10 facts funeral directors don't want you to know
Most Americans avoid planning their funerals and
instead leave the decisions to their loved ones. But making arrangements
immediately after a death can be unnecessarily expensive because it's
such an emotional time.
"The unsuspecting consumer is setting himself
up to be vulnerable to excessive spending on items and services
that he doesn't need or want," declares Joshua Slocum, executive
director of the Vermont-based Funeral
Consumers Alliance, a not-for-profit consumer information and
FCA fields calls from angry and confused consumers
"I just spoke with a woman who had asked for
a very modest service for a loved one," says Slocum. "She
paid $7,000 for funeral services when what she really wanted should
have cost her around $1,500. She was sold embalming, which she didn't
need, and the markup on the casket was excessive.
"She said to me, 'We did everything we could
to cut costs, and this is the best we could do.'
"It's a crying shame," says Slocum.
Costs add up quickly
According to AARP, funeral and burial costs can easily reach as
much as $10,000. The average cost of a traditional adult funeral
in 1999 was $5,020 without any extras. Burial costs can add an extra
$2,000 or more. Flowers, obituary notices, burial liners or vaults,
limousines, acknowledgement cards -- they all add up to a major
"Funeral services are one of the largest purchases
consumers will make, right up there with a car and a house,"
explains Brenda Mack, a public affairs specialist with the Federal
It's important to take your time when deciding on
the funeral service. Don't let yourself be pressured into buying
goods or services you don't want, and then end up having to spend
years paying off the funeral, says Mack.
Become an informed consumer.
Here are a few examples of what some funeral directors
would rather you not know.
1. Shopping around for funeral services can save
you thousands of dollars.
"Consumers need to apply the same level of savvy to funeral
purchases as they would to anything else," advises Slocum.
Don't assume a funeral will cost the same just about
anywhere. It's not so.
"By federal law, funeral providers have to give
consumers a general price list of all goods and services without
the consumer having to ask for it," notes Mack.
"As soon as a person tells a funeral director,
'I want to talk about your services,' the consumer must be handed
a written list of all goods and services offered by the funeral
home and what they cost."
Typically included would be costs for the initial
conference, consultations, paperwork and overhead. This fee, called
a "nondeclinable fee," is added to the total cost of the
funeral. There is wide variation in pricing of the nondeclinable
fee, cautions FCA's Slocum.
The general price list should also include cost of
transportation of the body, care of the body (including embalming),
and use of the funeral home for viewing, wake, visitation and funeral
or memorial ceremony. Alternative arrangements such as cremation
and optional services such as flowers, placing an obituary and obtaining
a death certificate should also be listed on the general price list.
Use the price list and shop among funeral providers
to find the most reasonably priced service, advises Mack.
The AARP recommends obtaining price lists by phone
or in person from at least three funeral homes before making a selection.
2. Funeral directors are not clergy.
Funeral directors are business people. They are not ministers, but
people often treat them as quasi-clergy, notes Slocum. "This
is a mistake. Consumers tend to trust them implicitly and believe
everything they say. Remember, funeral homes are in business to
Check out the funeral home before you arrange services
through them, advises Diana Evans, bureau chief of funeral and cemetery
services for the Florida Department of Financial Services.
"You want to be sure you go to somebody who is
licensed and has a good reputation in the community. Ask for recommendations
from your friends or your rabbi or priest. Even go to a funeral
and see how professionally they conduct their business," she
Call and speak with a funeral director before visiting,
suggests David Walkinshaw, a spokesman for the National
Funeral Director's Association and operator of Saville and Gannon
Funeral Home in Arlington, Mass.
"Usually within a few minutes of talking to a
funeral director, you can get a feel for who they are. You can hear
professionalism. Make sure you're comfortable and, if not, call
3. Embalming is rarely required when the person
will be buried within 24 to 48 hours.
The United States and Canada are the only countries in the world
that routinely embalm their dead. Embalming is not a matter of protecting
the public health, as some unscrupulous morticians would have you
believe, says Slocum. The Centers for Disease Control has consistently
shown that embalming does not serve any public health purpose.
"Refrigeration is almost always a legal alternative,"
urges Slocum, who says it's just as good if not better than embalming.
Funeral directors routinely refuse to have a public
viewing without embalming, but it is not a legal requirement except
Know your rights, advises Slocum. If the funeral home
insists, ask for a private viewing without embalming.