This article has been updated from a previous version
It’s time to bring death into the conversation.
The topic is taboo to most, but talking about it is important. If we don’t, how will we prepare for a loved one’s passing? Or our own? Because we should prepare when possible. We should know what arrangements have to be made and what those arrangements will cost. Better to deal with funeral expenses and the decisions that come with death sooner rather than later, right?
So, take a deep breath. Push your fear, anxiety, and looming existential crisis aside — we’ll figure this out together. Promise.
After-death costs and arrangements
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for the dozens of after-death decisions you’ll have to make, and there’s also no one-size-fits-all price tag.
Founder and CEO of Basic Funerals, Eric Vandermeersch, says after-death costs can be as low as $1,500 or as high as $20,000. And while he says the average overall cost is $8,500, he admits that the number varies wildly based on each person’s preferences, values, and culture.
“It’s like saying I want to buy a car, what should I budget for,” Vandermeersch explains. “There are a lot of options. There are people looking for just the basics, and people are looking for more traditional ceremonies.”
The cost of dying boils down to what you want — post-death.
So here are some of the after-death arrangements you’ll have to decide on and plan for. Remember that all costs are approximate and vary based on city, province, and personal preference.
- Death certificate ($15-$22) and registration (About $55)
Your death (or your loved one’s death) needs to be legally registered so death certificates can be issued and the process of applying for benefits, claiming insurance, and settling the estate can begin. The registration and certificate costs will vary by municipality and the number of certificates ordered.
- Transfer services ($100+)
This fee varies based on how many transfers are necessary and the distance involved with each transfer. For example, transfer services may be required to move the body from its place of death or transport it to a cemetery or crematorium. But keep in mind that you don’t have to use a formal transfer service unless you need to move the body out-of-province, which leads to much higher costs.
- Shroud, casket, or urn ($0-$3,000+)
Do you need a casket or an urn? Do you want the container to be simple or ornate? Or do you want to skip both options altogether? Your answers will dictate the price. Depending on the cemetery, you may be able to bury a body without a casket and instead wrap it in a shroud; or, depending on the crematorium, you may be able to use your own container. And while funeral homes already offer a selection of urns and caskets, you’re free to buy one elsewhere. (FYI, Costco and Walmart sell both.)
- Body preparation ($125-$525)
This consists of bathing the body, applying cosmetics (if desired), and shrouding or dressing it. As a form of preparation, you can also embalm the body to preserve it between death, visitation, and burial or cremation. However, while embalming is recommended, it’s not always required (depending on the province).
- Formal ceremonies (visitation, memorial, funeral) plus staffing fees (the average funeral cost in Canada is $2,000 and beyond)
How much does a funeral really cost? If you opt for a traditional service in a funeral home, church, or chapel, the sky is the limit when it comes to pricing, says Vandermeersch. “These costs go up because there are more staffing fees to consider, especially when a casket is involved, and then you might have a reception with food,” he adds. Of course, you don’t have to go through with any of these formal services: family members can arrange an intimate service at home without a license, as long as they’re not being paid.
- Burial plots and niches (the average cost of cemetery plots is $1,000 and beyond)
Welcome to the underground real estate market. Plots and niches are forms of property that appreciate, which explains the proliferation of listings on Kijiji and the existence of gravesite brokers (yes, gravesite brokers). Side-by-side plots and group plots are often the most covetable and most expensive, but single plots can be just as pricey.
- Burial or cremation services (the average cremation cost in Canada is $1,000 and beyond)
According to Vandermeersch, more and more Canadians opt for cremations, especially direct cremations, which are the cheapest option. To give you a sense of the price, I’ll share a couple of quotes from Basic Funerals: its Direct Cremation (Budget Package) costs $1,050 while its One Hour Service with Burial package costs $4,503.
Does funeral insurance exist in Canada?
Either you, your insurance company, or those who survive you, like your spouse/partner, children, or parents, will be responsible for covering your funeral expenses in Canada.
If you plan with a life insurance policy, the death benefit paid out by your insurance provider can help cover your funeral and after-death costs. Just pay your premium now, and you can spare your family the stress of handling those funeral bills later — unless you want your life insurance benefit earmarked for other expenses. Like your mortgage. Or maybe your children’s education.
In that case, you have another option: plan and pay for your after-death arrangements in advance of your death. So, right now.
“Only about 10-15% of people pre-plan and pre-pay for their funeral costs,” says Vandermeersch. “But it’s definitely something that people should do more often. Get the information ahead of time and even pay ahead of time to alleviate the stress on the people they leave behind.”
But you’ll probably have to pay for everything on your own if you take this route, and you may even need to opt for a financing plan. In other words, this is one time when being proactive may not benefit you.
What happens if you can’t afford a funeral in Canada?
There’s some financial assistance for that. If you cannot pay for a loved one’s transfer, funeral, burial, or cremation on your own, you can apply for aid from your local municipality.
For example, the city of Toronto offers a funeral expense benefit to deceased Toronto residents “who pass away while receiving assistance from Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).” Deceased residents who can’t cover their funeral costs with the money in their estate may also qualify for this benefit. Just remember that if financial assistance is required, the arrangements will have to be simple, basic, and budget-friendly.
But oftentimes, that’s all we need anyway.