When you’re planning a funeral for yourself or a loved one, there are many decisions to make. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a funeral, and for that reason the average funeral cost varies quite a bit. A funeral can be a very simple event, or it can be an elaborate affair. It can cost a little or a lot. Just as every person is different, so is every funeral.
Why funerals are important
Regardless of its simplicity or extravagance, a funeral service is an important occasion in nearly every culture. It serves to celebrate the life or mourn the loss of a loved one and allows friends and family to say goodbye and begin the emotional healing process. Spending a few hours to acknowledge and pay tribute to someone who has passed, sharing photos, memories and stories of good times, connects friends and family and allows them to feel both comforted and inspired. A well-planned funeral is an invaluable part of the human experience and creates memories that last forever.
There are many details to consider, and it’s important to work with a provider that can clearly explain what burial costs and funeral expenses are involved so that you can make educated and appropriate choices.
Get our Guide to Understanding Funeral & Cremation Costs to get all the information you need to make informed choices about the cost of final arrangements for yourself or someone you love.
How much is an average funeral?
To figure the approximate cost of a funeral, first you must ask yourself what kind of funeral you have in mind. A unique life deserves a unique final farewell, and funeral expenses vary depending on a family’s preferences and needs.
- A honors religious or cultural traditions first and foremost. Whether burial or cremation is chosen, often a visitation precedes the funeral service, and the loved one is then buried at a cemetery. The funeral most often occurs at a place of worship or a funeral home, and sometimes includes a graveside service at the cemetery. Military veterans are honored with special customs. In some cultures, an overnight visitation takes place, or a witness cremation is appropriate, and those services may cost more. Key expenses include cemetery property and a marker, visitation and related preparation, event planning by the funeral director, a casket or urn, the venue, catering and more. The median funeral cost in 2017 ranged from $6,260 for a cremation with a viewing and memorial service to $8,755 for a funeral with a viewing and burial, not including cemetery charges. When you add those charges, the total median cost can exceed $10,000.
- A is similar to a traditional funeral, with the key differences focusing on a more uplifting service with personalized touches and sharing memories of the loved one. In addition to places of worship and funeral homes, preferred venues may also include outdoor areas, homes, hotels, restaurants or clubs. Food and beverages are often offered to large groups of family and friends. Sometimes a celebrant leads the ceremony instead of a clergy member, and more uplifting music is preferred, whether played live or recorded. Burying or scattering of cremated remains and traditional burial are all popular choices. Many of the primary expenses are similar to a traditional funerals, but personal touches like mementos, event planning services, musicians or special venues can counterbalance traditional costs like transportation and visitation.
- A simple celebration of life or memorial service is most often a small gathering of family and friends following cremation, but can also occur graveside for those who choose traditional burial. Less expensive than options with more attendees, it can sometimes include an cremated remains scattering ceremony and can take place weeks or months after the passing. Key expenses are the cremation or burial, food and beverages, venue and travel expenses to scatter cremated remains at a meaningful place.
- A direct cremation without service or immediate burial is often chosen by people who want to pay their respects simply or live far away. In this simplest option, cremated remains are returned in a basic container following a cremation or can optionally be mailed to you. With immediate burial, the loved one is interred without embalming, a viewing, a funeral or a graveside ceremony. In many cases, the arrangements can be handled entirely remotely by phone, fax or email. The key expenses are the services of the funeral home or cremation provider, and the cemetery in case of immediate burial. In 2016, the median cost for direct cremation was $2,419.
What Affects Funeral and Cremation Costs?
There are hundreds of decisions that must be made when planning a funeral, cremation or memorial service, and making funeral arrangements can often seem confusing or overwhelming. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a funeral or memorial service, there are different costs and expenses to consider. Learn what to expect and get your free Guide to Understanding Funeral and Cremation Costs today.
Breaking down funeral costs
To help understand what’s included in the average funeral cost, let's break down the products and services by category. Some are provided by a funeral home, some by a cemetery, and yet others by a cremation provider or other third party. The lists below are a representative sample of potential funeral costs. Products and services will vary based on the preferences and needs of your family.
Funeral homes provide comprehensive care to families for any type of disposition or service. Funeral home products and services include:
- Recovery of the loved one from home, hospital or hospice and into the funeral home’s care at any time, on any day
- Funeral services and visitation prior to the service
- Event planning services of the funeral director and staff
- Use of the funeral home’s chapels, family rooms, visitation rooms, outdoor spaces and reception areas
- Casket, urn and/or cremation jewelry
- Catering (in some states)
- Embalming, makeup and hair (particularly when visitation is desired)
- Transportation of the loved one and family
- Processing and filing of necessary information and government permits
- Stationary and remembrance items, including programs, prayer cards, guest books, slideshows and videos
- Personalized remembrances, particularly for celebrations of life
- Online obituary
- Grief support materials
- Aftercare assistance
In addition, funeral home staff coordinate with third-party providers on the family’s behalf to handle all their wishes in one place, including:
- Coordination of clergy or celebrants
- Selection and delivery of funeral flowers
- Coordination of charity donations
- Performance of live music or selection of recorded music
- Placement of a newspaper obituary
Cemeteries are limited to offering property and services on their grounds in most states. Products and services provided by a cemetery include:
- Cemetery property, including in-ground, above-ground and cremation options
- Casket and vault for burial
- Graveside funeral services
- Opening and closing of the gravesite
Either cemeteries or funeral homes provide:
- Grave monuments or markers
By choosing a location with a funeral home and cemetery in one place, you can limit the coordination required between these different providers to a single point of contact to handle all your needs. .
