If you’re thinking about final disposition options for yourself or a loved one, you might be considering something called direct burial.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Direct Burial?
- How Do Direct Burials Work?
- How Much Do Direct Burials Typically Cost?
- Cheap Alternatives to Direct Burials
But what exactly is a direct burial? How does it work, and how much does it typically cost? You’ll find the answers to all of your questions about direct burial, below.
What’s a Direct Burial?
Direct burial is one of just a few options in the western world when it comes to interment and disposition. Besides direct burial, you have the option to be cremated or buried in a more traditional style. But what makes direct burial unique?
A direct burial means burying the deceased as quickly as possible, without a funeral beforehand.
Here are the key points to keep in mind about direct burial:
- Direct burial is the process of burying a body very shortly after death.
- There’s no funeral or memorial service before the burial.
- The casket for a direct burial is usually plain and simple, rather than elaborate or expensive.
- There’s no viewing or visitation involved in direct burial, so there’s no need for embalming processes.
- There may be a small service held at the burial itself or at a later date.
Maybe you’ve already decided on a direct burial for yourself or a family member, or perhaps you’re still weighing your options. If you’re still deciding, you might be wondering about the exact purpose of direct burial. Why would someone choose direct burial over a traditional funeral and burial service?
People and families choose direct burial over cremation or traditional burial for various reasons. Here are just a few of the most common ones.
It costs less
The top reason you might choose direct burial is its cost. A traditional funeral and burial can cost significantly more than direct burial once you factor in embalming, staff and facilities, and a more expensive casket.
Families who are attempting to save as much money as possible throughout the funeral and burial process often opt for the simplest option.
It can cause less stress
Direct burial lets family members avoid—or at least delay—many of the stresses associated with traditional funerals.
You can wait to hold a memorial service weeks or months down the line, if you so choose, rather than right away. That means you don’t have to worry about hosting all of your family and friends and flying them in from all over the place.
You can also eliminate nearly all of the shopping involved in funeral and burial arrangements—shopping for a funeral home or church, shopping for a casket, and more.
You have more time to plan and prepare
Additionally, direct burial gives grieving families more time to prepare themselves for a service. The burial happens almost immediately after death, with no funeral beforehand.
That means the community can hold a memorial at a later date, instead. This often means more people can attend, and the service can be more personalized.
It aligns with your religious beliefs
Some religions require that the dead be buried almost immediately after they pass away. For people who practice those religions, direct burial is an essential option.
How Do Direct Burials Work?
In many ways, direct burial works the same as traditional burial: the body of the deceased ends up in a casket underground, when all is said and done. But in other ways, direct burial works very differently from a traditional funeral and burial process.
Here’s a step-by-step outline of how you can expect a direct burial to play out.
First, the body must make its way to the funeral home from wherever it happens to be—whether that’s at home or at a hospital.
Paperwork and purchasing
Next, you’ll go over the funeral home’s service terms and choose which services you want. It’s important, at this stage, to clarify that you want a direct burial. This avoids services like embalming.
The funeral home will also file the necessary paperwork and acquire permits for the burial at this time, including the required death certificate documents.
You’ll also have to pick out a casket if you haven’t already purchased one ahead of time. The funeral home will store the body in cold storage over this period of time.
Finally, you’ll arrange for transportation for the body to the cemetery, where you can attend the burial.
Some families choose to hold a small service at the burial. If this is the option you choose, make sure it’s allowed by the cemetery. They may ask for a small service fee.
How Much Do Direct Burials Typically Cost?
One of the reasons many people choose direct burial is the cost. A direct burial can be significantly less expensive than a traditional burial, depending on how you go about the process.
The cost of a direct burial includes the price of the casket, the burial plot, and headstone, as well as any memorial service costs.
You’ll also have to pay some basic fees if you utilize a funeral home in any way. But you can expect to avoid some significant costs, like embalming and additional body preparation. Here’s how the cost of direct burial breaks down.
Even if you don’t hold a funeral before the burial, and you don’t have the body embalmed, you’ll still likely receive services from your funeral home. For those services, you’ll have to pay a basic fee.
The “Basic Services Fee” or “Basic Services of Funeral Director and Staff” covers things like:
- Filing required paperwork and permits on your behalf (including official death certificate requests);
- Storing the body for any length of time; and
- Making arrangements with the cemetery.
The basic service fees charged by a funeral home generally don’t cover transportation to the cemetery. They may cover the initial transportation to the funeral home, or they may not. In most cases, you’ll have to pay an additional fee for a hearse to transport the body to the gravesite.
The average price for body transportation is about $250, but the cost varies based on the distance to the cemetery.
Direct burials generally include less elaborate caskets than traditional funerals. This is because, in a traditional-burial context, the casket will be seen by attendees.
In the context of direct burial, there may not be any witnesses to the burial, other than maybe a few close family members. That means the casket can be a lot less showy and a lot more practical, lowering the cost significantly.
The average cost of a casket that’s simple in both material and design is about $1,500-$2,000. More elaborate caskets can cost upwards of $10,000.
Burial plot and headstone
The burial plot and headstone will likely be the most expensive portion of your direct burial. This particular cost is the same whether you go the traditional route, with a funeral beforehand, or you go with a direct burial.
The average cost of a headstone in the United States is $2,000, but they can cost much more depending on the quality. A basic gravemarker or flat headstone can also cost much less than that.
A standard burial plot costs, on average, about $1,000.
A direct burial allows the family to be more strategic about the memorial service if they choose to hold one.
They can have it in their own home or in a public space, for free, rather than at a funeral home or church at a cost.
Cheap Alternatives to Direct Burials
If finances are your primary concern, direct burial isn’t your only option. In fact, there are lower-cost alternatives that can help you reduce expenses even more. Below are some of the low-cost alternatives to direct burial.
If you’re open to donating your body to medical research, you can avoid paying anything at all. When you donate your body to science, the organization typically offers free cremation. They then return your remains to your family. The process typically takes about a month.
Besides body donation with free cremation, direct cremation is the lowest-cost option for final disposition. Direct cremation is similar to direct burial in that the body undergoes cremation quickly after death. There’s no funeral or viewing service beforehand.
The key difference, of course, is that the body is cremated rather than buried. That means you can avoid costs like the headstone, burial plot, and even the casket.
Direct cremation can cost as little as $450, depending on your area. The average cost of direct cremation in the United States is between $600 and $1,000. You’ll also need to provide an urn or container, but those can cost as little as $20.
If you're looking for more ways to save money while planning a funeral or memorial service, read our guide on how to plan a cheap or affordable funeral.
Choosing Direct Burial
Direct burial is a key option for anyone deciding on a method of final disposition, whether it’s for yourself or someone close to you. But the cut-and-dried process of direct burial isn’t necessarily right for everyone.
Some people and families, depending on culture, religion, and personally-held beliefs, need the closure of a funeral service before the burial. Others might find cremation more appealing, both financially and practically speaking.
Ultimately, the decision about whether direct burial is right for you is your choice. If you complete an end-of-life plan, you have the final say in how your body undergoes final disposition. If you’re sure about whether or not you want a direct burial, be sure to include that information in your end-of-life plan.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the burial to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
- “Types of Funerals.” FTC. www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0302-types-funerals
- “Funeral Types and Pricing Checklist.” FTC. www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist