readily negotiable, whether you pay in advance or at time of need, although it can help to do a quick check of cemetery competitors before making the final decision. All veterans are eligible for a free burial and grave marker in a national cemetery. Spouses and dependent children may also qualify for a free burial plot and marker in a national cemetery. In addition, many states have their own veterans’ cemeteries, but may charge expensive fees for an adjoining plot for a spouse, or opening and closing each plot.
The following are additional burial costs or hidden costs of death to consider:
- Opening and closing of a grave. This expense can cost up to $1,500 or more, but is often a flexible price based on the simple equipment, minimal job training and labor invested in this gravesite operation. Also, interring cremated remains in an entombed above-ground columbarium will cost opening and closing charges, plus fees for ongoing endowment care.
- Grave liner or burial vault. Many cemeteries require that a concrete or steel grave liner or burial vault be added to the grave before the casket is lowered. Cemetery owners explain that the liner or vault keeps the plot ground level without dirt collapsing in, but some consumer advocates question this reasoning. Liner prices vary from just under $1,000 to more than $5,000 for higher-end models. For those who want to bury cremains in an urn garden or smaller burial plot, many cemeteries still require an urn vault.
- Setting a headstone. Cemeteries typically charge between $50 and $500 to install a headstone, but the unavoidable cost might be lowered through negotiation.
- Perpetual care. The grounds upkeep and maintenance of a burial plot may be included in the upfront cost of the site, but it is best to clarify if this is a separate expense.
Exploring Other Burial Options
If someone prepays for funeral or burial expenses, it is advised to keep a copy of the itemized contract and proof of payment including receipts and canceled checks. For individuals or families who no longer want to keep a prepaid burial plot — often because of thousands of dollars still needed just to use the gravesite — a resale company of cemetery property can help. Some people sell unwanted cemetery plots on eBay or Craigslist, and others use online sites such as Grave Solutions.
Those who want to explore additional options for honoring their deceased loved ones while saving money may want to consider a custom farewell via a home funeral and a green burial cemetery.
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.