In addition to the funeral itselfwhatever form it takesa number of associated
details require attention. Friends, coworkers, and fellow congregants can
play a major role in relieving the bereaved family of many of these tasks.
If the deceased chose to be an organ donor, time is of the essence. Notify
the attending physician and medical staff immediately, and they will notify
the closest transplant center.
A death certificate must be filed before cremation or burial takes place.
The certificate is issued either by a physician who has been treating the
deceased or, if no such physician is available, by the medical examiner
or coroner. If the circumstances of death are at all questionable, the
medical examiner is summoned.
Remember also that survivors must choose the funeral home. If you havent
chosen a funeral home and the death occurred in a hospital, it may be possible
to keep the body in the morgue until you make a decision.
Notify the deceaseds lawyer and will executor.
Make a list of everyone else to notify right away, and then make the calls.
If memorial donations are to be substituted for flowers, decide on the
organization and announce it in the obituary.
Write an obituary. Include the deceaseds age, place of birth, cause of
death, occupation, college degrees, memberships held, military service,
outstanding work, and survivors in immediate family. Provide time and location
of funeral services.
Make a list of additional people to be notified by letter, card, or printed
Notify insurance companies, including automobile insurance, for immediate
cancellation and refund, if available.
Keep a record of all calls and visits. Arrange for friends or family members
to answer the door and phone.
Plan hospitality for visitors, including transportation, if necessary.
Arrange childcare as needed.
Coordinate food service for the first days. Different friends might each
bring a dinner.
Consider special needs of the household, such as cleaning. Again, friends
can divide the work.
Plan for disposition of flowers after the funeralfor instance, to a hospital
or nursing home.
Check promptly on all debts and installment payments. Some may carry insurance
clauses that will cancel them. If there is to be a delay in making payments,
ask creditors about extensions.
If the deceased lived alone, contact the landlord, utility companies, postal
service, and newspaper carrier, if necessary. Tell the police the home
is empty, and ask neighbors to report unusual activity.
Prepare a list of people who should be sent notes or acknowledgments for
helping, visiting, calling, writing, sending flowers, or making donations.
Grieving for a loved one is acutely difficult immediately after the loss.
At this time, you dont want to sit across the desk from a salesperson
in a high-pressure, time-sensitive situation in which you have to make
a series of important and expensive choices. In these moments, youre vulnerable
to making hasty, costly decisions that might not make sense with the perspective
that a little more time would bring.
Although funeral homes provide important services, they are also businesses,
and as such are typically run with an eye toward profit margins and maximizing
the sale of various products and servicessome of which you and your family
may not want, do not need, and cannot afford.
This article reviews the many choices confronting you and will help you
find resources to obtain appropriate services at a reasonable cost.
It makes sense to read this article when there is no immediate need, to
get a frame of reference if the need suddenly arises.
In addition, take this opportunity to make decisions in advance for yourself
and your loved onesso that decisions are made based both on your expressed
preferences and the emotional needs of your survivors.
Though it is difficult for many people to do, preplanning your own funeral
arrangements is sensible and thoughtful. Your willingness to become informed
will give you some input for the final decisions of your life, and your
personal involvement in planning your final disposition will be a source
of comfort to your survivors.
Imagine the more common alternative: A grieving family must respond on
the spot to a long list of questions from a funeral director. The funeral
director is at ease in a situation of death when the family is distraught
and knows little or nothing about the choices or what they cost. The funeral
director may subtly manipulate the familys grief and guilt to encourage
extravagant purchases. This situation, far too common, perhaps partially
explains why most funerals and burial arrangements in the U.S. cost between
$7,000 and $10,000. There is nothing wrong with an expensive funeral if
that is what the family wants. What is wrong is for a family that might
prefer a simple, dignified ceremony to end up with something lavish and
In what follows, we report our findings from surveys of funeral homes and
funeral home customers. We also steer you to other resources that can help
you make good decisions. And we review the basic choices youll need to
Most people need help making funeral arrangements, especially when arrangements
are made during the period of bereavement. There is one firm rule: Never
go by yourself to a funeral home to choose the services you will be purchasing.
Alone, in the hands of a funeral director, you are too vulnerable to making
decisions based on grief or guilt. You need a less-involved companion to
assure you that sensible cost-saving decisions are all right.
