Plan a Funeral Service: 7 Tips For Making Funeral Arrangements
Before making funeral arrangements, read these tips!
In past posts to the eFuneral Resources Center, I’ve provided funeral planners with dozens and dozens of tips to make the funeral planning process easier. But when asked for the most important advice – here’s what I think all funeral planners need to know:
Funeral industry jargon can complicate the planning process … so learn it
Prior to meeting with funeral directors, visiting funeral homes, or delving into funeral service research, try to learn some of the common terms associated with funeral services. Understanding the difference between a direct burial and a traditional burial, for instance, can ensure that you choose the option that best meets your needs. Some such terms include:
- Direct (or immediate) burial and direct (or immediate) cremation
- An immediate burial is the simplest burial option available. Immediate burials are chosen by those funeral planners who wish to have the deceased buried, without a service, shortly after death.
- A direct cremation is the simplest cremation option available. Direct cremations are chosen by those funeral planners who wish to have the deceased cremated shortly after death.
- Viewing (aka visitation, wake, and calling hours)
- A viewing is the time during which family members and friends come to see the deceased after being prepared by a funeral home.
- Memorial service, funeral service, graveside service, and celebration of life service
- A memorial service is a service given for the deceased when the body is not present.
- A funeral service is a service given for the deceased with the body present.
- A celebration of life is a service that focuses on the positive, humorous, and encouraging aspects of the deceased’s life.
- Grave liner, burial vault, and outer burial container
- A grave liner covers the top and sides of a casket.
- A burial vault is a container that houses a casket when it is buried.
- An outer burial container refers to grave liners and burial vaults.
- Alternative container and casket gasket
- An alternative container is an unfinished wood box.
- A casket gasket is a feature on caskets designed to delay water seepage and prevent rust.
To save money on a funeral service, apply the same smart shopping techniques used for other major purchases
Making funeral arrangements is never easy, and often, funeral planners feel like they have no control over the process. But a little research can go a long way to ensure your loved one gets the care they deserve. A funeral is a large purchase, and like other large purchases – like buying a new house or car – the more you know, the better you can feel about your decision. So, when making funeral arrangements, gather as much information about your area funeral homes as possible. You may start by finding out the services offered by each funeral home, along with the prices they charge. But don’t stop there. Ask around for feedback on your local funeral homes so you can learn more about their service quality and understand how the funeral homes vary from one another. If you don’t know anyone who has used a particular funeral home, or if asking around seems like a hassle, visit eFuneral.com where you can access ratings and reviews for funeral homes across the nation.
The federal government dictates that funeral homes provide itemized pricing information … to everyone!
To make an informed funeral planning decision, it helps to know what services and products a funeral home provides, along with the prices of those offerings. I would encourage all funeral planners to request a GPL (general price list) – that is an itemized list of prices – from the funeral homes they are considering. The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to give you their GPL if you ask for it in-person or over the phone. If the GPL does not include specific prices for the caskets and outer burial containers they carry, ask for them – the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you the price lists, including descriptions, for those items before showing them to you.
With the prices in-hand, funeral planners can make apples-to-apples comparisons among funeral homes. And if calling to request general price lists seems overwhelming, simply use eFuneral’s funeral home search tool to look through the general price lists of funeral homes in 11 major metropolitan markets across the nation.
You have the right to purchase funeral packages or individual funeral products and services
Many funeral homes offer a variety of funeral “packages” of commonly selected goods and services for a burial or cremation. But, according to the Funeral Rule, funeral planners do not have to buy a package – they have the right to purchase individual goods and services. Using the GPL as a guide, funeral planners can determine whether or not they are better off choosing a funeral service package versus individual items.
Cash advance items can impact your funeral bill
Even if you do request a general price list and use that pricing information to plan a funeral service, it’s important to understand that the fees associated with “cash advance items” – products or services that funeral homes offer via third parties like limousine services, death certificates, and floral arrangements – may not be included on the price lists. Some funeral homes don’t mark up those cash advance items, but others add a service fee to their cost. So, it’s important to discuss those items – in advance – with the funeral director with whom you plan to work.
Funeral homes cannot refuse or charge a fee for handling a casket purchased from a third party
Funeral planners do not have to purchase a casket from a funeral home – you may buy a casket from a third party and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. Not only does the Funeral Rule require that funeral homes allow you to use a casket purchased elsewhere, it also requires that funeral homes use the casket without charging an additional fee.
No matter the funeral home, funeral planners must pay a basic services fee; but all other funeral services and products are optional
Funeral homes charge funeral planners a basic services fee that covers the costs associated with making funeral arrangements, sheltering the remains, and coordinating plans with the cemetery, crematory, and other third parties. While basic services fees vary from funeral home to funeral home, the services covered by the basic services fee are common to all funerals and thus this is not an optional fee.
Funeral planners do, however, have the option of purchasing other goods and services, including:
- Embalming and other preparation of the body;
- Use of the funeral home, staff, and equipment for a viewing, funeral ceremony, memorial service, or graveside service;
- Use of a hearse or limousine;
- Casket or urn;
- Outer burial container; and
- Cremation or internment.
It’s also important to keep in mind that while many funeral homes require embalming if the funeral service includes a viewing, embalming is not legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death.
Now that you know the most important things about funeral planning, check out the prices, ratings, and reviews of your local funeral homes and compare those costs to average funeral service prices – nationally and in your area.
Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.