We don't talk about death enough, a third of Irish people say. More women than men think that, according to an Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) survey. Statistics show that women live longer men so when it comes to death, it's often up to them to sort things out. That includes funeral costs.
A basic Irish funeral can cost anywhere from €2,950 to €7,500 and more, according to a 2018 review by insurer Royal London. Having to purchase funeral items and services while grieving is hard, never more so than during a pandemic. Pricing is something no one really talks about. Two-thirds of people underestimate funeral costs, according to the Royal London survey, so the bill can be a shock. Thinking ahead can make decisions easier and avoid unnecessary expenditure.
Choosing a funeral director
The first step is choosing a funeral director. Getting a recommendation from someone you trust or looking at online reviews can help. It is an unregulated sector with no barriers to entry and no licence required – hard to fathom in an industry responsible for the burial and cremation of up to 30,000 people a year here. The National Council on the Forum for the End of Life has in the past called for better regulation and transparency to avoid "ambiguous or inappropriate invoices".
The response from the Irish Association of Funeral Directors is a code of practice, so check that your funeral director is a paid-up member. The code requires members to detail costs upfront. Any payments made on behalf of the client, such as those to a celebrant or florist, must also be clear. Consumers should ask for a written confirmation of arrangements and a cost estimate. The funeral director must provide a final itemised bill, together with settlement terms.
Professional providers will be clear and upfront about their costs. The Dublin-based Fanagan Group, for example, sets out estimated costs, ranging from €1,750 to €7,275 on their website. This includes options for a coffin, removal, embalming, transportation and funeral director fees.
Some funeral directors advertise package prices, with a coffin price embedded in that. It can be hard to get a specific unit price for a coffin, but one made of less expensive wood with a flat lid and plain sides will be less costly.
"All families are different and their choice varies," says Robert Fanagan. "People want to do their best, but we say to families, you are always doing your best for your loved one, but you do have to be conscious of cost. Most people get that message and take time to make decisions."
Aside from burial and cremation-related costs, others can include newspaper notices from €230, flowers from €60, organist from €125, soloist from €125 and a church offering from €200. If you chose a civil celebrant to create and deliver the service, expect to pay from €250 for €300.
The cost of memorial cards and a headstone will fall later, and the latter can cost between €1,500 and €4,000 depending on the style.
Burial is more expensive than cremation. Stating your preference in advance, and discussing that of your loved one, may save unnecessary spend while ensuring wishes are honoured.
Those choosing burial can pay a premium, particularly in Dublin. A single plot at Shanganagh Cemetery is €2,900, as set by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council. At Deansgrange, which is almost at capacity, the cost is €16,000. The prices do not include interment fees of €1,000. A foundation for a single headstone with kerbing is €420. At Mount Jerome, graves range from €1,000 to €15,000 with interment at €940. A plot in Co Roscommon by comparison is €350. So it may pay to go back to your roots, so to speak.
Cremation is becoming increasingly common – Robert Fanagan says it is now the choice in about 40 per cent of funerals in Dublin, though less common elsewhere. The Republic has five crematoriums and costs range from €450 at Mount Jermone in Harold’s Cross, to €500 at Lakelands in Cavan, and to €745 at the Island Crematorium in Cork. A standard urn and room hire for the service is included in the pricing at some facilities and not others, so that is worth checking. Saturday and bank holiday cremations can be up to €200 more.
The interment of ashes at Mount Jerome is €280 and €400 at Shanganagh and Deansgrange. A niche in the Columbarium Walls at Deansgrange Cemetery, capable of holding two medium-sized caskets ashes, will cost €2,270.
Some 89 per cent of people say that being together with extended family and friends is a key part of the grieving process, according to the IHF.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has halted some of the usual rituals for all funerals. At a time when we can’t shake hands, embrace or congregate in large numbers, a large funeral home or house wake, memorial service or a post-funeral gathering with refreshments for mourners are out.
