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10 facts funeral directors don't want you to know -- Page 2

4. Seeing your loved one prior to burial without the benefit of embalming will not leave you with unresolved grief issues.
"This is a myth," notes Slocum. "There are no objective studies that bear this out. Embalming is an incredibly invasive process -- there's nothing gentle about it. It's strictly a temporary cosmetic and preservative process."

"If more people knew what embalming entailed, they would not choose to do it," says Slocum.

5. Sealed caskets cannot preserve a body.
Sealed caskets cost hundreds of dollars more than unsealed caskets, reports FCA's Slocum. "It actually costs the casket manufacturers only about $12.00."

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But the idea that a casket can protect or preserve the body is "absolute rubbish." Sealer vaults likewise offer no advantage except to the income of the funeral director, he says.

6. A funeral provider may not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
The casket is the single most expensive item in a traditional funeral. In a 1996 survey, the AARP found the average price of a casket to be $1,658.

Traditionally, caskets were sold only by funeral homes, but today cemeteries and retailers sell caskets. You can even purchase one on the Internet. You can also use a family built one if you choose. Caskets are available in many styles and prices and can be made from metal, wood, fiberglass or plastic.

According to the federal "Funeral Rule," it is illegal for a funeral home to charge a "handling fee" if you wish to bring in your own casket from an outside source.

7. You don't need to spend more than $400 to $600 for a modest casket.
Since a casket is one of the largest expenses of a funeral, reduce your expenses by shopping around.

If a funeral home is charging more than $400 to $600, you can bet there's a 300 to 500 percent markup, says Slocum. A casket that is listed at $1,295 at the funeral home might wholesale for $325. That same casket is probably available from a casket retailer for $650.

To discourage customers from choosing less expensive caskets, low-end merchandise is often ordered in ugly colors by funeral homes or is stored in an out of the way place, he says. If the price and basic design of a modest casket appeal to you, ask what other colors can be ordered. Usually a funeral home can get a more attractive replacement within hours.

8. You do not have to buy the whole bundle of services.
Many funeral providers offer various "packages" of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral.

"Consumers have the right to pick and choose which services they want without buying a whole package," stresses Mack.

"You can tell the funeral director, 'I want the first three but not the last two.' In the past there was no way to unbundle the services, and consumers got soaked because they didn't know any better," she says.

9. You can plan and carry out many things on your own to honor your loved one without paying for services from a funeral home.
Having a memorial service at home, your church, a park or the community center is one way to save money, suggests Diana Evans. You could print memorial cards on your home computer, decorate the room with pictures or items suggestive of your loved one, like fishing poles or needlepoint, and have friends and family tell stories about your loved one.

"It not only saves you money, it's more personal," she says.

10. Local funeral and memorial societies can help consumers find ethical establishments and often negotiate discounts for their members.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance has 115 chapters in 46 states around the country. They used to be called funeral and memorial societies. These groups are run by volunteers and will have information on local funeral homes as well as price surveys that can assist the consumer in comparison-shopping for services.

The more active groups have also negotiated discounts with local funeral homes. To find a group in your area, check out this link to the directory of consumer groups across the nation.

Ellen Goodstein is a freelance writer based in Florida.

-- Posted: Nov. 18, 2003
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See Also
PLUS: How to keep funeral costs down
Death and taxes: Estate taxes
Going my way: The prepaid funeral
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