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

    • Br

      This is complete bs. I am a funeral director albeit in Canada. I work for the largest funeral home provider in the world and have worked for several small family owned independents. Noone hide caskets in the boiler room or basement. This is a smear campaign against funeral directors

    • Frontline61085

      Who ever wrote this article; is a real ignorant person and should get her facts straight!!

    • Kulshady

      I asked an undertaker about gold teeth and fillings left in a dead body’s mouth
      for cremation. He said gold teeth were considered the undertaker’s “tip”, even
      when they were worth enough to pay for the complete funeral. Just another
      unethical practice by a profession considered by many to be on the same level
      as muggers and pickpockets. They DO take ‘em out, and KEEP THEM.

      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        That is untrue.He is why the funeral industry gets a back name..one of the 1% that are crooks.

    • Jazneehenry

      bias information that they posted

      • Frontline61085

        You’re right!!!She must be liberal!!

    • Stobyjoe

      The REAL 13 things a funeral director won’t tell you.

      “Yes, please invest in a preneed with our
      funeral home, but just know in advance, if we go out of business, you are
      SOL..” WHY a funeral director won’t tell you this… He’d be LYING!!!!! It is
      illegal for a funeral establishment to keep preneed funds in their own accounts;
      they must be placed in a trust or held by an insurance company. If the funeral
      home in question goes out of business, the preneed is transferrable to another
      funeral establishment. Obviously Ms. Crouch needed to do a bit more research
      before writing on this particular subject.

      “I don’t feel burial in a veteran’s cemetery is
      truly a fitting way to honor your loved one.” Why a funeral director won’t tell
      you this… Because for one, most funeral homes do NOT own cemeteries, so what
      profit is there in it for them to steer a grieving family away from a savings
      of anywhere from $400 to several thousand, which won’t affect the funeral home’s
      bottom line by a single cent. Secondly, honoring veterans is something most
      funeral professionals take a great amount of pride in doing. After all, their
      sacrifice is the reason this country remains free.

      “Please, check out casket prices at Wal-Mart,
      Costco, or online before you make a selection from our display room.” Why a
      funeral director won’t tell you this… Please… Have you ever had a salesman at
      the Ford dealership recommend you buy a Chevy?? While funeral directors do get
      fulfillment from helping families through a very fragile time in their lives,
      and will help them cut costs to a minimum if the family is in a state of
      financial stress, recommending they go to the competitor is a LAST resort, but,
      even so, it does happen.

      “Oh no, you don’t want to use our rental casket,
      that just wouldn’t be appropriate for your loved one.” Why a funeral director
      won’t tell you this… He’d be insane!! Once a rental casket is paid for, every
      rental beyond that point is pure profit for the funeral home, and a cost saver
      for the family… Win / win situation. But shhhhhhhhh. We don’t want our
      families to find out we have one, we might make a little money off of it, and
      save them some in the process. Gosh Ms. Crouch, I sure hate you let that cat
      out of the bag.

      “Now, we are going to have to embalm your mother
      because we don’t have a refrigeration unit here at Shyster and Sons Funeral
      Emporium.”  Why a funeral director won’t
      tell you this… He can’t. Embalming is not required by law except under certain
      conditions, lack of refrigeration not being one of them. One condition, if a
      family is having a PUBLIC viewing, embalming is required. Again, your research
      needed to go a little deeper Ms. Crouch. Second condition, a body must be
      embalmed if shipped across state lines (with a few exceptions I won’t go into
      here). So your statement that a body can be presented for viewing nicely bla
      bla bla is inaccurate. A PRIVATE family viewing may be conducted without
      embalming, but that is a limited event, just immediate family for a short
      period of time. Which Waffle House did you do your research at BTW?