The repercussions of the virus are likely to be with us in the months and years to come, potentially reshaping the format and cost of Irish funerals in the long term. For now, some costs are less or are out of the equation.
Gatherings in smaller numbers are still allowed under HSE guidelines. The web streaming of services for those who can’t attend is becoming commonplace. It gives comfort to the family, says civil funeral celebrant Padraic Cawley. “Mount Jerome has webcams and friends can log on and attend virtually,” he advises. The service is free. Some other crematoriums don’t have the facility. Videographers can charge between €450 and €750 for this.
Go your own way
Some costs can be avoided. Using limousines provided by the funeral director is a discretionary cost and is more common in the city. While screens to separate limousine drivers from passengers have been installed, the capacity of vehicles is reduced by Covid-19. Using your own transport if possible will save money. Embalming, while common, is optional and a reputable funeral director won’t sell the service unnecessarily. Flowers from your garden will also save.
It may seem glib, but pre-planning your funeral can take some of the burden off loved ones while ensuring you get what you want.
If you are planning your own funeral, make sure your family are aware. A Think Ahead form created by the IHF helps families talk about and record their preferences. In addition to recording your preferences on end of life care, it enables you to record key information about your financial affairs such as bank accounts, insurance, tax affairs, pensions, the location of your will or house deeds, as well as your funeral preferences. So whether you want a top-of -the-range coffin, live music and a plot with views or something simpler, the form is a way for you to put your preferences in writing. It can be downloaded at Thinkahead.ie.
Give copies to family members, your solicitor and keep a copy for yourself. Don’t set out your preferences in your will, because it may not be looked at until after a funeral.
Where the deceased had life insurance but there is no remaining legal policy holder, families may find themselves having to pay the funeral bill in advance of a life insurance payout, warns Royal London. Applications to the probate office to confirm policy ownership can take months with things further delayed by Covid-19. Some policies will prepay a portion of life cover to alleviate funeral costs during the wait for probate, so check your policy.
Funeral plans and funeral insurance policies, also known as “over 50s plans”, are two different ways of paying for a funeral in advance. A benefit is that it can take pressure off family when the time comes.
With a funeral plan, you arrange and pay for your funeral in advance, at today’s prices. You pay either a lump sum or instalments to the plan provider, or to a funeral director or into a nominated bank account.
Over 50s plans are insurance schemes. They require no medical underwriting and so poor health is irrelevant. Check the terms before signing up, however – if you miss a payment it may not pay out, and if you can’t afford the payments and you cancel after 30 days, you won’t get your money back, and you usually need to survive beyond the first two years to get a payout.
Before signing up to either a funeral plan or funeral insurance policy, ask about cancellation charges and what exactly will be covered. If you have already arranged and paid for your funeral, be sure to let your family or your solicitor know.
Economics of bereavement
Those on low income may be eligible for an Exceptional Needs Payment to help with funeral costs. Contact your local Department of Social Protection Intreo office where eligibility is decided on a case-by-case basis.
The Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant is a once-off payment to widows, widowers or surviving civil partners with dependent children. The value of the payment is €6,000. Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to other benefits such as a widow's pension or the one-parent family payment. Your local Citizens Information or Intreo office can advise based on your circumstances.
The department will need to be notified if the deceased was getting a social welfare payment, if you were claiming for them as a dependant or you were getting a carer’s allowance to look after them. The payment won’t be withdrawn immediately. In many cases, it will continue for six weeks following the death.
Bereavement can bring economic disadvantage. Funeral costs, loss of income due to leave from work to grieve or care for others, a loss of household income or bereavement-related barriers to work can all have an impact. The department is funding research, in partnership with the IHF, to foster better State-level understanding of this. An IHF document published in May – called Covid-19: What we have learned – wants to start a national discussion on improving the experience of death, dying and bereavement in post-Covid-19 Ireland. It might be time to talk.