The Cost of Dying - A Breakdown of Funeral Costs

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At the start of 2020, financial services company SunLife (best known for their over 50s life insurance products, equity release and funeral plans) released their Cost of Dying Report that breaks down the overall cost of death in the UK, and they have been doing this since 2004.

After writing a report on SunLife’s findings last year (See our article: How Much Does a Funeral Cost?), it is interesting to see how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected and reshaped the funeral industry after studying their latest Cost of Dying Report for 2021.

In this guide, we uncover SunLife’s key points regarding the prices involved when planning and preparing for a funeral in the UK, including a complete breakdown of all costs and an explanation of the impact of Covid-19 on funerals.

The Cost of Dying Report - Key findings


Some of the most notable takeaways from SunLife’s study include the following:

  • The cost of a basic funeral in the UK rose to £4,184 in 2020 (a 1.7% increase since 2019 when funerals were roughly £4,115 on average*).
  • Despite this, funeral costs have been rising at a slower rate every year since 2016 – 2020 represents the slowest increase.
  • The cost of dying has increased by 39% over the last ten-year period, rising from £6,668 (2010) to £9,263. Interestingly, SunLife reports that this is 10% greater than the general inflation rate.
  • Due to Covid-19, direct cremations have become more popular and are continuing to grow in popularity, altering the way we say farewell to our loves ones.
  • 99% of us have no idea about our loved one’s final wishes regarding funeral plans and/or special requests.
  • Only 33% of people said their loved ones had put a life insurance plan in place to cover the costs, and 38% had written a will that stated their preferred funeral plans and personal requests.

The rest of this guide will continue to break down the overall cost, so keep reading to learn more.

What is the overall cost of dying?


Since 2019, the average price that people pay in total for putting their loved ones to rest has increased by £71 (0.8%), rising from £9,192 in 2019 to £9,263 in 2020 (according to SunLife’s report).

This average cost of £9,263 includes:

  • Average funeral costs (£4,184)
  • Average professional fees (£2,547)
  • Average send-off costs (£2,532)

It is important to note, however, that this cost can differ significantly depending on the intended funeral location and local costs, as well as the deceased person’s personal requests and whether or not you have a wake or gathering after the funeral.

A breakdown of the costs involved with dying


While the average cost of dying is an expensive £9,263, this increase in cost is not the biggest rise the UK has seen; between 2018 and 2019, the price rose by a larger 3.1%.

Despite this, it is still a high figure and many people are bound to be shocked by this.

The reason for being so expensive is because there may be a lot of option extras that people are requesting for their funerals, or that of their loved ones’.

While we know that the cost of dying is made up of funeral costs, professional fees and send-off costs, there are a lot of potential services included within these.

Note: all costs provided below are average prices – some prices aren’t given as SunLife didn’t include this in their report and it also completely depends on your location and service requests. To get a good idea of funeral costs near you, it pays to do some research online (use reputable sites) and compare prices and services.

Funeral costs

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Funeral director
  • Doctor: £82 (this was £164 in 2019 and has been reduced due to Covid-19)
  • Minister (or celebrant)

When notifying the deceased’s doctors’ surgery to arrange the paperwork needed for the funeral, you won’t have to

Professional fees - Probate services

  • Solicitor or specialist to administer the deceased’s estate (this consists of their property, cash savings, personal possessions, insurance policy payouts, pensions, etc) – unless you choose to use a professional online service, which will reduce the cost.

The cost of probate with a solicitor can be around 1% to 5% of the entire estate’s value, so this can work out to be very expensive. In most cases, your loved ones will have to cover this cost unless you have plans in place already.

Send-off costs

  • Death and funeral notices: £75 (-8.4%) and £86 (15%) respectively
  • Flowers: £193 (5%)
  • Memorial: £1,016 (12%)
  • Order sheets: £94 (7%)
  • Hiring Limousines or cars: £336 (7%)
  • Hiring a venue: £282 (15%)
  • Catering for the wake (if Covid-19 rules allow): £450 (10%)

Other costs you may need to consider are those associated with any specific funeral requests that the deceased wanted or that you would like for them.

It is also worth knowing that a death notice is not a legal requirement – this is something you may want to pay for, depending on your and the deceased’s preferences. Instead of paying for death and funeral notices, many people have used free social media tools to inform friends and family of a loved one’s death.

