Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Makes up the Cost of a Funeral? part 1, the Basic Service Charge

This photo shows the Olson-Holzhuter-Cress Funeral Home in Stoughton, Wisconsin as it appeared in 1906. This family home was converted to a Funeral Home in the 1940s and has been a place of comfort for generations of Stoughton families
Unit Pricing
Years ago, funeral homes used what is called unit pricing. This meant that the cost of the funeral service was included in the cost of the casket. The family simply selected their casket, and the price listed for that casket included all the professional fees, equipment and facility fees, etc. This was pretty simple and easy for families to understand. In those days, the service costs were pretty much the same from one funeral to the next. The biggest difference was which casket was selected.

The General Price List
Today, it is federally mandated that every merchandise and service item a funeral home charges for is listed in their General Price List. This allows families to decide, based on cost, that they would prefer more minimal, or more complete services, and to pay for only the goods and services they want to select. Depending on the type of service selected, however, some goods and services are required by law, or by cemetery policies. This includes an outer burial container- or vault, required by most cemeteries for burial, and embalming, required for a standard public viewing of the deceased. If a family decides that they do not want these goods and services, they can choose a different type of funeral that does not require them.

The Basic Service Charge
One item that is not optional is the 'Basic Service Charge'. There are some fixed costs that the funeral home encounters that are associated with any service, whether it is a direct cremation, or a full traditional service with a burial. That is why this fixed fee is applied to all services.

What makes up the Basic Service Charge?
The most significant factors in the cost of the Basic Service Charge are professional personnel, facilities, equipment, and vehicles. The maintenance of these is unending and must be available 24 hours a day.
A funeral home needs licensed funeral directors and competent and understanding people must be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service does not cease operations on weekends or holidays. the funeral home workweek is 168 hours, not the 40-hour week which is the usual for most people.
No two families are alike, and therefore, no two services are alike. Traditions, customs, social standing, personal feelings, financial ability, ethnic rituals and a multitude of other influences affect each arrangement. Our services must conform to each individual family's wishes and personal and religious needs. By law, we cannot and do not discriminate. Thus our facilities, equipment, supplies, and staff must be ready to serve everyone, whether they desire 'simple' or detailed services.

  • FIXED OVERHEAD COSTS- These are the costs we incur just by being in business and ready to serve the community's various needs. (Costs incurred for specific services are charged as used.) Each family is charged equally for these costs, regardless of disposition choice and other services selected.

  • COMPLETE ARRANGEMENTS, SUPERVISION, AND FACILITATION OF SERVICES DESIRED- This includes meeting with the family to: explain all options and choices, help develop a meaningful remembrance and memorialization, secure vital statistics information, explain and complete itemized cost agreement, and extend credit.

  • OVERSEE AND IMPLEMENT FAMILY'S WISHES- We contact, coordinate times with and convey the family's wishes as needed to: clergy, musicians, necessary automotive equipment, hair dressers, civic and fraternal organizations, veterans associations, companies providing desired merchandise or services, coroner and physician, type obituary and deliver information and photos to all newspapers requested, crematory and cemetery.

  • COMPLETION OF ALL LEGAL DOCUMENTS, PERMITS, REPORTS AND FORMS- This includes: prepare and deliver death certificate to physician and pick-up when completed, VA and social security forms, cemetery forms and permits, filing completed death certificate and final disposition form with coroner and register of deeds, and obtaining certified copies of the death certificates when they become available.



In part 2 of this series, I will explain some of the costs that derive from specific service choices. If you would like further explanation of any of the items listed above, or have questions about any other aspect of funeral services, you may email me at

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.


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