Soaring funeral costs have left thousands of low-income families in the dire situation of being ‘too poor to die’, according to research.
Research by SunLife Direct reveals that ‘funeral poverty’ rocketed by a shocking 125% in the first four years since 2010, with the average cost of dying up 10.6% to £8,427 from 2013-14 – seven times the rate of inflation. This includes death related costs such as probate, headstones and flowers and the basic cost of a funeral.
Actual funeral costs – which account for less than half of the total cost of dying – have also risen by 3.9% since 2013 and a staggering 87% since 2004. The cost of a funeral now stands at an average £3,590.
SunLife warns that the situation will only continue to deteriorate over the coming years. Their research suggests that funeral costs will continue to rise, reaching an estimated average of £4,489 by 2019.
A 39% rise in estate administration costs has contributed heavily to the total cost of dying. Hiring a professional, which may include a solicitor and other experts, to manage the affairs of a deceased relative now accounts for more than a third of the total cost.
With costs soaring, more than half us are now choosing to opt for ‘DIY funerals’ to save on estate administration costs. More than half of people surveyed by SunLife (52%) are choosing to manage their loved ones’ affairs without professional help, compared to 39% in 2013.
One in seven people admit that organising a funeral in the past four years caused them financial distress.
Respondents to the research reported an average shortfall of £2,371 and 49% of these were forced to raid savings, or borrow money from friends or relatives. 22% relied on credit cards to help manage the cost of their loved-ones funeral.
The research also reveals regional differences across the UK. The total cost of dying in the London area costs a bank-busting £10,498, while the least expensive place is Northern Ireland, at £5,893.
SunLife’s marketing director David Brooks said: “The death of a loved one is already a very difficult time. Yet financial worries and debt can make the experience of planning a funeral even more distressing.
“All our research shows that planning, however small, really helps and we urge families to break the taboo of talking about death and share their wishes.
“Not planning properly for your own passing can cause a significant financial burden on the people left behind – increasing the emotional distress even further.”
Dr Kate Woodthorpe, lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society, added:
”The costs associated with the end of life are rising and it is worrying that people are not prepared for what they may have to face.
“It is important to remember that at a time of great emotional upheaval, the financial implications of someone dying are not simply about money. They also include questions of who is responsible for the funeral and the estate, and their administration.
“Putting some plans in place while you are in reasonable health, however informal or formal, big or small, can go a long way to facilitating a smoother passage for those left behind.”
The hidden costs of grieving have sparked a call for firms to do more to ease the financial and emotional burdens being felt by the bereaved.
48% of people believe firms should do more to help people in administering a deceased love-one’s estate. Nearly two in five (38%) had to reach into their own pockets to pay bills associated with the estate.
Managing the administration of a funeral can be extremely time-consuming. 31% of respondents said they had taken at least five days paid or unpaid leave from work.
23% spent over £100 on petrol or public transport in dealing with the administration of a relatives funeral.
Dean Lamble, SunLife Managing Director, said:
“Extra, unexpected bills and sudden demands on time can cause real financial and emotional challenges to people administering an estate if plans and funds are not already in place.
“And, at what is already an emotionally challenging time, our research reveals that some businesses are not helping to ease family’s distress – with 18% of people saying they are actually making things significantly worse.”
He added: “As anyone who’s gone through the process of administering a loved one’s estate knows, it’s an emotionally draining time. Especially with the real financial demands that keep coming in.
“Although these have to be dealt with, you don’t expect companies to add to the burden. Some companies do a good job of helping ease people’s distress, but practices such as repeatedly calling asking to speak to the deceased are unforgivable.
“Bureaucratic and insensitive behaviour can add significantly to the distress at what is already a difficult time. That is why we are launching this research and manifesto to make costs clearer and the services more sensitive.”