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How to buy a funeral

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For example, Baldwin-Fairchild
Cemeteries and Funeral Homes in
Orlando, part of the Stewart chain,
1 8-gauge
"The truth is,
for the Primrose
many families are
One funeral director we surveyed
says he stocks almost no caskets now.
"That was the old way. The industry is
changing. I ask customers to go on
the Internet to get their casket;' says
now more cost
Casket's best-selling model. Direct
conscious and
Milton Tellington of Tri-State Funeral
Casket, which has six showrooms in
willing to shop
Service in Washington, D.C.
Los Angeles and New York City and
sells everywhere else in the U.S. via
www. directcasket. com, sells the same
casket for $2,095 delivered the next
day-a $ 1 ,855 saving. The wholesale
cost: $948.
p: i
around," says
Robert Falcon of
All Faiths Funeral
Service in Austin,
High-priced funeral homes and
chains are also facing competition from
other, low-priced homes. New ComerВ­
Cannon Family Funeral
Home in
Albany, N.Y., is doing what was once
unthinkable in this collegial business; it
How to buy a funeral
tive containers are also available, but they're
With so many quick decisions to be made
Advance planning also means knowing
not always a bargain. We found cardboard
at the worst time, how can consumers
the key elements of a funeral and what they
caskets ranging in price from $0 to $799;
cost. The prices listed below are the ranges
fiberboard, particle board, or harwood
... Make sure your loved ones discuss
we found when we surveyed 235 funeral
alternatives from $35 to $2,270; and clothВ­
their wishes with you (see "Necessary
homes in seven cities. A standard funeral
covered from $ 1 1 0 to $2,036.
Details;' page 32).
typically includes these items:
protect themselves?
... Call on your faith. If you plan to have
The pro fess ion al fee ($355 to $ 1 ,995).
This covers the services the funeral director
Casket ($200 to $5,700 for 20-gauge
performs orchestrating the affair from start
steel; $3,000 to $36,000 for bronze). A
to finish, including charges for staff and
talk to a funeral director. Much of what
funeral home's range of casket prices serves
overhead. No matter what type of plans you
you'd pay a funeral home for a viewing or
funeral service can take place at your house
a purpose greater than consumer choice.
make, you're required to pay a professional
Funeral directors use the price list as a tool
fee. The wide variation seems attributable
tribution is often customary. "Even if you
a religious service, contact your pastor,
rabbi, or other religious leader before you
ofworship at no cost, although some conВ­
to figure out the price range you're comВ­
to the increasing popularity of low-co
fortable with, says Ronald Smith, professor
funeral homes.
haven't hooked up with a congregation,
emeritus of economics at New York's
the funerals I do are for people who are not
Care Industries in the United States.
where at any time of the day or night.
embalming charge to the professional feeВ­
not have to be embalmed, especially, foВ·
you can still call a pastor. lhree-quarters of
church members:' says Rev. Sandy Peirce
of the Eldorado County Federated Church
in Placerville, Calif., who has taken part in
funeral services for 20 years.
Call several funeral homes for
prices, using the benchmark price list
(facing page) as a guide. Ask if the home
Hunter College and author of The Death
Other services-everything from the
cost the same no matter how big and expenВ­
sive the funeral. "It is the price of the casket
and burial vault that ultimately determine
the total price of the funeral;' says Smith.
The funeral director gauges where your
Transfer of body to funeral home ( $0 tc
$400) . The body is picked up from anvВ­
Embalming ($0 to $750). A body <loo
example, if it will be immediately crema
or buried. State laws are more likely require embalming or refrigeration if b
or cremation occurs more than 24 to
hours after death.
is independent, part of a local chain, or
preferences fall on the casket price list.
part of a national chain. (Often, the only
Mahogany or metal? At what price do you
ration ($0 to $400) . This service invo.
way you'll know is to ask.) Our price surВ­
balk? To restore a balance of power in this
making the body presentable for viei -
vey found that local chains generally
negotiation, decide what you want to pay
and placement in the casket.
offered the best value.
before the funeral director gets a chance to
Visit prospective funeral homes
influence your decision.
Dressing, cosmetology, and other pr
Use of facilities and staff for viewin;,
to $825). You pay for renting a viewing
lor and for the use of the parking 1
and assess the staffand the size, location,
There are several ways to save on a
and ambience of the facilities. Sometimes
casket. If the body is headed for cremation
other areas of the funeral home to h
a lower price comes with a smaller faciliВ­
rather than ground burial, many homes
itors who wish to view the body and
ty and fewer amenities. When you're
offer rental caskets. You rent the attractive
condolences to the family. This char::
ready to make arrangements, bring a
exterior and purchase an inexpensive comВ­
be eliminated by having the viewing
clergy member or savvy friend.
bustible inner liner that houses the body for
place of worship.
