Home & Leisure

Carla Fried: Plan your own funeral, cheaply, and leave behind a happier family

Carla Fried, on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Navigating the death of a loved one is an intensely personal journey. It is also a very big business that can put a financial strain on the surviving family.

The death care industry -- yep, it's got its own industry moniker -- is an estimated $20 billion business. Service Corporation International, a publicly traded company that operates 1,475 funeral homes and 483 cemeteries in 44 states, pulled in more than $3.2 billion in revenue in the past 12 months.

On an individual basis, that translates to a very big expense for a family dealing with a death. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost for a traditional funeral, with a basic casket that also includes a vault (the casket liner most cemeteries require) can run more than $9,000. Add in the cost of obtaining a (single) plot and the services of the cemetery to handle the burial and ongoing maintenance and other ancillary expenses and you're looking at an all-in cost around $15,000.

That tab goes a long way toward explaining why GoFundMe has a section dedicated to crowdfunding funerals. And why 10% of millennials recently surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Services who borrowed money from their 401(k) said they did it to cover a family funeral.

Even if you have the money for your estate to cover the cost, in terms of legacy, it can be illuminating to step back today and decide what you truly want, and whether you might prefer to keep costs low to leave more for your family.

Open to cremation? And a simple service? That could easily be doable for $2,000, if not less. That just saved your estate or your family $13,000.


That's $13,000 that an adult child might love having to finish paying off student debt. Or it's the emergency fund they've struggled to build. Or it's the down payment for a home that costs $300,000 or less. Or it's a nice leg up on retirement savings. Invest the money for 25 years earning an annualized 5% and it will be worth $44,000. If it has 40 years to compound, it will be worth more than $90,000.

Got a grandkid? If the $13,000 was put in a 529 college savings fund for a toddler, it will be worth more than $27,000 in 15 years.

That's a whole lot of legacy that can grow from your last wishes.

It's on you to make it happen. It's unhelpful to leave your family guessing. In the throes of grieving your death, they are an easy mark for a death care industry that's run for profit.


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