Reader Question: The UK has low-cost options for cremations; what is the situation in France?
In France, both burials and cremations normally cost just under €4,000.
There are set costs involved in cremations which cannot be avoided, for example, for the burial or opening up of the family tomb, if relevant, and the price of the urn.
However, your loved ones can scatter your ashes in nature or in a remembrance garden, which cuts out the cost.
This also enables the family to choose a less expensive urn. A cardboard container would normally cost around €45-€55 whereas a metal urn would be around €85.
The act of cremation always comes at a cost, which varies depending on the area and the funeral service but normally amounts to a few hundred euros. Most funeral companies will quote a set price for the basic procedure, which will include some of the formalities involved in declaring the death to the mairie etc.
There is also often a vacation funéraire charge of €20-€25, a tax which goes towards police supervision in the case of sealing the coffin if the family are not present to witness this, in the case of cremation and/or where the coffin is being sealed before being transferred to another commune.
Both coffins and urns must have a plaque identifying the deceased person and families will also normally have to think about the cost of transporting the body.
It is, however, possible to reduce overall costs by choosing not to have the body transported by a hearse, opting against a religious or civil service, opting out of certain non-obligatory, more cosmetic, aspects in terms of how the person’s body is prepared, and not buying flowers and other decorations.
Funeral services are obliged to present clients with a detailed quote including mandatory costs – marked with an asterisk – and optional extras, so it should be clear to you how much you will definitely have to pay.
Some companies offer basic cremation services without frills for a lower than average price. For example, the Ecoplus Funéraire network, which operates across France, has a plan costing €1,790.
What if I cannot pay for the cremation?
If it is possible, the deceased’s heirs should pay for the funeral and up to €1,500 can be deducted from the taxable estate towards this. The heirs can also ask the deceased’s bank to release up to €5,000 from their accounts to settle funeral bills, presenting evidence of payment (une facture réglée).
If the deceased person did not have the resources to pay for their funeral, and had no immediate family capable of covering the cost, the local mairie would do it. However, if it then transpires that the deceased did have family who could have paid, it may take legal action to seek reimbursement.
The deceased may also have taken out a specific insurance policy aimed at a payment to a beneficiary or a funeral company to cover their funeral.
Aids available to help families
There are various aids designed to help families pay for funeral expenses, for example the Caf family benefits office can help where a surviving spouse is left alone or with children, and a very low income.
If the person who died was working in the civil service at the time of their death, their immediate family can request a sum called a capital décès from their employing administration. The amount will depend on the status of the deceased.
If the deceased was actively working in the private sector, their family can ask their Caisse primaire d’assurance maladie (Cpam) for a capital décès of €3,681. A pay-out is also possible where the deceased was the beneficiary of a work accident or work-related illness or invalidity pension, or where they were claiming unemployment benefit.
The MSA will help in the case of those who worked in agriculture.
If the deceased was a French state pensioner then the Caisse nationale d’assurance vieillesse des travailleurs salariés (Cnav) may be able to pay for all or part of the costs, up to €2,286.74.
If the person was retired and affiliated with a Caisse de retraite complémentaire or a mutuelle, their family can also apply to these for help with the funeral costs, depending on the organisation.