Plan a beautiful, personal remembrance
Every funeral can—and should—be personalized. That is done with small touches or grand gestures. From favorite flowers and music, to special food and custom keepsakes, there are dozens of ways to celebrate life.
Think about these services when considering funeral costs:
- Clergy member or . Often a pastor, priest or other religious affiliate will conduct a funeral service. However, even the very religious may also want to enlist the services of a funeral celebrant who is specially trained to help a family incorporate personal details into every aspect of a memorial. The services of a clergy member or funeral celebrant typically run a few hundred dollars.
- An alternative location. Many funeral homes have a chapel or other dedicated space in which to hold a funeral or memorial service. Some have gardens, courtyards, backyards or other natural outdoor areas for funerals and memorials. However, some people prefer a church setting; others might rather a restaurant, country club, banquet hall or other venue. A celebration of life may also be held outside in a friend or family member’s backyard, on the beach or in a park (with a permit, of course). Venue costs can be a little or a lot. Though a friend’s yard is free, a hotel ballroom is not.
- . Food after a funeral is a longstanding tradition for many cultures. Some funeral providers arrange catering services and have dedicated spaces for receptions, which can include anything from refreshing beverages and snacks to a formal seated dinner. Food during a visitation can be not only a convenience but a comfort that encourages guests to spend time together. Catering costs depend on the type of food, number of guests and service preference.
- Musicians. Whether a single musician, such as a harp player for the chapel or a bagpiper for graveside, or an entire band for a catered reception, musicians make an impact at a funeral or memorial. Prices start in the hundreds and can range into the thousands.
- . Flowers, keepsakes and gestures like a release of butterflies, balloons or doves are often part of a service. Those things add to the funeral cost, but incorporating unique touches doesn’t have to cost a thing. Asking guests to wear a loved one’s favorite color or a piece of clothing that represents a sports team or a passion for hats, for example, can set a tone and is completely free. So is having friends and family speak from the heart.
Think about these items when considering funeral costs:
- and . The cost of a traditional casket varies widely. You can pay a few hundred dollars for a cardboard container used during cremation or many thousands for a high-quality metal or handcrafted wood casket with personal touches. Cremation urns come in many shapes and sizes. Urn prices reflect size, material and design.
- Printed materials. Funeral programs and register books are commonplace. Keepsake bookmarks and personalized stationary are other options. Printing contributes to the cost of a funeral.
- An obituary. A newspaper may charge to run an obituary, but an online obituary is a free service. A funeral home associate can even help you create one if you don’t know what to write.
- . Flowers are part of the typical funeral cost. The kinds of flowers and the types and sizes of arrangements inform the total price, which can run from several hundred dollars into the thousands.
- . Movies, slideshows, portraits, blankets, mini cremation urns and more make heartfelt keepsakes for family members. Funeral favors, such as personalized golf balls or key rings or boxes of cookies made from a special recipe, are a modern-day way to celebrate life. These items can add to the cost of a funeral, but they don’t have to. Some families opt to divide up a loved one’s collection among family and friends—and that can be the most meaningful remembrance of all.
- . Cremation jewelry and other charms of remembrance are lasting ways to keep the memory of a loved one near. They can also be passed down for generations. These types of keepsakes can be inexpensive or costly, depending on your choice.
Establish a permanent place of remembrance
Like a funeral, a final resting place is an important tradition and a personal choice. A permanent memorial gives friends and family a place to visit and remember. Cemetery costs are not included in funeral prices. Average cemetery costs include purchase of the interment rights for the property, outer burial containers and opening and closing of the gravesite.
The price of property for traditional burial of casketed remains or cremated remains varies widely according to where it is located—property in urban cemeteries is more expensive than in rural cemeteries. Likewise for private cemeteries versus public cemeteries. The location of a property within a cemetery will influence cost as well (a plot with a scenic view or near water will usually be more expensive, for example).
According to the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance, the cost for a single burial plot in the United States can be as little as $500 in a small rural cemetery or as much as $5,000 in a privately owned urban cemetery. Interment rights can be bought or sold on the open market in most states, in compliance with the rules and regulations of the cemetery.
