Download the Schwab app from iTunes®Get the AppClose

  • Find a branch
To expand the menu panel use the down arrow key. Use Tab to navigate through submenu items.

Navigating the Financial Aspects of Funeral Planning

Dear Carrie,

I just watched my best friend experience the death of her mother. Not only did she suffer a loss, but making the funeral arrangements seemed more difficult and costly than it needed to be. What is your advice for other families going through this process?

Dear Reader,

First of all, let me say I appreciate how difficult it can be to make funeral arrangements. Losing a loved one is never easy, and it is especially hard to make important decisions when you feel vulnerable and grief-stricken.

In truth, funeral planning is a subject most of us would rather avoid. But it really is important to talk about because the more you know, the less likely you are to spend more than you can afford. And such services can be expensive. The average funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000—including funeral-home fees, a casket, a cemetery plot, and the opening and closing of a grave1—and can easily go much higher.

Sad as it is, there are also some unscrupulous funeral directors who may try to take advantage of family members’ grief. They might, for example, show you an expensive mahogany casket before showing a simpler, less expensive one. Or they may encourage embalming—which is not legally required in most states—even if you’re not planning a public viewing.

Fortunately, a lot of good people work in the funeral industry, making these dishonest practices the exception rather than the rule. Still, mourners would be wise to prepare for such meetings ahead of time, if only to lighten the decision-making load. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the process.

Plan ahead

In the best of all worlds, funeral arrangements are part and parcel of a comprehensive estate plan. So whether the forethought is for yourself or a loved one, put all preferences in writing—including whether the person in question wishes to be cremated (the least expensive option), buried after a public viewing (the most expensive option) or something in between—and give copies to family members and an attorney.

Those wishing to be buried in a certain cemetery should make sure there’s a record of the request. There are also options you might not have considered, such as having the memorial service at home or choosing a “green” burial, in which remains are allowed to break down naturally and become part of the earth.

Be sure to ask family members what they want, too. “In my experience, the decedent may say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t need to be much of a bother,’” says Craig Tregillus, franchise rule coordinator at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversees the funeral industry, “but family members may need an opportunity to grieve and get past the loss.”

An entirely prearranged funeral is another option, though I’d use caution in prepaying for such services. If you move somewhere else, you may not be able to get a refund. And the FTC has uncovered several situations in which funeral homes have absconded with funds, according to Craig.

Shop around

In 1984, the FTC enacted the Funeral Rule, which requires funeral homes to reveal their prices over the phone or provide you with an itemized price list when you visit in person. (They’re not yet required to post them online.) If you don’t know what questions to ask, check out the FTC’s “Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist,” available at There may also be an advantage to exploring smaller, independently owned funeral homes. “By and large,” says Craig, “they have lower costs for consumers.”

It’s also important to note that you’re not legally required to purchase all your goods and services from your funeral provider. A number of big-box and online retailers sell caskets and urns for considerably less than what you might find in a funeral home, and can usually ship to a mortuary overnight. In any event, I’d recommend against stating your budget to a funeral provider up front, because the costs may be less than you anticipate.

Ask for help

Most of us don’t really want to talk—or even think—about death. But your friend’s experience shows how important it is to be informed and make savvy financial decisions, even as you’re grieving a loss.

If you’re having trouble making the arrangements on your own, you might consider asking a close friend to look into costs and options for or with you. Bringing in someone with a little distance from the situation can ease the burden and help you think more clearly about the best way to celebrate your loved one’s life.

Funeral Costs: How Much Does an Average Funeral Cost?”, 09/14/2017.

What you can do next

Can the Advance-Decline Line Predict a Market Top?
Saving for Retirement: IRA vs. 401(k)

Important Disclosures

The Charles Schwab Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, private foundation that is not part of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., or its parent company, The Charles Schwab Corporation.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers are obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, their accuracy, completeness and reliability cannot be guaranteed.



The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager. 

Thumbs up / down votes are submitted voluntarily by readers and are not meant to suggest the future performance or suitability of any account type, product or service for any particular reader and may not be representative of the experience of other readers. When displayed, thumbs up / down vote counts represent whether people found the content helpful or not helpful and are not intended as a testimonial. Any written feedback or comments collected on this page will not be published. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. may in its sole discretion re-set the vote count to zero, remove votes appearing to be generated by robots or scripts, or remove the modules used to collect feedback and votes.