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September 16, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Funeral Planning in the Midwest United States: New Poll Shows Nearly 50% Still Want a Traditional Print Obit

What do Midwesterners want? Casual, yet sincere, memorialization.

Funeral Planning in the Midwest United States: New Poll Shows Nearly 50% Still Want a Traditional Print Obit
Beyond the Dash conducted a survey of 600 residents of USA - Midwest regarding their funeral and end-of-life plans, including questions about budget, obituaries, remains handling and bucket lists. (Beyond the Dash)

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.


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In all studies, we asked questions about five topics:



  1. Funeral Budget

  2. Funeral Arrangements

  3. Advance Planning

  4. Obituaries

  5. Bucket Lists


The following age categories were surveyed:



  • 18 - 34

  • 35 - 54

  • 55+


1. Funeral Budget


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?"



  • 14.5% said their budget was $0 – $500.

  • 14.5% said their budget was $500 – $2,000.

  • 26% said their budget was $2,000 – $5,000.

  • 33% said their budget was $5,000 – $10,000.

  • 12% said their budget was more than $10,000.



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.


Comparing Budgets By Age 


 


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.


For most, budget is a priority.


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?"



  • 69% of Midwesterners would adjust funeral plans to fit their budget.

  • 31% would rather pay more to achieve their desired funeral service.


 


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. 


2. Funeral Arrangements 


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?"


More than 43% of Midwesterners want to be cremated when they pass away; over 37% want to be buried. 


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: 



"Mummification" 


"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"



What is the most popular kind of funeral in the Midwest? 


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?"


Funeral and Celebration of Life are the most desired funeral services in the Midwest.


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: 



"Party!!!!"


"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."



3. Advance Planning


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.


Legal instructions


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:



  • 66.8% of respondents did not have a legal will prepared.

  • 32% of respondents did have a will prepared.

  • 1.2% said they were in the process of drawing up a final will. 


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. 


Pre-planned funeral arrangements


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?"



  • 24% said they had at least some plans.

  • 75% said they had made no arrangements yet.

  • 1% said they were in the process of making arrangements at the time of the survey.


What do you think of planning your own funeral?


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?"  



Midwesterners were more positive about pre-planning funeral arrangements than both Northeastern and Southern residents by 5%. 


What are the benefits of pre-planning?


Of the nearly 66% who like the idea of pre-planning, responses included:



  • "Pre-planning saves my family the responsibility of funeral planning" (42.5%)

  • "Pre-planning is wise and practical" (35%)

  • "I've already planned my funeral arrangements" (12%)

  • "Pre-planning helps me control how I'm remembered" (10%)



"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."



What are the drawbacks of pre-planning?


Over 33% of respondents did not like the idea of pre-planning funeral arrangements. Of the negative responses to advance planning, respondents said:



  • "I don't think it's a good idea." (37.5%)

  • "It's too morbid." (31%)

  • "Shouldn't someone else plan my funeral?" (22.5%)

  • "I'm too young to think about pre-planning!" (9%)



"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."



Neutral responses


Of the nearly 6% who expressed neutral sentiments, answers included:



 "Meh!"


"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.


4. Obituaries


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. 


Do modern mourners want obituaries? 


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.


People are willing to bring life storytelling into the digital space; but print obits are still important in the Midwest.


Despite access to more affordable digital publishing options, many Midwesterners still want a print obituary published in their honor. 



Nearly half (49.5%) of all respondents believe that an obituary should appear both online and in print. 



  • 16% say print newspapers are the best place to publish a life story. 

  • 13% would choose an online obituary publisher as the sole destination for an obituary.

  • 11% said a social media post is the best way to share a life story.

  • 10% prefer to print an obituary in a funeral pamphlet or program, which is a more private means of sharing a life story.

  • 0.5% said they didn't know where an obituary should be published.


76% want an obit, but are they prepared for the cost of a published life story?


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. 


Create an Obituary


5. Bucket Lists


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:


1. Travel (30%)


Top travel destinations included:



  1. Disneyland

  2. Hawaii

  3. France

  4. Ireland

  5. Alaska


2. Financial success (16%)



"Have over $500,000 for my children to inherit when I pass."


"Buy a sports car."


"Ensure my grandkids go to college debt free."



3. Activities (13%)



"Parachute from a plane."


"Do a dolphin trainer for a day program"


"Go see the NASA Space Center."



4. Family (10%)



"Find my soulmate."


"Watch my kids get married."


"Creating as many memories as possible with my daughter."



5. No Bucket List (10%)



"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."



6. Personal and Creative (9.5%)



"Be in tune with my morality."


"Tell Dan off."


"Get my wife the kidney transplant she needs to stay alive."



7. Long, Happy Life (7.5%)



"Just to finally be happy."


"To have one completely pain free day."


"To die at peace. Be at peace with myself."



8. Career Success (4%)



"Become a veterinarian."


"Have an exhibition of my photographs."


"To do well at work."



Conclusion


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. 


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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 hello@beyondthedash.com.

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

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