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

    • Bill Sparkington

      I got this call a few years ago from a friend in a town about 90 miles away. A long lost mutual friend had passed away of cancer. I didn’t know he had moved there. When he got sick, he named my buddy as executor of his estate. But he died dirt poor. He donated his car to a charity so it was not available to sell. So we went to the local funeral home and he took the case on for charity. First, he got the city to donate plot in the city owned cemetery and they would cover opening and closing costs. I’m figuring it wouldn’t have a fault. The marker was coming from the VA. The funeral home owner said he could do everything at cost for right at $500. That would cover a basic bronze colored casket, body prep, death certificates, final transport to church then cemetery. Our friend died rather bitter at his family but another mutual friend had contact with a sister and he called her. She just could not stand missing her own brother’s funeral. So she flew in and drove rental car into town. She met with the funeral home operator and covered the costs. She then said she would be happy to pay the city for the plot but he suggested she not do that. So it was a basic funeral at the church then we went to the cemetery. Our friend would have been happy about the city’s choice of plot. He was buried around kids that had died at an old children’s home. His last job was a school bus driver. I guess in his philosophical alternate dimension where he now exists, he drives those kids to a nice school. On the drive home, he gets into Jung, Martin Luther, and Plato, something he did on our long road trips.

    • kennybaird

      I am 70% disabled and served from 9/29/76 to 9/29/79 do i qualify?