Burial or Cremation? Important information you should know.

October 14, 2022
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end of life planning
anticipate life
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Bernadette Fulton

It’s not something we often talk about (and maybe we should!)...and we know it’s a very personal choice but what do you want... Burial or Cremation?

Unsure? Sometimes it is helpful to have an idea of the comparative costs. The reality is that funerals in Australia are expensive. Of course, cost may not be the only factor which guides our preference for burial or cremation. Religion, family custom and expectations can also play a part. But cost is certainly an important consideration for many people.

Some facts you may not know

Did you know that there are no laws in Australia which require you to have a funeral or any other ceremony when someone dies? But there are clear government rules about dealing with the body of a deceased. You must also provide legal documents such as a death certificate. As well as deal with other legalities and paperwork.

You can bring the body of a loved one back home for a few days if you wish. A funeral home can help you with the logistics of arranging this. You can also hold a funeral at home. And you do not need a religious or other celebrant unless you want one.

What if you do not want a funeral or any other formal service accompanying the burial or cremation? Then it is possible to have a direct committal. This means the body is taken directly to be buried or cremated.

Interesting Statistics

We can probably assume that most people will have some sort of funeral service with either the burial or cremation. Have you thought about which you would prefer?

Studies have revealed some interesting statistics. They found that, there is a shift in preference to cremations, with the majority (68.0%) of funerals involved a cremation, while about 30% involved a burial. Also, more than two in five (42.3%) respondents have seen a movement towards direct/minimalist cremations over the past five years.

Costs would appear to be an explanation for this rapidly growing trend towards cremation. So let’s compare the relative costs between burials or cremation. Knowing your options ahead of time can help you make good decisions. And it can be worthwhile doing some research and planning ahead of time.

Average funeral costs in Australia

The average funeral in Australia with casket, burial and flowers can cost up to around $15,000. Average cost of a burial excluding the coffin price is about $4,500. Coffin prices vary widely in price, anywhere from $800 to $10,000 or more.

Because a funeral has so many personalised elements and optional ‘extras’ there is no fixed or set price. Note that funeral costs also vary from state to state and between funeral homes. So it can be a good idea to get more than one quote.

What do funeral costs usually cover?

You will usually incur funeral costs with both burial or cremation. An average breakdown might be as follows:

  • Funeral Director professional services fees – 39%.
  • Coffin/casket – 31%.
  • Burial – 14% / Cremation- 10%.
  • Other disbursements (such as transport, death certificate, permits, cemetery plot, flowers) - 6%

Funeral businesses in Australia often sell funerals as packages rather than as individual items. This makes it hard to work out how much you are paying for each component.

Many people arranging a funeral for a loved one, be it a burial or cremation, are in a state emotional distress. And this can affect their judgement and decision making. Not surprisingly there has been growing public dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of fee transparency within the funeral industry.

What about average cremation costs in Australia?

The average cost of cremation in Australia is approximately $3,600. Cremation costs generally include use of the crematorium facilities and staff labour during the cremation. You may pay more to receive the ashes in an urn and keep them in a niche or wall. Of course, it costs you nothing to scatter the ashes.

Comparing the costs of burial or cremation

Based on the above figures it is clear that cremation can be significantly cheaper than burial. But keep in mind that these figures are guidelines only. There are many variables depending on your personal choices so it can be difficult to compare like with like.

What does a burial plot usually cost?

The cost of a burial plot in Australia can vary significantly. It depends on geographical location, the cemetery in question, and the level of demand. A high-demand burial plot in a capital city can cost on average between $10,000 and $20,000. Even a burial plot in a less ‘in-demand’ cemetery or location can still cost on average anywhere from about $3,000 to $4,800.

In addition, a simple memorial plaque can cost between $1500 and $3500 extra, unless it is included in the burial cost. There are also labour costs for opening and closing the grave and ongoing maintenance.

How about coffin prices?

The cost of a coffin or casket is usually one of the biggest funeral expenses. Prices can range from $300 to more than $15,000. In Australia a coffin or casket usually costs on average between $1,000 and $4,000. But higher quality or more ornate and detailed caskets can cost $15,000 or more. Because coffins can be personalised your choice can be based on both personal preference as well as cost. Some funeral homes offer rental caskets for the service and viewing purposes and then cremation is in a simpler plywood or cardboard casket.

A family friend made a casket for his dying wife and said it was a helpful and cathartic experience for them both. If you wish to make your own, there are a number of clubs that support people around Australia and across the globe with this unique DIY project.

What is covered by the Funeral Director’s fee?

Fees for these professional services will be incurred for both burial or cremation. They usually include providing the following: organising meetings and grief support, liaising with cemeteries, transporting the deceased, and embalming or preparing the body. Also organising florists and newspaper notices, supplying the hearse and staff for the day and completing legal paperwork and documentation.

You will usually receive a lump sum invoice in advance. But you can ask for an itemised quote so you know what is included. And don’t be embarrassed to state if cost is a concern.

Funeral Insurance to pay for a funeral, burial or cremation

Many people take out funeral insurance to reduce the cost burden for loved ones. Typically you pay a monthly fee. And a lump sum is paid to your family when you die.

But be careful paying for funeral insurance over a long period. This could result in you spending more on the policy payments than is needed for a funeral. So look for an insurer who offers a ‘value promise’. This means they will pay out whatever you have paid in premiums, or more. Provided you have been paying on the policy for at least 12 months. For more information on funeral insurance click here.

You may have a life insurance policy which benefits your family. Some of the proceeds could be used to cover funeral costs. You can keep this information up to date in your Anticipate Life account.

Other payment options

Paying for a funeral, burial or cremation is a concern for many people. There are several other ways you can provide for the cost of your own funeral.

  • Prepay: most funeral directors allow this. They may also let you arrange your own funeral in advance. But be careful. If the funeral company fails financially you may lose your money.
  • Savings: you can work towards saving a lump sum for your family to use to cover funeral costs.
  • Superannuation: Your family may be able to use super funds to pay for your funeral. But these usually take a while to access. Your family may have to make payment upfront.
  • Funeral bonds: this is an investment through a life insurer or friendly society. These funds do not come within the government pension means test. But the funeral director may keep any surplus not spent on your funeral. So be sure to check all terms and conditions. For more information on this option click here.

Financial assistance which may be available

If you or your family cannot afford a funeral, a government or state agency will usually pay for a basic cremation. And your loved ones can still attend and retain your ashes.

There can be other ways of obtaining financial assistance to pay for a funeral. We have listed some suggestions you can look into if you need help. Check whether any of these options apply to your own situation.

  • Local health district: you can apply in cases of financial hardship. But assistance, if any, is only provided after the funeral has taken place.
  • Government benefits: you may be eligible to claim a bereavement payment. If, for example, you are receiving a government allowance or a carer’s allowance for a person who dies.
  • Department of Veteran Affairs: If the deceased is a veteran, you may be able to obtain help with funeral expenses.
  • Registered clubs: Such as the Rotary Club, the RSL, and Trade Unions which may be able to assist with the cost of a member’s funeral. Keep information like memberships in your Anticipate Life account.
  • Low interest loans: There are many of these available on the market including a ‘no interest loan scheme’ managed by a community organisation.

For more information on assistance with funeral costs click here. Note that each state has different schemes to help families facing this difficulty.

No matter what you prefer, cremation or burial, it is important that you communicate this information, and other end of life wishes, to loved ones. Start with your Anticipate Life account.