Cemetery property for traditional burial
From most expensive to least expensive, and controlling for other factors like location, the most expensive to least expensive cemetery options are:
- Private mausoleums
- Community mausoleums
- Private family estates (generally set off by walls, benches or hedges)
- Semiprivate family estates (shared among families and set off by walls, benches or hedges)
- Double cemetery plots (also called companion plots)
- Single cemetery plot
Cemetery property for cremation
From most expensive to least expensive, and controlling for other factors like location, the most expensive to least expensive options for ashes are any of the above options available for traditional burial, plus:
- Private columbaria and glass-front niches
- Cremation gardens
- Community columbaria or ossuary
- Cremation scattering at a cemetery
- Cremation memorial or plaque
Outer burial containers
Outer burial containers include grave liners and burial vaults. The former is usually far less expensive than the latter. A grave liner can cost on average $700-$1,000, while a burial vault averages $900-$7,000, though they can cost much more. Outer burial containers protect the casket from the weight of the soil and cemetery equipment and prevents the ground from settling. Many cemeteries require some sort of burial container.
Opening and closing costs
Cemeteries charge a fee for opening the ground, placing a casket or urn in the ground and covering the plot. These services usually add $1,000-$2,000 to costs, depending on the cemetery, and are often not included in pre-payment plans.
Headstones, markers and monuments
Some cemeteries allow only flat markers (often called memorial parks). Others allow upright monuments in addition to flat markers. The cost of a grave marker or monument depends on its material, size and design. A simple marker could be as little as $500, while an upright headstone could cost as much as $5,000 or more.
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Funeral costs include some government fees
In some places, a permit is required to cremate or bury a loved one, and there may be a small fee (usually less than $50) to get that permit. Your funeral provider will know if one is needed and how much it will add to funeral costs. If you choose to hold a funeral or memorial at a venue like a public park or a beach, you may also need to buy a permit.
The government also charges a small fee for each copy of a death certificate (from $6 to $25, depending on your state and county). Your funeral provider will initiate the original death certificate and order as many copies as you think you need—in most cases between 10 and 20 copies.
Special situations that may cost less
Every family’s budget is different, and Dignity Memorial providers are committed to helping every one who comes through our doors find a funeral plan that fits their needs.
Veterans and their families are entitled to if they meet certain requirements. These benefits can include free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker—not only for the veteran but also for a spouse and dependent children. Likewise, some providers have lower-cost programs for public servants, such as police officers and firefighters. Be sure to ask your funeral arranger about these options.
Other low-cost funerals include direct burial and direct cremation. These are simple ways for a family to bury or cremate a loved one. Green funerals can also cost less than more traditional funerals or celebrations of life. They involve environmentally friendly practices and biodegradable caskets, urns or shrouds.
Packages can help with funeral costs
To streamline the decision-making process, funeral providers offer a range of preset funeral and cremation packages (if permitted by the state). By grouping together key products and services, they simplify the choices and help families create personalized tributes. Funeral package options can include a casket, chapel service, catering (if permitted by the state) and more. Cremation packages offer the option of holding visitation and funeral services. Almost anything can be added to a package, but sticking to preset options can help keep funeral costs in check. So can funding your funeral plans in advance.
Funeral Homes’ General Price List
Every U.S. funeral home is required to give consumers accurate, itemized price information and other disclosures in a general price list, or GPL, by law. The GPL includes prices for the following:
- Basic services of a funeral director and funeral home staff.
- Forwarding a loved one to another funeral home.
- Receiving a loved one from another funeral home.
- Transferring a loved one to the funeral home.
- Direct cremation. (Direct cremation is a cremation without a funeral service. If you want to arrange a direct cremation, you do not have to purchase a casket. You can use an alternative container that encases the body. It can be made of a material such a fiberboard and have an outside covering or not.)
- Immediate burial. (An immediate burial is a burial without embalming, a viewing, a funeral or a graveside ceremony.)
- Embalming. (Except in certain cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial.)
- Other preparation of the body (dressing, hair, makeup).
- Use of facilities and staff for a viewing.
- Use of facilities and staff for a funeral ceremony.
- Use of facilities and staff for a memorial service.
- Use of equipment and staff for a graveside service.
- Use of a funeral coach or hearse.
- Use of a limousine or van.
- Outer burial container (a grave liner or vault).
Learn to decode the GPL. Download our Guide to Understanding Funeral & Cremation Costs to get all the information you need to make informed choices about the cost of final arrangements for yourself or someone you love.
Benefits of planning funeral arrangements in advance
ahead of time is a loving thing to do. When you make your own final arrangements, you remove the guesswork for family members. You decide whether you want a casket burial or cremation, a traditional funeral or a modern celebration of life. You can plan your own music, choose a theme, pick a memorial location and even decide on cemetery property. Planning ahead lets your loved ones know exactly what you want and helps ensure that your final arrangements are just as you wish them to be.
Pre-planning also allows you to face difficult decisions when you are calm and focused, keeping your loved ones from becoming burdened with hard choices under emotional circumstances. With funeral or cremation plans already in place, your loved ones can spend more time with friends and family and begin the healing process sooner.
A third important consideration is that funding prearrangements allows you to lock in current funeral prices, protecting you and your loved ones against rising funeral costs and removing money from the equation during an emotionally challenging time. Additionally, finance plans are available for funeral expenses, so you can pay for a service in monthly installments. Many families find this to be a good alternative to paying all at once.