SUNBURY — It’s an increasingly prevalent and lamentable scenario: A person lives his life loved and cared for by family members, but when it comes time for him to be put to rest, the finances aren’t there for a proper funeral.
This can be a family’s worst nightmare at a time when emotions are already running high. After all, funeral arrangements should not add to the burden.
The average cost of a funeral rose more than 17.5 percent in the five-year period from 2004 to 2009, according to the latest figures available from the National Funeral Directors Association.
“And in a down economy, where people are barely eking out a living, that can be a significant factor when it comes to choosing the kind of funeral a family selects,” said a Valley mortician who asked to remain anonymous.
The average price of a funeral, according to the NFDA, is about $6,550, up from $5,580.
Choosing a higher-end maple wood casket would raise the price by about $2,300, the mortician said.
But what can a family do if it can’t afford to pay even that average price?
“Fortunately, there are options,” the mortician said Friday afternoon.
If a funeral has not been prearranged and prepaid, each funeral home has a policy regarding payment and what to do if a family cannot pay, the mortician said.
Some funeral homes require the full payment up front, and others will work out a payment plan. Some will allow families to assign the proceeds of an insurance policy to the funeral home to pay the expenses.
There are even financing companies that will work with families to pay for a funeral.
“If a family has difficulty paying, some communities have charitable organizations that could offer financial assistance,” said Jessica Koth, a spokesperson for the NFDA. “Local churches may also be able to offer assistance to families in need.”
“And if a family is truly indigent,” the Valley mortician said, “they might qualify for state assistance.”
The different choices families are making because of the economic downturn include choosing less expensive caskets and urns; cutting back on services; choosing cremations more often so they do not have to bear the burden of cemetery costs; and having fewer flower memorials.
Families with trouble paying for a funeral, the mortician noted, are asking about financing options more often than before the downturn. Other ways the economy is affecting purchasing decisions include:
- Cash-advance items are going up significantly, especially grave opening charges.
- Having memorial contributions made directly to the funeral home.
- Going “green.” A trend among younger generations is moving away from traditional funerals and opting instead for more personal celebrations. “Green” burials have gained popularity in places like the West Coast over the last two years. Green can mean a burial in a simple wooden or biodegradable cardboard coffin, without an outer vault or concrete or marble container — essentially a traditional Jewish or Muslim burial. Or it can signify a back-to-nature burial in the wilderness or in a commercially owned cemetery with a nature-preserve section. Such cemeteries invest the money for the grave in a trust fund to maintain the land.
Meanwhile, funeral directors’ costs for doing business also have gone up over the past few years, the mortician said.
Besides taking steps to reduce expenses, many funeral directors say they are absorbing some of those cost increases, thus reducing profit margins, rather than passing increased costs on to families.
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