13+ Things A Funeral Director Won’t Tell You

Read the money-saving secrets funeral directors from across the country aren't taking to the grave with these insider tips for planning a funeral.

By Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest Magazine | June/July 2011
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    1.Go ahead and plan your funeral,

    but think twice before paying in advance. You risk losing everything if the funeral home goes out of business. Instead, keep your money in a pay-on-death account at your bank.

    2. If you or your spouse is an honorably discharged veteran,

    burial is free at a Veterans Affairs National Cemetery. This includes the grave, vault, opening and closing, marker, and setting fee. Many State Veterans Cemeteries offer free burial for veterans and, often, spouses (www.cem.va.gov).

    3. You can buy caskets that are just as nice as the ones in my showroom for thousands of dollars less online from Walmart, Costco, or straight from a manufacturer.

    4. On a budget or concerned about the environment?

    Consider a rental casket. The body stays inside the casket in a thick cardboard container, which is then removed for burial or cremation.

    5. Running a funeral home without a refrigerated holding room is like running a restaurant without a walk-in cooler.

    But many funeral homes don’t offer one because they want you to pay for the more costly option: embalming. Most bodies can be presented very nicely without it if you have the viewing within a few days of death.

    6. Some hard-sell phrases to be wary of:

    “Given your position in the community …,” “I’m sure you want what’s best for your mother,” and “Your mother had excellent taste. When she made arrangements for Aunt Nellie, this is what she chose.”

    7. “Protective” caskets with a rubber gasket?

    They don’t stop decomposition. In fact, the moisture and gases they trap inside have caused caskets to explode.

    8. If there’s no low-cost casket in the display room, ask to see one anyway.

    Some funeral homes hide them in the basement or the boiler room.

    9. Ask the crematory to return the ashes in a plain metal or plastic container — not one stamped temporary container.

    That’s just a sleazy tactic to get you to purchase a more expensive urn.

    10. Shop around.

    Prices at funeral homes vary wildly, with direct cremation costing $500 at one funeral home and $3,000 down the street. (Federal law requires that prices be provided over the phone.)

    11. We remove pacemakers because the batteries damage our crematories.

    12. If I try to sell you a package that I say will save you money, ask for the individual price list anyway.

    Our packages often include services you don’t want or need.

    13. Yes, technically I am an undertaker or a mortician. But doesn’t funeral director have a nicer ring to it?

    14. Sure, you can store ashes in an urn or scatter them somewhere special,

    but nowadays you can also have them crushed into a real diamond, integrated into an underwater coral reef, or blasted into space.

    Learn about green burials »


    15. It’s usually less expensive if the body is not present for the funeral.

    16. If the deceased’s favorite outfit is a size too small or a size too big, bring it to us anyway.

    Part of our job is making the clothes lie perfectly.

    17. If I ask you for a photograph of the deceased to help me prepare the body,

    I don’t mean her honeymoon picture from decades ago.

    18. That may be real gold in your loved one’s dental fillings or crowns,

    but don’t ask me to remove them for you.

    19. Never trust a funeral director who says, “This is the last thing you can do for your loved one.”

    20. You don’t need to spend money to have a meaningful service.

    Consider a potluck at the widow’s home or an informal ceremony at a favorite park, and ask survivors to tell stories or read poetry.

    21. Always bring another person when you meet with me,

    ideally someone who’s not as emotionally attached to the deceased.

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    Your Comments

    • Lynda Brown Nichols

      If I lost a child, I am sure the LAST thing I would want to do is to get on line and buy a casket to bury my child in….Much less, having to transport the casket to the funeral home, etc. What if the casket arrives and it doesn’t look like the one pictured in the ad? Give me a break!!!! In some circumstances, very rare circumstances, ordering a casket on line might be a viable choice….but not often

    • RustiR

      I have no idea where Reader’s Digest came up with these absurd statements, but a large portion of them are not true. For example, the embalming statement. Embalming is required in most states as state law, and bodies begin to decompose immediately. It would have been great if such a reputable ( I thought) publication had checked facts and been informative and correct at the same time.

    • ripped off in missouri

      Mother had a prepaid funeral plan in Missouri. She had a stroke, moved with family to Nebraska and when asked was told that her plan would follow her to any funeral home in Nebraska when the time was needed. When needed, the Missouri funeral home only paid half of what was in the plan and we had to cover the other half of the funeral. They said it was legal to withhold that amount if not used in the state it was purchased. Left a bad taste for pre-buying funeral plan. Don’t do it if you don’t plan to stay in that state to die – Her plan was a trust but we didn’t get what she thought she paid for. Was totally misled by the funeral director. We would have moved policy to a place in Nebraska had we known they weren’t going to honor it.

    • Florence Hale

      When my father died out of state, I called the funeral home where he had pre-paid for cremation. The cost had been $2400. I had him cremated in the other state and returned for internment at Arlington Cemetery as he was a retired officer. I asked the funeral home if there was an additional charge. No – the other state only charged $700 for the cremation and transport, so I got a refund of $1700. Beware – even the cheapest alternatives can be a heist.

    • Vito1958

      When dad passed he made it clear that he wanted to be cremated but my sisters chose to have a viewing for “closure” in Connecticut. We were told that if there was a viewing they had to embalm the body. We were told it was a law in CT. That added over $6000 to the funeral. Does anyone know if this is true for Connecticut or were we scammed in our time of grief?

      • Lynda Brown Nichols

        I do not believe that the embalming and viewing cost an additional $6000.00. Be fair!! No doubt you and your family chose to go with a more traditional funeral and that is where the extra charges came from.

    • GK111

      In PA pre-paid burials are put in interest-bearing irrevocable trust insurance accounts in the name of the party for whom the funeral is being planned. Costs for products/services sold/delivered by the funeral home directly (e.g., casket) are guaranteed not to increase. Products/services not sold/delivered directly by the funeral home (e.g., grave digging) but paid for in package and arranged by the funeral home are subject to increase, with some/most of the increase in cost expected to be paid by the interest growth of the account. The cost of anything not under the funeral home’s control (e.g., post-burial luncheon) needs to be born entirely by the family of the deceased.

      In PA one must also be given a complete price list. And yes – you can shoot ashes into outer space – or make someone into a diamond – or bury them in a cardboard box.

    • joe

      I viewed 3 of these before the adverts got to me. I am going to read a different article…