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

    • Imstaryeyed

      When my father died last year we looked into prepay for mom. THEY CONFIRMED IF THE PRICES GOES UP YOU HAVE TO PAY EXTRA. YOU HAVE BOUGHT NOTHING TIL THE MONEY GOES TO THE FUNERAL HOME FROM THE BANK. So putting it in trust has nothing to do with the final cost.

    • Darlene Kotrba Christians

      I’m married to a retired Funeral Director/Embalmer with over 30 yrs of experience. . 3/4th of these statements are untrue. I can’t begin to list them all. The caskets you buy from 3rd parties can be seconds..they don’t seal right. The pacemakers are only removed when being cremated because the batteries will explode like a hand grenade in the retort. Pre-need funerals are a good idea…and are usually ins. policies or trusts..so if the funeral home closes the money is still there. In Illinois, they have to be held by and insurance or a trust. The funeral has to make money some how by selling their services and goods. Of course their is a mark-up. You have a million dollar facility to maintain..and employees to pay just like any other biz. Yes..you DO need embalming if you are going to view the body. They would stink to high heaven…and will start to decompose. You can hold a body for weeks embalmed. Those fridges are very expensive and very few funeral home if any have them. There is no need for them.

      About the Veterans benefits….yes…they do tell them.

      I wish I had the time to point out all the misinformation in each statement..

      I would like to know who the hell the reporter is on this…cause s/he needs to go back to journalism school and learn how to research a story.

      These types of articles give the funeral industry a bad name. This industry is regulated by the Feds and by state law.

    • YesIRollThatWay

      This is why I want to be stuffed and mounted over the fireplace.

    • zenobia123

      Actually I’m going to be so angry that I died, I’m thinking of leaving a check in my will that will bounce for insufficient funds, after I’m safely in the ground. Live it up all you want, but not with my money your not!

    • all4mom

      BTW, embalming is NOT required for either cremation or burial; if most knew what it entailed, they would never agree to it. Educate yourselves! Books are available.

      • Darlene Kotrba Christians

        That is correct..but if you are going to view the body yes. The body can start decomposing and you wouldn’t want to smell the stench. If there is no embalming…the body can be view by the family only…and then they would have to have a close casket viewing.

        • jerrykregle

          embalming laws vary state to state and embalming is observed for religious reasons, I knew a man that that lost his wife at a young age he had an open casket for her and the viewing was only 1 hour prior to service and immediate burial. she was not embalmed

          • Darlene Kotrba Christians

            Embalming has nothing to do with religion. Yes…states do vary in their embalming laws.
            FTC requires embalming to cross state lines…but there are some exceptions to that rule too.

    • all4mom

      Also, you can circumvent much of this by reading “Care of the Dead” and/or “Grave Matters”; in most states, you are within your legal rights taking your loved one home from a facility (or keeping him home, if that’s where death occurred; don’t let hospice or others pressure you to immediately employ a funeral home), washing/dressing the body yourself, holding a home wake, and even burying in a natural setting or on your own property. As for pre-planning, many are saying “just put the money in the bank,” but remember that accounts are frozen the minute banks get the first whiff of death notice appearing in a paper (which it must by law); it’ll be long after the funeral before you ever have access to those funds again. I searched until I found a professional willing to accommodate my rather unusual requests and work with me; my loved one stayed home until 36 hours after death (the outside limit the director recommended) with no ill effects; it could’ve been longer on packed or dry ice. We then “bought” only direct cremation and the funeral home didn’t make a bundle; we knew the cardboard casket was available, and they made no move to push anything expensive or more services. They additionally advised us that we needn’t even buy an urn, if we had or found something else (we ended up paying just $40 for a lovely rosewood casket with engraving). Finally, they expressed interest in learning more about home funerals.

      • Wild pop

        Why buy a casket if going with direct cremation ?

        • Shane Welch

          You have to have a container for the body in order to cremate, but you do not need a casket.

    • thaddeusbuttmunchmd

      He won’t tell you that you are DEAD he will let you figure it out yourself. I want cryonic freezing..the way to Eternal Life

    • Steve Brooks

      Never seen so much discussion since Dear Abbey posted which way toilet paper should be unrolled in a bathroom. ha ha

    • Gotthetruth

      My husband who was a Vietnam Vet (honorably discharged), was not covered by Veterans Affairs National Cemetery. Went round and round, jumped all the hoops, gave them every documentation they requested, 2 years after the fact was denied burial reimbursement for his cremation cost. So much for being an honorably “honored” Vet. That was such a let down, and miserably failed us. Didn’t know who else to turn to. Simply gave up now knowing the truth about what really happens when you served your so call country.

      • Wild pop

        The V.A. provides internment in a national V. A cemetery but does not cover cremation costs .

    • dltaylor51

      I’ll just keep my money and let someone else dig the hole.A box and a hole,how much can that cost?