published Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Phillips: Use a little nerve in shopping for funeral home


by Ellen Phillips

Q: After my mother died, we discovered the funeral director hadn’t been completely honest with us and we ended up spending unnecessary money. Now that my dad is in the last stages of cancer, my family needs some advice on how to protect ourselves but also to give him a great send-off. — Sonny Savings.

A: Dear Mr. Savings: My only experiences with funeral homes have been positive; unfortunately, in researching, I found an astonishing number of errors “misspoken” by some funeral home directors. So here’s information to remember when Dan Director makes his suggestions:

• You don’t have to purchase a casket from the funeral home. Go online to Costco or to Wal-Mart or even more a manufacturer for far less money.

• Many funeral homes don’t offer a refrigerated holding room because they want you to pay for the cost of embalming. If you have the viewing a few

days after death, most bodies present very nicely if they were held in the refrigeration.

• Don’t believe Dan when he promises a rubber gasket will be a protective measure. Not only do they not stop decomposition, but also caskets have been known to explode (!) from moisture and gases trapped inside.

• If you wish a lower-price casket and none seems available, demand to see one anyway. Some funeral homes actually hide these.

• If cremation is your family member’s desire, ask to have the ashes returned in a plain metal or plastic container — not the one funeral homes stamp with “temporary container.” According to Reader’s Digest, this can be a sleazeball method to get grief-stricken family to shell out big bucks for a costly urn.

• Mr. Director isn’t the only ballgame in town so shop around. One funeral home may charge $10,000 for the exact process that may cost $5,000 down the street.

• Be careful of “packages.” Always ask for the package to be split up into individual charges, just like you’d do for a hospital itemization. Sometimes packages include services you don’t want.

• While I’ve sometimes advocated prearranged funerals, I’m beginning to think twice.

Plan it, yes — even to the point where you visit the funeral home and make some decisions. However, if you fork out the money in advance, and the company goes belly up, burns down, or some other catastrophic incident occurs, you’re out all that money and your family must start over.

• If the death of a service member occurs and he or she was honorably discharged, you have the right to a free burial at a veterans cemetery, including the grave, vault, opening and closing, marker, and setting fee (www.cem.va.gov).

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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