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In July 2019, Beyond the Dash conducted a survey of adults living in the Midwestern United States. We wanted to know what people think about planning their own funeral, budgeting for end of life, having a written obituary, and what they want to do before they die.
This is the third such report to be released this year. In all studies, we asked questions about five topics:
The following age categories were surveyed:
What are people prepared to pay for funeral services? More importantly—are people prepared to pay for funeral services? Although some deaths are anticipated, families who face the unexpected death of a loved one wind up paying more for funeral arrangements, or for services they don't need.
To get a sense of funeral budgets in the Midwest, we asked respondents, "What is your funeral budget?"
The average funeral in the United States costs between $7,000 and $9,000. Cremation services can be more affordable for families on a budget—especially direct cremation packages, which can be purchased for as low as $1,000 at some funeral homes. However, there are generally no remains handling options that cost $500 or less. Families struggling to pay for an unexpected death often crowdfund for direct cremation, or else surrender their loved one's remains to the coroner for cremation.
These price points put Midwestern consumers at odds with the realities of actual funeral costs. Without adequate planning, it's possible that those expecting a low (or no) funeral bill will end up paying more, or sacrificing their desired arrangements.
Respondents aged 55+ were most likely to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on funeral arrangements. These Midwesterners know the cost of a funeral, and are prepared to pay for their desired arrangements.
55% of respondents aged 18 to 34 expected to pay between $2,000 and $10,000 for funeral expenses. However, these younger respondents were also more likely to expect to pay less than $500 and less likely to expect to pay over $10,000 than older Midwesterners. While their budgets were lower, respondents aged 18-34 had very specific budgets in mind, whereas 55+ respondents tended to think in terms of a budget range. It's possible this is related to budget: people older than 34 are likely to have more discretionary income, and therefore greater ability to pay for the funeral of their choice.
What matters most: budget, or desired funeral arrangements?
Even the most earnest funeral plans can be derailed by budget constraints. We wanted to know how committed Midwesterners are to their funeral plans. They were given a hypothetical ultimatum, "If your desired funeral arrangements cost significantly more than your funeral budget, what would you do?"
The 69% who would rather adjust their plans are the rule, rather than the exception. This figure was corroborated in both earlier reports; however, Midwesterners were slightly more committed to their desired funeral arrangements than respondents in the Northeast and the South.
The types of funeral arrangements a family prefers depends on affordability, religion, culture and place of residence. We asked Midwesterners, "How would you like your bodily remains to be handled when you die?"
Cremation, once again, proved to be the most popular preferred method of remains handling. This finding was echoed in both the Northeast and South regions surveyed earlier this year. However, cremation was more broadly popular in other regions.
Based on these consumer surveys, cremation is on the rise, steadily replacing traditional burial as the most popular choice for disposing of a corpse. Here is the breakdown of remains preferences in the Midwest:
The nearly 6% who hope to be donated to science research reflect the least conventional method of remains handling, but perhaps the most societally valuable. Unfortunately, many people who opt for organ donation are unable to donate at the time of death, meaning the actual number of donations are much lower than this figure suggests.
Of the 2% who selected Other, answers included:
"Buried behind my family home and have a tree planted on top"
"Preserved in a Cryogenic environment and brought back to life later"
"Ashes formed into a diamond"
"Green burial, burial in shroud only in park to promote growth in trees and shrubs"
The type of memorial to hold in honor of a deceased relative is a simple decision for many families. The service will usually reflect their religious, cultural or aspirational values. For example, members of the Catholic faith prefer burial to cremation and may include an open casket viewing in their funeral service.
That said, modern funerals need not follow the conventions of the past. We asked Midwest respondents, "What kind of funeral service do you want?"
Here is the breakdown of funeral preferences in the Midwest:
Formal options like traditional funerals, open casket viewings and graveside services still have an important place in funeral proceedings. However, more casual send-offs (like celebrations of life and non-religious memorials) are steadily gaining popularity.
Of the 1.8% who selected Other, answers included:
"I'm Native American and we usually have ceremonies done to the body before laying to rest with ancestors."
"Small family gathering to share happy memories."
"Whatever is cheapest and least boring for those who feel obliged to attend."
Planning for death may seem like an odd thing to do, but many families save money and peace of mind by thinking ahead. Though it's difficult to imagine a world in which you no longer exist, many consider it to be a necessary part of financial planning.
There are different ways to plan ahead. We asked Midwest respondents, "Do you have a legal and up-to-date will prepared?"
