What to consider when arranging a funeral or cremation in Washington DC
Arranging a funeral or cremation can be a difficult task, especially as you are usually grieving and feeling emotionally vulnerable at the same time, and this can mean making decisions is not easy. This brief guide to arranging a funeral or cremation in Washington DC aims to provide a starting point and give you an overview of some of the main things you need to consider.
Choosing a funeral home in DC
One of the first things you will need to do, especially if a death has just occurred, is chose the funeral director you wish to handle the funeral services.
There are in the region of 40 funeral homes and mortuaries in the Washington DC area so you need to consider what criteria can help you select the right funeral home for your needs. There are also around 16 cemeteries, crematories and Memorial Gardens.
Do you require a traditional funeral or burial service? Or are you seeking a more contemporary life celebration service, or a cremation? Is the cost of the funeral an issue, are you working to a tight budget and looking to save money where you can on funeral expenses? Do you want the services of an African-American funeral home? Obviously having some clear ideas of what you do need from a funeral home helps you make the decision of which funeral home is right for you.
Many people seek recommendations or referrals from family or friends, and this is a very good way to get information. However, if you are not in a position to benefit from a sound referral, or you are seeking something specific, you may have to resort to contacting funeral homes yourself. Usually people look for a reputable funeral business in their own area, but it is always advisable to check with more than one funeral home and compare services and prices for a funeral or cremation.
What does an average funeral cost in Washington DC?
The average cost of a funeral in the U.S. is $7,848 (according to the NFDA – National Association of Funeral Directors 2021), and this does not include any cemetery fees. However, the average cost of a traditional funeral in the Washington DC/Baltimore area has been evaluated at $9,010*. The cost for a traditional burial is largely dependent on the type of casket you select and the final cost of your cemetery plot and a grave marker. Basic funeral director’s services for a traditional burial can be found for around $4,500 in the District of Columbia.
All funeral homes in the Washington DC area must have a general price list (GPL) that outlines their service charges and funeral merchandise prices. They must provide a copy of their GPL when they quote you a price according to the Federal Trade Commission’s ‘Funeral Rule’.
It is recommended that you DO compare like-for-like, and shop around and compare funeral prices between more than one funeral home. That way you can be sure that you have a “best value” funeral service.
How much does a cremation cost in Washington DC?
A typical cremation funeral service will cost in the region of $3,900* (depending upon the ancillary services/products you select). This is the type of cremation service that replaces a full traditional funeral. It is possible to arrange a cremation for considerably less than this. A direct cremation service costs in the region of $1,650.
Arranging a direct cremation in Washington DC
This is the least expensive cremation option for families. A direct cremation means that there are no services, the cremation goes ahead once all the documentation has been completed and then the cremated remains are returned to the family in a temporary container. Incremental options, such as a private family viewing or an upgraded cremation urn, can be added to a basic direct cremation package for an additional fee.
Low-cost cremation in Washington DC
If you are concerned about funeral costs, the DFS Memorials providers in Washington DC offer low cost cremation services and affordable burial services. All DFS Memorials providers guarantee to offer a ‘best value’ direct cremation package.
How do I decide between a burial or a cremation in the District of Columbia?
The decision between choosing a burial or cremation is very much a personal choice. The deceased may have left explicit wishes or surviving family may have to make a decision. Faith and/or funds for the funeral service can play a significant role in whether a burial or cremation is chosen. Having a pre-existing cemetery plot can be an important aspect as burial plots can be quite expensive to purchase these days. Cremation is certainly on the increase in the United States and is becoming a popular funeral alternative for many now. Green burials are also another option that can be considered.
If you are unsure whether to choose between burial or cremation, talk to family and friends, and discuss the decision with your funeral director. Just be aware that a funeral director is running a business.
Does the deceased have to be embalmed?
There is no legal requirement, or state law, stipulating that you have to have the deceased embalmed. However, some funeral homes may adopt policies that insist upon embalming if a public viewing or service is being held with the deceased in repose. If you proceed with a timely funeral, there is really no need for embalming (and it can just be another fee to add to your funeral costs)!
Purchasing a casket or grave marker in Washington DC
Can I pre-plan a funeral in Washington DC?
Yes, you certainly can, and this is becoming a preferred choice for many families in DC now. Pre-planning your funeral alleviates family of both the difficult decisions and the financial burden of funeral expenses. You can make pre-need funeral arrangements direct with a funeral home or purchase burial insurance.
What you DO need to consider is that funeral prices could indeed be coming down. Funeral companies promote preplanning on the basis that it “locks into today’s prices”, but with the cremation trend increasing, and more funeral homes competing for the ‘affordable’ funeral market – the reality is that the funeral costs are not as ‘fixed’ as they once were.
Another funeral planning alternative is to document your wishes and put aside the appropriate funds in a POD Payable on Death account or a Totten Trust. This enables the family to access the funds at the time of need and make the funeral arrangements, but you keep in control of your monies and any accrued interest. Read more in our article ‘What is my best and safest option for putting aside money for a funeral’.
Can I donate my body to science in the District of Columbia?
Yes, donating your body to science can be a great way to facilitate your end-of-life needs and, apart from being a gift to society, can also mean that you do not have any funeral expenses. Most of the national organizations that deal with full body donation handle everything from the moment you notify them of the death, including collecting the body, the donation, the free cremation and the return of the cremated remains to the family a few weeks later. Many more people in DC are choosing body donation now, and once they have had the cremated remains returned to them at no-cost, they then arrange their own memorial service for the family. Check out our Body Donation section.
How can I transport a loved one either back to, or from, DC after death?
If a loved one needs to be transported back to a state or country of origin following their death in DC, you will need the services of a funeral director who can arrange funeral shipping for you. This generally needs a funeral professional who can coordinate arrangements at the place of death and wherever the body is being shipped to.
If transporting a loved one between states in the United States you have the option of flying the body, or transporting the body by land. Certain regulations do apply on moving a body, and it is likely that embalming may be required as well as specific containers to hold the casket. Shipping a body can be quite expensive, so the other alternative you have is to have the body cremated at the place of death, and then transport back the cremated remains. Visit our section on Funeral Shipping to read more.
Who should I contact if I have a complaint about a funeral home in Washington DC?
Hopefully you will find the services of your funeral home more than adequate, as most funeral professionals are very dedicated in their vocation. Unfortunately though, it does sometimes happen that you may have a complaint or grievance with a funeral home and you do not manage to resolve it directly with the funeral director. In this case you should make your complaint in writing to the DC Board of Funeral Directors who regulates and licenses funeral businesses in the District of Columbia. They can be contacted at: 1100 4th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024
I hope this guide has helped to answer some of your immediate questions. Please check out our Library/Info section for our full catalogue of resources to help you through the process of arranging a funeral. Feel free to contact us if we can be of any assistance with any further questions you may have.
*Funeral Price Index Oct 2019