       “I’m sure
      you want the best for your Mother, she would be offended if you placed her in a
      casket you can actually afford.” Why a funeral director won’t tell you this…
      He’d be an idiot. Precious few funeral establishments do any in house financing
      anymore, reason being, it isn’t like selling a car or a house, you can’t
      repossess a casket or vault. If the family doesn’t pay, all you can do is write
      off the loss. Any funeral director with any common sense and concern for the
      family’s needs and desires will try to arrange a service which both pleases the
      family, and for which they can afford to pay, which doesn’t always happen,
      because a lot of families want champagne service on a beer budget. But I would
      rather see a family have to downgrade services and merchandise and be able to
      eat next month, than to get in over their heads. Better for them, better for
      the funeral home. Common sense

      “I would recommend both a gasketed casket and a
      tongue and groove vault for maximum protection of your loved one’s body,
      despite the fact that build up of gasses might cause an explosion!!!”  Why a funeral director won’t tell you this…
      Man, they really lay it on thick at those anti-funeral director seminars at Waffle
      House! Caskets exploding??Never heard of such in my 10+ years in the biz, nor
      has anyone else in this profession I have spoken with. Nor is the stopping or
      postponement of decomposition a selling point any funeral director in his right
      mind would use. Ashes to ashes dust to dust is going to happen no matter how
      well you embalm a body or what combination of burial containers a body is
      placed in. We try to avoid the discussion of decomposition when talking with
      families as most would consider it distasteful. A gasketed casket or tongue and
      groove vault is to help prevent water from entering the casket. That is the
      selling point. If a family is not concerned about it, a non-gasketed and a
      grave liner will do nicely, and save the family money. And if a family does
      inquire about the decomposition process, I tell them just what I told you. Ashes
      to ashes, dust to dust.

      “If you absolutely insist, I will show you the
      lower cost caskets we keep hidden in the basement”. Why a funeral director
      won’t tell you this… See # 6. Also, in this day and age most funeral homes are
      corporate owned. The director who is sitting across the table from you at an
      arrangement conference is salaried and DOES NOT receive any type of commission
      on sales of funeral merchandise. Point being, he has no reason monetarily to
      sell you any merchandise you do not want or cannot afford. Yes, some corporate
      funeral homes teach directors to use a “top down” sales technique, which means
      to start at the high end and work downward to the less expensive, but this doesn’t
      usually require a trip to the basement. Again, the goal is to satisfy THE
      FAMILY first.

      “Now, we can return the cremated remains of your
      loved one to you in this temporary container, but don’t you think he/she
      deserves better?” Why a funeral director won’t tell you this… Boy those folks
      at Waffle House really know the funeral business inside and out. The plastic
      container of which you spoke IS by definition a TEMPORARY container and must be
      stamped as such by state law. And if a family simply desires to scatter or bury
      the cremated remains then the temporary container will more than suffice in
      most instances. And yes, I do try to sell certain families a more expensive urn
      IF they express to me their desire is to display the cremated remains on the
      fireplace mantle. BUT…… If they bring me a vase, a wooden box, or even a coffee
      can to place the cremated remains in, I do just that. In short, we sell the
      family what seems appropriate for their need/desires. If that includes an expensive
      urn, that’s what we sell them, if not, we are glad to provide a temporary.

      “Shop around.” Why a funeral director won’t tell
      you this… see number 3. Also, firstly, most families already have. Secondly.
      The firm I work for actually caters to families who can’t afford higher priced
      goods and services and I get families frequently who have been recommended to
      me by pricier firms. So, please inform the members of Waffle House Society that
      we in the death care industry DO encourage comparison shopping.

      We remove pacemakers because the batteries will
      explode and damage our crematory. Why a funeral director won’t tell you this… Actually,
      we tell families exactly that!! There is a disclosure concerning pacemakers on
      the cremation authorization from which the next of kin must sign before we are
      legal to cremate a body, and the next of kin must initial said disclosure.
      Again, your researchers at the Waffle HouseSociety need to be a bit more thorough.

      “Now, you don’t need to see the general price
      list, this package price is saving you a bundle, trust me”. Why a funeral
      director won’t tell you this… You’ve already got the price list in your hand.
      The Federal Trade Commission requires that a funeral director present the
      family with price lists BEFORE the arrangement conference begins. We all do
      this because ANY of the families you meet with could be an FTC shopper, and
      fine you if you don’t present the GPL. And, if the family selects a package
      which includes a service they do not want, need or require, I will deduct it
      from the package price. Again, satisfied families perpetuate business.

