The incredible cost of funerals means that one in four people landed with the bill after a loved one passes away have ended up having to take out some kind of loan to pay for it.
The figures, from the British Seniors Insurance Agency, should perhaps come as no surprise, because between us we have spent £4.8 billion on funerals over the past five years, and the average funeral costs £3,733: nobody has this kind of money lying around. As a result, £1.6 billion of this has been borrowed.
Some people are able to borrow from family and friends, while others have been able to use personal loans. However, plenty more have had to turn to expensive credit cards, and a worrying 1.2 million people have borrowed a total of £576 million from payday loan companies. Those aged between 18 and 34 found it particularly hard to meet the cost of a funeral, so 44% of them took out a credit card to cover the cost and 27% used a payday loan.
Why is so much borrowed?
Part of the problem is the sheer cost of a funeral. Many people underestimate how much their funeral will cost, so they don't make any provision for it. Others have been living on a restricted income for decades, and have simply not had the spare cash to put aside for their funeral arrangements.
Their family, meanwhile, is likely to be completely unaware of the cost - and the fact it could fall to them to pay it. The research asked people how they would pay for the funeral of a loved one, and 40% of people said they assumed the cost of the funeral would be able to come out of the deceased person's estate. Given how long it can take for money to be freed up from the estate after someone dies, this is over-optimistic.
In some cases, people have put money aside for their own funeral, and a fifth have taken out some sort of funeral plan. In fact, according to separate research from Golden Charter, some £3.8 billion of funeral plans have been sold. However, this still leaves an awful lot of families paying for funerals.
What can you do?
If you have enough cash to set aside for your own funeral, it can make an enormous difference to those who will already be grieving when they hear the bad news about how much your funeral will set them back. You can sort this out through life insurance or a funeral policy.
Golden Charter Chief Executive Ronnie Wayte said: "Families appreciate the reduction in associated stress where a loved one has pre-planned and pre-paid for their own funeral. Unsurprisingly, independent funeral directors find most enquiries for plans arrive following a family funeral and that is a major reason why sales have shown consistently strong growth since 2006."
If you aren't terribly bothered about the kind of funeral you have, it's also worth letting your loved ones know that they don't have to spend a fortune. A cardboard coffin, a cremation and a wake at home - with no flowers, burial or ceremony, will keep the costs down to the bare minimum, and can still be a celebration of your life. In many cases people go the whole hog because they think they are doing the right thing for the person who died, so if you don't mind, make sure they know.
For those with elderly family members, although it's a difficult subject to broach, it is worth discussing it. They may be able to set your mind at rest by letting you know about a savings pot or policy - or that they're happy with a cost-effective send-off. Alternatively, it may make you aware that this is something you'll need to cover, and should start saving for as soon as possible.
None of these conversations are particularly nice to have, but they are a great deal nicer than suddenly discovering you have to borrow thousands of pounds to pay for a funeral - and rack up a fortune in interest.