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
  • Loading

    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.


    Become more interesting every week!

    Get our Read Up newsletter

    Sending Message
    how we use your e-mail

    Your Comments

    • stopkidding

      It is never a good idea to prepay the cost of the funeral, as funeral homes routinely go out of business, but many companies that own cemeteries offer pre-paid caskets and graves or crypts (in a wall or mausoleum) in one of their cemeteries. This can be a better option, because you are contracting with the company that owns the cemetery, not an actual funeral home. The trick, of course, is to keep track of the paperwork and make sure it doesn’t get lost. Nobody will honor anything without the original paperwork. I know people who actually did this in the late 80′s, and when one of them died a couple of years ago, the funeral home was pissed off, because the casket would have been 5,000 dollars more, and it would have cost over 10,000 dollars for the grave/crypt. The funeral home was very upset that this stuff was purchased and pre-paid 30 years ago. Cemeteries know that they have you over a barrel. They charge thousands of dollars for graves and crypts. Cemeteries in this area charge 500 dollars to uscrew 4 bolts from a crypt on a mausoleum wall, and another 500 dollars to put the bolts back in. They call it the charge of opening and closing a grave. They charge more if a grave has to be dug, and it is done with a backhoe. It is a shame.

    • Choices

      Simple enough, go to a funeral home find out what the cost(s) is for the type of funeral you want then by a whole life or if you have the cash, a single premium ins policy for what you want to spend plus a bit extra if your younger to cover any inflation. This eliminates the middle man, the funeral home and if the home goes out of biz or changes owners etc etc you don’t have to deal with all the potential BS. The last thing to do is buy some sort of plan that cost $12k for a $10k funeral, financing a funeral makes no sense what so ever. Unfortunately unknowing people (usually older) do it. At least with a ins policy there’s greater potential to put less in than what the DB is, the variables being what age they’re bought and how long the owner lives. That’s especially true with a single premium policy, they’re always worth more than what the premium is.

    • MiMiLL

      As with anything else…..CORRUPTION AND COVER UP IS ALIVE AND KICKING…..a person must be careful about who they trust….My dad died and had a vault policy which could ONLY be used in Alabama. His burial policy was the same. Times have changed. It is really very sad when funeral home director takes advantage of a dead person’s family….but it happens all the time.

    • Jeannie J

      This article is ridiculous, In California, we are required by law to give a general price list and casket price list. Any decent funeral director will give their customer all of their options. Many times the “packaged plans” have items that may be unwanted but the bundle savings often more than covers the cost of the unwanted product or service. The packages are designed to simplify the choices because families are often in no frame of mind to be making choices. Itemizing is always an option but sometimes not the best option. Also, as a funeral arranger in California, I can tell you that pre-arranged funerals are usually backed by an insurance company or a 3rd party trust holder, who will honor the arranged funeral at another location if the funeral home goes out of business. Pre-arranging comes with payment plans and often money saving promotional discounts which are not available otherwise.
      As a prudent consumer, I would also recommend price shopping, at the same time keeping in mind that cheaper is not always better.

      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        It’s a Federal law that all funeral homes give a general price list and casket price list to anyone who asks for it. In Illinois…they are not allowed to do ‘packaged plans’…it’s the law.

    • embalmer’s wife

      This is the stupidest article I’ve ever read. Most, if not ALL of these things are not true of most funeral homes. Remember like everything else…you get you pay for.

    • rick

      I plan to be stuffed by a taxidermist and kept in my cousin’s yard as a scarecrow. No need for funerals, caskets, graves, etc.

      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        That’s a good one!! Even my retired Funeral Director/Embalmer hubby like it. Make them face you towards the bad neighbor everyone seems to have. ;-)

    • Debbie Rose-Carlisle Simpson

      If your loved ones have gold teeth, ask for them to be removed. The price of gold today!!!! My husband has almost his whole mouth filled with gold uppers and lowers in the back on both sides. He was a medic/dental tech in Viet Nam. I’ll be darned if I ever allow a dentist to make money off my husband’s teeth. Sounds gross but that’s part of life. My husband is well aware of the issue and totally agrees.

      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        The funeral director will not remove the gold…that’s up to the family to have that done..

      • Shane Welch

        Then I would suggest you have his teeth removed, because your funeral director is not responsible for it.

    • Kevin Miller

      Many grief experts believe that the body needs to be at the service in order for the reality of the death to hit. In addition, many faiths require the body be there. Most funeral directors would be willing to work with those who are of low income to provide them a dignified service.

    • Mick

      This article does make one really good point. Why spend all of the money people do on expensive caskets and vaults when the body will decay no matter what? It is stupid. I would rather have the money go to heirs than be wasted like that for a couple of days of service. The same goes for funeral plots. We purchase all of these expensive markers and monuments for what? After a couple of generations, no one ever comes to see the grave site anymore. My family has 18 plots with a huge monument that at this point, rarely ever gets visited. We have six other plots on the other side of the cemetery of my great-great grandparents that have not been visited in almost 30 years now, since their last living relative died. I know I am a direct descendant of theirs, but I have nothing really to relate to them, so I never visit their graves. IMO, all of this is such a waste of resources.

    • Jae Rich

      Me being a Mortician myself, I’m simply disgusted with this article and the lack of knowledge and information that went into it!