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

    • Woody

      I agree with Redheadfolsom, and also, if you do what the first thing says, you’re then not locked in at the rate you would have paid at the time you paid for your funeral in advance. If you have an account that pays for your funeral upon your death, you may not have enough money in the account to pay for your funeral.

    • marriea

      Just get cremated and be done with it. It one is not nice to a person before death, why bother about it after death. To ease one’s conscience. Why do people insist on ‘putting their loved ones away nicely?” What the heck does that mean. Pay respect by having a lovely, loving and lively memorial service. It’s cheaper

    • Don Carina Carlo (Mamma Mia)

      I am a Prieta Linda. I also own a funeral home as well as a cemetery. Death is long over due, and “it” is long over due at the library. How can the funeral home go out of business? Dave can stand there all day or all night long. He can make a wedding out of it!

    • Bronko

      Buy the least expensive burial vault available. All are the same and all it does is hold a grave in place. A friend of mine who is a funeral director told me that one.

    • Olga Garate

      This article isn’t completely accurate. When someone pre-plans funeral arrangements (i.e., so the surviving spouse isn’t left making arrangements alone or when grief is most acute) the funeral plans can be pre-paid to a funeral home, but the better mortuaries sell insurance policies.

      Then the funeral home guarantees the current market price, the purchased options and the beneficiary receives an insurance payout directly from the insurance company. With that payout the (guaranteed) funeral pricing is paid. The monies are completely in your control.

      Funeral choices can be changed at the time of need, but be aware those new choices would be sold at current market prices.

    • BORED EMPLOYEE

      IM AVOIDING ALL OF THIS AND OPTED FOR GREEN BURIAL ON MY OWN LAND. DID A FAMILY CEMETERY THING. NO EMBALMING, NO CASKET, JUST MY ENERGY REASSORBED INTO THE EARTH NATURALLY WITH A TREE AS MY HEADSTONE LIKE WE WERE MEANT TO DO. I THINK IT’S HILARIOUS TO SPEND SO MUCH MONEY ON A CASKET AND VAULT WHEN THE BODY IS GOING TO DECOMPOSE REGARDLESS OR TO CREMATE WHEN THE BODY IS ALREADY GOING TO DECOMPOSE FOR FREE!!! SAVE THE MONEY FOR THE LIVING TO ENJOY.

    • nonya bidness

      Nice fear mongering, anti funeral establishment rhetoric you’re spitting you vile woman. The majority of these are skewed versions of the truth. By the way, what does 13 have to do with anything??? Yes technically you are pencil pusher, or, writer, or desk jockey, but doesn’t “journalist” have a nicer ring to it, you pretentious jerk.

    • John the Revelator

      Makes me want to cry

    • daveseavy

      As a funeral director, I can say honestly this article is nothing more than something to fill the pages. Refrigeration? Very few funeral homes have refrigeration, and it has nothing to do with pushing embalming. Funeral homes do not hold money on prepaid services. That money is in a trust, which is in an interest-bearing account and the payee owns the money – not the funeral home.

      Each state has very specific laws on how pre-need funds are handled, and of course the federal government keeps a close eye on things also. The FTC is the federal watchdog of funeral homes.

      If anyone thinks funeral directors make a lot of money on each service, think again. After all the overhead, taxes, insurance, maintenance on the facility, licensing, vehicles, staff are paid, the average profit on a full-service funeral is about 12%. Not many other businesses operate on such a slim margin. A $7500 funeral nets the funeral home owner about $900.

      We also do not try to gouge families at the time of need. We explain the options and bow out while they discuss their plans, so they can do so in private. No ethical funeral director would put a family’s finances ahead of his/her own interests.

      Perhaps those who accuse us of being worse than used car salesmen ought to go out on calls with us; help us arrange a funeral; prepare the body; etc. It takes about 40 labor hours to get from the first call to the final disposition. Once you see what goes into the business, you’d change your mind in a hurry.