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

    • shell

      My mom wanted straight cremation, no showing, no frills. One location that she initially went to wanted almost 3000 dollars….no casket, no plot, no showing!! Yet the same company on a different side of town wanted only 1800. I’ve seen advertisments on TV saying starting at 800….but by the time you call it is NEVER that amount. In the end I spent more than 2000 to identify her in a hospital gown in a sheet covered up pine box with cardboard stapled to it, and they delayed her cremation by almost 2 weeks (the crematory was behind they said)….unbelievable.

    • bullamakanka

      A “funeral director” is someone who directs the funeral at a church, through to cemetery. That’s what I do. I’m not a mortician.

    • jerrykregle

      only a repugnant funeral director operates a business in a disgusting manner.
      when my mom died she did not have a life insurance policy that covered the entire cost, the entire cost between funeral home and cemetery was $10,800
      $1500.00 of that was air transport and local embalming
      and the funeral director is one that mom chose, she knew the the director since he was a kid

    • Shawn

      Different states have laws and regulations. Cemeteries also have their own regulations. This article is full of misconceptions that are slanderous to the funeral industry. Do your research on your own and don’t expect or rely on a funeral director to tell you everything. Their job is to provide a product and service to suit your needs, Not to spend hours in a conference room explaining every aspect of funerals and operations.

    • Shea

      Not all funeral homes are out to make money. On June 23, 2007 our newborn daughter passed away, unexpectedly 30 mins after her birth,
      Hatcher’s Funeral Home in Graniteville, SC treated us so wonderfully.
      For a baby under 12 months of age, they do not charge for anything with the exception of their cost of the little casket. They did not charge us for her body transport, her embalming, the service its self at their facility….not all the area funeral homes are this way. I had a friend lose her preemie as was charged by a different home in the area for everything I just mentioned.

    • Chickenshift

      When you pre pay for the service, the funeral parlor owner puts the funds in a 3rd party bank to hold the funds, there for if you pass on in another state, they will transfer the funds to the new place. or this is what Mr Parchman did for myself and wife. Might be the person at the funeral home , Honest and looking out for you. I again know Mr Parchman is a honest person and I feel good about everything.

    • Wild pop

      Funeral homes are one of the biggest rackets there is. Sad.

    • Corcho Ekim

      Whats the big deal, send the stiff to the grave and get over it. Honor them as your family wishes.

    • Jayne Doe

      Woah there! I am a funeral director and this article sucks. Yeah there are always bad apples in the barrel, but that doesn’t mean we all are. I inform my families to the teeth about ways to get out of certain charges, alternative methods, and things they can do to make the process of coordinating a funeral, as plain or as elaborate as they would have it. Furthermore, I work my butt off trying to prevent charges that can be prevented!!!!! Even if it means they find a better fit at another funeral home.
      Pre-planning is a powerful tool to make things easier for the survivors as possible. You do take risks with pre-planning, but you take risks by not pre-planning as well. Pre-planning locks prices in for services and merchandise and helps you to understand the process of putting your love one to rest. I have sat with families and planned huge services in under two hours start to finish when a death has occurred, because they had allowed me the time to get to know them, their needs, and information to complete the process before their love one had passed, and I had no monetary benefit to do this other than making a modest living; I get paid by the hour (which is a tiny bit more than what McDonald workers were asking for). On the other side of the coin, I have sat with grieving families to educate them on how to do each and every thing every step of the way. These poor souls were there for hours on end just coming to the conclusion on how mom or pop would have wanted it, and then if they choose to stay with my company, which some do and some don’t, we had to still plan the funeral. They should have been grieving and consoling each other.
      Each family that comes to me is treated like family! I take great care and pride into my work. I always want what is best and do what I can do to accommodate that for the families I get the honor of serving.
      There are some wonderful comments below that help to ease the sting of this author’s pen, and I am grateful for you! Don’t read us all to be money grubbing carrions. Some of us actually care.

    • mitzi

      dignity funeral in augusta ga. elliots did us just right even let us use chapel for free during week thanks