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Breaking Down the Real Financial Cost of Getting Rid of Your Own Dead Body

$10,000 for a ‘cheap’ funeral? You may as well throw your cash in a hole in the ground

You probably don’t care about how much your death will cost, since you’ll be too dead to worry about it at that point (speaking of which, don’t bother with burial insurance). But the fact of the matter is, death-related accoutrements are expensive as fuck, and whether it’s a family member whose last party you need to throw, or your own loved ones putting you in the ground, here’s what it really costs to dispose of a corpse the traditional way.

The Death Certificate

Preparing a death certificate that recognizes the person who died is one of the first things that needs to be done. This is an official document, and it’s required so you can continue with other death-related tasks, like transporting the body to the place of burial or cremation. It will cost somewhere around $15, depending on the state.

The Burial Permit

In most states, you also need a burial permit in order for the body to be accepted by cemeteries or crematoriums. Once again, the cost depends on the state, but a burial permit usually goes for about the same as a death certificate, so let’s say $15.

The Transportation

The body will need to be moved from the place of death/mortuary to the cemetery or crematorium, which can be kinda tricky. In some states, like California, you can actually transport the body yourself (so long as you have enough trunk space). This is obviously the cheapest option, although you should absolutely consider how complicated preparing a dead body for transportation can be. For starters, dead bodies quickly experience all kinds of unpleasant things, including rigor mortis and post-mortem shitting, which can make them both difficult and undesirable to move. You also need a big box filled with tons of ice packs, since bodies begin to smell pretty quickly unless they’re kept cool. Finally, you need a car — preferably a truck or an SUV — that’s big enough to carry that body box. Needless to say, none of that will be pleasant.

Having a funeral home deal with transporting the body is another option, and while costs vary, ground transportation usually adds up to a few dollars per mile. Putting the body on an airplane is another option, one which might be necessary, depending on the location of the burial or cremation. For this to happen, a funeral home will first need to prepare the body for shipment, which can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 (embalming, which is usually necessary when a body is shipped via common carriers, brings that cost up toward the higher end). Once the body has been prepared, you also have to pay the airline shipping fees, which again, costs somewhere between a few hundred dollars and $3,000. The body is then placed in a TSA-approved container to prevent damage and possible leakage, which will be put in the cargo area underneath the airplane. Of course, international shipping fees are even more expensive, so try not to kick the bucket on vacation.

The Cremation

So you have your documents, and the body has been transported to a funeral home. Now you have a decision to make: Cremation or burial? Being reduced to ash is certainly the cheaper option, costing an average of $1,100. Opting for a burial adds all kinds of costs, including…

The Casket

Caskets are expensive as shit: The average one costs about $2,000, and the fancy ones — those made with mahogany, bronze or copper — can go for as much as $10,000.

The Funeral Plot

This is where the body and casket will actually remain within the cemetery, and as with almost everything else on this list, the price depends on which cemetery you want to be buried in (rural cemeteries tend to be cheaper than those located in big cities). Normally, though, a burial plot will cost somewhere between $1,500 and $2,500.  

The Grave Liner

Some cemeteries require that you purchase a grave liner, which is essentially concrete or metal that helps protect the casket from the sands of time. These usually cost between $700 and $1,000. Other cemeteries might require even more protection in the form of a burial vault, which can somehow cost anywhere between $900 and $13,000.

The Digging

This is usually done by the cemetery staff, and the price is $1,500 or so.

The Headstone

As you might expect, headstone prices are all over the place. Flat grave markers cost between $500 and $1,000, the average upright headstone costs between $1,000 and $3,000 and larger, monument-type headstones can cost tens of thousands. Installation, of course, costs another $450 to $850.

So obviously, the price of death can really range. Everything included, statistics show that the average funeral (with a burial, rather than a cremation) costs between $7,000 and $9,000. However, if we add up the pricier options on this list — say, you fly the body across the country, go for that mahogany casket, opt for the nice burial plot with a view of downtown, get yourself a sturdy burial vault, and of course, choose a huge, monument-style headstone — your death can easily cost more than $50,000.

Unsurprisingly, these high burial costs are one of the reasons why cremation rates recently hit an all-time high in the U.S. In fact, direct cremation, where the body is cremated immediately after death without any other fancy funeral costs, is one of the cheapest options out there (again, that usually costs about $1,000, although some crematoriums offer slightly cheaper prices). So-called green funerals, which basically involve being thrown into a hole either without a casket or with some kind of environmentally-friendly casket made with wood or wicker, have also become popular as of late, since they only cost $2,000 to $3,000 on average — and that includes the burial plot. Finally, you could donate your body to science, and some funeral homes offer low-cost services ($150 to $350) where they basically work with medical schools to assist with that process.

As for me, with less than 30 cents in my checking account and despite it being totally illegal, let it be known that I want my dead body to simply be thrown in the trash.