Saturday, March 07, 2009

My kids better not blow a lot of dough on me when I die.

My mom died suddenly when I was in my early twenties; the only people available to deal with the situation were me, my younger brothers, and my mom's shell-shocked twin sister. We'd never dealt with a funeral before.

We ended up, punch-drunk, driving around town just looking for a "Funeral Home" sign (it was before Google). We rang the doorbell and a guy in a rumply flannel shirt came from around back where he'd been working in the yard.

Everything went well enough in the end, but I remember the dazed, foggy state I was in far more clearly than any of the decisions we made. I wish I'd had this article. Go to the source at for more details, pdf files and more links to help you get organized in advance.

Extracts from
Save Money On A Funeral
By Chris Walters for consumerist, Fri Mar 6 2009

Someone wrote to us that a person in his family is terminally ill, and that he was told "that the cost of the casket, funeral, viewing, and burial would possibly exceed 12,000 dollars." He thinks that's an "exorbitant amount of money," and so do we. ... Here's our list of what to do the next time you have to plan a funeral.

  • Learn about the Funeral Rule, an FTC regulation that requires several things of funeral professionals.

    Familiarize yourself with these points, and if a funeral home conveniently "overlooks" them, or outright refuses to follow them, run away. (But also report them to the FTC once you've got the presence of mind to deal with that stuff again.)

    • Funeral directors must give you itemized prices in person as well as over the phone. You have to ask for the over-the-phone quotes; in person it's a given, and anyone who skips this is worthy of suspicion.

    • They must give you itemized prices for any other services they offer, if you ask. This goes for caskets, burial containers, whatever.

    • You have the right to buy individual goods and services; no funeral director or home can force you to buy a package.

    • If a state or local law requires that you buy a particular item, the funeral director must state that next to the item on the price list, and reference the specific law.

    • You can bring your own casket; a funeral home cannot refuse you or charge you a "handling fee."

    • If you choose cremation, the funeral provider must offer an alternative container to a casket; you don't have to buy a nice coffin just to burn it up.

    • Speaking of which, the funeral director must show you a list of caskets for sale, including descriptions and prices, before showing you the actual caskets. There's a reason for this: see below.

    • There is no technology, embalming chemical, coffin, liner, or vault that will preserve a body indefinitely. Funeral directors can't promise or insinuate otherwise.

  • Consider a direct burial with a memorial service. A "traditional" burial is really marketing speak for a "full-service" burial - funeral providers have a vested interest in suggesting that full-service equals "more appropriate."

    A direct burial, on the other hand, can still include a graveside service, a memorial, or any other rituals you feel are important to the survivors. Remember, you decide what's considered traditional for your family, not a stranger.

  • You may not have to worry about embalming. If you're burying or cremating the body shortly after death, you can probably skip embalming. Here's a chart showing the law on embalming for each state, or just do a Google search for "embalming law [your state]". The funeral provider cannot perform an embalming without your permission, and as with other services, must full disclose whether or not it's required and how much it will cost.

  • Learn how to shop for a casket. (And a vault.) You will be subconsciously led to purchase a specific one. The FTC says, "Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three." Remember this before making a decision, and assume that you're being directed to the middle-priced casket intentionally.

    If you aren't shown the cheaper caskets on the list the funeral director was supposed to have already provided, then ask to see them. If the cheaper casket that you want is in an ugly color, ask if you can order a more pleasing color—the color choice is on purpose to deter you.

    You will be upsold on gaskets, seals, thickness, and various other protective measures that do nothing.

    Buy your casket separately. The Funeral Consumers Alliance says "few consumers realize that caskets may be marked up 300-500% or more."

    They say caskets can retail for $600 or so, but a more realistic baseline these days is about $1000.

    If you can locate a local builder or know some basic carpentry, you can build your own and probably bring the price down some more. [Try]

    You may be able to rent a casket for viewing if you plan on cremating the body. Also, if you're cremating without a viewing, you can bypass the casket option entirely and save a huge amount of money.

    Don't waste money on an expensive vault. Some cemeteries may require it to keep graves from sinking, but no state or federal laws do.

  • Find out if a military burial is an option.

  • Churches and synagogues frequently can provide help on figuring out more affordable solutions ... If there is an Orthodox Jewish community in your area, find out who they use. Generally Orthodox Jews use very, very plain coffins which cost very little, for religious reasons.

    Your local church/synagogue/mosque/temple/whatever can probably also help you with low-cost planning. And having a religious funeral service frequently cuts out a big chunk of the cost. There are helpful comments at these previous Consumerist articles:


At 7:31 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

dont worry, I am sure that any and all money you leave us will have to be allocated to taking care of your spoiled donkey!!!! :)

At 11:24 PM, Blogger bliss said...

Great information!

I actually have a file on this in my cabinet.

Several years ago I attended a green festival in my hometown and I had the good fortune to meet a woman named Elizabeth Knox.

She lost her young daughter in a tragic accident but through her loss, she created a service that helps people who want to have home funerals.

She is also educates people about their choices for after-death care.

If you're interested, her website is

At 10:21 AM, Blogger MATTHEW said...

I did an interview with Brian Burkhardt a fellow that is known as -Your Funeral Guy -he has been a real advocate for low cost funerals. He has a great book and provides a wealth of knowledge on his website. You can see the interview along with links to his book and site here

At 1:14 AM, Blogger Cap'n Sylvia Sharkbait said...

When my beloved mother died 25 years ago my sister, dad and I were amazed and appalled at what everything cost. We're not cheapskates and mom deserved the best but we were not about to be gouged. Instead of paying the funeral home thousands of dollars to transport her casket from our town to her burial site four hours away, we loaded the casket into a friend's VW minivan and transported it ourselves. The funeral home balked but could not stop us and our grandparents were mortified and shocked. We knew mom would have been amused and very proud of us.


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