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. For more money-managing tips, find out the 23 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. If you didn’t know that, check out these 17 other things you never knew about Arlington Cemetery.
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.
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. Funeral homes aren’t the only ones with secrets; find out the secrets hospitals aren’t telling you, too.
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.” Watch out for these other sneaky phrases and tricks con artists use to win your trust.
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.
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. Watch out for some other red flags you’re falling for a fake review.
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.
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?
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. Learn about some other surprising things that happen to you after you die.
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. If you’re a funeral guest, avoid saying these 10 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. That just doesn’t really conform with the funeral etiquette you should always follow.
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. As for long Facebook eulogies, learn the etiquette for dealing with death 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. Stay informed by learning about these 16 things smart people do to prepare for death.