The obvious ones to turn to for help with funeral arrangements are family,
friends, members of the clergy, and hospital social workers. But specialized
organizations can help as well.
A particularly helpful source of advice can be funeral consumer organizations,
or memorial societies. These nonprofit organizations provide consumer
education and resources regarding your rights and options for burial and
cremation. Some also negotiate discounted prices with local funeral homes
for their members. Typically, a one-time nominal donation is required to
The Funeral Consumers Alliance (www.funerals.org) is the national umbrella
group for affiliated funeral consumer groups in the U.S. Many local affiliates
perform price surveys of area funeral homes. They also provide information
on organ or tissue donation, and provide information on death benefits.
They do not arrange for funerals, pay for funerals, or choose a specific
funeral director for you.
Below, we list contact information for the memorial societies in the Chicago
area. To find memorial societies in other areas, contact the Funeral Consumers
Alliance at 800-765-0107 or visit www.funerals.org.
There are several options for disposing of a deceased persons remains.
Burial is the traditional choice of disposition. It can be done directly,
with no viewing or ceremonies, or with any combination of viewing, ceremony,
and graveside service. In any case, burial usually requires you to pay
for a casket; cemetery plot; fees to open and close the grave; cemetery
endowment (upkeep); and a marker, monument, or headstone. At most cemeteries,
a grave liner or vault is also required. Though most burials are below
ground, another usually more expensive option is burial above ground in
Direct burial is the least expensive option: A funeral home files the necessary
paperwork, places the unembalmed body in a casket, and takes the remains
to a cemetery for burial, usually within one day. Direct burial is often
accompanied by a simple graveside service. This alternative eliminates
expenses for embalming and some expenses for funeral home facilities, and
often results in use of a minimum-priced casket.
Cremation is an increasingly popular choice. Neither a casket nor embalming
is usually required, but if the body must be held for several days, refrigeration
or embalming may be necessary. Cremation, like burial, can be direct or
following a funeral. It is also possible to have an embalming, viewing,
and ceremony followed by cremation. Some funeral homes offer rental caskets
for cremation, while others sell modest caskets designed for cremation.
Cremation also allows flexibility as to when or where services are heldmany
families now hold memorial services in their own homes or at the deceaseds
Cremated remains may be scattered, kept at home, buried in a cemetery,
or interred in a columbarium (an above-ground structure containing permanent
niches). Burial in a cemetery or placement in a columbarium adds to the
Whether a body is to be buried or cremated, part or all of it can first
be donated to improve the quality of life of othersor offer the gift of
life itself. Donation of at least some body parts is an option for almost
anyone, regardless of age or medical history. Whether donation is right
for you is a matter of personal choice.
Individuals can donate organs or tissues or their whole bodies. If you
wish to become a donor, let your family know, enroll with the local organ
donor registry (see below), and have it noted on your drivers license.
If you wish to make a whole body donation, make prior arrangements with
the medical school of your choice. Donation of a whole body cannot be made
without these prior arrangements.
After organ and tissue donation, you still need to make all the usual funeral
arrangements. Even after the removal of organs and tissues, open casket
ceremonies are usually possible.
If arrangements have been made for donation of a body to a medical school,
upon notification the school will transport the body and assume responsibility
for disposal by cremation. Depending on the school, the ashes may be returned
to the family, who may not get them back for two years. With the exception
of removing corneas, whole body donation usually precludes the donation
of individual organs or tissues for transplants.
The type of ceremony ranges from a simple, direct disposition to a lavish
funeral. Consider whether you want a traditional funeral, with the casket
open or closed, or would prefer a memorial service with no body present.
Memorial services, church services, and graveside services usually cost
less than conventional funerals.
You also need to decide between a religious and secular service. Either
can be held at a funeral home, religious establishment, residence, or elsewhere.
Finally, decide whom to invite. Do you want the ceremony open to all relatives
and friends, or to immediate family only?
Determine what would be a meaningful commemoration of the deceased. Something
simple can often be quite profound. You dont need an expensive funeral
to express love and respect.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires funeral homes to provide a
copy of their General Price List (GPL) if you visit their facility and
ask about costs. Although they are not required to send you the entire
price list if you call on the phone, many will. If you have chosen a specific
type of service, such as a simple cremation, they are required to quote
a price over the phone upon request. Some funeral homes now also post their
GPLs on their websites. GPLs must include itemized prices for at least
the following, if offered
Basic services of funeral director and staff (and overhead)
Transfer of remains to the funeral home
Forwarding of remains to another funeral home
Receiving remains from another funeral home
Other preparation of the body
Use of facilities/staff for viewing
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony
Use of facilities/staff for memorial service
Use of equipment and staff for graveside service
Either prices for individual caskets or the range of prices available on
a separate price list
Either prices for individual outer burial containers or the range of prices
available on a separate price list
Many consumers find deciphering a GPL confusing and overwhelming. Because
some run 20 pages or more and include unfamiliar jargon and bewildering
package options, get a written price quote for any services youre considering.
Funeral homes offer many other items, and its reasonable for you to expect
full disclosure of their prices as well. For example, a home might offer
prayer cards, flowers, music, burial clothing, programs, memorial flags,
placement of newspaper death notices, a police escort, hired pallbearers,
and acknowledgment cards.
The funeral home is required by law to make certain disclosures about your
choices. A home must tell you
About all services it offers and that you are free to select only those
you desire. If legal or other requirements mean you must buy any items
you did not specifically request, this must be explained in a written statement
describing the goods and services you selected.
Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming
may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements,
such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually
have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay
for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial.
If you want to arrange a direct cremation, you can use an alternative container.
Alternative containers that encase the body can be made of materials such
Since each option offered by funeral homes costs money and affects the
atmosphere of a funeral service, you need to choose carefully what you
want and dont want. These decisions are personal matters and should not
be dictated by a funeral director. Several deserve brief discussion.
Most funeral homes require embalming if an open casket will be available
for public viewing. Some funeral homes will arrange a private viewing of
the remains without embalming if it is performed soon after death (usually
for an extra charge).
The average cost for preparing the bodyincluding embalming, cosmetology,
and dressingin our survey of funeral homes was about $1,050. It costs
extra if the funeral home provides the clothing. The main thing to remember
is that embalming and an open casket open the door to all sorts of additional
If not embalmed, the body is refrigerated. The FTC requires funeral homes
to offer up to three days refrigeration without charge as a part of standard
funeral arrangements. After three days, the funeral home can start charging
for it, but most funeral homes charge for refrigeration only if there is
an extended delay in time of disposition.
The casket is usually the single most expensive item in funerals, but just
how expensive depends on you. Casket prices range from less than $1,000
for the least expensive pine or pressed wood box to $25,000 or more for
elaborate caskets made of copper or bronze with innerspring mattresses
and plush velvet or silk linings. Since the markup on a casket is often
three to five times its wholesale price, a funeral directors adviceand
even the design of the selection roommay steer you toward an expensive
choice. Most people choose midrange models made of steel or hardwoods like
mahogany or walnut for $3,000 to $6,000. If a closed casket is draped with
a flag, funeral pall, or flowers, a less expensive casket can be used.
The least expensive containers, cardboard containers or pouches, are adequate
for cremation or direct disposition. Some homes may have rental caskets
that can be used for viewing, which allows you to buy a less expensive
one for disposition.
You may have to ask to see less expensive models, as they may not be on
display. Do not be misled on emotional grounds or on the basis of a caskets
claimed preservation attributes.
With cremation becoming increasingly popular for many funeral homes, urns
have replaced caskets as major profit centers. You can purchase an urn
from the funeral home or provide one yourself. Like casket prices, funeral
home urn prices range dramatically, from less than $50 to thousands of
dollars for artist-made urns.
Many cemeteries require a vault or grave liner to hold a casket to prevent
the ground from collapsing or caving in. Unlike caskets, this item is rarely
included in the package price of a complete funeral. Prices of outer
burial containers typically range from about $500 for the least expensive
concrete grave liner to $8,000 or more for a triple reinforced bronze
vault. Because neither vaults nor liners preserve remains, a cement liner
serves the same purpose as an elaborate vault at a considerably lower cost.
Because a vault or grave liner might cost less from a cemetery than from
a funeral home, check this out before making a decision.
