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22 Things a Funeral Director Won’t Tell You

Updated: Aug. 30, 2023

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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iStock/Enrique Ramos Lopez

Embalming isn’t necessary

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.

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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.

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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.

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iStock/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

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.

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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.

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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.)

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If your loved one has this, we’ll have to remove it

We remove pacemakers because the batteries damage our crematories.

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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.

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Mortician or funeral director?

Yes, technically I am an undertaker or a mortician. But doesn’t funeral director have a nicer ring to it?

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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.

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Another way to save money

It’s usually less expensive if the body is not present for the funeral.

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iStock/Finn O'Hara

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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iStock/Lisa F. Young

Bring someone with you

Always bring another person when you meet with me, ideally someone who’s not as emotionally attached to the deceased. When grief seems impossible to express, let the literary greats lend a helping hand and provide some much-needed comfort with moving funeral poems.

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Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock

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.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest