Thursday 18 July 2019

Your Money: Grave concerns - rising funeral costs and how to curb them

As funeral bills can run to €8,000 or more, they're often a huge burden for families, writes Louise McBride

'In 2008, it cost between €850 and €1,150 for a single grave (depending on whether or not the plot had a headstone foundation) in the cemeteries run by Fingal County Council. Today, a single grave without a headstone foundation usually costs €1,400 while a single grave with a headstone foundation costs €1,900'
'In 2008, it cost between €850 and €1,150 for a single grave (depending on whether or not the plot had a headstone foundation) in the cemeteries run by Fingal County Council. Today, a single grave without a headstone foundation usually costs €1,400 while a single grave with a headstone foundation costs €1,900'

The cost of buying a grave has soared since the recession in several locations, with some cemeteries now charging almost twice as much for a burial plot today as they did back in 2008. These higher grave prices have pushed up funeral costs so much that many families could easily face a bill of €8,000 or more to bury a loved one.

In 2008 for example, it was possible to buy a grave in Dublin for less than €1,000. You'll struggle to get a grave for that price in Dublin today - unless you opt for an old grave with someone else's remains in it and even then, your choice of cemeteries will be limited. "Dublin is in a league of its own when it comes to buying a grave," said Gus Nichols, managing director of the funeral directors, J&C Nichols. "The least you can expect to pay for a [new] grave in Dublin is €2,000 - and then you can have to pay about €1,000 to open it."

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There have also been increases in grave prices outside the capital, including in some local authority cemeteries.

For example, in 2008, Galway County Council charged €220 for a single plot and €415 for a double plot. That has since increased to €385 for a single plot and €726 for a double plot. "The fees were increased to help offset the cost to the council of providing the service," said a spokesman for the council. "The fees received still do not cover the cost of providing the service."

Other councils to have increased the price of a burial plot since 2008 include Fingal County Council and Galway City Council.

In 2008, it cost between €850 and €1,150 for a single grave (depending on whether or not the plot had a headstone foundation) in the cemeteries run by Fingal County Council. Today, a single grave without a headstone foundation usually costs €1,400 while a single grave with a headstone foundation costs €1,900. (A single grave with Fingal County Council usually includes spaces for up to three coffin burials.) Inflation and higher employment costs were cited by the council as the reasons for the higher grave costs.

So if you haven't got several grand in the wings to cover a funeral bill, it's important to take steps to keep costs down. Here's how that can be done:

Choose cremation

"Go for a cremation if you want an affordable funeral," said Robert Maguire, company director with Massey Brothers Funeral Home.

A typical cremation costs about €700 - and that price usually includes the wooden casket (in which the body is placed for the cremation), the use of a chapel, and other incidentals. However, if you want a funeral service to accompany the cremation, the bill could come to more than €4,000. "You could get a cremation funeral for between €4,000 and €4,500 [in Dublin] - including the cremation and the funeral director's fees," said Maguire.

You could save thousands by cutting out the funeral service accompanying a cremation - though this may not be an option if you have a large family or if you value the funeral ritual.

Another advantage of a cremation is that you can cut out the cost of a headstone - though any savings made here could be gobbled up if you place your loved one's ashes in a cemetery's columbarium wall. You could easily spend €1,000 on one of these wall niches. For example, it costs €2,140 to place a set of ashes in Glasnevin Cemetery's columbarium wall - including the niche, plaque, and the first inscription. It is much cheaper to take your loved one's ashes home in an urn.

Another option is to have the ashes buried in a family grave as a grave can usually take between four and six sets of ashes. Though you will still face a fee of anything from a few hundred euro to more than €500 for the burial of the ashes.

Buy in advance

One way to shield yourself against any future increases in grave prices is to buy a burial plot in advance. This isn't possible in all cemeteries - particularly in Dublin. For example, you can't buy plots in advance in Dublin's Mount Jerome Cemetery or in Fingal County Council cemeteries.

You usually pay more for a grave if buying it in advance than you would if buying it after someone dies. However, if there's not much difference in price, advance purchase is worth considering.

For example, you can buy plots in advance in Dublin's Kilternan Cemetery Park - which opened in January 2016. The minimum price for a single plot bought in advance at Kilternan Cemetery is €6,950, compared to €5,950 if buying the plot today. A single plot in that cemetery has room for three coffins and four sets of ashes.

In the past, it was more expensive to buy a plot in advance in Glasnevin Cemetery but this is not the case at the moment, according to Mervyn Colville, deputy CEO of Glasnevin Trust, which runs Glasnevin Cemetery. The starting price for a standard grave (with space for two burials) in Glasnevin Cemetery is €2,340 - regardless of whether the plot is bought in advance or not.

Use the family plot

"If you have a family grave in a cemetery, check if it can be opened and what rules and regulations must be followed to do so," said Frank McGarry, office manager with Mount Jerome Cemetery. "[Even if there are already coffins there], once you get through the legalities of opening a family grave, you can bury ashes there."

