Debt After Death? Not If You Do Your Research!

older woman and man sitting on a sofa with an open laptop, having a conversation

A comprehensive survey of funeral home prices in Washington state shows that a family can save thousands of dollars on cremation or burial by simply shopping around. In fact, prices may be as much as seven times more expensive at one funeral establishment than another.

In the summer of 2020, People’s Memorial Association (PMA) conducted its survey of funeral home pricing. With the coronavirus pandemic, the need to have cremation and burial pricing available to consumers online is increasingly apparent. Washington state funeral homes are leading the nation in this increasing transparency with 51 percent of funeral homes including at least partial pricing on their websites. This is up from 38 percent in 2018 and 27 percent in 2016.

Peoples Memorial logoThe PMA staff and volunteers requested the General Price Lists of all the Washington state funeral homes that handled 25 or more cases in 2019. Due to the pandemic, they only collected the pricing via the funeral homes’ websites or if the funeral home sent their price list to People’s Memorial. This survey is based on those 200 funeral homes.

This 2020 survey discovered that:

  • Cremation prices vary by more than 745 percent.
  • Burial prices vary by over 400 percent.
  • The average cost for direct cremation is $1,570 (with prices ranging from $495 to $4,165).
  • The average price of immediate burial is $2,924 (with prices ranging from $1,045 to $5,290).
  • A complete funeral service with embalming, viewing, and a funeral service averages $5,071 (ranging from $2,045 to $11,100). Basic casket costs were included in both burial options, but casket costs can range from less than $1,000 to over $25,000, depending on a family’s preference.

In 2020, only 12 funeral homes (compared to 31 in 2018) did not provide pricing (requiring a personal visit or didn’t respond to e-mails or phone calls).

PMA produces the biennial price survey to educate consumers about their options and the cost of different choices. Individuals wishing to have a copy of the price survey may view and/or download it from the People’s Memorial Association website or contact the office ( or 206-325-0489) to request a print copy.

Free end-of-life planning classes

In addition to conducting price comparisons, People’s Memorial Association provides free classes on end-of-life planning. Since March 2020, they have seen a 280 percent increase in class attendance due to the ease of accessibility of virtual learning and the reminder of human mortality brought on by COVID-19. Class topics include estate planning, advance planning for healthcare, and green and conventional funeral options and their costs. Attendees receive supporting legal and planning documents to complete a comprehensive end-of-life plan.

The organization promotes that with a little bit of planning before death is imminent, unnecessary stress and thousands of dollars can be saved. For the virtual class schedule, visit

Advocating for greater transparency

People’s Memorial Association, along with its national association, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, and the Consumer Federation of American have collaborated to lobby the Federal Trade Commission to update The Funeral Rule from 1984 to mandate that all funeral homes post General Price Lists on its website and will e-mail it when asked. PMA and its members recently testified in support of the passing of SB5001, legalizing natural organic reduction (human composting) and alkaline hydrolysis (aquamation) in Washington state.

People’s Memorial Association is a nonprofit funeral consumer organization with approximately 70,000 living members in Washington state. Members of People’s Memorial Association receive discounted prices on cremation and burial at more than 20 funeral establishments across the state. Dues are $50 for a lifetime membership. Members own The Co-op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial—a full-service mortuary that services King County. Visit and for more information.

Two testimonials from folks who recently used the services of The Co-op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial:

“I am impressed with the transparency in pricing, the assistance I received, and the quality of your staff. The lack of pressure to purchase a more expensive option was also notable. In an industry that is often rife with shady practices, your integrity makes your organization stand out as a shining star.”

“In this capitalistic world where important elements of a compassionate and enlightened society are often omitted, I was pleased to find no pressure or judgment from you. In your profession, in which grief may render a consumer vulnerable and confused, such pressure would be particularly egregious. Thank you for making this an easy step in my life’s adjustment.”

Contributor Nora Menkin is Executive Director of People’s Memorial Association.

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of AgeWise King County.