Over recent years funeral costs have risen sharply, by 3.9 per cent since 2013 and by a staggering 87 per in 10 years since SunLife’s first survey in 2004, to £3,590. Despite this, funeral costs account for less than half the total cost of dying.

This year’s increase is attributed to a significant rise in estate administration costs, by nearly 40 per cent. The average cost of hiring a professional, such as a solicitor to help manage the affairs of a deceased loved one, now accounts for more than a third of the overall cost.

This rise coincides with a dramatic increase in the number of people choosing to manage the affairs of a loved one without professional help. Just over half (52 per cent) are now choosing DIY funeral planning, compared to 39 per cent in 2013, with saving money cited as a key motivating factor.

As costs continue to rise, ‘funeral poverty’ – the national funeral funding shortfall – now stands at nearly £200 million, 125 per cent higher than four years ago, with the situation expected to deteriorate over coming years. SunLife projects that funeral costs will continue to rise considerably, to an estimated £4,489 by 2019.

Dr Kate Woodthorpe, from the Department of Social & Policy Sciences who has been advising on the report, suggests: “The costs associated with the end of life are rising and it is worrying that people are not prepared for what they may have to face.

“It is important to remember that at a time of great emotional upheaval, the financial implications of someone dying are not simply about money. They also include questions of who is responsible for the funeral and the estate, and their administration. Putting some plans in place while you are in reasonable health, however informal or formal, big or small, can go a long way to facilitating a smoother passage for those left behind.”

Today’s report reveals that one in seven people, 14 per cent, who have organised a funeral in the past four years admitted it caused them financial concern with the average shortfall standing at £2,371. Of this group, 42 per cent used savings or investments to help pay for funerals, a quarter borrowed money from friends or relatives, whilst 22 per cent put extra debt on a credit card to deal with the sudden cash outflow.

The national average cost of dying figure masks significant variations at a regional level, with the average cost in London now at £10,498. The report highlights that the least expensive place to die is Northern Ireland where the average cost is £5,893.

To access the SunLife 2014 Cost of Dying report see https://www.sunlifedirect.co.uk/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=19327353063.

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