Today is the first day of Dying Matters Awareness Week 2019, a tine which is important to us at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors. This year, the campaign encourages the public to ask ‘Are We Ready?’ – what must we do to be better prepared for the eventuality of death, dying and bereavement?In addition to running events this week across Sussex in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint, each day sees us contemplate a different theme via our blog, through the lens of our profession. Today’s theme is funeral costs, something which gets a lot of attention in the media – Freeman Brothers’ Manager, and National Association of Funeral Directors Immediate Past President, Abi Pattenden, takes on this topic…
Funeral costs are a subject which is under a lot of scrutiny recently, particularly following the Competition and Markets Authority’s decision, announced in March, to carry out a full market investigation into the costs of funerals, including crematorium pricing. Click here to see Freeman Brothers’ response to this.
There are many ways that costs can be reduced, but before moving on to examining those in more detail, it’s sensible to mention the benefit that planning for a funeral in advance can have in this respect as well as many others.
Pre-paid funeral plans have risen in popularity over recent years as in some cases they represent purchasing the chosen funeral today, to be used at some future unspecified time. Not all plans are the same, however, and it is important that the planholder has a real understanding of what is paid for in full, what is contributed towards, and what will have to be paid for at the time of death. Plans fall broadly into three categories: contribution plans, mixed plans, and guaranteed plans. A contribution plan pays towards both the funeral directors’ and third party charges, but one or both of these may need to be ‘topped up’ at the time of death, depending in the terms and conditions of the plan. A mixed plan will treat different elements differently- it might, for example, guarantee the funeral directors’ costs but only contribute to third party charges. A guaranteed plan, such as that offered by Freeman Brothers will pay for everything allowed for in the plan with no need to pay extra at the time the planholder dies.
However, even an expression of wishes around funerals can be helpful, when someone dies. Evidence from a variety of sources shows that people want to have the funeral that the person who died would have thought was right. This is more important to people arranging funerals than having a grand affair or even sticking to family or cultural traditions. If you don’t know what the person would have wanted, the tendency must be to over-compensate to ensure you get at least something right. Freeman Brothers’ ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ leaflet is an ideal way to express your wishes about your funeral, particularly important if your preferences are towards something more simple than you think might be arranged for you otherwise.
Having said all of this, there are plenty of ways that the costs of a funeral can be minimised. Third party charges (such as the cost of a crematorium or someone to take the service) do not vary between funeral directors, but there may be variation within each composite part of these. There is often a price difference between crematoria, and there should be no feelings of obligations to go to a certain one just because of past custom. Further, some crematoria have a pricing structure which reduces the costs further if you have fewer requirements – for example, not wishing to use an organist – or are happy to have the service itself at a less popular time. If the funeral is a burial, you may save money by having a less formal service at the graveside, which may fit in better with requirements to keep things simple, too.
Funeral directors can also vary in the prices they charge and shopping around can save money, although evidence suggests that most people do not do this as they have previous good experience, which reassures them. The differences in the cost may be explained by differences in facilities, such as where and how the Deceased person is cared for in the days before their funeral. Questions about this might feel hard to ask but obviously the care and dignity shown should be second-to-none – and not assumed.
Something also worth considering is that personalising a funeral and making it really meaningful can be entirely cost-free. Choosing special music and readings, specifying a dress code, perhaps decorating the coffin, are all ways to make the day distinctive and memorable. A printed order of service need not cost a lot, particularly if someone in the family can produce it, and a book for people to write and leave memories is a long-lasting memento. You can also consider maximising value for costs which would have been incurred anyway – a picture coffin depicting a meaningful scene or object need not be more costly than you may have chosen anyway, and why not ask the funeral director if their staff will wear colourful ties or other different dress?
The final thing to mention is that there is no obligation to have a funeral at all, and if it is not the right thing for you then you should not feel pressured. A cremation-only, with no service is a perfectly feasible option, although the role of the funeral in the grief process should not be minimised and you may perhaps like to consider remembering the person who has died in another way – perhaps by taking some time to reflect on the day of the cremation, or having a small ceremony involving the ashes.
Equally, you should not feel pressured to have a bigger, grander funeral than you feel is right for the person who has died. This pressure can come from lots of places – past funerals, friends and family, cultural or religious traditions, or even internally. There is no benefit to anyone in unnecessary costs being incurred – especially if they are going to lead to hardship. So the final piece of advice is to be honest with your funeral director (and yourself) about your expectations and budget. What do you consider essential but what is something that would be nice but not necessary? Funeral directors are experts in these events and know the best ways to achieve what you need – please do take advantage of this knowledge!
Freeman Brothers is celebrating Dying Matters Awareness Week by hosting a series of ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ events. These are free to attend and open to all who are interested. With events in a variety of locations and at different times, there should be one to suit everyone – you can find details of the events here.