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Can You Afford to Die

Updated on November 30, 2016
Egyptian mummy exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Egyptians went to extraordinary lengths to preserve the bodies of their Pharaohs. We try to do the same by embalming.
Egyptian mummy exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Egyptians went to extraordinary lengths to preserve the bodies of their Pharaohs. We try to do the same by embalming. | Source

The High Cost of Death in America

Are you ready to meet your maker? You do have a will and are your heirs ready to make your final arrangements? Do your heirs know what you want done with your remains? Have you chosen a last resting place and made advance purchases and directives with a funeral home? Do you want to be buried or would you prefer to be cremated? Can you even afford to die? Who will pay for your final expenses? The time when someone passes is one of the most stressful and expensive times in the lives of those left behind. A traditional funeral costs about $6,000 but costs can easily top $10,000. Greed is an unfortunate part of life in America and unscrupulous funeral homes and funeral directors are just like the rest of America. The death of a loved one may be the last chance for someone to make a buck off him or her. How you treat your loved one during his/her life is far more important than how you treat them after death.

What about end of life care? "This book hammers home the barriers that prevent dying people from getting what they want. A review of the book "The Good Death"

The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America

Mummification anyone?

Djoser Pyramid with Cobra frieze on the wall of the southern tomb. You could have your own pyramid if you have enough money.
Djoser Pyramid with Cobra frieze on the wall of the southern tomb. You could have your own pyramid if you have enough money. | Source

Billions of Dollars

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars arranging more than 2 million funerals for family members and friends, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has a great deal of information at this page The FTC Funeral Rules

The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The FTC goes undercover every year to see if funeral homes are informing customers of their full range of choices.

Business of Death

Before the Twentieth Century

This antique embalming kit is available for purchase from Pandoras Parlor
This antique embalming kit is available for purchase from Pandoras Parlor
Benjamin Franklin's grave.
Benjamin Franklin's grave. | Source

Before the twentieth century, death was a personal family affair.

Europeans brought the tradition of laying the body out inside the home before it was buried, during which time neighbors and family could visit the home of the bereaved and take a last look at the deceased. A fear of premature burial resulted in the Christian “wake” and the Jewish religious ritual, the “watching.” In both of these cases, looking at the body was deliberate, searching for signs of movement or life in order to avoid burying someone alive.

Until recently, most rural Americans died in their homes surrounded by family members, and funerals were community events. Now more people die in hospitals and nursing homes away from in their homes, away from their family. Instead of family, it is now funeral directors who take charge of the entire affair. Death is hidden away from us now, something to be feared and dreaded so we have very little exposure to the dead. Before the late 19th century, the mortician was uncommon because most people opted to wash and lay out the body themselves in their own homes. The last acts of caring for a loved one were deeply personal, not something to pay a stranger for. Home funerals, and even home embalming would remain popular until the 1920s. Embalming became a necessity during the Civil War and the Crimean war when distant families wanted to have funerals and bury their loved ones near home. Embalming is not a necessity in all modern cases and may just be a way for the funeral home to make more profit. In fact, in many cases the chemicals and the bodily fluids that comes from embalming a body end up in the municipal wastewater. Regulations are scant but we don't like regulations.

Home embalming kit on Oddities

Antique French Funeral Urn for sale at Pandora's
Antique French Funeral Urn for sale at Pandora's | Source

Consider a home funeral.

What choices do we have when a loved one dies, what are the other options to an expensive commercial funeral service?

Consider a home funeral. In most states it’s perfectly legal to complete the death certificate (with the doctor’s or medical examiner’s certification), file it, care for the body at home, and take it to the cemetery or crematory. Most families in this country did so routinely until the turn of the 20th century. The FCA (Funeral Consumers Alliance) national office can help guide families, or you can turn to the new book Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death for specific requirements in your state.

How to have a home funeral

Headstones Vienna

St. Marx Cemetery, Vienna Austria,
St. Marx Cemetery, Vienna Austria, | Source

How do you file and obtain a death certificate?

