Will you be able to foot the bill for your final farewell?

A funeral director holding a jar of cash in a church with a coffin in the background.

Dying can be an expensive business. On average, the cost of a funeral is about $10,000. But you can find yourself facing double that.

A sizeable chunk of a funeral bill is likely to be “professional services”. This is a catch-all fee charged by funeral directors that can include anything from filing paperwork to using the funeral home itself.

Other big items typically include burial plot fees and the cost of the coffin. Embalming, memorial programmes, hearse hire, catering and flowers also add to the price.

Most of us turn to a funeral director to sort out arrangements for a relative’s final farewell. Professional assistance can be helpful but you can minimise costs by taking on some tasks yourself. It’s up to you how involved you want a funeral director to be, if at all. There’s no legal requirement to use one.

Burial vs cremation costs

Whether you opt for burial or cremation will have a significant impact on price. If the “six feet under” approach appeals, you will need to pay for a burial plot, memorial markers and the process of interring the body. Local councils are responsible for setting plot prices. Depending on the area, the price can range from $657 (central Hawke’s Bay) to $6613 (North Shore Memorial Park, Auckland).

Unless you’re burying the body on private land – and permission for this can be hard to get – you’ll also need to pay an interment fee. Many councils publish costs online for interment at their cemeteries. Fees range from $319 (Taupo) to $1860 (Auckland).

Cremation is usually cheaper than burial. If you’re using a council-owned crematorium, you’ll pay between $525 and $900. Privately owned crematoria can be more expensive, with services costing between $700 and $1100.

Ways to cut costs

You can’t avoid burial and cremation costs. But you have more choice when it comes to other aspects of a funeral.

Coffins and urns: Options range from a simple cardboard coffin (from $350) to a bespoke upholstered model ($5000). If you’re burying the body, you can also wrap it in a shroud instead of using a coffin. A body must be in a coffin when cremated. An urn for storing the ashes can cost up to $500. But you can use any type of container. Most crematoria will provide a basic option. If the body’s being cremated, pacemakers and metal implants must be removed. The intense heat of cremation can cause a pacemaker to explode, while metal implants don’t burn down to ash. Some crematoria can assist you in donating metal joints so they can be recycled.

Embalming: On average it costs between $500 and $800 but there’s no legal requirement for embalming. You may want to consider it if there’s a long delay between the death and the funeral or for open-casket viewings. Embalming isn’t permitted at “natural” cemeteries because it uses hazardous substances, such as formaldehyde and paraformaldehyde, to preserve the body.

Ceremonies: It’s common practice to have a funeral ceremony but it’s not mandatory. If you chose a ceremony, you can use any venue from a church hall to a community centre or your own home. You can also forego the ceremony.

Transport: If you’re transporting a body, you don’t have to pay for a hearse. It’s possible to use other vehicles but the body must be in a coffin or equivalent and you must ensure there’s no leakage, as this is a health hazard. You must also make every effort to preserve the dignity of the deceased.

Alternative resting places

For those seeking a final resting place beyond the traditional, there are options.

You can be buried at sea. You need to apply to the Environmental Protection Authority. There are 5 offshore sites for sea burial in the New Zealand-exclusive economic zone. The permission process usually costs between $200 and $300.

Another option is a “natural” burial. Natural cemeteries are planted with trees which grow to create a park. Plots can be more expensive than a standard interment (at Makara Cemetery in Wellington, it costs $1287 for a natural plot vs $935 for a standard plot). Only a handful of councils offer natural burial sites. To find out about your options, contact your local council.

The DIY approach

You can handle the entire funeral process yourself and potentially save costs.

The “person in charge of disposal” of a body has several legal obligations dealing with dignity, classification and hygiene of the deceased.

  • You must get a medical certificate of cause of death (HP4720) or a medical certificate of causes of foetal and neonatal death (HP4721).
  • If you transfer the body from the place of death you will also need to fill out a transfer of charge of body form (BDM39).
  • If you have chosen to cremate the body, you need a certificate of medical practitioner, a permission to cremate form and an application for cremation form.
  • You must register the death with Births, Deaths and Marriages within three days of the cremation or burial of the body. You will need a notification of death for registration form (BDM28)
  • A death certificate can be obtained from Births, Deaths and Marriages New Zealand. There is a $33 fee.

Cost confusion

Finding out what it will cost for your final send-off is harder than it should be. Many funeral companies don’t publish prices for their services. Some may only provide estimates before the event itself.

In 2015, the Law Commission recommended legislation requiring companies to publish price lists and provide itemised costs to consumers before services were delivered. It also recommended regulating funeral directors. While there’s a qualification available – a Diploma in Funeral Directing – having one isn’t compulsory, though it is required for membership of the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, the largest industry group. However, legislation to fix the problems identified by the commission is yet to be introduced.

Financial assistance

There are avenues for financial assistance when someone dies. Work and Income New Zealand offers a grant (up to $2030) for deceased people on low incomes (below $29,000 for single people; figures differ for people in relationships or with children). This money can only be spent on the most necessary parts of the funeral (for example, funeral director’s fees, body disposal and burial plots).