Once you have decided on means of disposition, type of ceremony, and services
and merchandise you desire, you can select a funeral home. We have gathered
some data to help you.
We surveyed area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers)
for their ratings of funeral homes they have used. Our Ratings Tables
show results for the homes for which we received 10 or more ratings. In
general, funeral homes rate rather high, although some homes rated superior
for overall performance by more than 95 percent of survey respondents,
while others were rated superior by fewer than 70 percent. (Click here for more information on our survey and other
In addition to ratings from consumers, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of
complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent
three-year period and the number of complaints on file with the Consumer
Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General for a recent
two-year period. For more information on reported complaint counts, click
Our callers asked for the prices of three types of services:
Direct cremationIncludes homes basic fee, least expensive cremation container/casket,
and crematory cost.
Immediate burialIncludes homes basic fee, least expensive casket, and
least expensive grave liner.
Traditional funeralIncludes the minimum services of the funeral director
and staff; transfer of deceased from place of death to funeral home; embalming,
cosmetology, hairdressing, dressing, and casketing; least expensive oak
(solid or veneer) casket; least expensive grave liner; one two-hour visitation
session at funeral home the day before the funeral service; supervision
by staff of funeral service at a church; hearse; and supervision of a committal/graveside
The price range for each type of service was very large. The price of direct
cremation ranged from $1,125 to $4,355, with an average of $2,706. For
our sample traditional funeral, the price ranged from $6,485 to $13,220a
$6,735 spreadwith an average of $9,930.
If you want services different from whats included in our packages, Table
1 indicates what they would cost if selected separately. As you can see,
the variation is large.
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices at Surveyed Funeral Homes for Elements
of a Traditional Funeral
If you wish to consider one of the many area homes for which we have no
data, if time permits shop first by phone and then personally visit a few
homes. When you call for prices, the funeral director very likely will
encourage you to come in because these matters are too complicated to
discuss over the phone or we will surely be able to work something out
between us. But you do have the right to get price quotes on specific
services over the phone, and it may be a more convenient, less pressured
way to get several quotes.
In addition to customer ratings, complaint histories, and prices, consider
a homes location, tastefulness, and willingness to accommodate your wishes.
The funeral industry is aware that many people find it difficult to quickly
pull together several thousands of dollars to pay for a funeral. On the
other hand, since it is impossible to reclaim a coffin or take back any
of the services associated with a funeral, funeral homes understandably
want to be sure they get paid. Our survey of area homes turned up several
arrangements for financing funerals. A few homes ask for payment in advance
once arrangements are decided upon, although in cases of need they might
work out a payment schedule. (Advance payment is expected most often for
cremation.) Other homes allow 30 to 60 days for payment with no interest
charges, and almost all homes accept credit cards. Some funeral homes have
their own installment plans, some charging interest and some not.
Because settling an estate usually takes quite a while, benefits are an
important factor in partially or even completely defraying funeral expenses.
Because many people are not aware of the benefits available for final expenses,
money often remains unclaimed. Remember that most death benefits are not
automatically sent to survivors and must be applied for.
A Social Security death benefit of $255 is available to a surviving eligible
spouse or dependent child (under 18). When there is no survivor, no payment
will be made. An application for the payment must be filed within two years
of the death. Payment is made directly to the surviving spouse or entitled
child, never directly to the funeral home.
Honorably discharged veterans and their spouses may be entitled to burial
in a national cemetery with a grave marker and a flag for the casket. Other
benefits may be available if the death occurred during active duty or during
hospitalization in a veterans facility. Check with the Veterans Administrations
Benefits Office (800-827-1000 and www.cem.va.gov) to determine the
benefits to which you (or the deceased) may be entitled.
Other benefits that may be available are death payments from fraternal
organizations, lodges, clubs, union welfare funds, retirement plans, and
Filing for death benefits on behalf of survivors is a standard service
of most funeral homes. If survivors decide to file their own claims, the
funeral director should be asked if this will reduce the homes professional
Whether survivors apply for death benefits themselves or let the funeral
director do it, they will require a number of documents. Certified copies
are required in some instances; photocopies are not always acceptable.
Survivors will need:
Social Security number of the deceased
Typically five to 10 certified copies of the death certificate to establish
insurance claims, Social Security, and other claims
Copies of birth certificates of surviving spouse and minor children for
Social Security, VA, and other benefits
Copies of marriage certificate for Social Security and VA benefits for
surviving spouse and minor children
Copy of W-2 form or federal income tax return for the most recent calendar
year as proof of deceaseds record for Social Security benefits
Copy of veterans discharge papers for VA benefits
Copies of receipted bill from funeral home for VA benefitsalso for Social
Security benefits if applicant is not the surviving spouse
You can write down your own preferences for your funeral arrangements and
give them to a likely survivor. Alternatively, you can file a preference
form with a funeral home without making any financial commitment. Both
actions are advisable.
In contrast, prepaying for a funeral represents a major financial commitment
and, in our opinion, is usually not a good idea. Under a prepayment plan,
you arrange with a particular funeral director to pay a lump sum or make
installment payments for the items you select for your own funeral. You
can make these payments into a trust or a life insurance policy arranged
through the funeral home. Before making such a commitment, find out
What the contract does not cover;
What happens if you die before the plan is fully paid up;
How much you get back if you cancel;
Whether the funeral home has been in business for many years and has a
What happens if the funeral home goes out of business or changes ownership;
Whether the arrangement is guaranteed to cover all your funeral arrangements
even if prices go up;
Whether the money you put away will earn interest, and at what rate; and,
What happens if you move.
Do not sign a prepayment plan until your attorney looks over the contract.
And be aware that while the funeral industry wants to sell you the peace
of mind in sparing your family difficult decisions and expenses when you
die, prepaid funerals often create more problems than they solve. Its
not uncommon for the new owner of a funeral home to refuse to honor price
guarantees made by the previous owner. Likewise, many cash advance itemsitems
or services provided by a third party such as fees for death certificates,
opening and closing graves, grave vaults and liners, engraving, and honoraria
for clergy or musiciansare not guaranteed, so families frequently face
additional expenses. And many unscrupulous funeral directors across the
U.S. have simply embezzled customers prepaid funds, leaving the family
A simpler arrangement is to open a savings account called a Totten trust
at a bank, naming your chosen funeral home as the recipient of the funds
upon your death. Alternatively, you can open a joint savings account with
a likely survivor; then the survivor will have access to the funds when
you die. Both arrangements let the funds avoid probate and make them available
immediately for funeral costs. Under both arrangements, however, you must
pay income taxes on earnings.
In any event, tell your likely survivors about any arrangements you make
with a funeral home, so they dont pay for services at a different home.
If You Want the Funeral Held Elsewhere
If a body needs to be shipped by public transportation, a funeral director
can arrange the transfer. You will be charged for services provided by
the funeral director who accepts the remains as well as by the business
that ships them. The funeral director at either end can make the necessary
arrangements, but if the funeral services wont take place in the city
where the death occurred, its usually less expensive to have the funeral
home at the destination coordinate all arrangements. Find out the amount
of the funeral directors markup or service charge that will be added to
Make sure that between the two funeral directors you are not charged twice
for the same services, especially embalming. Also, unless you want one
casket for shipping and another for the funeral, dont let them sell you
The least expensive time to ship remains is following cremation. The ashes
can then be transported by a family member or friend, or shipped to a final
location. If cremated remains (cremains) are to be taken on an airplane,
make sure they are in a container that can be x-rayed.
When death occurs overseas, you must follow local rules and regulations.
If you are overseas, make your first call to the American consulate. If
you are in the U.S. making arrangements for someone who has died overseas,
contact the Department of States Office of Overseas Citizens Services
at 202-647-5225. This office will advise you about local requirements and
options. Ask about all possible arrangements and how much theyll cost.
Keep in mind that local customs may limit your choices; for instance, embalming
and cremation are rarely performed in some areas.
Our survey of funeral costs did not include cemetery plots or the opening
and closing of gravesites, items that typically add thousands of dollars
to the other funeral expenses. The following tips can help you deal with
Do some comparison shopping. Cemetery plots are like real estate lots:
Its all about location, location, location. You will find significant
variation in the prices of lots, merchandise, and services.
Buying a cemetery plot doesnt mean you own the land, only the right to
be buried there. The cemetery can dictate how your family can use the space.
