The funeral is only half the cost of dying

debt old age

IT'S one of those things no one wants to think about, but death is becoming more expensive.

The cost of dying rose to £8,427 in the past year - an increase of more than 10% on 2013's figure - according to SunLife Direct's annual report [pdf].

But the funeral accounts for less than half of that, at £3,590 - with the next biggest expense being administration of the estate, costing more than £3,000.

And 14% of those surveyed said they had struggled to meet the costs, falling short of by an average of £2,371.

Funeral poverty

The death of a loved one is already a very difficult time. Yet financial worries and debt can make the experience of planning a funeral even more distressing.
David Brooks, SunLife

Of these people, a quarter said they had borrowed from friends or relatives, and one in five used their credit cards to cover the expense.

But with an annual death rate of approximately 580,000, that means funeral poverty in the UK stands at just over £192.5 million - compared to £85 million in 2010.

This is despite a serious rise in the number of people choosing to manage the deceased's affairs without the help of a professional.

With professional administration costs going up by 39% in the past year, more than half of those surveyed said they had chosen to manage their loved ones' affairs themselves.

Obviously there's regional variation, and it's no surprise that London is the most expensive place in the UK, with the average funeral costing almost £5,000, and other costs adding a further £5,500.

The north west of England has the cheapest funeral costs, at just over £3,000 - but Northern Ireland is the least expensive place when all other expenses are added, at just under £6,000.

But even so, the cost of dying is 87% higher now than it was just 10 years ago.

SunLife's David Brooks said:

"The death of a loved one is already a very difficult time. Yet financial worries and debt can make the experience of planning a funeral even more distressing."

So why does dying cost so much?

There is very little transparency on pricing, very few funeral directors publish prices. At a time of bereavement few people are willing to shop around, and will quite often simply use the local funeral director that the family has used for years. They may think they are independent, but often they are not, and families end up paying far more than they need to.
Nick Willcocks,

Shopping around is the last thing most feel like doing, which is why fewer than 10% of people go to more than one funeral director when planning a funeral.

An unwillingness to talk about it before time also adds to the stress and expense - but as The University of Bath's Dr Kate Woodthorpe explains,

"Putting some plans in place while you are in reasonable health, however informal or formal, big or small, can go a long way to facilitating a smoother passage for those left behind."

SunLife found that 57% of people had put aside money specifically to pay for their funeral before they died, with some 24% having bought a prepaid funeral plan.

For those who haven't had the chance to think ahead, there are options to help with the cost.

The Money Advice Service provides a breakdown of average costs and saving suggestions.

As well as the basics and administration of the estate, there are things like death notices, memorials, venue hire, and funeral flowers and catering to consider.

On average, these add £1,833 to the total bill - but not everyone will need or want all of these extras.

Local authorities often offer basic funeral services - but they aren't always the cheapest option.

In their own survey, Citizens Advice Scotland found the most expensive local authority funeral cost almost three times as much as the least expensive. Those councils cover areas just seven miles apart.

The Natural Death Centre offers advice on tackling funerals without professional assistance - but it isn't a decision to take lightly.

Alternatively, gruesome as it may first seem, price comparison does exist. is partnered with the Good Funerals Guide and the Natural Death Centre, and offers a very simple postcode-based comparison service.

As well as listing options in ascending price order, it shows any recommendations a particular director has, whether they are independent or part of a larger chain, and what is included in their price.

For example, funeral directors' fees often - but don't always - cover the cost of the coffin and extra vehicles for attendees to travel to the funeral.

Nick Willcocks of told Choose:

"After a death in the family we were surprised by how little information there was on funeral costs. We found the cost of funerals very hard to understand, and saw that families were often paying more than was necessary."

He added that the site's objective was "to make pricing clear and transparent, so that families are contacting a funeral director with their eyes open... with the aim of bringing the average funeral cost down".

Bearing in mind the rising costs of dealing with the estate, and the emotional toll inevitable with dealing with a death, a service that helps relieve some of the stress over final costs cannot be a bad thing.

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