“Low cost” funerals and cremation 2.0

Just over 100,000 people pass away in Belgium each year. It’s a stable market…and we all know that we will be a part of it one day (we hope it’s as far in the future as possible, obviously.) The funeral industry has not rested on its laurels, however. And there’s a good reason for that: dying is expensive.

“Most Belgians automatically underestimate the cost of funerals,” explains Marysia Kluppels, spokesperson for the Dela Company, the market leader in “burial” insurance, and whose 67 partner funeral homes provide over 10% of funeral services and 40% of cremations in Belgium each year.

 

Often, none too enthusiastic survivors have to be convinced of the idea of paying the bill. Sometimes it’s for lack of love or respect for the deceased. “More and more people tell us that they don’t want to take on the responsibility of a family member’s funeral,” explains Fabien Charles, secretary of the Belgian Federation of Funeral Directors (FNPFB). This may be a form of disconnection from the deceased, at least partly tied to family dispersion.

 

Lack of funds

It is not simply a matter of a lack of funds. “One family out of four says they have trouble coming up with the necessary funds for the funeral,” continues Fabien Charles. Is it because of the financial crisis? It’s hard to say. “It’s true that families are paying more attention to their expenses,” confirms Philippe Levaque, owner of a Molenbeek funeral home. “Many people ask for several quotes, to compare prices. It’s sad to say, but the deceased may no longer have the same importance in people’s eyes.”

 

Limiting expenses: is this reaction in poor taste under the circumstances? That remains to be seen. A study published by the Test-Achats association shows that the total bill for a funeral can vary by €2,000 depending on which provider is chosen. Adding together six items (funeral home, cosmetology, preparing the body for the coffin, and shroud; the least expensive coffin; transportation and hearse; pallbearers and master of ceremonies; administrative costs and taxes), the average bill is approximately €2,300, the same for burial as for cremation. However, other items increase that bill: the funeral service, death notice, obituary in the press, refreshments, flowers, and for burials, the tombstone. For burials, the bill climbs to €5,000 (not including the burial plot, the rates for which vary by municipality). For cremations with scattering of the ashes, the bill is €4,000. It’s no surprise that “low cost” has made its appearance in the funeral vocabulary, or that insurance has increased in popularity, even though Belgium is still trailing the rest of the crowd. “Between 8 and 10% of Belgians have ‘burial’ insurance, compared to 80% in the Netherlands,” says Fabien Charles. More and more Belgians are deciding to make the first move, either because they want to save their families the financial burden or because they doubt their family would pay. By paying for funeral services in advance or buying insurance, the “future deceased” guarantees that the ceremony will be conducted according to his or her wishes. You can never be too careful.

 

BERNARD PADOAN

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