Where to Get Help Making Decisions About Planning a Funeral
Last updated in November 2017
Funeral homes provide important services, but they are businesses—which means they are typically run for profit and with a goal of maximizing each sale. They make money by selling products and services, some of which you and your family may not want, need, or be able to afford.
Often 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 situations 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 family’s grief and guilt to encourage extravagant purchases. This situation, far too common, 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’s what the family wants. But many families that might prefer a simple, dignified ceremony end up with something lavish and costly.
Most people need help making funeral arrangements, especially when they’re made during the period of bereavement. One firm rule: Never go to a funeral home to choose the services you will be purchasing by yourself. 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 okay.
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, traditionally referred to as “memorial societies.” These nonprofit organizations provide consumer education and resources regarding your rights and options for burial and cremation. Some also negotiate discounted prices for their members with local funeral homes. Typically, a one-time nominal donation is required to join.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance 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 home for you.
Below, we list contact information for the memorial societies in the area and other resources. To find memorial societies in other areas, contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance at 802-865-8300 or visit funerals.org.
Funeral Consumers Alliance (national)
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties
Bay Area Funeral Consumers Association
P.O. Box 60448
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Santa Cruz County
Funeral Consumers Alliance of Monterey Bay
P.O. Box 2900
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
California Department of Consumer Affairs
Cemetery and Funeral Bureau
1625 North Market Blvd., Suite S208
Sacramento, CA 95834
Better Business Bureaus
Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties
1112 S. Bascom Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
All Other Bay Area Counties
1000 Broadway, #625
Oakland, CA 94607
California Funeral Directors Association
One Capital Mall, Suite 800
Sacramento, CA 95814
International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association
107 Carpenter Drive, Suite 100
Sterling, VA 20164
National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop’s Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005