Widely Varying Funeral Service Prices Spark Controversy

The national median cost of a funeral with a burial, not including cemetery costs, is over $7,000. But even within the same community, prices for funeral services can vary drastically.

The North American death care market, including the U.S. and Canada, is a $19 billion industry. But most funeral homes don’t make prices for their services readily available or lump them into packages for consumers to choose from. Most funeral business websites also omit prices, violating a federal law that requires price disclosures.

In Jacksonville, Florida, Ellen Bethea was hit with a $7,000 bill for her husband’s funeral. The cost of his cremation was nearly $3,300, but a separate company in Jacksonville charges half that amount despite the cremations being done in the exact same location and manner.

And in Raleigh, N.C., one company’s full service funeral home and storefront cremation office are across the street from each other. Crossing that street can save you — or cost you — $1,895.

“That to me, starts to cross a line into consumer deception,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a death care industry watchdog group based in Burlington, Vt., to NPR.

Larger funeral homes often have an upselling strategy, attempting to sell consumers packages that bundle together multiple goods and services. This makes all of the funerals more expensive. However, others believe that it’s impossible to say that all funeral services are of the same quality or experience, and that the prices reflect that.

“It’s like saying two weddings are all the same,” said Scott Gilligan, a lawyer for the National Funeral Directors Association. “Just like if I want a hamburger at a gourmet place, it’s the same hamburger I’m going to get at McDonald’s. But it’s going to cost more because of the atmosphere, because of what is being done. It’s choices.”