The UK is among the foremost countries in the world for the most expensive funerals ever, so it can come as no surprise that it has been announced today (1st June 2018) that the rising prices of funerals are coming under increasing scrutiny. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to review funeral costs, “while the UK Treasury focuses concern on pre-paid funeral plans, after consumer groups have complained that while many people pre-pay for their funerals, their relatives often face additional costs.
According to the CMA, the average cost of a funeral in 2017 was almost £3,800.
Why does a funeral cost so much?
Typically, you can break down the individual costs as follows:
• Moving deceased to a Chapel of Rest £996
• Minister or officiant fee £1,489
• Hearse and chauffeur £3,157
• Coffins fetch anywhere between £275 to whatever you’re willing to pay
• Funeral director’s professional fees £1,000 to £1,500
• Cremation costs: Cremation fee £660; cremation urn £200; ash plot £450
• Burial costs: Interment fee (grave-digging and backfilling for a single depth grave) £150 to £1,734; burial plot cost £280 to £5,000 or more
• Stone memorial £800 to £1200 or more
• Optional costs: Embalming £136 to £165
• Additional limousine and chauffeur £305
• Flowers £151
• Order of service sheets £72
• Church service £98 to £149
• Catering – additional
Source: Fairer Finance
Not all funeral plans will cover these costs and as the CMA points out, “People who buy funeral plans are not around to measure delivery against their expectations, which is why it is so important there are clear rules around how companies must behave.”
There are ‘budget options’ for funeral plans, but even these can set you back around £2000. According to The Big Issue, (30.08.2017) funeral poverty is on the rise with the average cost for a burial in the UK standing at £4,257, while typical cremation costs are £3,311. The most expensive funerals ever?
What were the most expensive funerals ever? Within living memory there are a number to choose from, mainly among celebrities and heads of state. Where a funeral is held for a national figure, it stands to reason that there’ll be plenty of cost involved. Let’s look at some examples. Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher died of a stroke in London on 8 April 2013. She was 87. She had a ceremonial funeral on 17 April, with a formal procession through Central London, followed by a church service at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was one of the most expensive funerals ever in the UK as it cost around £3.6 million of which £3.1 million was for security – £1.1 million along the route, and £2million to other police forces for use of bobbies from other areas. The funeral costs included a bill for £500,000 for the ceremony, including bearing the coffin on a gun carriage, and the service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Telegraph (25 Apr 2013) calculated that the average cost to the taxpayer was 6p per person, and stated that using costings which were adjusted for inflation over time, Thatcher’s funeral was five times more than the £787,000 cost of Winston Churchill’s in 1965.
By the same token it was cheaper than the £7.5million cost of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)’s funeral in 2002, and Princess Diana’s funeral, which cost up to £7.7million in today’s money.
The most expensive funeral of all time is said to be that of Alexander the Great, costing in excess of $600 million in today’s money. Why so much? Well Alexander the Great was King of Macedonia, and presided over the largest empire the world has ever known. It stretched from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. Alexander died in 323 BC and was placed in a Gold Casket and transported in a gold carriage pulled by 60 horses.
The costs of funerals for other world leaders are also notable. The most expensive funerals ever in the USA include, Ronald Reagan’s (President 1980-1988) with an estimated cost of $400 million in 2004, and JFK, assassinated in 1963, with estimates of costs at around $15 million. Elsewhere Pope John Paul II’s funeral cost approximately $11.9 million, while Kim Jong II’s funeral (who died in December 20199) was $40 million (although to be fair, it is impossible to know seeing as North Korea is such a private country). The only details we have of Kin Jong Il’s funeral are that the government spent huge amounts on changing the signs in the Towers of Eternal Life, and millions of dollars were also spent to bring in Russian embalmers and buy a special glass casket. Maintenance of the body is expected to be around $2.5 million per year. Other notable state funerals include former Russian leaders Lenin and Stalin, Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, and Argentine First Lady Evita Peron.
Pope John Paul II inspired a huge amount of love around the world. He was the second-longest serving pope in history, head of the Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005, and helped to end communism in his native Poland while improving ties with other religions. His funeral is noted for having the largest gathering of heads of state in history, with four kings, five queens, 70 presidents and prime ministers and 14 leaders of other religions attending.
In 1977, when Elvis Presley died in 1977, his family spent $25,000 for his funeral but Jimmy Carter, then President of the USA had to arrange 300 National Guards to help keep order at the funeral.
In retrospect, the cost of Michael Jackson’s funeral seems almost modest! According to Time (11.11.2009) the cost of the funeral for the King of Pop was around the $1M dollar mark. His casket was solid bronze with 14-karat gold-plated handles (the luxury casket which was a style 3-99 Prometheus cost $25,000). The biggest outlay was for interment costs in the Great Mausoleum of Forest Lawn, Glendale which ran to $590,000, with an extra $88,500 payment made for ‘endowment care’ by Forest Lawn. Embalming costs were a snip at $450, and his casket coach was $250 (seems reasonable by UK standards!).
While Jackson’s burial outfit cost a whopping $35,000 (what? They couldn’t use one of his existing outfits?), the family had a clothing allowance of $1,975 (not sure why they couldn’t pay for their own clothes). The cost of a framed picture of Michael Jackson to be placed next to the casket was $3,682. Ouch.
Miscellaneous expenses included support from the police for $175,089, invitations and programs $11,716 and flowers for $16,000. The funeral supper cost $21,455.
For something a little bit different, how about this Kiss themed casket? A mere $4000.
You can order a traditional horse drawn carriage for upwards of £2200, or have your final ride in a Bentley or a Limos, or even a Rolls Royce, the ultimate in funeral vehicles that according to one Nottingham undertaker “makes you feel a million dollars.” It’s a shame you’re dead then.
The most expensive place to die in the UK? Probably North London. According to The Daily Mail, a burial spot in North London burial place can cost £32,000, not including the cost of a memorial stone.
Over to you
Which do you think were the most expensive funerals ever? Any lavish plans for your own funeral? Or how cheap will you go? Join the conversation on Facebook or drop a line below 🙂