The cost of a loved one's funeral arrangements can be staggering; easily exceeding multiple thousands of dollars.
The average burial runs about $7,300 and can range from $6,250-$8,000 (without considering the cost of a gravesite, burial vault or head stone), while a typical cremation ranges from $1,000-$3,000, with the average falling somewhere around $1,650, according to the latest figures from the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC).
The cost differential between these two options could be why a growing percentage of Americans are turning to cremation services to lay their loved ones to rest. "Cost is the obvious benefit of cremation, particularly for families with minimal financial resources," says Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA).
4 factors that affect cremation cost
When considering cremation, people tend to think just about the disposition (burning) of their loved one's remains. But there's more to the process than meets the eye, according to Kemmis.
- Transportation: Transportation costs can vary, depending on where a person dies, where they are going to be cremated, and where they are going to be memorialized or their remains laid to rest.
- Storage: Cremation doesn't happen immediately after a person passes away. The reasons for this can be manifold. Some states have rules regarding the minimum amount of time that must pass between a person's death and the cremation of their remains. After a body has been cremated, it is impossible to determine a cause of death, which is why certain states also require a coroner to give their permission before the process can begin. Additionally, implantable devices, such as pacemakers, must be removed prior to the cremation of a body. On the personal side, a family may wish to store the body for a few days so that it can be present during a viewing or funeral service. If this is the case, then the cost of the casket (either purchased or rented) in which the body will be displayed will also contribute to the overall cost.
- Cremation itself: Kemmis says that the price of the actual cremation process itself doesn't fluctuate much, unless the deceased has unusual physical considerations (i.e. they are physically very large).
- Placement of remains: This is where much of the variance in cremation cost comes in to play. How the ashes of the deceased are housed, or where they are scattered, can have a significant impact on the overall price tag. For example, urns to hold the remains of a loved one range in price from under $100 to more than $1,000. The price of scattering a person's ashes can also vary, depending on what travel costs are involved (i.e. someone who wishes to be scattered on top of a mountain, or in the middle of the ocean).
Avoid the ‘low-cost" cremation myth
Kemmis suggests that those who do choose to go the cremation route make sure that there is still a permanent way to remember their deceased loved one, either via a memorial marker, or an urn or columbarium that contains their remains.
She also urges family members to steer clear of advertisements for "low-cost" cremation services.
While it may seem like a blessing to be able to take care of a loved one's funeral arrangements for a few hundred dollars, Kemmis says that these companies offer only the bare minimum of services—no memorial, no obituary, no death certificate. Typically all that is involved is a direct cremation and a cut-rate urn.
Considering cremation and other funeral expenses as part of a financial plan for an aging loved one is a good idea.
Pre-planning a funeral is one of the best ways to keep costs to a minimum while making sure a loved one is memorialized in the way they wish to be. Learn how to talk to your loved one about funeral planning in advance.