Sunday 21 January 2018

Coffin up to bury a loved one can leave you deep in debt

Louise McBride

Louise McBride

ONE of the more mean-spirited cuts in last month's Budget was the axing of the €850 bereavement grant. As a funeral bill can easily run into tens of thousands of euro, the loss of this allowance will be a blow to anyone who has to cough up to bury a loved one next year.

Finances are the last thing anyone wants to deal with when handling the loss of someone dear. However, it is important to be aware of the cost of any decision you make when planning a funeral. Otherwise, you – and anyone else sharing the bill – could end up heavily in debt.

The price of a typical funeral varies between €4,000 and €6,000, according to Graham Gleasure, spokesman for the Irish Association of Funeral Directors. However, the bill could be €10,000 or more if you're paying for a grave in a particular spot – or if you add in too many frills. So, what could land you with a runaway funeral bill – and if you haven't got a cent to spare, how will you cover the cost?

PRICEY PLOTS

"The most important determinant of the cost of a funeral is whether it's a burial or a cremation," said David Fanagan, director of the Dublin-based undertakers, Fanagan Funeral Directors.

With cremations, you don't have to buy a burial plot as the ashes of your loved one can be scattered in a favourite place of theirs or kept in an urn on your mantelpiece. However, if you opt for a grave, you can't avoid paying for a burial plot – unless your family already owns one.

As land values are higher in the capital, you can expect to pay more for a plot in a Dublin graveyard than anywhere else.

"The average cost of a new grave in Dublin is about €5,000," said Mr Fanagan.

However, if the grave is in a particular cemetery – or a specific part of a cemetery, you'll pay a lot more. "You may pay more for a grave if it's in a nicer part of a cemetery, if it has nice views, if it's near a river or lake and so on," said Mr Gleasure.

In Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery, for example, you'll pay between €2,030 and €4,630 for a standard grave. If opting for one of the more expensive graves near the new chapel or the Michael Collins memorial, you'll pay at least €12,000 for a plot.

In another Dublin cemetery, Mount Jerome (where the late criminal Martin Cahill is buried), you'll pay €13,000 for a grave in the new garden section – or between €7,000 and €10,000 for a plot on one of the main walks. Otherwise, you can expect to pay €4,300 for a new grave in Mount Jerome.

Your local council could work out cheaper than a private cemetery. Galway City Council charges €650 for a single plot in its burial grounds – or €1,530 for a family plot. In Fingal County Council's burial grounds, it usually costs €1,400 for a standard plot without a headstone foundation, or €1,900 for a plot with a foundation.

"Value Added Tax at 13 per cent is chargeable on any plot in a burial ground that has opened since 2012," said a spokeswoman for Fingal County Council.

"In reality, this only applies to our burial ground at Flemington in Balbriggan, where a new plot with a headstone foundation costs €2,156.50."

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council runs the Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill as well as Blackrock's Deansgrange Cemetery. A single plot costs €2,900 in Shanganagh. However, it costs €16,000 to buy a plot in the garden attached to Deansgrange Cemetery.

If you're on a tight budget, check if your local cemetery offers gone-over graves. These graves, which have someone else's remains in them, generally work out cheaper than new plots. Mount Jerome, for example, charges €700 for a single gone-over grave.

It's also worth checking if there is a family grave nearby.

"Be practical," said Mr Gleasure. "There may be a family grave somewhere relatively close which could be used. Most double graves will take six burials. Most single plots will take three."

Even if you already have a family plot, you will still have to pay a grave opening fee. These fees are typically a few hundred euro – but can stretch as high as €1,000 or more.

Another cost to bear in mind is the headstone, though it is usually at least several months after a burial that a headstone is put on a grave.

"The cost of a headstone can vary greatly," said Mr Gleasure. "The bill for the concrete foundation, limestone kerbing and headstone usually comes to about €2,000."

Some headstones could set you back several thousand euro.

THE COFFIN

Another pricey item on a funeral bill is the coffin, particularly if you feel strongly about having an eco-coffin or a casket. A standard Irish veneer oak coffin will cost between €1,200 and €1,500, according to Mr Gleasure. Opt for an eco-coffin however, and the bill for it alone could come to €4,000 – or more. A solid oak casket with a domed lid could set you back more than €5,000.

The cost of the coffin is included in the funeral director's fee. This fee also includes things such as the embalming and preparation of a body, and the hire of limousines or hearses.

If you're under pressure financially, explain this to your funeral director at the outset so he or she can recommend ways to keep the cost of the funeral down.

CREMATIONS

Cremations can work out cheaper than a traditional burial as you can strip out many of the costs, such as perhaps burial plots and headstones. A typical cremation will usually set you back about €700, according to Mr Gleasure.

However, the cost of a cremation can spiral out of control, depending on what you do with the ashes. If you decide to bury your loved one's ashes in a plot in a cemetery, you could pay between €800 and €1,000 for the grave. A cremation plot in Mount Jerome, for example, costs €940. If you want the ashes placed in a cemetery's columbarium wall, you could pay a grand or more for a space. In Newlands Cemetery in Dublin, you'll pay €2,325 for a cremation and space in its columbarium wall.

PLANNING YOUR

OWN SEND-OFF

Some people like to buy their graves in advance of their death, but doing so will come at a cost. In Glasnevin Cemetery, for example, you'll pay twice as much to buy a grave in advance as you would if buying a grave for a burial today.

Opening a credit union account is one way you could help prepare for the cost of your funeral, according to Mr Gleasure. If you are a member of a credit union, you're eligible for death benefit insurance. With this cover, when you pass away, a payment of up to €1,300 will be made to your estate if you live in the Republic, or up to €3,250 if you live in the North. If you are already a credit union member – or are about to join one – check if you're entitled to death benefit insurance and if your credit union is footing the cost of that cover.

It is always worth having some money set aside to cover the cost of a funeral. However, if you're struggling to make ends meet, your chances of having a nest egg handy are probably slim.

Although the bereavement grant will be abolished at the end of this year, you may be entitled to a social welfare grant if a loved one dies and you're struggling to find money to cover the cost of their funeral. If this is the case, you will need to apply to your local community welfare officer for the welfare grant.

"With the welfare grant, there's still help available to people – and it will be substantial in some cases," said Mr Gleasure.

"When the bereavement grant goes, I expect it will revert to the welfare grant offered by community welfare officers. These officers are going to get very busy dealing with welfare grant applications next year."

Sunday Independent

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