At the time of the survey:
Creating a will is the most binding assurance that your final wishes for possessions and estate arrangements will be carried out—as long as your most recent will is immediately accessible to those planning your funeral. A will that is locked away may take weeks or months to discover, by which time the funeral will have passed.
People with specific wishes (or unreliable survivors) benefit from pre-planning their funeral arrangements with a licensed funeral director. At the time of death, the funeral director will enact those wishes to the letter, ensuring the method of remains handling, type of ceremony and any other special details are correct.
How many people have taken steps toward planning their final arrangements? We asked respondents, "Do you have any funeral plans prearranged with your chosen funeral home, to be enacted in the event of your death?"
While there are benefits to pre-planning, not everyone approves of this option. We asked respondents, "What do you think about planning your own funeral?"
Of the nearly 66% who like the idea of pre-planning, responses included:
"It would take the burden off of my family during a difficult time but it is a topic that is hard to think about."
"I think everyone should, because we can have it the way we want, the kind of flowers I want, the songs to play. I want a casual celebration of my life. No tears, just good memories."
"I strongly agree with planning funeral arrangements and informing friends and family. I also strongly suggest setting up a trust to avoid costly probate."
"Mine is already done — burn me and spread my ashes to the winds."
Over 33% of respondents did not like the idea of pre-planning funeral arrangements. Of the negative responses to advance planning, respondents said:
"It's really morbid and very difficult to even think about. I don't like it."
"I haven't been able to bring myself to do it yet."
"I don't think I would need to plan at this point because I am young. However if I pass I trust my family to make the decisions."
"I think it should be mostly planned by the loved ones to show how much they cared."
Of the nearly 6% who expressed neutral sentiments, answers included:
"I don't honestly care much."
"It doesn't matter to me."
While pre-planning can be beneficial, it's not for everyone. Those who are still quite young, plan to move away, or can't afford to begin the process without sacrificing basic necessities may not reap the same benefits as those who are more established.
An obituary is a way for families to remember a deceased loved one in a written tribute. In the past, the only publishing option was to place a notice in the local newspaper. As news media continues to move into the digital space, families now have many other options for publishing a loved one's life story.
We asked, "When you die, do you plan on having an obituary?"
More than 76% of Midwestern residents still want obituaries as part of their own memorialization plan when they pass away. In fact, this region was more enthusiastic than any other region surveyed this year. 72% of Northeasterners said they want to be remembered in an obituary notice when they pass away, but only 51.3% of Southerners wanted this.
Despite access to more affordable digital publishing options, many Midwesterners still want a print obituary published in their honor.
Most print obituaries do not come cheap. While some community newspapers offer free short death notices, usually under 50 words in length, a family wishing to place a longer story is often facing a price of $200 to $500 or even more if there is a photo.
We asked, "How much would you expect an obituary to cost?"
With nearly half of all respondents believing that an obituary should appear both online and in print, expectations of obituary pricing do not match up with the actual costs. Unfortunately, this discrepancy can lead to life stories going untold.
Beyond the Dash digital obituaries are free to publish, never expire and include a complimentary guestbook for loved ones to sign and share memories.
Thinking about death can be difficult, as evidenced by the many respondents who said that thinking about pre-planning was too morbid. Just for fun, we asked respondents, "What are the top 3 things on your Bucket List. That is, what would you like to personally accomplish before you die?"
Answers generally fell into 1 of 8 categories:
Top travel destinations included:
"Have over $500,000 for my children to inherit when I pass."
"Buy a sports car."
"Ensure my grandkids go to college debt free."
"Parachute from a plane."
"Do a dolphin trainer for a day program"
"Go see the NASA Space Center."
"Find my soulmate."
"Watch my kids get married."
"Creating as many memories as possible with my daughter."
"I do not have one. Death is already very difficult to deal with for me."
"I haven't made one yet."
"I have no bucket list, I just do things I like doing every chance I get."
"Be in tune with my morality."
"Tell Dan off."
"Get my wife the kidney transplant she needs to stay alive."
"Just to finally be happy."
"To have one completely pain free day."
"To die at peace. Be at peace with myself."
"Become a veterinarian."
"Have an exhibition of my photographs."
"To do well at work."
This report Most areas of focus in this study offered similar insights to the study conducted earlier this year in the Northeastern and Southern regions of the United States. Death anxiety, and discomfort discussing the practical steps to take in relation to end-of-life planning, can cause families additional distress when a loved one dies.
Want more funeral trend data? Beyond the Dash will be conducting a final study in the West region later in 2019—stay tuned for our next report in December 2019.
If you are in the funeral industry and would like to be involved in one of our upcoming survey research reports, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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