Reduce Cost (en español)
If you are faced with needing to make funeral arrangements with limited funds, or are simply interested in keeping the cost of a funeral down to a reasonable amount, here are some options to consider. And remember, the amount of money you spend on a funeral is in no way reflective of the amount of love you have for someone; this is a myth that is perpetuated by those that would benefit from you spending large amounts of money on funeral products.
Review our Funeral Price Survey Results
To determine the relative costs of funeral homes in your community and neighboring communities, see our funeral price survey results. Our price survey shows the range of costs and will help you determine relative price differences between funeral homes. Keep in mind that price is not the only factor to consider when choosing a funeral home. Reputation and quality of service are very important, but are difficult to measure. Therefore, the price survey should be used as a resource and not as a substitute for conducting independent research. Note the price survey also assesses compliance of a funeral home's general price list with the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule to assist consumers.
Find a Funeral Home that Posts their Prices Online
We have indicated in our funeral price survey whether or not a funeral home posts their prices online. Having the ability to review a funeral home's price list without having to call or visit the funeral home provides a consumer with the ability to price comparison shop from their home. This is especially important for home-bound elders and distant relations responsible for making funeral arrangements.
In direct cremation, the body is cremated shortly after death, without embalming. No viewing or visitation is involved, although a memorial service may be held, with or without the cremated remains present, at the convenience of the family and does not require the involvement of a funeral director. The cremated remains are placed in an urn or other container and can be kept in the home, buried or placed in a crypt or niche in a cemetery, or buried or scattered in a favorite spot (see disposition of cremated remains below).
Direct cremation is significantly less expensive than a conventional funeral because it only incurs charges for basic service fees, transportation, care of the body, and crematory fee. There is also generally a charge for an urn or other container, although many providers may provide a basic container in the charge for a direct cremation.
Some crematories work directly with the public and are equipped to handle all of the tasks a funeral home would (for example transportation of the body to the crematory, death certificate, etc.). Working directly with a crematory is usually less expensive than working with a funeral home. See our price survey results for direct cremation costs in your area.
Also, ashes are much less expensive to bury in a cemetery or can easily be buried for free or scattered. See our page on cremation for laws regarding scattering ashes in California.
Whole Body Donation
Many institutions that accept whole body donation will return the cremated remains back to the family. Some of the institutions and organizations this can be done through are: UCLA Medical Center, Science Care, Life Legacy or the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center. See our webpage on Organ and Body Donation for details.
File Your Own Paperwork
Another option is to bypass the funeral home completely by applying for the Death Certificate directly with the Vital Records office of the county where the death occurred. See our death certificate instructions for a listing of county Vital Records' offices along with instructions. Note that while it is your legal right to file a death certificate without a funeral director, county offices are not accustomed to issuing death certificates directly to family members so you may have to practice patience if you choose to take this route.
Make or Buy a Casket Directly from a Vendor that Sells Directly to the Public
You may want to make or buy a local casket or cardboard container (see our resources page for local and affordable vendors.) Making or purchasing your own casket allows you time to decorate it with your family if this is something you would like to do, and generally results in a significant cost savings. Also note it is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule for a funeral home to charge you a fee for providing your own casket.
Have Ceremonies Somewhere Other than the Funeral Home
Funeral homes charge several hundred dollars to use their facilities for a ceremony, funeral or vigil so consider holding these at a chapel or your home.
ObitsCalifornia charges a small fee of $30.00 to post an obituary that runs for one full week from the service date entered and are thereafter available on-demand 24/7 in a searchable archive indefinitely. The obituary can include a life story, and a photo or slideshow of up to 4 photos. In addition, all obituaries are indexed and linked by FamilySearch for family history and genealogical purposes.
If you are having the funeral home place the obituary for you in a local newspaper, make sure to ask them if you are being charged for the cost to place their funeral home logo below the obituary. Many consumers are charged for this without their knowledge and there is currently no law in California that requires a funeral home to notify you of this additional cost.