If you want to bury a second casket or urn of ashes, it will probably charge
for a second interment. The cemetery is also likely to limit the number
of burials per plot. And most cemeteries have rules on what monuments can
be placed, what flowers (if any) can be planted, and how long the cemetery
waits before clearing away items left at gravesites.
If you are considering purchasing cemetery property and services before
Remember that if a death occurs before payment is completed, the outstanding
balance on the site, interment charge, and price of the receptacle for
the casket are usually due immediately.
Insofar as you and your family members may not always live in your present
area, ask if the cemetery belongs to an exchange program so that your lot(s),
merchandise, and/or services can be transferred if you move. If not, find
out if the cemetery offers alternative plans, such as repurchase or resale
on your behalf, and if there are any restrictions on your right to resell
the property or merchandise yourself.
Make sure you know how the cemetery will safeguard your prepayments. Find
out if they will be deposited in an interest-bearing account or trust fund.
Dont let cemeteries suggestions that the cost of burial and burial merchandise
could become prohibitive in a few years frighten you into making pre-need
As an alternative, consider creating a special savings account for future
Take note of the general appearance of any cemetery you are considering.
Drive around and check the condition of the grounds. Are buildings and
walls well-maintained? Is the grass mowed and clipped around monuments
Be aware that a cemeterys perpetual care does not always include maintenance
of monuments and markers. Make sure you understand exactly whats included
in any purchase.
When you talk to the sales representative:
Determine whether sites you are considering for two bodies are side by
side or a double depth.
Ask whether you can bury cremated remains in the plot.
Ask if the cemetery has a price list you can examine. While cemeteries,
unlike funeral homes, are not required to prepare price lists, they should
be willing to provide a quote in writing.
Determine whether you are discussing an exact location or area within the
cemetery (lot prices vary according to location).
Explore potential savings of buying a family plot or lawn crypts.
Read the cemetery rules and regulations to learn about any restrictions
or additional costs. For example, although grave liners are not required
by law, most cemeteries require them. Remember that vaults are more expensive
Once you have made a choice, revisit the cemetery for another inspection
before signing any contracts.
You need to consider various options in the purchase of a grave marker
or monument. Size, style, inscription, material, and installation charge
determine the total price.
You cannot be forced to buy a marker or monument from the cemetery where
you buy your lot. Before you use an outside supplier, however, check the
cemeterys rules and regulations regarding installation, care, and maintenance
of the memorial.
Ask if the cemetery or supplier buys the merchandise in advance, sets it
aside, and provides you with a record of ownership. This policy may protect
you if the seller later has financial problems.
Burial charges are usually higher on the weekend. If you intend to prepurchase
these services, ask if there will be a refund if burial takes place during
Before signing any contract for property, merchandise, or services, carefully
review its terms and provisions. Be certain that it conforms exactly to
what you believe you are buying. Make sure that, among the other things
listed, it includes:
A full description of the lot and its location.
A description of the type, size, and design of burial merchandise, and
of services to be performed. Does the price include installation of merchandise?
Guarantees for transfer of lots to another cemetery (or other arrangements)
should you or your family members move, if that is part of the agreement.
The cost of each item and the total cost.
That all cemetery expenses are guaranteed, regardless of the actual cost
at time of death. Because some cemeteries will not guarantee the price
of opening and closing the grave, the vault or liner, the monument, or
engraving, survivors end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars
more to cover items they thought they already paid for.
Green burial is an increasingly popular choice in which an unembalmed
body is placed in a biodegradable casket or cloth shroud and buried without
a grave liner. The cemetery is planted with native vegetation rather than
grass, and graves may be marked by native trees, shrubs, or fieldstones.
Instead of looking like a cemetery, the land becomes a natural greenspace.
To find out more about green burial, visit www.greenburialcouncil.org.
The price of the casket often represents a large portion of the price of
a funeral. When we calculated sample costs for a traditional funeral for
each of the homes listed on our Ratings Tables, we included their prices
for the least expensive oak (solid or veneer) caskets. On average, the
price of the casket alone accounted for roughly 30 percent of funeral homes
total charges. Had we chosen a more expensive coffinfor example, an elaborate
casket made of copper or bronze with plush liningsthe price of the casket
could have accounted for more than three-fourths of the cost of an average
There is tremendous price variation among funeral homes for identical caskets.