If someone dies as a result of an incident covered by ACC, the family can receive up to $6021. Families of murder or manslaughter victims can receive up to $10,000 for funeral or memorial costs.

Our advice

The funeral business is a business like any other. If you’re using a funeral director, ask for an itemised list of services and costs before signing a contract. Don’t feel pressured to accept an option with which you’re not comfortable.

Remember, if a price is referred to as an estimate, it can be increased. But it’s worth challenging an account that is more than 20% above an estimate. Funeral companies also need to be upfront about whether the price is inclusive or exclusive of GST.

By Robert Kelly
Investigative Writer

Member comments

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Leo L.
15 Jan 2020
Insurance worthwhile?

TV ads for funeral insurance are bountiful. It may be worthwhile to investigate and compare these, as it seems quite a lucrative market and it is uncharted territory for Consumer. I have noticed some very pushy companies out there, extremely eager to sign anyone up!

Consumer staff
16 Jan 2020
Re: Insurance worthwhile?

Hi Leo,

Thank you for your comments. I have passed these onto our research team for them to consider.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

Jonathan W.
25 Jun 2019
Cost averages - two categories

From what I can tell, the average cost of a funeral seems to be derived by lumping cremation and burial together. Do you know what the average funeral with cremation is worth vs average cost of a funeral with a burial. Do you have these separate numbers available?

Consumer staff
27 Jun 2019
Re: Cost averages - two categories

Hi Jonathan,

Unfortunately, we don’t have an average cost for cremations. Costs vary by area, depending on local council charges. However, cremations are typically a cheaper option than burials.

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

Gaye Oldham
08 Aug 2017
No Funeral Required for me thanks

I have put in my will that I do not want a funeral, I do not want a church service full stop. I have advised my family, (brothers and sisters) of this. All I want is to be cremated and ashes tossed wherever they can be tossed free of charge. I certainly do NOT want my family lumbered with any charges. I did some investigations on this when I was living in Auckland and even with all my "I do not wants" the cost would still be $1000 to $2000 - I think this is outrageous. I cant imagine what the cost would now be that I am living in Northland. I think it is incredibly unfair for family members to be lumbered with these costs.

Karen S.
05 Aug 2017
Shame on Some Funeral Directors.

I was ok having to pay $200 for the funeral home to collect my dad from the family home after he passed away and take him to their residence, and I was also ok with the second $200 cost of taking him from the funeral home to the Council crematorium where we had a little service, but I gave in arguing when I was flat out informed that the eco or cardboard coffin we wanted was going to cost way more than the cheapest wood ones with one excuse claimed they still needed strengthening etc. I didn't want a $4,000 coffin that was going to be burnt but I wasn't given any other choice. Far as I'm now concerned, my partner can just throw me over the back fence into the ditch after I've left this world. Left me totally unimpressed with their service.

Ruth & Stephan R.
05 Aug 2017
A couple of queries

If you transfer the body from the place of death you will also need to fill out a transfer of charge of body form (BDM39) - I believe this is only necessary if you're uplifting the body from a hospital or other public place.

A death certificate can be obtained from Births, Deaths and Marriages New Zealand. There is a $33 fee. Was $26 in June; has it gone up so much in that short time?

Previous member
07 Aug 2017
Re: A couple of queries

Kia ora Ruth & Stephan,

Thank you for your queries. It is currently $33 to get a death certificate, however you can get a printout of a certificate for $25. It is cheaper than the actual certificate but is not a legal document.

The transfer of the body is an interesting one. The Department of Internal Affairs requires a BDM39 when the body is moved from the place of death. The department also requires the “person in charge of the body” to retain this form as evidence that responsibility for the body is apparent. The DIA requires the form for any movement from the place of death that isn’t to a funeral director. This is to provide a paper trail of who is taking responsibility for the body of the deceased.

Hope this helps,
Robert Kelly - Consumer NZ writer

Maurice M.
05 Aug 2017
Four easy ways to save money

One: If you have to transport the body to another place see if you can get a family member or friend to provide a station wagon. Example, cost to transport a body from Whangarei qouted at $2500 by undertaker. Even hiring a vehicle is going to save at lest $2000.
Two: Demand you do your own projection show if you are going to have pictures at the ceremony/service. Undertakers have a propietry system. Do your own power point, music on a borrowed projector and save$300.
Three: Don't embalm and makeup, chill is cheaper by $700
Four: Get a coffin from an alternate source. Recent example family bought independently for $650.Undertaker qoute cheapest $950

Dugald W.
05 Aug 2017
Another alernative

As a minister I've seen many families struggling to pay funeral costs. One option I favour is direct cremation which cuts cost considerably. The deceased is cremated without embalming and without viewing and the family simply have the ashes to deal with. A memorial service can be held without a casket. Costs will no doubt vary but usually under $3,000.

Laraine B.
05 Aug 2017
This is more or less what I have instructed my heirs to do, Dugald

Cardboard coffin, no embalming and straight to the crematorium for cremation. No funeral, though I'm happy for them to have a family get-together in one of their homes. Photos and memories are all they need. The same goes for friends.