Free Urns for Those in Need—Memorial Gallery, a Seattle company that sells urns and cremation/remembrance jewelry, is kindly offering free, slightly blemished urns to those who can't afford one. You must mention Funeral Consumers Alliance to receive this offer. Contact them at www.memorialgallery.com or call them at 1-253-649-0567. Let them know what style of urn would be appropriate (for example, masculine, feminine, child). They will select an urn and mail it to you free of charge.
Ask for and Accept Participation
The following was taken directly from the FCA of Utah website:
When a death occurs, many people want to do something to help. They might add to their condolences, "Please call if I can do something.," not being at all sure what they could really do.
That is the time to ask for help, especially ahead of time when the death is expected. Not all of the tasks below will apply to your situation but consider asking for assistance with the following, as applicable:
Help with notifying family and friends, by phone or e-mail, Facebook or Twitter? Website?
Be in charge of obtaining the required paperwork (death certificate, disposition permit, or permit to cremate)?
Contact the cemetery, crematory, or medical school to schedule delivery of the body?
Bathe and dress the body?
Make or purchase a casket, shroud, or cardboard container?
Obtain dry ice or frozen gel packs if needed?
Arrange for music?
Contact any clergy desired?
Arrange for flowers?
Arrange for cleaning or housekeeping or pet-sitting?
Arrange for meals or other refreshments?
Meet out-of-town guests at the airport?
Provide overnight accommodations for those?
Collect and display photos or other memorabilia?
Plan any service to be held, with or without the body present?
Help if there will be more than one event or more than one location?
Write the obituary?
Write a eulogy?
Video any events for the benefit of the out-of-town family?
Serve as pallbearers?
Transport the body?
Send thank you notes?
Apply for veterans benefits such as a marker and flag?
Notify Social Security if not already a part of EDR (electronic death registration)?
Extend support to the bereaved after everyone has gone?
If Applicable, Apply for Indigent Burial/Cremation
The Welfare and Institutions Code (CAL. HSC. CODE § 7100) specifies that next-of-kin is financially responsible for the disposition of the decedent's body. The exception to this is in the case where the decedent is indigent and the family is also indigent. Each county has their own indigent burial and/or cremation program:
Santa Barbara County has an indigent fund that provides cremation and burial at sea for qualified applicants. An application and financial statement are required to determine eligibility.
For more information contact:
Santa Barbara County
(805) 346-8337 (Santa Maria)
(805) 568-2790 (Santa Barbara)
Ventura County has an indigent fund that will pay for a basic cremation, but only if the family qualifies. If the decedent was a veteran who honorably served our country, then cremains can be sent to and interred at the Riverside National Cemetery at no cost to the decedent or their family.
The qualification process is very thorough and requires that each family member complete, sign, and include supporting documentation for an indigent application. Supporting documentation includes all recent bank statements and proof of relationship. The approval process can take from several days to a couple of weeks.
For more information contact:
County of Ventura
800 S. Victoria Ave.
Los Angeles County has an indigent fund for cremation only. Note that cremation through the program may take up to 2 months and in order for the family to receive the cremated remains, a fee ranging from ~$350 to ~$470 is charged; the family has up to 2 years to claim the cremated remains. If the family does not pick up the cremated remains within 2 years, there is no charge and the cremated remains are buried in a common grave. This program provides the indigent with a very low-cost cremation option and gives them time to save money to pay for it.
For more information contact:
LA County Coroner's Office (only if the coroner is involved):
LA County Morgue (only if the coroner is not involved):
Orange County has a General Relief fund which may be used for the burial or cremation of a deceased. To be eligible for General Relief, you must be a U.S. citizen or legal alien who resides in Orange County and must meet certain income and property requirements as well as other criteria. Applications must be submitted in person.
For more information:
Orange County Social Services Agency
Central Regional Center
2020 W. Walnut St.
Santa Ana, CA. 92703