How Much Does It Cost to Die?

tomb tombstone grave graveyard crosses

When I first started looking at this, it cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 to die in New Jersey (note that I said “to die”, not “to kill someone” – we weren’t all captains in crime families in the Garden State where I used to live, although we did have our fair share and even some favorite sons).  I haven’t done the same calculation for Florida, but I work on the (possibly naive) assumption that Florida should be cheaper.

Nobody wants to confront their own mortality, of course. My guess is that it’s probably right down there with cleaning septic tanks and reading children’s toy assembly guides on everyone’s list of least favorite things to do. But you have to stop and think about it for a second if you have a family – and even if you don’t.

If you are single, you may not have life insurance. If you are married, you may not even have started working on this yet. If you are married with children and don’t have life insurance, you need to go talk to an agent rather than reading this post. But life insurance may not always cover all of the costs, and you may leave behind a huge financial hit to your loved ones if you haven’t prepared properly. There is nothing more grim than planning your own funeral down to the last detail… except leaving your loved ones to do it for you. Think about a few of these things:

1. Burial? Cremation? A flaming ship pushed out to sea, Viking-style? You have to make your wishes known. You may assume that you’ll be buried in the family plot or have your ashes scattered to the winds, but have you told anyone about that? Can you imagine leaving that decision up to someone else, particularly in a moment of grief?

2. Taking care of the costs should not be a concern for your survivors. Can you imagine being a spouse or a parent or a child and trying to talk to a funeral director while doubled over in grief? Is that going to be a time that they need to be making decisions about money? Make sure that you take care of picking out a casket, or a mausoleum, or an urn or whatever it is you will need – but don’t leave that decision to your survivors.

3. Have money set aside as “go to hell” money. Make sure that you have an emergency fund well-funded or a separate account altogether (a “disaster fund” maybe) so that nobody has to worry about going to work or taking care of flying relatives into town – those details should be taken care of without worrying about the cost.

A confession – I haven’t been as diligent about doing these as I should have. I know I should, since I have a good example in the family. My grandfather had taken care of every single detail of his funeral 30 years before he died, to ensure that when he did absolutely no pressure to determine anything would fall on my grandmother. It was a brave thing to confront his mortality at such a young age (in his 40s) and certainly made a world of difference for all of us when he passed. He had expressed all of his preferences, leaving almost nothing to the imagination.

So just remember “worrying about death expenses” as item #675 on your list of a thousand things you need to plan for but haven’t yet.

(photo credit: robin.elaine )

2 Replies to “How Much Does It Cost to Die?”

  1. One of the benefits of those rather small life insurance policies you sometimes get as a job perq is that they can cover the cost of covering you with dirt. I’m told, too, that a big advantage is that your heirs don’t have to pay tax on it, and so the amount they receive isn’t reduced in that way.

    My father arranged to have himself and my mother cremated, and he bought space for their urns in a mass mausoleum out in Sun City, where they lived. So it cost me nothing. The problem, from what I’ve been told, is that if it’s some time between the date you purchase these arrangements and the date you croak over, the mortuary company may have gone out of business, changed hands, or cooked up some way to change the terms. Around here heirs or survivors have found that the money put into such advance arrangements was conveniently “disappeared” by circumstances like that. I think I’d rather leave explicit instructions plus enough cash or insurance to cover it.

  2. Damian from Intuit Canada here. Thank you for the post. I have avoided reading such information because it’s depressing, uncomfortable and I rather avoid it than deal with it. However, my parents have recently been reminding me of their “exit strategies” and I am finally starting to listen to them. They have made plans for their funerals and burials and while it’s difficult to hear, I know it’s important information and they’re doing it for my benefit as well as theirs. I’m going to try my hardest to start taking steps to getting my affairs in order.

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