22 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.
Don’t pay in advance
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. (Here are 13 things your financial adviser won’t tell you.)
Discharged veterans get special treatment
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).
Walmart and Costco sell caskets, too
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. (Here are some things smart people do to prepare for death.)
There are less expensive, environmentally-friendly casket options
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.
Embalming isn’t necessary
iStock/Enrique Ramos Lopez
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. (This choir sings to people who are dying, and it’s so beautiful.)
Be wary of these phrases
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.”
Skip the rubber gasket
“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. (Here are some lessons about living from people who spend time with the dying.)
Low-cost caskets are probably available
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.
How the ashes are returned is important
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.
Explore other options
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.)
If your loved one has this, we’ll have to remove it
We remove pacemakers because the batteries damage our crematories. (Here are 10 things you should say to someone who’s grieving.)
Ask for the details on the package deals
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.
Mortician or funeral director?
Yes, technically I am an undertaker or a mortician. But doesn’t funeral director have a nicer ring to it? (Here’s how to support someone who has lost a loved one.)
Urns aren’t the only place ashes can go
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. (Here are some more things we bet you didn’t know about green burials.)
Another way to save money
It’s usually less expensive if the body is not present for the funeral.
There’s no need to go out and buy a new outfit for your loved one
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. (Here are some things you should never, ever say to a widow.)
We need recent photos
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.
Don’t ask us to remove fillings or crowns
That may be real gold in your loved one’s dental fillings or crowns, but don’t ask me to remove them for you. (You should definitely know these funeral etiquette tips.)
We probably don’t have great intentions if we say this phrase
Never trust a funeral director who says, “This is the last thing you can do for your loved one.”
You can have a meaningful service without breaking the bank
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. (Here’s the etiquette behind dealing with deal on social media.)
Bring someone with you
iStock/Lisa F. Young
Always bring another person when you meet with me, ideally someone who’s not as emotionally attached to the deceased.
Find out who owns the funeral home
It might be wise to check out just who owns your local funeral home. Corporate chains have bought out hundreds of family-owned funeral homes in recent years, but they often keep the original name, appearance, and even some employees after a buyout. The one thing they usually do change? The prices. (This story will convince you to stop saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”)