Many homes mark up caskets three to five times wholesale; some have even
Surprisingly, it is possible to comparison shop for caskets. By law, funeral
homes must allow you to provide your own casket and may not charge a handling
fee if you do (although they can withhold offered discounts for funeral
packages to customers who dont buy caskets from them). Dozens of online
casket vendors sell directly to consumers for next-day delivery to funeral
homes. Even Costco and Walmart sell caskets, and several models are for
sale via their websites.
When we compared prices charged by funeral homes for several casket models
with prices from a sampling of online direct sellers, we found that direct
sellers almost always offered considerable savings. For example, for the
least expensive oak casket offered, the average price quoted by area funeral
homes was $2,914, compared to $1,465 at www.bestpricecaskets.com, $1,495
at www.casket-online.com, $1,995 at www.peninsularcasket.com, and
$2,390 at www.casketsite.com.
Although Costco offers a very limited selection of caskets, its prices
appear to be quite low: when we checked, all of the caskets it sold cost
$950 to $2,600.
Another strategy is to use prices quoted by direct sellers to negotiate
with the funeral home. Once youve picked out a casket at a funeral homes
showroom, shop around for a better price online. Then let the funeral home
know the best price you found, and that youll buy it elsewhere unless
the funeral home lowers its price. By law, funeral homes must provide customers
with price lists for caskets they sell, and they are not allowed to charge
more than the prices shown on the price list; but funeral homes are allowedat
their discretionto discount casket prices.
Be aware that circumstances and location of death may limit organ, tissue,
or whole-body donation possibilities. Here are a few caveats:
OrgansIf death occurs due to brain damage from accident, stroke, or any
situation where life can be artificially sustained by machine, the body
can be used for donation of all major organs. The only limitations could
be a medical history of problems with any organs.
TissuesTissues, including corneas, bone, bone marrow, skin, and connective
tissues, can always be donated under the same circumstances in which organs
can be donated and in other circumstances up to 24 hours after the heart
stops beating. Corneas can be removed in the funeral home, but all other
tissue must be removed in a surgical setting.
Whole body donationWhole bodies usually cannot be donated following embalming
or an autopsy, if death was caused by a contagious disease, or after a
mutilating accident. If death occurs far away from the specified medical
school, donation might not be possible or the family might have to pay
to transport the body. In some rare instances, the medical school may refuse
a body because it has an oversupply. Since you wont know for sure if the
medical school will accept the body until time of death, be prepared to
have an alternative arrangement.
Except possibly to transport a body to a faraway school, families never
pay for donation procedures nor are they paid for organs or tissues. Most
medical schools will pay for cremating the body.
Be wary of other organizations that offer free cremation in exchange for
whole body donation, as some come from companies operating on the fringes
of the law. Although it is illegal to sell bodies and body parts in the
U.S., criminals can collect as much as $20,000 per body for distributing
body parts. If youre not dealing directly with representatives of a medical
school, confirm with hospital staff or other professionals that the organization
youre working with is a legitimate community-based nonprofit.
For information on whole body donation to a local medical school, contact
the Anatomical Gift Association at 312-733-5283 or visit www.agaillinois.org.
The Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network (630-758-2600, www.giftofhope.org)
can advise you on tissue and organ donation.
To become an organ donor, have your intent indicated on your drivers license.
Or register online at http://www.donatelife.net. Its also a good idea to
fill out an organ donor card and carry it with you at all times.
Its also important to inform your family about your wishes. Even if youve
registered as an organ donor and have an organ donor endorsement on your
drivers license, and have completed a donor card, permission of next of
kin is required before donation can take place.
Funeral Consumers Alliance (national)
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT
Chicago Memorial Association
PO Box 5889
Chicago, IL 60680
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
100 W. Randolph
Street, 9th Floor
Chicago, IL 60601
Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division
100 W. Randolph
Chicago, IL 60601
City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection
N. LaSalle Street, 8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60602
National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishops Drive
Illinois Funeral Directors Association
215 S. Grand Avenue West
Better Business Bureau Serving Chicago and Northern Illinois
330 N. Wabash
Avenue, Suite 3120
Chicago, IL 60611