The completion and submission of the death certificate forms to the Bureau of Vital Statistics is usually handled by the funeral home that will be overseeing the burial or cremation. Charging extra for filing the death certificate or getting it medically certified is a violation of FTC rules. Information needed to file a death certificate includes the deceased's: social security card, occupation at time of death, address, including county and zip code, surviving spouse's name, parent's names, including mother's maiden name, place of burial, including cemetery section, lot and space.

Funeral Consumers Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. We do for funeral purchases what Consumer Reports does for products.

Average cost of a funeral:

A green burial puts your remains back in nature, from dust to dust
A green burial puts your remains back in nature, from dust to dust | Source

Consider an eco-friendly "Green Burial"

Scripture says "from dust to dust" but we spend huge amounts on delaying the decay of our bodies. Embalming, bronze caskets, concrete vaults and cemetery plots all seem to be designed to keep our bodies fresh and lifelike for as long as possible. Huh? When is the last time you heard about someone's grave being dug up to view the decedent? Caskets do come with sturdy handles, so if you want to dig one up it will be easy to carry it around. Maybe this has something to do with the zombie fad on TV? There is a growing movement in many parts of the world to return to a time when bodies were returned to the earth, there to become part of the environment and perhaps to fertilize a growing tree or a patch of wildflowers. A green burial uses no embalming, no burial vault and uses a biodegradable coffin or even a shroud to be buried in. Cremation is still an option with a green burial but with cremation, you are still releasing dioxin, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide., defeating some of the advantage. A green burial is like choosing a Prius instead of your neighbor who chose a Hummer. Choosing a green burial can also be much less costly than a traditional burial.

How about composting? Certainly a green alternative and you could end up in the mulch on someones flower bed.

From Compost You Came and to Compost You Shall Return

Training doctors

Medical school
Medical school | Source

Can I avoid the cost of a funeral by donating my body?

Medical schools around the country are in need of bodies to train the next generation of doctors. You can avoid outrageous funeral costs and at the same time be generous by helping advance medical training. This page will direct you to Medical Schools by State

Cremation Torte


Cremation Costs

The average cost of cremation is a fraction of funeral and burial costs in any market, less than a quarter of the $10,000+ cost of an average funeral and burial. With cremation, there is no need to embalm or to purchase a cemetery plot, casket, burial vault, crypt or gravestone. Most states will require a cremation container which can be as simple as a cardboard box or a rental casket with a removable liner. Funeral directors may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do; must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

In 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, 42 percent were cremated. Many families choosing cremation forego a traditional funeral in place of a memorial service or family gathering. You can decide what to do with the ashes because ashes are not considered a bio-hazard. People are choosing many different ways to honor their loved one, ashes are being put into orbit, put on the surface of the moon, ashes have been made into 250 pencils and ashes have been made into diamonds that people can wear.

Viewing | Source

Basic services fee

The basic service fee is the fee paid to the funeral home regardless of the other services and products that you choose. These include funeral planning, securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates, preparing the notices, sheltering the remains, and coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties. There are many other items that you will be charged for item by item such as the use of the funeral home for viewing or services, limousines to transport the family, staff for a gravesite service and any payment you make to your pastor, priest or rabbi etc.

Calculating the costs

President Lincoln's coffin, replica, Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois,
President Lincoln's coffin, replica, Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, | Source
Roberts Vault Company Copper Presidential Burial Vault
Roberts Vault Company Copper Presidential Burial Vault | Source
A selection of mortician's supplies used for embalming and restoring a corpse.
A selection of mortician's supplies used for embalming and restoring a corpse. | Source
This antique stone memorial maker's sign is available for purchase from Pandoras Parlor
This antique stone memorial maker's sign is available for purchase from Pandoras Parlor | Source

Caskets Burial liners Embalming Headstones

A casket typically come with a 300 to 500 percent markup, often the most expensive item you'll buy in making arrangements, prices range from about $2,000 to well over $10,000. In a funeral home, cheap caskets will usually be made to appear cheap and salespersons may play on your grief to get you to spend more: "Your husband was a big man, he really needs a larger casket for his shoulders" was a statement made to my grandmother when planning my grandfather's funeral.

Funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket, you have the right to purchase a casket from any seller and have it delivered to the funeral home. Do you really want an expensive bronze casket? If you want it to last a long time, perhaps you do need the top of the line casket, do you plan on using it repeatedly, or are you going to dig a hole and bury the casket?

Burial liners
Using a liner in a grave is something that is required by some cemeteries but not all. The real purpose of a vault or burial liner is to protect the cemetery lawn from sinking into a grave. Prices for liners can as much or more than caskets, remember that it is just a box for the box which gets quickly covered by the cemetery lawn.

Embalming is rarely required by law
An unscrupulous funeral home may claiming that embalming is required by law when it's not. Check with your state. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Canadian health authorities embalming provides no public health benefit. Embalming is optional. Many funeral homes require embalming if you're planning a viewing or visitation but embalming generally is unnecessary if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death.

Headstones can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a simple flat marker to the sky is the limit. You may want to ask yourself, who will view this headstone and will they remember the person buried there. Walk through any graveyard and you will see monuments to people buried and forgotten long ago. This is mostly just another way to get more money from people at a time of grief. There are exceptions of course; famous people and people who have left their mark on society may have appropriately elaborate tombstones to remain for historical interest. Cost will depend on material first, with marble usually costing more than granite yet some marble wears relatively quickly. Other stones are imported from around the country and around the world for those who wish to make a "statement". Costs will vary widely depending on from whom it is purchased, the amount and quality of engraving, any bronze markers or photographs can all add to the cost significantly.


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      3 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Rajan

      Yeah, the "American" way to die seems to be spreading to Europe now. What a gruesome way to make a buck from the bereaved

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Dying in peace seems to be a remote idea today. What an irony. Informative hub.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Reynold

      My mother passed away recently and she had her arrangements pre-planned and paid from start to finish. She managed to outlive all of her peers so there was no one but family at her services.

      Preplanning is the way to go

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      4 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Lots of good advice here and appreciated, by the very, very old HUBBER!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Chin chin

      Yeah, the prepaid arrangements were a big help at a stressful time

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      I haven't actually seen a real cremation ceremony. Here in the Philippines, there are still many who bury their dead, but cremation is getting popular, because it is cheaper and less fuss. I guess whatever option is taken, it's still connected to whether the family is a follower of tradition.

      You did not mention memorial insurance? Maybe for another topic. My mother got one many years before she died and it did made the entire funeral and burial process easier. I just don't know if it was worth it. Well, less worry for us because we did not need to shell out big cash.

      This is really a very nice informative hub. Voted up.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Dolores

      My mother just passed on June 9, so we are deep in the process now. She came home under the care of Hospice and they were wonderful, her passing was peaceful and at home.

      Fortunately for us she preplanned her arrangements. Cremation, no funeral and a niche in a mausoleum. Still cost her about 4000. I know many people need a place to visit the remains of their loved ones but it strikes me as morbid. I will always remember my mother as she was during her life, her ashes are not her life.

      The funeral people were very respectful and did not try to upsell us so my mother will be interred in a cardboard box. As to an urn, Why? Once interred it will never be seen again. We will put one of her rosaries placed in the niche with her.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi, back again because I saw this one pop up. I am going to a funeral today. The widow will pay $1800 to open a grave she already paid for, just for cremains. While I realize the funeral people need to make a living and a profit, it seems ridiculous to spend that much for a small container of ashes. Earlier you mentioned green cemeteries. I've looked for one locally but cannot find one. This would be the best way to memorialize and bury a loved one - planting a tree, etc.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida

      The entire system seems to be set up against any form of true closure. When my father's parents died (1950) most people still died at home. There was respect and dignity for aged parents at dying at home as the natural end of a life.

