Funeral Costs – No Surprises Here

NPR’s recent two-part investigation of funeral costs in the U.S. revealed some very disturbing facts. Despite the 1984 federal regulation requiring funeral homes to disclose their pricing, many are unwilling to make their full price lists available either online or to people calling to request services. This makes it difficult, if not impossible to comparison shop.

And face it. Funeral homes are businesses, so like most retailers, up-selling is the norm and sometimes very expensive add-ons or packages are promoted.

What can you do? Don’t avoid the topic of death. It won’t stave off the inevitable, after all but will make the funeral more difficult and probably more expensive for survivors.

Plan WELL IN ADVANCE. Put your wishes for your arrangements/services in writing while you’re still young and healthy and DISCUSS those wishes with your family. This prevents your loved ones from being swamped with choices while they’re grieving (burial vs. cremation) and lets them eliminate those options that are unimportant, guilt free.

After putting your wishes in writing, or, if you have a pre-paid funeral policy, be sure it can be found or your loved ones may end up re-paying for your final costs. And they should not expect a refund.

Talk to friends who have had to plan a funeral recently and ask about their experiences. It may seem like a hard conversation to have but surprisingly, most people are happy to share their impressions, reviews and any regrets about the process after the fact.

Stop by a few funeral homes and request a price list. If they are willing to give you their lists (which should include at least the 16 standard goods and services required by law) it is a good indication that the establishments are transparent and then you can make a clear choice. Another resource is Parting.com, a company that has pricing data on 75% of U.S. funeral homes by zip code.

When visiting funeral homes, don’t disclose any financial information about insurance or any inheritance that may be coming your way. If visiting funeral homes after a death, consider bringing a trusted, objective advocate who has your best interests in mind and who will be able to discern between reasonable or costly proposed expenses.