7 surprising things about final expenses 1

I lost my grandmother in late June and, while my work has helped prepare me for many things associated with final expenses, I was still surprised by much.

1. The fees

First are the fees. All the fees. Fees to get the death certificate, fees to open the plot, fees to fill the grave, fees fees fees. Fees if you want to cremate, fees if you want a burial, fees if you want an urn, fees if you want a basic casket, fees if you want something extravagant.

My family was lucky in that we had a wonderful funeral arranger and liaison with the cemetery. They were so absolutely respectful, which I understand is not necessarily the norm for this industry.

What you need to realize is that you may have an idea of what the funeral will cost, but there are myriad tasks that need to be ironed out during the planning process.

2. Funeral and internment costs are separate

Yes, there’s a strong chance you’re having the funeral service next to the gravesite or, maybe you’ll have it at the chapel on the premises. Perhaps the service will travel from the chapel to gravesite. Maybe you’ll have the service in a house of worship (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.) and then a processional to the burial.

Regardless, you will be billed for two things: the funeral and the internment.

If your services are held offsite, that makes sense. But if they’re all under the same house, it can be a surprise. It makes sense, though: the funeral is purchasing a service, the internment or burial is purchasing a product and/or piece of land.

3. Health department release to bury

I know: reading it gives you a reaction of “Really?!” at first, but as soon as you ponder it, it makes sense. You’re taking a body and putting it in the ground, where, G-d forbid, it could flood or other things could happen. The government needs to make sure that, worst case scenario, there are no infectious diseases or toxic problems that could contaminate the area.

4. Death certificate may not be needed

Life insurance, one of the most important things you can purchase, often needs a death certificate to get the full payout on a large policy.

For small policies like “burial policies” or just to get a small advance on a larger policy, the companies will often only need confirmation of the obituary or other public record.

The great thing is, if you have only a small policy to claim on, it’s one less fee because you have one fewer death certificate to order. The terrible thing is you have to make that claim in the first place.

But what’s a burial policy or a larger policy?

Burial policies are whole life insurance policies that are for significantly smaller amounts, amounts that are usually only enough for a dignified burial (hence their name) or final expenses. Larger policies are good for covering mortgages or college expenses in the case of the family’s breadwinner’s death, or covering childcare costs in the case of the death of a stay and home parent. Other policies can be structured in a way to help supplement income during your golden years.

5. How quickly costs add up

We’ve all had the craving for a burger late at night. And we go to our favorite burger spot thinking oh, you know what, $5 for a burger and I’ll be great. But it never works out that way. We drop a Lincoln on the burger, but another $1 on the cheese, $2 more for fries, and heck, we’re already here, let’s get another patty for $2. Oh, and a drink. Before you know it, you’re at $15 for what was supposed to be a quick burger run.

I hate to compare a funeral to food, but it’s extraordinarily similar and, I feel, something my grandma, may she rest in peace, would enjoy (my last meal with her was a burger).

I’ve already spoken about the internment costs, the burial costs, fees, and other costs. They seem like things that come in slowly, but it’s less of a trickle of fees and more of an order that builds up within hours to, at most, days. You’re looking at a couple thousand dollars here, a few thousand there, hundreds of dollars for each of a few necessary services, and before you know it, you’re staring at a bill for $12,000 that needs to get paid before you can move forward. That is only a conservative estimate for only the bare essentials. You also want to make donations in their memory, get booklets for the funeral, get a headstone, and various other things that send their memory off in dignity and warmth.

6. The immediate financial shift

Let’s take, for example, the “standard” family of television. A working father, stay at home mother, and 2-6 kids. I understand this is no longer the standard layout and delegation of a family, but I have faith that you can identify the individual tasks and roles that one might take in this day and age.

What if the father dies?

Their family loses their main source of income and the mother will have to go to work, hire a babysitter or nanny or send youngest off to daycare. On top of that, she will likely have to organize or coordinate rides for the children from school (assuming they’re not home schooled, which, if they are, they’ll have to go to public or private schools so the mother can work).

What if the mother dies?

Their family loses the anchor at home. They lose the person who does the majority of cleaning,  food preparation, and child care. The person who runs around and takes the burden of time and attention off the one who has the traditional job is gone and suddenly the breadwinner’s attention has to be focused on both home and work. Workdays become choppy and less efficient as they take days off and leave early to help the kids out.

What if, G-d forbid, a child dies?

Their family has gone through something no family should ever have to. The natural order of raising kids, seeing your parents die, having grandkids, and dying before your children is hard wired into us. Losing a child has a special place in the religious tradition I was raised in, and knowing from a number of friends who have lost children, it’s a very appropriate place.

But that heartbreak comes at a very real price — and money won’t help it. But what money will do is give those parents and children time off to mourn and take care of themselves. It will help them seek much-needed therapy. It will help build memorials and bastions of good influence for the family.

Eddie, that’s all well and good for the typical family, or even other families. What if we’re retired or getting ready to retire?

That’s an excellent question. And if you’re retired, or aiming for it, things are different. Your kids are gone, your liabilities are less (less of a mortgage, probably fewer car payments, no children to support, etc.). Maybe you’re fully retired and are living off investments, cash value life insurance withdrawals, a well crafted annuity, and/or social security or a government pension. Maybe you only have social security.

If you don’t have that government pension, cash value life insurance, strong investment, or annuity, you might be in trouble. See, if you’re on social security, once your spouse dies, what you get from their fund is generally cut in half. Studies show the vast majority of senior citizens live paycheck to paycheck. Cutting one of the checks they receive in half would be devastating.

Any of these scenarios presents an immediate and massive financial change in the family. And, to be honest, it terrifies me every single time I talk about it.

7. Religious differences

Did you know that Jews and Christians are generally buried facing different directions? Jews are buried with their feet toward the East, Christians with theirs toward the West. Muslims are usually buried with a bit of a more intricate calculation: they’re feet are pointed toward Mecca, Eastward in the US, but aligned more precisely than simply East.

Headstones are culturally different for each religion, as well. The symbols and markings on each vary based not only on their religion, but on the more minute social customs of their particular group. Even down to the burial, a simple casket which is required to touch the ground for more observant Jewish burials to more ornate caskets that can be stacked for other religions.

The differences in religious customs, or even just the personal desires of the deceased, are absolutely fascinating. Some people want to be organ donors, others don’t. Some want their bodies donated for science and study, others are terrified of that notion. Some want ornate caskets, some want cremation, others want to be buried in a shroud and have a tree planted on them.

I find what people want for their body once they no longer occupy it to be utterly fascinating.


If you’re not ready for final expenses or just want to see what you may or may not have, please call us today.

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One thought on “7 surprising things about final expenses

  • Lynn

    You’ve eloquently explained why my breadwinner hubby has a $500k policy, I As a sahm have a $1M term policy for 20 years, plus whole life, and both young daughters have a $25k whole life policy. Hubby’s policy is many for me to invest and then earn income from the dividends so I can continue to stay at home, or not, depending on how our lives change. My policy is meant to invest so hubby can pay for a full time Nanny/housekeeper and continue his career. The girls’ policies are basically a way to cover final expenses, and get them a foothold in insurance while we know they’re healthier than horses. (Too many friends have had children come down with horrible or even terminal illnesses and not be eligible for life insurance.) It also gives us a chance to borrow against the cash value for excess college expenses, if necessary.