The Cost of Death 2.0 Report

Life begins to take us in different directions as we age. Whether it’s a long-awaited trip overseas, looking after the grandkids, or moving closer (or further away) to loved ones. There’s a lot to celebrate from the lives we’ve lived and when the time comes, we deserve a commemoration that reflects this.

Unfortunately, the costs associated with bidding farewell to our loved ones are increasing each year. Not only does this impact the type of funeral we can afford to give them, but it even creates financial burdens in some cases which can ripple through family dynamics. 

So, how can we make sure we are financially ready for death?

The Cost of Death Report 2.0 comes four years after the research was first conducted in 2019, and forms part of the Australian Seniors Series which explores subject matters that are growing increasingly relevant to Australians over 50s. Following the 2019 report, this chapter investigates rising funeral costs and related challenges, shifting funeral preferences, emerging funeral trends, and the conversations around death and dying wishes. 

As the rising cost of living continues to impact different parts of our lives, almost 9 in 10 (%) of us are feeling the pinch when it comes to funeral costs. The study revealed that we are paying up to $18,652 for a basic burial funeral, and up to $5,953 for a basic cremation funeral. This is due to the rising costs of funeral services – including embalming, viewing, transportation, and professional fees – along with the cost of coffins and burial plots to name a few.

When it comes to the type of funeral we might like for ourselves, it’s important that we factor in rising costs to ensure our loved ones are not burdened after we’re gone. Since the research was initially conducted in 2019, estimated funeral costs have increased by more than 20% for burials and cremations. In 2023, the average burial costs $11,039, compared to $9,055 in 2019. Similarly, the average cremation now costs $8,045, compared to $6,334 in 2019. 

Australian Cost of Death Report 2.0 2023 infographic 4

The weight of funeral expenses has certainly hit many of us, leaving us and our loved ones out of pocket. In fact, a third (%) of us who recently helped pay for a funeral experienced some form of financial hardship. Sadly, 2 in 3 (66%) of us who experienced financial hardship said that it took months to financially recover, and many (22%) of us are still recovering.   

Saying goodbye to those we hold dear should be a time of love and unity. Regrettably, this is not always the case.  It’s no secret that funerals exact a heavy toll on our wallets, but they can also create tension between our family and friends. Unfortunately, more than a third (36%) of us encountered arguments with loved ones over funeral finances, adding weight to an already heavy situation.

Further, the study suggests that a trend is emerging where families are pressuring us to spend more on funerals than we initially planned. In fact, many (27%) of us who recently helped pay for a funeral made this claim, which has more than doubled from 11% in 2019.

Despite these challenges, many (43%) of us said the costs were worth it. After all, we want to give our loved ones the farewell they deserve.

Trending preferences

Regardless of whether we’ve spent our life in a city, on the coast, by the bush or travelling between places, it seems our funeral preferences are changing. Many of us are now opting for simpler services (26%), being more cost-conscious (24%), and choosing cremations or cheaper alternatives to traditional burials (22%). Some of us are even getting creative and considering a DIY funeral (9%).

On the other hand, many of us are yet to discuss our wishes with loved ones. In fact, only 1 in 2 (53%) of us have made our families aware of our funeral preferences. For those of us who are yet to have this conversation, it’s important that we communicate our funeral wishes to our nearest and dearest to ensure we receive the farewell we desire.

Australian Cost of Death Report 2.0 2023 infographic 1

From mourning to celebrating life: The evolution of funerals

Funeral trends can often be overlooked due to the solemn nature of the event, but the findings suggest that societal shifts are influencing the way we want to be commemorated. With COVID-19 restrictions forcing us to rethink our final goodbyes in recent years, many of us are looking to prioritise a more relaxed and celebratory service.

Tradition is taking a back seat as we focus less on mourning and more on celebrating life. In fact, most (83%) of us now prefer the celebratory approach. We want a funeral that reflects us – who we are and what makes us, us. An example of this are our changing music preferences, moving away from conventional funeral songs. Instead, iconic artists like Elvis Presley, Queen, Frank Sinatra, and Elton John emerged as the most common choices.

Many of us are seeking a more meaningful and personal ceremony that reflects our personality and values, which often comes in the form of a smaller or less formal gathering. More than half (56%) of us have recently attended a funeral that was more relaxed than serious, and close to 3 in 4 (74%) of us agreed that smaller funerals are becoming more common.

Emerging through COVID-19, virtual funerals have also become more popular. Instead of limited attendance due to distance and restrictions, we’re now able to attend remotely, allowing us to connect with family and friends overseas or far away that we otherwise would not be able to. As result, 2 in 5 (41%) of us have attended a funeral remotely in the past two years, mostly due to lockdown restrictions, distance, or travel restrictions.

For those of us considering this, most (65%) of us who attended a funeral remotely had a positive experience, proving that emotional connection and closure through digital and online platforms is possible. Sadly, some (23%) of us had a poor virtual experience.

We all have memories from our life that we want remembered by those closest to us. With this, the use of photos and videos is becoming increasingly popular in funeral services, giving our family members and friends a chance to reminisce about the good times we spent together.

Australian Cost of Death Report 2.0 2023 infographic 2

Passing on wealth to the next generation

Wanting to hand over our hard-earned assets to loved ones is a natural desire. After all, we’ve spent our entire life working hard to create a comfortable living for our family, so it’s no surprise that most (78%) of us have a plan in place to distribute our assets and belongings after we pass.

Naturally, most of us are passing our wealth to our children (81%) and grandchildren (31%). However, some of us are electing to donate our wealth to charities, foundations, and other institutions (10%).

For some of us, this conversation can be more difficult. Each family dynamic is different, some working better than others. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 (%) of us expect close family to be left out of our will. And whilst this is largely the result of family estrangement (58%) or feeling like they don't deserve it, some of us are choosing to pass our financial legacy to those in the family who need it more than others (27%).  

Whatever we choose to do with our money, it's never easy to decide who gets what, but with a little planning and communication, we can help safeguard our family from future arguments.

With this in mind, we don’t have to wait until we’re gone to distribute our wealth. In fact, close to a quarter (24%) of us plan to transfer some of our assets before we pass. The type of inheritance we’re sharing comes in different shapes and forms – for some of us it is transferring is money (76%), followed by property (30%) and irreplaceable heirlooms such as jewellery and artwork (29%).

Breaking the silence around death

Death is a topic that’s often shrouded in taboo and discomfort, but it seems many of us want this to change. No longer a topic that should be left in the dark, 5 in 6 (85%) of us believe we need to talk more openly about death. We want to ensure our wishes are met (64%) and believe it helps us to cope with the prospect of our own passing (58%) – something that can be quite difficult to manage alone.

Watching our loved ones grow and thrive is an exciting part of ageing. Over half (52%) of us want to live into our 80s, giving us ample time to spend with our families and friends and see where life takes them.

Even though the subject of death can be daunting, taking the time to prepare can be empowering. It provides us with peace of mind knowing those we are leaving behind are looked after, and ensures our farewell is a true testament to the amazing life we have lived.

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Discover more insights in the full Cost of Death 2.0 Report. To find out how much your funeral could cost, visit our Funeral Calculator.