      Now we end up sending people to a hospital where doctors fight death but deny quality of life. In my life my mother is still living at home and I take care of her needs (she's 96). What I see is her slow decline from a vibrant and active person to a dependent and forgetful person. When her time comes I will have had the experience of her decline and that will be true closure. I truly hope she just dies in her sleep some night and can avoid the emergency services that try to prolong not life but the process of dying.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hi Lisa,Thanks for your note. In my book I share a range of perspectives on clusore. Some people talk about finding clusore. However, others do not believe clusore exists and are angry about the notion. The concept of clusore has many different interpretations so it is always tricky to know what people mean when using the word. I give examples of these different meanings throughout the book. One of my biggest concerns is the exploitation of people's grief when salespeople and politicians try to market products and politics through the idea that you need clusore. There are many ways to talk about grief and healing. Closure is one way some people talk about grief, but it is by no means the only way. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, too. Take care. nancy

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      we still had to buy the plot and the headstone, and you get the point. The avraege funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000, and even though I was in the best financial shape of my life, I didn't have

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      4 years ago from Citra Florida


      I agree, I think it's a disgrace how we have turned death into a business where salesmen/women prey on grief stricken families to make bigger profits. It wasn't so long ago when our loved ones were kept at home and prepared for burial. Now death is hidden in a hospital and we're afraid of any contact with the dead.

      There is a local concern that provides "green" burial services, no embalming, no vault, no casket, no cremation, just placing a shroud around the body and burying it so it returns to nature

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I'm so glad I visited this topic in depth, b/c I problbay wouldn't have even considered it but being prepared in heart and mind to do this, I now can't imagine not taking care of my loved ones in death. I think it makes as much sense as home birth does to home birth advocates or home schooling to home educators or taking care of your family's health problems with herbs it's just another way to take care of your own. I love it.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      My family recently experienced a sudden tragic death. We were in no way prepared to deal with the aftermath. In retrospect, the whole funeral home scene makes me sick. But it seemed necessary at the time. $6,000.00 for a bare bones one day affair without burial. And in my state it is illegal to dispose of "cremains" anywhere that you want. In fact, it is illegal to bury your own cat in the back yard. Big biz lobbies governments in order to enrich themselves at the expense of grief crazed people. Am I bitter? No. Another life lesson.

      A good friend of mine had a loved one created at a funeral home without any viewing, service, etc. $3,000.00. There are cheaper places to do this, but she was scared up by people telling her that they just throw all the ashes together and the cremains you get may not really be your loved ones.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      5 years ago from United States

      This was a thought-provoking hub. I like the idea of green burial. I had not thought about it much, but we have in a way depersonalized, homogenized and commercialized death. I recall reading an essay several years ago (by Lewis Thomas?) about embalming. That was an eye opener! Shared & voted up.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Ann

      Yeah, I guess the only answer is not to die! Our American way of turning everything into a get rich quick scheme ought to have some limits but there are none when it comes to squeezing another buck out of someone's loss,

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      5 years ago from Orange, Texas

      This confirms what I've suspected for many years - funerals are a racket! Interesting and voted up.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx EP

      Glads you stopped and commented

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Good job on writing about a topic that many don't want to discuss! Good tips here and we all do need to acknowledge the fact that we won't be here forever. Nicely done!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Billybu

      Me too! But I am attracted to the idea of a "green" burial. Dump me in the ground and throw some dirt over me. The practice of trying to save our dead bodies strikes me as macabre.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, the home embalming kit might be a bit much. LOL I'm going out as cheaply as muss, no fuss, just like I lived my life. :)

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx LifeLoveMystery

      Yeah, we're all getting older and many of us (most?) know more about buying a car than burying a loved one

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Ready to meet my maker? Yes.

      Am I prepared for everything You covered a lot of information that I have not considered. Nice post.


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