Written by Preet Banerjee
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019
Benjamin Franklin is most often attributed with the saying: "...in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." He wrote that in a letter in 1789, but similar passages had been recorded decades earlier.
Just as many people procrastinate with filing their taxes, so too do they procrastinate with discussing and planning for death. We don't like to think about our mortality at the best of times, and figuring out estate plans and planning for what happens when loved ones die is unfortunately something many of us only learn about when it actually happens. And if we don't plan for our own passing, we potentially leave our loved ones with a burden.
Learning about what is involved ahead of time, when emotions are not involved, might save thousands of dollars and prevent unnecessary, extra emotional grief down the road.
What are the costs?
I asked Rick Cowan of the Mount Pleasant Group, a company that operates 10 cemeteries, eight funeral, and four cremation centres in the Greater Toronto Area, to provide some ballpark estimates for varying levels of arrangements.
"There will be costs associated with the funeral, plus costs relating to the cemetery services," says Cowan. "Cemetery costs are influenced significantly by where the cemetery is located."
For example, in the Toronto area, the cost of a cemetery grave and interment fees for a single grave start at around $3,000 in the suburbs, but jump to $15,000 and higher as you get closer to the city. A fair proxy for other parts of the country might be local real estate prices in general.
Funeral service costs
Funeral costs will vary based on the types of services chosen. On the low end, a cremation may be around $3,500. An average package including a casket might be around $6,200, and higher end packages with a casket and vault may start at $10,000 and proceed from there. Mount Pleasant Group has a funeral cost calculator on their site which shows the many options that need to be considered.
If there will be a grave, a flat marker starts at $750. A granite monument might start at $3,000.
There are a number of considerations to make. Will there be a private family viewing? A visitation? A reception? Ritual services? How big will the funeral be? That will impact how many staff need to be hired.
The benefits of planning ahead
"In our experience, the average cost of pre-planned arrangements are typically 10-15% lower than the average of arrangements at time of need," says Cowan. "We believe this to be an indication of emotional spending."
Making decisions under duress is not optimal. If someone close to you has just died, it would be easy to rationalize sparing no expenses as you say your final goodbyes. Making decisions ahead of time may not only provide family members with peace of mind, it allows you time to fully digest your options without the pressure of deadlines.
When preparing your own estate planning for the first time, which might include your will and Powers of Attorney, it's a good idea to think about what kind of service and other arrangements you'd like your loved ones to carry out. If you're in a position to do so, you might also think about pre-funding your arrangements.
It's possible to pre-pay for funeral and cemetery arrangements, which additionally may allow you to lock in the price at the time of purchase. That means if the costs go up in the future, no one is left with an unexpected bill. But perhaps more importantly, having pre-arranged and communicated your wishes about your end of life arrangements early will make a stressful, emotional experience just a little less so.