The cost of dying: Planning for the end of life

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – There is one thing certain in life – we will all die. But how much will your family have to pay when you die? What can do right now to reduce the burden of when you are no longer here?

Flipping through the pages of life with her late husband, Bruce Bauer is difficult.

Excruciating headaches sent him to Trident Hospital while the New Jersey couple was vacationing in Charleston. He had a blood clot in the brain.

“They were going to operate on him, but he passed away,” said Denise Bauer.

Denise and their two children were devastated and unprepared. They pushed through grief and planned his service.

She didn’t want to leave the same burden on her children when she died. So, she went to James A. Mcalister funeral home and paid for what is called a ‘pre-need.’

“When you pre-plan you already know what the expenses are going to be.”

She decided every detail of her memorial service.

“I picked out the songs that I want to have sung, Bible verses…”

Rodney Pendell helped Denise plan. He says the biggest advantage is locking in today’s cost for a future need.

Pendell recommends asking family and friends about their experiences when picking a provider.

“Talk to people; word of mouth is the best advertisement,” he said.

In addition to the emotional toll, dying can take a heavy financial toll on the living. The National Funeral Director’s Association estimates median funeral costs, such as viewing services and cremation, are around $7,000.

Cremation is generally less expensive than burial according to the president of Fielding Home for Funerals.

Bernard Fielding, a retired probate judge, says by law all costs of a funeral and burial must be itemized and shown to customers.

Here is an example:

  • Nails $25
  • Cosmetizing $35
  • Hairdressing $45
  • Dressing and casketing $150
  • Transfer remains to funeral home $300
  • Viewing at funeral home $295
  • Staff for viewing at church $350
  • Staff for funeral at church $400
  • Use of staff for graveside services $325

 “One of the biggest things you are going to select is a casket,” said Felding.

Prices must be marked. He said you will have to decide if you want to use your own cars or pay for limousines.

“Obviously, you have to have a hearse. There are minimum things that must be there,” he said.

Mark Fielding explains why a cemetery plot is not included in a pre-need.

“The cemeteries they change their charges. Some of them do it yearly some of them do it the cost of opening and closing a grave varies depending on the day you go. You go one day it’s one price you go another day it’s another price.”

The owner of Murray Mortuary advises people to put money aside in a savings or low-risk investment account earmarked for this purpose. Or designate a certain amount of a death benefit.

“All of those things are left unfinished business for somebody else to settle and so the advantage of pre-planning, of having those kinds of conversations, making sure those things are in place,” said Rev. Charlie Murray.

Denise Bauer said she is not comfortable talking about passing away, but says pre-planning gives her peace of mind.

“One of the things I put on here is that this is to prepare for my demise and make it easier on my family that was the most important thing,” she said.

Some other ways to save money:

Buy a casket online. The funeral home must accept a casket purchased elsewhere- including online.

Caskets at Costco start at $950.

Skip the embalming.  If a service is held within 24 to 48 hours with no public viewing, embalming may not be necessary. The cost of embalming is approximately $800.

Or donate your body to science. 

Costs are covered for cremation, transportation and filing of the death certificate.

Cremated remains are returned to the family at no cost.

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