Funeral Costs: an NPR Investigation

Editor:  AfterTalk is about bereavement and grieving, which usually, but not always, begin with a death. Many of us are at that age where we might experience the death of a loved one, and have to go through all the arrangements required; but if it is our first, it is unlikely to be our last. So if you have a loved one who may be dying, or just know it’s going to happen to someone you love in the future, we recommend you read or listen to this two-part National Public Radio investigation of funeral costs and Funeral industry questionable  practices. Just click on the green headline below.

You Could Pay Thousands Less For A Funeral Just By Crossing The Street

Funeral Costs AfterTalk Grief Support

Ellen Bethea at her home in Jacksonville, Fla. After her husband died, she paid $7,000 for her husband’s cremation and funeral. She was unaware that the same company offered the same cremation services for much less.

If you don’t want to read or hear the whole thing, here are NPR’s funeral shopping tips:

Funeral Shopping Tips

As a consumer, you’re likely at a significant disadvantage, and it’s not just because of your emotions. Prices are seldom online and it’s hard to know what to ask. Based on NPR’s reporting and tips from Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Federal Trade Commission, here are ways you can help level the playing field:

  • Ask for prices of the specific items you want to buy. The federal government requires that 16 standardized goods and services appear on every funeral home’s general price list.
  • If a loved one is near death, start looking at options in advance, when you’re not under pressure to make a decision. Make calls to funeral homes or drop by and ask for a general price list.
  • If planning your own funeral, put your wishes in writing and discuss them with your family. Ask for itemized price quotes from the funeral homes you visit.
  • When visiting a funeral home, bring along someone trustworthy, who is not grieving.
  • Don’t disclose financial information about your inheritance or the size of your loved one’s insurance policy until you have settled on how much you will pay.
  • Know the boundaries of your relationship with a funeral director or salesperson. While they may be empathetic, their first responsibility is to their business’ success. Also, salespeople may be working on commission, so they may have an interest in your paying as much as possible.


1 thought on “Funeral Costs: an NPR Investigation”

  1. As a hospice and palliative care physician, I have recognized this problem for many years. I knew it was only gong to get worse when the corporations started buying up locally-owned funeral homes. The Services Corporation International company (stock symbol SCI) has a $5 billion market capitalization. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule originally published in 1984 and revised in 1994 requires funeral homes to publish 16 standard fees; however, it does not prevent them from selling unwanted and unneeded goods and services. The average funeral costs $10,000 per burial and $4,500 per cremation.

    After a long talk with a funeral home director that I trust, I discovered that funeral costs can be slashed by over 50% without changing the service. Examples of unneeded goods and services include:
    Caskets for people who are being cremated
    Expensive retail priced caskets (people can buy them at wholesale prices via the internet)
    Grave livers and vaults

    I have started a small online consultation business called ( to help people in need. We offer a funeral planning service that acts as an intermediary between the family and funeral home to prevent overspending due to ignorance and the guilt reflex.

    I want to keep the price of the concierge service low. The concierge fee is a small fraction of the estimated $4,000 per burial and $2,500 per cremation.

    We are just starting, so any help getting traffic to the site will be appreciated. My hope is that if I can fund the business myself, I can keep the venture capital vultures out.

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