Does a Simple and Dignified Funeral Have to Cost a Small Fortune?

Originally published by Tangerine Forward Thinking. Republished with permission.
By Robin Taub –


My mother passed away unexpectedly on August 16, 2014. The death of a family member, especially a parent, is never easy. I had just seen my mother the day before she died, and even though her health had been declining, her death was sudden and I wasn't prepared.

We were still in a state of shock when we headed to the funeral home to make arrangements. Our religion instructs us to bury the dead immediately, and arrangements had to be made quickly. My mother's wishes were for a simple graveside service and burial. How much could that cost? Turns out, a lot.

Funeral and Burial Costs You Might Not Think Of

When you think about a funeral and a burial, the costs that come to mind are the cemetery plot and the casket. But as I was soon to discover, there were many others.

My mother had purchased her plot many years before, so we were not faced with that cost, which like the price of residential real estate varies by location. Generally, grave sites are more expensive downtown than in the suburbs. For example in the Greater Toronto Area, they range from $3,000 in Oakville to as much as $25,000 in downtown Toronto. That doesn't include the cost of a headstone or marker.

We did however, have to choose a casket, and there were many options with different prices, depending on the materials used (wood, steel etc.). We settled on a simple pine casket at a cost of $3,900. At that point, I thought we were almost done. I was wrong. These are some of the additional charges we were presented with:

When the funeral home presented the invoice, I had sticker shock on top of my post-traumatic shock. Because I'm an accountant (and auditor) by training, as a rule I always look over an invoice, whether it's for something small like a restaurant meal or something much more material like a car. And I often catch mistakes. But in the state I was in, less than 12 hours after getting the devastating news of my mother's death, I didn't do my usual thorough review of the invoice. As a result, I didn't question any of the costs of this "distressed purchase."

The funeral home requested payment in full by the next day, which was the day of the funeral and burial. Did they accept credit cards? I believe they let us put around 15% of the total invoice on a credit card, but the rest had to be paid by cheque. I had to use my line of credit to cover it — luckily I had one for emergencies such as this. Eventually, there were funds in the estate to cover the nearly $13,000 cost. 

There were probably less expensive alternatives for a simple and dignified funeral and burial that were more reasonably priced. I just didn't have time to find them. But since nothing in life is certain except death and taxes, it definitely pays to do some advance planning regarding final arrangements for family members.


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