Although you can’t cheat death, you can certainly cut the costs associated with your inevitable demise. One death occurs every 13 seconds in the United States for about 2.5 million deaths annually. If you think your living expenses are getting out of control, you should consider the cost of dying. End-of-life and funeral costs alone are enough to send anyone to an early grave.

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As every second on this planet is precious — and it is the Halloween season when the mind tends to ruminate a little more about the afterlife — let’s get started with some ideas on how to keep the the cost of dying from eating you alive:

1. Get a no-frills will

Unless you have a complicated estate, where you’ll need to consult a $250-an-hour-attorney, pick up a no-frills, fill-in-the-blanks form for under $20 at your favorite stationery or office supply store. There are software versions that cost a little more. Quicken WillMaker Plus 2014 software retails for about $50.

Preferably, leave your will with an attorney, but wherever you stash it, make sure to tell your heirs where or how to find it. Include a letter of introduction with your will. Though it doesn’t hold any legal weight, it’s a good way to make sure your executor has the names and contact information of your attorneys, accountants and financial advisers.

If you don’t have a will or trust, the state will be responsible for distributing your assets. If an attorney has to be brought in to help sort out your assets, because you didn’t bother to make a will, that’s more expense your estate could have avoided.

2. Spell out DNR for your caregivers

DNR stands for Do-Not-Resuscitate. By including do-not-resuscitate-order instructions as part of your advance directive, you’re directing your medical team not to prolong your life via cardiopulmonary resuscitation CPR or advanced cardiac life support in the event your heart stops or you stop breathing. A DNR does not affect any treatment other than that which would require intubation or CPR. Patients who are DNR can continue to get chemotherapy, antibiotics, dialysis, or any other appropriate treatments.

By directing your medical team not to intervene with extraordinary measures when your death is imminent, you won’t waste away, both physically and financially in a hospital for days, weeks or even months, racking up major end-of-life hospital bills for your heirs to settle.

An advance directive is document that directs your designee to make health-care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.

3. Start hospice sooner rather than later

Hospice is one of the great values afforded a dying person. Hospice care, where the emphasis shifts from patient cure to patient care, is for any person who has a life-limiting or terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less if the illness runs its normal course.

Care is comprehensive, which means that all services, medications, and equipment related to the person’s hospice diagnosis are paid by the hospice, which can’t bill more than $5 a day under Medicare or Medicaid. For persons without a payer source, hospices usually base payment on your ability to pay.

Therefore, rather than the caregiver taking on all the burden and expense of care until the dire end, he or she can call for help earlier in the approved period of hospice care, thereby saving patients and their families a tremendous amount of money in co-pays and direct expenses.

4. ‘Rehab’ in a nursing home

End of life is scary expensive, and can quickly drain your personal assets, including pensions, retirement funds, personal savings, stocks and bonds, and even your house. In 2012, a private room cost an average of $248 daily, or more than $90,500 annually, according to a 2012 survey by MetLife. A semi-private room ran $222 daily, or more than $81,000 a year. And the average nursing home stay is 835 days, or more than two years, according to the government’s latest National Nursing Home Survey.

Although it’s estimated that most Americans — more than two-thirds of those aged 65 and up — will need some type of long-term care, such as a nursing home, home health aide or adult “day care” center, only a fraction of the population (8 million out of 319 million) have a long-term care policy.

So, if you get sick and stay sick and you don’t have long-term-disability insurance policy, you’re at risk of losing everything you’ve worked for.

There are few workarounds, however.

5. Burn it, then urn it

A half-century ago, about 3 percent of Americans were cremated. Today, that number tops 40 percent. The one-word reason for the dramatic shift toward cremation is cost. According to the Cremation Association of North America, a basic cremation, including a funeral or memorial service, costs about $2,245.  A burial and funeral can easily cost $10,000 or more.

6. Don’t buy the funeral package

If you call the funeral director to handle the funeral, cemetery and gravestone costs, you could easily pay $10,000, $15,000 or more. By pricing each component separately, and handling more of the arrangements yourself, you should be able to reduce your costs. Of course, to reduce your costs, you first have to know what they are. Here are some estimates:

Funeral: $6,000

Here’s a rundown of some typical costs:

  • Casket — $2,300
  • Funeral director’s basic services fee — $1,500
  • Embalming and body preparation — $600
  • Funeral ceremony and viewing — $1,000
  • Miscellaneous (hearse, death certificates, obituary, etc.) — $600

As a best-practice rule, whether you’re in the market for a sofa or a casket, shop around. Don’t feel as if you have to use the local mortuary just because it handled your Uncle Mort’s funeral. Whatever you agree to, ask for the funeral director to provide you with an itemized list for his products and services, as per the “Federal Rule” enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. When you see the $5,000 price tag on the bronze casket, you might decide that the humble $500 pine box is more becoming, after all.

Cemetery: $1,000 to $10,000

A plot could cost next to nothing if it’s in a community or church cemetery or thousands at a for-profit cemetery.

As for burial costs, you’ll pay to both open and close the grave (to dig the hole and fill it). Who knew!

To save the most on interment, arrange for burial between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays. Burials after 3 p.m. could cost double, and a weekend funeral could cost three times the weekday morning rate.

Gravestone: $500 to $10,000

Gravestones that lie flat are grave markers. Generally, you can keep the cost under $1,000.

A simple upright gravestone (also referred to as a headstone or tombstone) can cost between $1,000 and $3,000. If you get carried away with the size, design, the type and color of material used (granite, bronze, marble, sandstone, concrete, etc.), lettering, finish and artwork, you could easily run the price up to $10,000 or more. If you want to accessorize your headstone, the price keeps going up. Each line of inscription adds more cost, so keep your parting eloquence brief.


Dwelling on one’s death, and responsibly planning for it, isn’t exactly a cheery exercise, but it is necessary, especially f you don’t want to be gouged in death.

By planning for your passing now — with a will, advance directive, instructions for the disposition of your body, and long-term care and funeral arrangements — you could save your estate and your heirs thousands of dollars.

The cost of dying isn’t getting any cheaper and will follow you to the grave. But with a little planning, it would be nice to know you didn’t leave this world giving up your last dime.

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