The cost of dying
Whānau care of our loved ones after death is a healing process and alternatives to embalming are better for our environment. However we are also motivated by the funeral poverty we see in our communities. Some families, struggling to feed their children, take years to pay off funeral debt.
The Ministry of Health's current review of regulations and legislation concerning burial and cremation suggests funeral directors should have to put the price of their standard funeral on their website. We believe this does not go far enough and all charges need to be upfront, the costs of caskets, of obtaining a death certificate etc. To learn more about the review and our submissions to the Ministry go to our changing legislation page.
Funeral directors are encumbered by the high costs of premises and staff on call 24 hours a day. Some are still family owned and do their best to keep costs down for cash strapped whānau. Others have now been bought up by two large Australian corporations: Propel and InvoCare, most usually retaining the family name of each business.
Funeral guides work in people’s homes, churches and marae so they may have a storage shed but do not need premises. With techniques to keep a body cool they do not need a morgue or to embalm. They can offer low-cost solutions that mainstream funeral directors cannot, due to their high business overheads.
Death Without Debt has an excellent analysis on why funeral costs are so high and what might be done to make it easier for families to make informed choices.
We want to see all families and communities able to honour and farewell loved ones in a meaningful way, without experiencing financial hardship or distress.
Over the past few decades, as people in western countries became increasingly afraid death, they handed it over to professionals: doctors, funeral directors, and clergy. Death became hidden away in mortuaries and funeral parlours and treated with detachment.
This trend has come at a huge cost, to our processing of grief through our involvement in after-death care; to the debt that whānau take on through opting for professional rather than community led support.
Dying can be an expensive business. On average, the cost of a funeral is about $10,000. But you can find yourself facing double that. Some funeral directors ‘upsell’ persuading families to opt for expensive caskets and other luxuries. Families who are grieving are vulnerable to any such pressure.
A sizeable chunk of a funeral bill is likely to be “professional services”. This is a catch-all fee charged by funeral directors that can include anything from filing paperwork to using the funeral home itself.
The rising cost of dying
Concerned by the rising cost of funerals and looking at the trends and changes in after-death care, New Zealand Seniors commissioned an extensive report in 2019. They found the price rise exceeds the rise in the general cost of living. Funeral directors noted that funeral add-ons do add up, and what is originally a relatively low-cost funeral can quickly become relatively expensive. The report also looks at trends away from a formal religious service to more personalisation and celebration of life. The report notes that there has been less change for Māori tangihanga though there is a trend towards cremation in cities as burial is so expensive.
For people who die with very little in the bank there is a Work and Income grant of about $2200 for their funeral. If someone dies as a result of an accident, ACC is more generous with grants of over $7000.