While every state is different, I wish these were some things that EVERY adult knew about funerals. Having previously been in the cemetery/funeral industry for almost 8 years, I can speak to the practices of private firms as well as cemeteries and funeral homes that are owned by large companies. My experience includes working for three of the largest firms in the world.
There is a great amount of money to be made, but it is normally made at the expense of the living on what could arguably be the worst day of their lives.
Not all companies, cemeteries, or funeral homes are corrupt. This also applies to funeral directors or cemetery managers. Some of the nicest folks I have ever met and considered to be friends have worked in the cemetery/funeral industry.
1. A Last Will and Testament means nothing at a funeral home. This document is for the disposition of your property and has nothing to do with your earthly remains. In common law, the deceased is considered to be the quasi-property of the next-of-kin. Basically, this means that the next-of-kin is responsible for providing the necessary and legal means of disposition.
2. Legal disposition is restrictive to the laws of your particular city/county/state. I am not aware of any state that permits the digging of a big hole on your property and burying your family member. Some states may put severe restrictions on such actions. For example, I worked in several states that required a minimum amount of land had to be fenced and set aside by the landowner in perpetuity for the burial of human remains.
3. Some think that they can just save money by donating their body to science. In their minds, this avoids the expense of a casket, embalming, and then burial or cremation. This is a myth. Many states have placed restrictions on companies that used to provide this kind of service. Some companies are so overloaded with bodies that unless you have some form of disease that a science center wants to research, then your family will be required to provide disposition. In addition, once the science center has finished with all of their research, many do charge the family for cremation and an urn to send the cremains back to the family.
4. Cremation is simply a form of disposition of human remains. Wikipedia gives a very good description of cremation’s history, modern techniques used, as well as some religious aspects as it pertains to various religions. On average, cremation tends to be the least expensive means to dispose of human remains. In some parts of the USA, cremation only accounts for about .5–1% of all dispositions. This is particularly true in the southern states. However, in some places like New England or the upper West coast, cremation can account for 95%+ of all dispositions.
5. Embalming is NOT required except in certain circumstances. This is a common charge that is included on itemized funeral home charges. It is pushed by funeral companies onto the consumer because it is an easy way to make a larger profit margin. If you have any questions about the use of embalming, then check the laws in your state.
For those who want the bottom line, embalming does NOT preserve the body forever. Factors in the length of time it takes for a body to fully decay depends on the embalming process, soil composition, and burial vs. entombment in a mausoleum.
Embalming simply helps preserve the body from more rapid decomposition and is generally for the purpose of being able to have a funeral where viewing is going to be present. Embalming does not and cannot provide any guarantees about the state of your loved one’s body.
As a general rule, embalming may be required by a funeral home if there will be a public viewing. However, family members are generally permitted to say their final goodbyes without an embalming process of their loved ones.
6. Prepaid funerals do NOT cover all costs involved in a funeral. For example, the overwhelming majority of large funeral firms have “add-on charges.” Most of these are almost 100% profit making items that are not necessary and certainly NOT required.
7. Cemeteries are generally not a part of a pre-paid funeral plan. A funeral plan is provided by a funeral home but the charges from a cemetery are normally separate. This often includes cemeteries owned by the same company that owns the local funeral home.
Charges at a cemetery can amount to several thousands of dollars that a family was not expecting. As with funerals, laws vary as to what is required. Some may require some type of vault to surround the casket, where others will still permit the burial of a casket without an outer covering. Vaults were designed as a means to more evenly distribute the ground and provide a nice uniform look to the cemetery. We will talk more about various products in a later article.
8. Funerals are for the living and not for the deceased. One area that still brings up resentment is the guilt that the living is made to feel for the deceased. A smooth talking funeral director can easily talk a grieving family member into spending a great deal of money. Many of the large firms train their funeral directors or cemetery workers to play on the emotions of the family in order to drastically inflate the amount of money the family pays for a final disposition.
9. Preplanning is different from prepaying. Preplanning is the preparation that a person or a couple makes in the anticipation that death is coming. Planning booklets are normally provided or available free or little cost. These booklets allow you to put down your final wishes so that your family is not struggling to deal with their grief as well as having to make decisions about which is the best casket for dad or mom.
Prepaying involves a payment plan. This can be insurance based or an endowment where money is paid by a family or individual to cover (prepay) for final expenses. However, many unscrupulous firms do not stress that these plans do not freeze prices for the future. So, for example, if a pre-paid plan was paid for over 5 years back in the 1980’s or 1990’s, that funeral or cemetery policy may actually only cover a small fraction of today’s costs.
10. Nobody should feel required to pay for an expensive funeral. Again, while we will look at cost breakdowns in another article, the average funeral costs in America are between $7,000 to $10,000! These costs can quickly escalate if you or your family are NOT prepared to handle what you will face as you walk through the doors of a funeral home on the worst day of your life.
Stay tuned for more helpful information on the costs associated with funerals and cemeteries.