Funeral costs

Planning ahead for the death of a loved one can save you a lot of unnecessary grief.
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01 .Introduction


CHOICE has found that funeral directors' professional service fees fluctuate wildly, costing anything from $450 to $2750, and between $129 and $1995 for transport of the body. Funeral directors argue they cannot provide a standard or set price for a funeral because each case is unique.

When the Combined Pensioners Superannuants Association of New South Wales (CPSA), a not-for-profit organisation representing pensioners of all ages, superannuants and low-income retirees, conducted a CHOICE-style shadow shop of funeral directors last year, many funeral operators refused to provide itemised quotes. Where quotes were provided - for a standard basic funeral - costs for cremation ranged between $2500 and $6500. Add-ons such as flowers (which aren’t part of a basic funeral) could cost up to $600.

Typically, funeral costs comprise the cost of the coffin or casket, funeral director’s professional or service fees, disbursements and cremation or burial fees. The costs are usually controlled by the funeral director, who coordinates the event and liaises between the consumer and other suppliers. Kevin Hartley, funeral director of Natural Shroud Burials, claims funeral directors layer up to 400% profit margins on coffins, transport, memorials and flowers.

What can you do?

  • Shop around to avoid being overcharged. Before engaging funeral services and calling around for quotes, have a clear idea of exactly the type of funeral you want and your budget. The more specific you are about the items you want included, the less likely you are to be ripped off.
  • It is your right to ask for a full breakdown of costs. Ask for all receipts before you pay the final bill to ensure you're not double-charged for services or items.  Funeral operators who do not reveal the itemised costs are in breach of the Trade Practices Act as their behaviour can be construed as being misleading and deceptive.
  • Find out if the funeral directors will let you bring items such as flowers, memorial books and orders-of-service booklets. It helps you to save costs as some funeral companies can charge you hundreds for these simple items. 

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A typical funeral invoice will include the items below:

Coffins and caskets
A coffin has a tapered head and foot while a casket is rectangular with a hinged lid. Prices for basic particleboard or wood coffins start at $700, but the ones you’ll most likely be introduced to will cost between about $4000 and $9000. Metal caskets range between $7000 and $28000.
Professional fees
This usually appears as a lump sum in the cost quote and is the funeral company’s or director’s labour costs, which usually include mortuary care (when embalming is involved for viewing purposes or a longer wake, extra costs are usually involved) and transport of the body (some funeral directors charge more for multiple destinations and longer journeys). Weekend services also usually cost more. To avoid being double-charged, ask for all items included in professional fees to be specifically listed.
This refers to the payments the funeral director makes to other suppliers on your behalf. It includes costs involving the provision of death and cremation certificates, as well as newspaper obituaries should you choose to place one. Flowers, memorial attendance books, orders of service booklets, refreshments and live music are all common extras offered by funeral companies, but you and your family can organise these on your own.
Donations to clergy for the service are usually between $100 and $200. Celebrants usually charge between $150 and $300 for a service. Alternatively, your family and friends may wish to write and read out eulogies at the memorial service.
Cremation certificates typically cost between $80 and $140 and are used to obtain a cremation permit that costs between $40 and $65. Cremation fees typically start from $500. The price may or may not include some time for a service at the crematorium chapel, so make sure you check.
Burial is more expensive than cremation overall due to the cost of the burial plot, which can cost anywhere between $1000 and more than $10,000 in some city cemeteries, as well as digging fees ($500-$1250).

Case studies

Catherine, a CHOICE member from NSW, paid about $10,000 for her mother’s burial in May 2009. “The total amount was close to what was estimated, but we were obviously quite distraught when going through the planning and we didn't take in all the details,” Catherine told CHOICE. “I'm sure they never mentioned a contribution to the priest, but we were billed $250 for this and we had already paid the priest directly.” The funeral home also took out a death notice in the newspapers, but in colour and including the name of their business, which her family also doesn’t remember agreeing to. “I asked for a receipt but never got one. I think there should be third-party receipts issued for these items.”

Last year, CHOICE member Sheila, from WA, paid $9200 for her mother’s funeral (including a $4000 professional fee), which she believes was overpriced for the services received. “It was a lovely, tasteful funeral, but the things that made it nice were the environment and our choice of music, although seating and a marquee helped. The overall price of $9200 was exorbitant for such a small, simple funeral for 15 people. We also used our own transport and organised our own after-service refreshments.”

Funeral finance

There are many funeral finance product plans that claim to help you secure payments for a funeral. Before committing to one, you should always compare it with putting your money in a savings account instead.

Pre-paid funerals involve making funeral arrangements now and paying for it at current prices. The money is usually held by a financial institution independently of the funeral company and registered with your state’s fair trading office.

Funeral insurance involves small, regular contributions for a specified cash payment on death. However, the premiums you pay over the years cannot be refunded if you decide to cancel the insurance. Age and health restrictions may apply when taking out the policy. The premiums may also increase over the years to keep up with inflation or other factors.

Funeral bonds are similar to bank fixed deposits. Your money is held as a bond and accrues annual interest. The principal amount can’t be withdrawn early and is paid when the funeral is required.

The good news for consumers is the growing number of new businesses that are providing alternative options to a traditional funeral.

Oxford Gold coffinLast year, work-from-home mum Asha Martin began Caskets Direct, an online caskets and coffins retail store where consumers can buy caskets or coffins for between $680 and $1300 (not including shipping charges for those living outside Victoria). Says Martin: “Caskets similar to the most expensive one in my online store retail through funeral homes for between $3000 and $5000."

Custom-designed cardboard coffins and caskets offer the chance to individualise the casket. LifeArt is a company that manufactures these and ships them to anywhere in Australia. Coffins are available in a range of existing styles, or can be designed and personalised for an individual consumer. You can browse the site and view designs on the company's website, but a LifeArt coffin must be requested through a funeral director and cannot be ordered directly from the manufacturer. The price of a standard, non-customised coffin tends to be in the budget range of traditional coffins, while the customised designs fall somewhere in the mid-range. Once the coffin is requested by a funeral director, it can be shipped within two hours of an order being received. The cardboard has been approved by TestSafe Australia for compliance with the Australian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association's relevant requirements.

Leaving Lightly, a NSW-based company, also manufactures TestSafe compliant cardboard coffins. They are biodegradable and are made of post-consumer recycled cardboard. While Leaving Lightly sells predominantly through funeral directors, they make exceptions for those organising funerals themselves. Coffins are available in a variety of styles. The cheapest have a paper-finish with rope handles, while the more expensive models have timber finishes and metal handles.

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