Local News

Funeral Expenses Are A Hardship For Many

Posted March 5, 2002 10:53 a.m. EST

— Losing a loved one is difficult enough. Then there is the high cost of the burial. For one local family, the search for funeral money took five days.

Most people do not think about the cost of a funeral until a loved one dies. The average cost of a


in the United States is about $5,800.

For those without life insurance, a large portion of the funeral bill is due upfront. It is money that a lot of people do not have.

When Marty Jennings, 36, died suddenly of a heart attack last week, his family had little time to grieve. Instead, they had to figure out how to pay the funeral bill.

"It's a big shock, a very big shock," said Beverly Jennings, Marty's sister-in-law. "We just picked out simple stuff, and it was like $8,000."

Because Jennings had no life insurance, most funeral homes required at least half of the balance upfront.

"Everywhere we went it was like, 'Sorry.' That was it," said Terry Wagner, Marty's aunt.

The family said that it was hard to ask, but they even went to churches and civic groups for help. Finally, a funeral home in Creedmoor agreed to do it for $4,300.

"We just ended up having to take all of our bill money and every bit of money we could come up with, our expense money for the month, and take it and use that," Jennings said.

In some ways, paying for a funeral is like buying a car. The price depends on the options. For example, a casket can range in price from $1,000 to $20,000.

Raleigh funeral director Bill Joyner said that planning ahead is the key to keeping funeral costs reasonable.

"It's impossible to give someone a quote or a price when they call you up and say, 'How much does a funeral cost?' That's like calling an automobile dealer and asking 'How much does a car cost?'" Joyner said.

Members of Jennings' family said that they have learned a heart-wrenching, but valuable lesson.

"It's too much," Beverly Jennings said. "I would never want my family or my kids or any of my loved ones to have to go through what we've had to go through this week."

"Even if you're young, even if you're not, but 18, 19 or 20 years old, start preparing," Wagner said.

If a person is indigent, with no family to pay for a funeral, the body will most likely be donated to a research hospital and then cremated.

Some North Carolina counties have small, emergency burial funds to help families in a situation like the Jennings faced, but the funds are very limited.

A handful of funeral homes perform funerals for low-income families for free, but it is not something they advertise.

A fund has been set up for donations to help the Jennings family. Donations can be made in the Jennings name at any Community National Bank branch.