A Guide to Funeral Planning

After the autopsy, you will need to contact a funeral home.

Because of the nature of your loved one’s death, an autopsy must be performed to determine the cause of death for use at any possible future trial. The autopsy is conducted by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. When the autopsy is completed, you must contact a funeral home or crematory to make arrangements for the release and disposition of your loved one’s body.

In selecting a funeral home you will want to consider:

• Your personal preferences and beliefs.
• The wide ranging costs of funerals and burials.
• Any possible financial assistance with costs.

It is hard to grieve and plan.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed by planning in the midst of tragedy. A trusted family member, friend, or clergy-person can be very helpful in making plans. Our Chicago Survivors staff is also there to help if you wish.

Love cannot be measured in money.

No one can tell you the best or the right way to remember your loved one. There are many beautiful traditions, and you should do what feels right to you. Funerals and memorials range very widely in cost. A more expensive funeral is not a “better” funeral.

You have consumer rights in funeral planning.

Be aware that there are businesses that may try to take advantage of you in your grief. No one should pressure you into purchasing anything.

What is included in funeral costs?

The average cost of funerals is $6,000, plus another $3,000 in cemetery costs. The federal government requires funeral directors to give you an itemized price list of their goods and services. Some will try to sell you a package deal, but you have the right to buy items separately. Funeral providers cannot refuse to handle a casket you bought elsewhere, nor can they charge you a fee for doing so. They can, however, charge you a “basic service fee,” which may cost about $1,500 to cover their general costs. You do not need to use the funeral home for any service you do not want or could do less expensively elsewhere, for example, flowers or obituaries.

Some funeral homes will make payment plans with you or will accept a copy of your Crime Victim’s Compensation Application as proof of future payment (made directly to them). Many funeral homes will demand cash payment in full.

Common Questions about Funeral Costs and Planning

Is embalming necessary?

For an open casket or viewing, the body will most often require embalming and cosmetic restoration Embalming simply slows the natural process of decomposition after death. For a closed casket or a cremation, embalming is not needed or required unless the body will be transported out of state.

How much should the casket cost?

The casket is often the most expensive part of the cost. Ask to see the full range of prices; sometimes funeral directors do not show the less expensive options unless asked. You can also purchase a casket online and have it delivered to the funeral home.

Is cremation less expensive?

Cremation should always be less expensive. Cremation does not require a casket; a smaller container (urn or memorial box) may be used.

A funeral home may offer to rent a casket for a viewing before a cremation. They may add embalming and cosmetic reconstruction as part of the viewing costs. If you are trying to stay within a budget, be careful that the funeral home isn’t making cremation more expensive.

You may want to bury, keep or scatter the cremated remains. Some places in the U.S. restrict the scattering of cremated remains, although they are environmentally harmless.

What are the cemetery costs?

You pick the cemetery. You do not have to use a cemetery recommended by the funeral home. There will be a price for the burial plot and a cost for removing the earth and refilling it – costs vary. Cemeteries also require a grave liner (vault), which costs around $800. A headstone or marker is an additional cost of $500 or more. Cemeteries require full payment before burial.

What if I cannot pay for a funeral?

Family and friends may help with the cost. If someone offers to raise money for you, ask them to contribute to a fund you set up at a local bank so that there are no questions about where the money is going or how it is used.

Are there other assistance options?

In addition to Victim’s Compensation or family & friends, there may be other assistance available to you:

  • The Children First Fund: if your loved one was a CPS student.
  • Social Security death benefit: If the deceased person worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits.
  • Veterans Funeral Benefits: Veterans of the U.S. armed forces are entitled to a number of funeral benefits. Spouses and dependent children may also qualify.
  • Employee Benefits: Check with your loved one’s employer.
  • Insurance: You should determine whether there is an insurance policy available.



Crisis Helpline: 877.863.6338


It’s free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also get help by calling our office at (312) 488.9222.