Even if you have a family plot, you will usually pay a grave-opening fee to use it - and that fee could be as much as €1,000.

Use an old grave

Gone-over graves, which are old graves with someone else's remains in them, generally work out cheaper than new plots. Mount Jerome Cemetery, for example, charges €1,000 for a single-plot gone-over grave (which has room for one coffin burial and six sets of ashes) and €1,900 for a double gone-over grave (which has room for two coffin burials and six sets of ashes). A grave opening fee of €940 must also be paid. "Four out of five of the graves sold [in Mount Jerome] are gone-over graves," said McGarry.

Avoid pricey plots

You're likely to pay more for a plot in a Dublin graveyard than anywhere else. Buying a grave outside Dublin can therefore be more affordable.

Being picky about the exact location of the grave within a cemetery will also cost you - plots in nicer, or more easily accessible, parts of a cemetery are usually more expensive. For example, a single plot can cost as much as €25,000 in Kilternan Cemetery Park - if you opt for a grave in its reflection garden. It costs at least €7,500 to buy a grave in the Victorian section of Glasnevin Cemetery.

In Mount Jerome cemetery, you'll pay €15,000 for a grave (with space for three coffin burials) in the new garden section - or between €6,300 and €10,000 for a grave on the cemetery's main walks.

It costs €16,000 to buy a single plot in the garden section of Deansgrange Cemetery.

Cut out the frills

Keeping your funeral simple will save you hundreds - if not, thousands. "Don't order lots of flowers," said Nichols. "Hire just one limousine. Spend the money you have on areas which are important to you. If means are tight, you shouldn't be buying very expensive coffins."

The traditional Irish veneer oak coffin will typically cost between €1,000 and €1,300. "The expensive coffins are the solid timber ones imported from Italy - and American coffins," said Nichols. You can expect to pay at least €4,000 for an American Batesville casket for example - or much more if it has an elaborate finish.

Eco-coffins can be more expensive than standard coffins. A handmade Irish willow wicker coffin could cost €1,450, said Nichols.

The more elaborate your headstone, the more expensive it will be, so keep it simple. "A headstone typically costs between €2,000 and €2,500 - including the cemetery's fees, but a headstone could cost as much as €4,000," said Nichols. Some can cost even more.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead could save you thousands in funeral bills. An insurance-based funeral plan - to help cover funeral costs - may be worth considering. "Start to think about your funeral today," said Maguire. "We plan for the majority of events in our life. Not many people want to think about funerals but it's useful to plan ahead."

Grave price check

CHECK INTERMENT FEE

Don’t overlook the interment (grave-opening) fee as it will considerably push up the price of a grave. For example, the least you can expect to buy a standard grave (with space for two burials) for in Glasnevin Cemetery is €2,340 — but this rises to €3,400 when you include the cemetery’s grave-opening fee of €1,060. In Mount Jerome Cemetery, the least you’ll pay for a grave with space for one coffin is €1,000 — or €1,940 once the cemetery’s grave-opening fee of €940 is included; the least you’ll pay for a grave with space for two coffins is €1,900 — or €2,840 including the interment fee. The cost of a single burial plot in Shanganagh Cemetery (which is run by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown county council) is €2,900 — but this rises to €3,900 once you include the €1,000 interment fee.

CHECK COUNCIL GRAVE

Local authority graves can sometimes be more affordable than graves in private cemeteries — though many councils have increased their prices in recent years. Galway City Council charges €780 for a single grave in its cemeteries — and €1,836 for a double grave. In 2008, the council charged €650 for a single grave and €1,530 for a double grave. A spokesman for the council attributed the higher prices to “increases in the number of staff required to be present at both the opening of plots and to attend at burials under revised working methods and safety statements”.

In Cork, a number of graves in council cemeteries now fall under the control of Cork City Council — due to the enlargement of the city boundary earlier this month. The cost of a grave in the council cemeteries in Chetwynd, Curraghkippane, St Oliver’s and St Senan’s has increased as a result. For example, previously, it was possible to buy an internal plot (for immediate use) in St Senan’s cemetery for €1,180 but this has since been increased to €1,830 — bringing its price in line with other cemeteries in Cork city.

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Check if there are ongoing annual grave maintenance fees. Check if a foundation fee must be paid when you are ready to erect a headstone — or if this fee is included in the price of the plot. Should you be burying your loved one in a council cemetery, check if there are any registration fees. Some councils charge registration fees of between €300 and €500 for graves — and these fees will usually be in addition to any grave-opening fees. Ask the funeral director for a breakdown of its fees. In Dublin, a funeral director’s fees will typically be around €3,500 to €4,000. These fees usually cover the cost of the coffin, the funeral arrangements made by the director, the embalming and preparation of a body, and the hire of limousines or hearses. Other funeral costs (such as the burial plot) will usually be in addition to the funeral director’s fees.

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