      “Doesn’t funeral director have a nicer ring to
      it?” Why a funeral director won’t tell you this… Because undertaker, mortician
      and funeral director ARE NOT synonymous. I am a mortician, which means I am
      licensed as both a funeral director AND an embalmer. If you are ONLY licensed
      as a funeral director, you ARE NOT a mortician. The man who owns the firm I
      work for is not licensed as either, HE is an undertaker. So, the person who you
      meet with to make arrangements IS ALWAYS a funeral director, he may also be a
      mortician, he may not. The Waffle House Bureau of Investigation has once again
      dropped the ball!!!


      Post Script. In your article it is insinuated
      that funeral directors are sleazy, dishonest, manipulative, conniving con-men/women
      who will take every opportunity to rip a consumer off that presents itself.
      Granted, just like in all businesses there are a few dishonest people in the
      death care industry, but by virtue of the title of this article you are lumping
      us all in with the few. So, let me give you a little information to share with
      the Waffle House Society concerning the true nature of a death care
      professional. In one word….. SELFLESS…  A
      death care professional is a person to whom the words schedule, holiday,
      vacation, weekend, family outing, etc. have little meaning. Because death
      watches no clock, confers with no calendar, respects no human plans. It occurs
      when it occurs, be it at 3:00 a.m, on Christmas Day, during your son’s/daughter’s
      soccer game, on your birthday, I could go on. A death care professional has to
      report to work on many a morning after having gone without sleep the previous
      night, yet still present himself as if he were well rested and still conduct
      himself in a manner which is comforting to a grieving family. A death care
      professional has to place himself and his family secondary to the needs of the
      families he serves. Every day… If that is how you define sleazy, then I wear
      the title proudly, because when I do get the opportunity to sleep, I rest well,
      knowing that what I do to earn my bread helps people get through a difficult
      and trying time in their lives. If you had entitled your article, “Tips to help
      you in planning a funeral” and refrained from using words like “sleazy” or insinuating
      that all funeral directors are criminals, I wouldn’t have been so harsh,
      because there actually is some useful information in your article. But in the
      future when you write a “Things a professional won’t tell you” article, please
      don’t base your observations on hearsay from Waffle House. Nevermind… the REAL
      facts probably wouldn’t sell magazines.   


      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        You hit the nail on the head!!! This is from a wife of a retired Funeral Director/Embalmer with over 30 yrs of service in ChiTown!!!! I think you took the author of this article to task. Kudos to you!!! And I hope you continue serving the public with your professionalism and dignity to the deceased and their families.

      • guest

        I wish I could upvote your comment a hundred times. I do not work in a funeral home (in fact I am adamantly against a funeral for myself) but this article is disgusting. I have been acquainted with people who do work in that industry, and without exception they have been ethical and compassionate. Of course I don’t know everyone who works in this field, but this article is so terribly researched and written that I feel the author must have some personal grudge against someone who works for a funeral home. I’ve never read anything on RD’s site before but if this kind of garbage made it on I don’t see any reason to visit again. Thank you for your comment which detailed several of the problems with this “writing”.

    • Greenwos

      I am shocked at the amount of inaccuracies in this article! I though every good journalist checks facts? Obviously not in this case!

    • Dr. Alex Onoyona

      Should I be part of my burial arrangement? Nobody should be involved in the arrangement of his or her funeral. You can’t do anything about it if your desires are not carried out even if you knew. Why bother!

    • Samantha

      This article is so false! Pacemakers do explode in the crematory, gaskets caskets cannot explode, prearranged money is held in a trust and not at the funeral home so if it goes out of business, it won’t effect the money set aside, and I could go on and on! Whoever wrote this has no knowledge whatsoever of the funeral industry! Yes, Costco sells caskets, but they are POOR quality and definitely not the same as the ones sold at the funeral homes. You get what you pay for, especially in the funeral industry!

    • Smilznlaughs

      Absolutely not true about #5–Running a funeral home without a refrigerated holding room is like running a restaurant without a walk-in cooler.  By law a body can’t be viewed in an open casket unless it is embalmed due to the possible of disease transmission.

    • Bethany

      Or another incident.  They have changed their computer systems or upgraded them/changed technology and have absolutely no paperwork on your transaction.  So who keeps a receipt for 20 years? No one I know. Happened to my family.