Working with a funeral director can be, unfortunately, an intimidating thing for many families whose loved one has passed away. The funeral directors of the world do not intend for this to be the case, of course, but, the fact remains that the stress and other difficult emotions of dealing with a lost relative can make even the most caring, compassionate of exchanges much more difficult to accept than would otherwise be the case. To further complicated the matters, funeral homes tend to ask large sums of money for their services, and what family wants to turn their relative’s funeral and burial ceremonies into a time for tough negotiation? The sticker shock of the final bill that a funeral director draws up for a relatives final arrangements can sometimes cause a great deal of resentment, no matter how professional, courteous or even compassionate a funeral director may be toward a family.
So, we have assembled a short list of “Funeral Director Don’ts,” things that families should avoid doing when working with a funeral director. Adhering to the suggestions in the rest of this article will be a great way to make sure your loved one’s funeral goes exceedingly well and is, in fact, a grand blessing to all who are involved.
Things to Avoid in the Funeral Director’s Sales Pitch
Probably the most important Funeral Director Don’t that we have to offer is to avoid the temptation to believe that the funeral director is working in a family’s best interest with the suggestions he or she offers. The fact is, funeral directors work for (or even own) funeral homes, and funeral homes are among the most profitable businesses in the United States. Their interest is to maintain their profitability. Often, in fact, the funeral home you are working with is part of a large, publicly traded company whose very by-laws pledge allegiance only to stockholders demands. And, in publicly-traded companies, stockholders are looking, solely for a return on their investment. That’s just the way stock trading works. So maximum profitability is the only goal for such companies. Ideally, of course, companies that look out for the best interests of their customers will be the most profitable over the long haul. So that is why the stock market system is, generally speaking, a good model to follow in most industries. But in the funeral home business, customers are, by the very nature of their reason for being a customer, in a vulnerable emotional estate, ripe for making unwise financial decisions based on emotion. This means even the most vigilant consumer watchdog is susceptible to the funeral director’s sales pitches that may not even sound like – or be intended as – sales pitches.
To manage this Funeral Director Don’t, we recommend that you enter your discussions with a funeral director with a maximum amount of money you can afford to spend on a loved one’s funeral and then simply insist that the services not cost more than that. A good funeral director will be able to help you arrange a funeral and a burial that is within your means. But you have to be serious about sticking to your per-conceived limit. And you have to be very clear, from the start, that you will not allow your funeral director to talk you into spending more. Not even a dime more. Doing this will keep you in control of the negotiations and will help you keep your emotions from getting the best of your pocketbook.
Things to Avoid Before the Funeral
Funeral directors will likely make at least one attempt to sell you services that you may not want or need. One way they make these sales pitches is by attempting to find out whether you and your family have burial or life insurance and, if so, what the coverage amount is. If you fall victim to this sales tactic, you can expect that much of the policy amount will be eaten up on funeral and burial costs. An industry insider once admitted in an anonymous public internet posting that funeral home sales consultants typically coach their clients to sell up to whatever the limit of the insurance coverage is. While it is technically illegal for funeral directors to ask their clients directly about life insurance coverage on the deceased, trained directors will know how to extract this information without posing a question directly. Many astute consumers have reported surprise at how easily they were “duped” into telling their funeral director about their relative’s burial insurance policy.
So, if you hope to have a good amount of money left over after you have finished paying for your relative’s funeral and burial, it is best to just keep your insurance claim information to yourself. This piece of advice may not necessarily apply in cases in which a burial policy will pay only for burial and funeral expenses – and none of that money will be returned to the family under the terms of the policy. But, even then, it is still best to keep your claim information private since you may be able to get competing funeral homes or cemeteries to participating in a bidding war for your business. If any of the companies know about your insurance levels, that may affect their willingness to put in solid, competitive, low-priced bids.
After you have settled this matter, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against funeral director tactics before a funeral is to know all of the relevant facts regarding embalming. Embalming is an expensive procedure – probably more expensive than is necessary, but that is for another article – that is rarely legally necessary. Nor is it often cosmetically necessary either. Funeral directors will often not discourage talk of embalming, simply because it is an extremely profitable part of any funeral home’s revenue stream. But that doesn’t mean that it is always a good choice. Before ordering an embalming service from a funeral director, a family should be careful to check with multiple sources – aside from those that may be accessible from the funeral home itself – to make sure the service is really what they need. In most cases, a body that has been deceased for only a few days can be made up with simple cosmetics to be very presentable during a funeral service. This sort of make-up service does not require a formal embalming and can usually be done professionally for much less money.
A final key note to keep in mind when making one’s funeral arrangements: A tradition is more of an option than a rule. In other words, just because a funeral home states that a certain procedure is a tradition (for example – as noted above – embalming a loved one before a service), does not necessarily mean that it is a service the family must have. Many families break away from the ‘traditional funeral’ based, simply, on the lost loved one’s final wishes – which in turn may afford them savings in funeral expenses.
Things to Avoid During the Funeral
Now we move on to a few services that funeral directors typically offer during a funeral service itself that may not be the wisest of choices for a family wanting to be wise stewards of its money.
The first of these is a crew of ushers that funeral homes will typically send to the service site (no matter whether it is in a chapel run by the funeral home or in a church’s sanctuary). These men and women are typically very professionally dressed and trained to be cordial and compassionate as they greet visitors and offer whatever assistance they can give to family members and friends of the deceased in the hour or two before the service begins. But, if the deceased was in any way connected to a church before his or her death, this same service can also be performed quite adequately – perhaps even more compassionately – by church members who knew him (and who would know many of the visitors). And, rather than pay a funeral home more than $1,000 for this service, many families would find it meaningful to simply donate a few hundred dollars to their church’s coffers in exchange for the church rounding up a crew of volunteer ushers who would likely feel honored to provide service for free.
The next Funeral Director Don’t involves the typically expensive transportation of a body from a funeral site to a grave site. As with the ushers provided by a funeral home, this service is often extremely profitable for the funeral home, at prices of more than $900 in many cases. So funeral directors will rarely recommend a very inexpensive alternative to this traditional part of nearly every funeral service. But the alternative seems to be catching on amongst those who are looking to save money on a family member’s final costs:
Funeral logistics can be arranged so that a single hearse and a single driver are used (with the assistance of six volunteer pall bearers) to transport a body from funeral home to funeral site and then finally to cemetery. At the conclusion of a memorial service, the family can stage a simple luncheon reception near the funeral service site while the body is being driven to the cemetery. Then, approximately an hour into the reception a brief announcement can be made that all who would like to join the family at a grave side service are welcomed to attend. Simple driving directions to the cemetery can then be distributed to all who inquire.
This arrangement helps a family avoid the cost of police escort service for a large group of cars following in procession to the cemetery, and, of course, it avoids the charge for numerous limousines and drivers. And, because it gets family and friends connected in a reception that can be a glorious moment of healing, it is seen by many families as the newest funeral tradition worth saving. But, of course, a funeral director is unlikely to mention that such an arrangement is an option. Because such arrangements take money directly from the coffers of the funeral home.
The bottom line in our list of Funeral Director Don’ts is this: it is important to never assume that a funeral director is, indeed, your friend. There is a great deal of difference between being friendly (which most funeral directors are trained to be) and offering truly compassionate service that is not delivered with profit as the motive (which no funeral director who intends to stay in his profession long can afford to do, unfortunately).