SunLife reports that 49% of funeral directors noticed that more people created social media funeral invitations on platforms like Facebook instead of newspaper obituaries.

How much does a funeral cost (UK)? – Cremations vs burials


After breaking down the entire cost of dying, we’ll now look at the average cost of having a funeral in the UK.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, the average cost of a basic funeral is currently around £4,184 (2020), compared to £4,115 in 2019. In five years’ time, SunLife predicts the average funeral cost to be £5,044.

The cost is, of course, an average price, and the real figure will all depend on what type of funeral you give your loved one (prices provided by SunLife):

  • Funeral with a burial: £5,033
  • Funeral with a cremation: £3,885
  • Direct cremation: £1,554

What is a direct cremation?

A direct cremation involves the family attending the cremation without a pre-planned funeral service and without mourners. The deceased is taken directly to the crematorium to be cremated, then you can collect the ashes or request that they be delivered to you to do with whatever you wish.

As well as any other extras, there is no need to pay for the following services:

  • Mourners
  • Flowers
  • Limousines
  • Hearses
  • Embalming
  • Officiant’s fees

Once the cremation has finished, the family can decide how to celebrate their loved ones live, but of course, plans will have to adhere to any Coronavirus-related measures at the time.

Due to the lower cost involved and the issue that people haven’t been able to arrange more traditional funerals due to Covid-19, a direct cremation is becoming a more popular option.

Paying for a funeral – 1 in 4 people found the costs surprising


According to SunLife’s report, a large proportion of people – 65% - put plans in place for their funeral before they passed away, an increase of 2% since 2019.

The report shows that people have been paying for their loved one’s funeral with one or more of the following:

  • Savings and investments
  • Pre-paid funeral plan
  • Over 50s life insurance
  • Life insurance (excluding over 50s cover)
  • A credit card
  • Borrowed money from a friend/relative
  • Paid the funeral director in instalments
  • Sold personal possessions
  • Got a loan
  • Applied for help from the government

Having something like a life insurance policy, savings or a funeral plan in place to make sure funeral costs are covered for is definitely a good way of helping your loved ones cover the cost at an already difficult time.

Additionally, you may want to think about writing a will to specify any funeral wishes and/or requests you may have for your own funeral. This will also help your loved ones arrange everything when the time comes.

Tip – Avoid under- and overspending


As you now have an idea as to how much the cost of dying and paying for a funeral is in the UK, you may be considering how you can make the whole process cheaper.

While this is certainly recommended, it’s important to consider whether or not you will regret spending less money on certain things later on. It’s also important to try to not overspend if money is tight.

SunLife states that 48% of funeral directors find that people usually regret trying to save money when arranging a loved one’s funeral, while 87% of funeral directors said that people usually tend to overspend, which, of course, can lead to financial struggle or debt.

The main things people regret doing are:

  • Buying a coffin online or making their own
  • Putting the flowers together themselves
  • Creating service sheets themselves
  • Overproviding with the catering (wastes money)
  • Having lots of flower tributes (if your budget doesn’t allow)

Again, this reinforces the importance of having a plan in place beforehand so that loved ones have some guidance on what to arrange and what to spend.

The Impact of Covid-19 on funerals


There’s no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the funeral industry, particularly due to social distancing measures, restrictions and other measures enforced to help stop the spread of the virus.

In addition to many people stating that the funerals they had arranged were affected a lot by Covid-19, around 34% of people stated that the funeral caused them to worry about their finances and affordability.

With many people now facing financial difficulties and social distancing measures in place, it is predicted that:

  • Any paperwork needed for funeral plans will now be online – digital rather than paper
  • People are likely to choose to have simpler, less expensive funerals
  • Direct cremations will become even more popular due to being the most affordable option

With this in mind, we have included a list of related articles below to provide you with more information on putting the right plans in place to prepare for death.

We appreciate that this is a difficult thing to think about, but with the recent Covid-19 outbreak, it is now more important than ever to plan for the future and protect your loved ones.

You can find SunLife’s original and full Cost of Dying 2021 Report here.

Related guides

*If you’ve read our article on last year’s dying report, you’ll notice that the average cost differs to that stated here. This is because SunLife has a new method of calculating the average price of a funeral. Instead of basing their average funeral cost on cremation and burial prices, they now work it out by considering the fact that many more cremations are taking place compared to burials. To account for this, they work out the average cost depending on the percentage of burials and cremations in the UK.