Consider contacting nonprofit
funeral consumer groups---o
-c -ops that
cremation. Prices for rentals ranged from
$50 to $2,790. You can also buy the casket
Use of facilities and staff for fun
vice. ($0 to $775). The funeral sen -,,
offer advice, and negotiate member
from a discount seller. The government
held in one of the home's chapels
discounts with certain funeral homes.
requires funeral homes to accept a casket
takes place the morning after the \l
from an outside provider, if that's what the
of the facilities and staff. (One fune;-
The Funeral Consumers Alliance (800
765-0107;, is one place
to start.
M AY 2001
consumer wants; savings of hundreds to
thousands of dollars are possible. Alterna-
this amounts to a rental fee for
we surveyed says it's free if ther
gives prospective customers a chart showing
"They have leeway to lower prices, but no
But independents such as John Cannon of
how its prices compare with named comВ­
one is talking about lowering prices. They're
the New Comer-Cannon home, say personВ­
petitors in town. Our survey found New
trying to get more revenues by adding
alized service should not cost more. Last
services;' says Fran Blechman Bernstein, a
year, his home handled the cremation of
$3,380 price for a stanВ­
dard funeral with an 1 8-gauge steel casket
first vice president and research analyst at
a Harley-Davidson aficionado and created
was more than $ 1,600 lower than the mediВ­
Merrill Lynch in New York City.
an price for that type of funeral in Albany.
All this competition has significantly
a room with the man's bike and memoraВ­
The Stewart chain sees increased revenues
bilia. "I don't charge extra for that. You can't
and profit margins, and "enhanced pricing
just make up charges, such as a facility setup
slowed funeral-price inflation, which was at
opportunities" in the growing demand
fee, if it's not on your General Price List,"
5 to 6 percent in 1990 through 1997 but just
2.8 percent last year.
for more personalized, customized funerals,
says Cannon.
says Brian Marlowe, Stewart's chief operatВ­
The large debt-heavy chains don't see
ing officer. "Baby boomers;' he adds, "are
has begun using the relationship it estabВ­
price cuts as the answer to competition.
more focused on doing things their way."
lishes with customers as a foot in the door
viewing.) You can reduce this cost by holdВ­
A national view
ing the funeral at some other location, such
as a church or synagogue, or by having a
memorial service (without the body preВ­
SCI, which owns
3,755 funeral homes,
Reasonably priced funerals are available, but prices vary greatly-so comparison
shopping can pay off. Shown below are the range of prices in each city we surveyed
for a standard funeral with a median-priced, 20-gauge steel casket.
sent) at a different place and time after burВ­
ial. Another alternative: Graveside services
were sometimes less expensive.
Rental of hearse with driver ( $ 1 25 to
$400). You need this special vehicle, someВ­
times called a funeral coach, to transport the
casket from the funeral home or place of
worship to the cemetery.
Rental of flower car with driver ( $50 to
$200). In the funeral motorcade, this vehicle
transports the flowers to the grave site. But
clude immediate cremation or immediate
there's often room in the hearse for flowers.
Alternative arrangements ($765 to
$3,920). Less common arrangements inВ­
burial, neither of which involves a public
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
viewing, funeral service, or showy casket.
$3,967 to $5,295
Austin, Texas
SZ,845 to $5,185
In our survey, the median price for immeВ­
diate cremation (including the crematory
$ 1 ,295; for immediate burial,
$ 1 ,740.
Other expenses. The cost of the funeral
fee) was
does not include additional charges that are
sometimes necessary, such as a burial plot
for a casket, space in a columbarium for an
urn, or mailing of cremated remains. Some
Salem, Mass.
Washington, D.C. $4,410 to $5,093
SZ,565 to $5,755
Benchmark funeral prices
What can you expect to pay for a funeral? In our survey, these are the median
prices charged by small local chains. We found that local chains offered the best
value. Prices assume that the funeral home provides the casket.
cemeteries require the purchase of a grave
from sinking as the casket disintegrates over
many years. The least expensive liners we
$1. 1 10
liner or burial vault, which keeps the grave
Immediate cremation with minimum casket/container
found were made of concrete and cost $295;
some cost as much as
$ 1 ,095 for concrete,
Standard funeral with alternative casket/container
and thousands more for bronze, marble, or
4,06 7
Standard funeral with 20В·gauge steel casket
Immediate burial with minimum casket/container
other pricey materials. There may also be
Standard funeral with solid wood casket (excluding mahogany/walnut/cherry)
incidental costs for a death certificate, burВ­
Standard funeral with 1 8-gauge steel casket
ial license, and filing fees. Experts say that
6, 1 2 5
Standard funeral with stainless steel casket
many consumers pay by check or credit
Standard funeral with mahogany/walnut/cherry casket
card. Some funeral homes allow payment
7. 100
Standard funeral with bronze/copper casket
over 30 days.
MAY 2001
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