Issue 92 • Week of October 22, 2023

The only sure things in life are death and taxes. Yet while we all plan to file returns by Tax Day every April 15th, contemplating our eventual demise remains practically taboo. Two thirds of adults do not have a will, even after COVID-19 shook our sense of mortality.

Halloween is one of the rare times of the year when Americans feel comfortable discussing mortality.

Tragically, 1 in every 3 adults believes they do not have enough assets to pass onto anyone so they do not bother with estate planning. This in turn causes their passing to be a financial burden on top of an emotional duress to their loved ones. These obligations can end up haunting survivors. The absolute minimum costs to transport, store, legally process, and cremate a body without a service or an urn is around $2,000.

Funeral expenses on average rose 227% from 1986 to 2017 – almost double the 123% average of all items – and then coffin costs increased another 20-30% due to the pandemic. The result is that a traditional service with burial currently averages nearly $8,000, which may be one reason why only 1 out of 3 Americans are now asking to be buried. Caring for corpses also brings its fair share of environmental costs that we are just beginning to understand.

Many people do not want others' last memories of them to be lifeless. In fact, our recent tradition of grooming bodies to view one last time can make it harder for some family members to say goodbye. Children are often not ready to see deceased loved ones because our society doesn't prepare them, even though embalming is more common in America than anywhere else in the world.

When did funeral traditions diverge and how can death be less burdensome?

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