The soaring cost of funerals

The costs of arranging a funeral have gone up in recent years. Natalie Stanton looks at the best ways of planning for the future.

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Choose a smaller funeral firm to save costs

It may sound morbid to think about the cost of a funeral, but dying is an increasingly expensive business. The cost of a funeral has risen by 103% since 2003, according to research from insurer SunLife. It will now set you back an average of £3,897, pushing up the overall cost to £8,802 per person.

Funeral directors are a large part of the cost, at an average of £2,411. They'll deal with all the arrangements organising the funeral, storing the body of the deceased, handling all the paperwork, and arranging the coffin and hearse.

You can also expect to shell out hefty burial and cremation fees. The average burial costs £1,950, although this can shoot up to £4,700 in London, while a cremation costs roughly £733. Of course, these costs don't account for additional expenses, such as doctor's fees, minister's fees, a reception, or probate charges.

So what can you do to keep funeral costs in check? It may sound obvious, but remember to shop around. While hospitals may recommend using a particular funeral home, this is by no means mandatory. The two biggest chains Co-operative Funeralcare and Dignity make up 30% of all funeral parlours in Britain, according to The Guardian, but you may well save money by going to a smaller firm.

If you'd like to avoid using a funeral home altogether, it's possible to arrange a DIY funeral. This involves taking on all the jobs usually handled by a funeral director, but is likely to reduce costs significantly although many people may not want to take on all this responsibility at such a difficult time. Another option is to consider a direct burial or cremation. T

his means that the body is taken straight from the hospital or home and buried or cremated whenever there is space in the schedule. Families can then plan their own ceremony separately. This costs less than a traditional funeral, at roughly £1,600. A number of organisations offer woodland burial plots, which may work out significantly cheaper than a traditional cemetery. Lastly, it's possible to avoid burial or cremation costs altogether by donating your body to medical science.

Should you pay for your funeral in advance?

A simple, no-frills cremation plan with the Co-op currently costs £2,945 much less than the £3,897 average. They also allow you to choose the send-off you want, specifying your preferences in details such as music, flowers and the coffin.

However, think carefully before buying a pre-paid funeral plan. Check the small print: many of these deals have costly exclusions. Some only put a contribution towards burial costs, while others have a limit on how far they will travel to collect the body.

Any funding gaps may have to be filled by your estate, or friends and family. If you choose to pay in monthly instalments, take into account interest payments that can significantly bump up the total cost. You should investigate exactly what the plan includes, and compare this to the cost of organising all aspects separately (bearing in mind that the prices are likely to rise).

You may find that a more DIY approach will work out cheaper overall. For example, you could drip-feed a monthly sum into a savings account that you set aside solely as a dedicated funeral fund. Banks usually release money early from an estate to pay for funeral costs if you provide a copy of the death certificate and an itemised account from a funeral director.

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