Psychology of Memorialization
Famous People Memorialized
Small Town Memorials
The Last Wish
Memorializing a Veteran
Famous Memorial Buildings
How to Cope with the Death of a Pet
An Expensive Part Of American Culture
For every death in Western culture, dozens of decisions about memorials, ceremonies, and disposition of the body follow. Because death is an uncomfortable topic in our culture, these decisions are too often made with little forethought within two or three days of a death. Worse, the decision makers are often grieving family members who are also harried as they disrupt their routines to travel for funerals and other somber functions. It’s no wonder that families often simply make one phone call to a friendly director at a funeral home and ask him or her to make all arrangements and send a bill, which is often paid, without challenge, from life insurance proceeds.
It has become almost a fact of life that, as with lawyer fees and doctor bills, funeral directors can expect to be rewarded handsomely for their services. Funeral homes can charge $10,000 or more for a typical service without raising much ire from family members.
But in today’s consumer conscious world, there are also many options for those who want to keep funeral home charges to a minimum. On the other hand, for many, the death was unexpected, leaving them with no set plan and no budget for their loved one's memorial service. Here are a few tips from experts in the field:
First, you should understand that most governments allow families to legally forego a funeral home’s services entirely. Several books have been written – and are likely available at your local library – that list permits and other legalities that must be in place for proper burial and disposition of a body. And, except for in a handful of American states, there is no requirement that a licensed funeral director be involved. (Colorado, in fact, is so lenient that it has no licensing requirement at all for funeral directors. That means anyone can call himself a funeral director in that state.) So, while few experts recommend entirely eliminating a funeral home’s services from your arrangements, knowing that you can legally do so can be a significant help in keeping funeral costs in check. Funeral homes can be of valuable help, but, if their prices get out of line, it is good to know that the “do-it-yourself” option is almost always available. And, in fact, many books and writers have noted that caring for your dead yourself can be an emotionally healthy, therapeutic experience, harkening back to the days – even in Western cultures – when embalming, for example, was often done by a family matriarch on a dining room or kitchen table in the presence of a handful of loving family and friends.
Finally, if you are not so adventurous as to opt out of funeral home services entirely, it is important to make a distinction between services best left to the funeral home professionals and those that you can do, relatively easily, on your own. In most cases (per the FTC Funeral Rule), funeral homes are required to present you, in their first meeting with you, an itemized list of their services. This list often includes a “basic services” package that all customers are required to pay. It is advisable to consider ordering only this package which includes services and goods that are common to almost all case: funeral notices and planning, arranging for a death certificate, sheltering of a body, and coordination with a cemetery or crematory. Funeral homes typically offer a wide range of other goods and services: transportation of the body, embalming, viewing, casket, obituary publication, etc. These, except in the rarest of cases, are all considered "optional services" by the funeral industry. That means, when practical, they may be foregone all together or - when that is not practical - done by someone (even yourself) besides the funeral home. Yes, forgoing the offers made by the funeral home for these services may mean more work, but consumers often find that the savings can be substantial. Caskets, headstones and urns can often be found from non-funeral home sources for half the price, for example. Working with a number of companies to coordinate these "outside" purchases can sometimes take an emotional toll on a grieving family, but, it is important to know that it is these very optional services that make funeral home charges -- often outrageously -- expensive.
For information on saving money on funeral home charges, there is plenty help on the web. The Funeral Consumers Alliance is but one example. The United States Federal Trade Commission is yet another.