How to Plan a Funeral: And Save. Straight Answers, No Spinning!

Funeral directors know that they normally have their customers at a disadvantage when someone in their family dies and they need a funeral in a week. Scam funeral operators will take great advantage of this situation. You will be charged double or more for the funeral services and the casket.

However, there are honest funeral directors in the US who will give you a reasonable cost for a funeral. One Funeral Company, Direct Casket, have been prescreened and will give you straight answers on prices. This company is a Troubleshooter Team Member, and I work with this company to make sure it is consumer friendly and it gives out straight information.

Buying funeral services is a little like buying a car; you can buy an economy model or you can buy an SUV. You can have a graveside service or a large ceremony with services at more than one location.

Package deals at a funeral home can be some of the best buys or they can have hide hidden costs. The package would include preparing the body, the service at their chapel, the casket, transportation to the cemetery, memorial cards, flowers, music, and burial at the cemetery. Buying a plot in the cemetery is normally an extra charge as the flowers and any music may be. The big corporate funeral homes have the highest prices because they have the highest costs.

Companies selling caskets can sell them for 70% less than you would pay at a full service funeral home. Example: A casket that might sell for $1,200 at a casket store will cost about $2,200 or more at a funeral home. The law says you have to right to buy your own casket and have it delivered to the funeral home. It is illegal for a funeral home to say we will not use a casket you bought. This is Federal Trade Commission regulation and state law in many states including California and Texas.

You can have services at a local church. You can supply your own transportation to the cemetery through a limo service. You can get your own flowers. Casket companies sell caskets starting at about $600 & $795 and up. At a funeral home casket prices will start at about $2,200 or higher. The difference is in the markup. Funeral homes say if you buy the casket in a package from them you are getting a better price over all the services they provide. Local churches will let their members or family of members hold funeral services at the church for a nominal donation and a fee to the Minister, Father, or Rabbi for his services. (Many times you then donate the flowers from your service for the religious services at the church.)

A combination package can be worked out at a funeral home. The funeral home prepares the body and provides transportation. You provide the casket, the local church for services, flowers, and musical group. Look over the costs to make sure that you are not paying more than you would for a package deal.

Funeral costs, depending on the size of the funeral home, can run from $1,300 up, and I mean up. I would say the normal average size funeral will cost about $5,000 to $10,000.

Prearranged cemetery lots and services can be of a help if you know exactly what you are buying and what it will cost. If you sign a contract for a cemetery plot it must have a final payoff date and you must know what interest rate you are paying. I have seen agreements where the person paid by the month until they died and there was no information about inflation cost at the time of burial.

So if you live for another 30 or 40 years, you could out live the cemetery company that could go broke. So buying a cemetery plot is like buying a piece of land. You pay an amount and then you own it. Most companies will charge you 10% down, and then monthly payments for up to 60 months, depending on your monthly payment. If you can buy the plot outright, that’s a good idea. You can also buy burial insurance from most Insurance Companies. This is like any life policy, it pays off when you die and need the money for services and burial.

But remember, other members of your family may want to be buried in the same cemetery, so make sure there are enough plots.

Know where the cemetery plot is. This sounds like a “no brainer” but I know of many cases where the relatives were simply told the plot is up there on the top of the hill under that big oak tree. You need a map with the exact location and plot number and your name on it. Scam operators sell the same great plots on the hill under the oak tree over and over. When relatives return in a year or so to pay respects, they find the grave is down at the bottom of the hill near a water outlet. Also make sure your relative is going to be the only person in that grave.

Operators are now selling graves that are six caskets deep. If the name plackets on the grave have room for five others besides your relative, you know your Mom or dad is being buried in a “condo grave” with five other people. Now you can get a grave where Mom and Dad can be buried on top of each other, but I don’t think you want any strangers in the same plot.

Always check out the location on the ground not just on the map. In one of my cases when we checked out the plots for the “Heavenly Garden,” I found that it was actually the parking lot where I had parked. They were in the process of burying caskets in the parking lot six feet deep. The operator threatened to sue me in court if I exposed that the Heavenly Garden was actually under the asphalt lot.

Check List:
Shop around and get different prices. You can save 70% if you buy a casket from a casket store.
Make sure you have signed ownership papers on the grave site and you know where it is located.
Visit the grave site at least once a year.
Prearranged funerals are a good idea. You have more time to compare prices.

UPDATED: Cremations and Selling Body Parts

If you plan to have your loved one cremated and the ashes spread somewhere special or kept in a heron or vase make sure you check out the company that does the cremations. Don’t just take the word of the funeral home. They normally go with the cheapest company. Check with the state consumer affairs department. Go to the company and ask to see the furnace unit they use. If they have one and it appears that it has not been used for years, this is a major RED flag.

In 2001 and 2002 there have been news reports of cremation companies that had not cremated the bodies but dumped them, or cut them up for body parts that are then sold to medical schools or labs. In 2001, Michael Francis Brown the owner of a crematorium in Riverside County near Los Angeles, was charged with removing body parts and selling them to medical schools and medical labs.

Brown was charged with selling body parts from 81 bodies that were supposed to be cremated. Brown, who’s crematorium is located in Paris, California, is charged with felony body dismembering. He was caught by reports of family members who did just what I suggest, check out the facility. They checked out local labs and medical schools and found out that they were buying body parts from that crematorium. There was no way for that company to have body parts to sell, unless they were selling the body parts from funeral cremations.

In case in Georgia another owner of a large crematorium has been charged with fraud for allegedly taking bodies from funeral homes and then dumping the bodies on his 16-acre wooded property that has a lake. Some of the bodies were partially buried, but most were just dumped in the woods. The owner said the furnace he used had been broken for years. But the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation said the furnace was in working condition. Apparently the owner just didn’t want the expense of the gas to fire up the furnace.

Both these investigation are still going on. Also the California State Legislature is considering Senate Bill 17 that would make it a felony for fraudulent booking or improper disposal of human remains. There are big profits in selling body parts and in this case in Paris, California the crematorium owner had no costs because he was being paid to cremate the body and he was making a profit off the body parts. Investigators found boxes with body parts that were ready for shipment to medical schools or medical labs. (Update Filed March 2002)

UPDATED: Funeral and Cemetery Employees’ Confessions

During the time I was investigating funeral homes and cemeteries I talked with many employees of these businesses. Some wanted to confess what was really going on and how the consumers and families were being ripped off. I will not name the sources and employees who talked with me, however, many were interviewed on camera for my investigative reports on cemeteries on CBS-2 in Los Angeles.

One veteran employee of a large cemetery in south of Los Angeles, told me that they would keep a record of visits to the grave sites over the years to determine which graves they could dig up and move to a back location or completely remove. Older cemeteries always run out of grave sites. So many owners will remove graves to make room for new sites that can be sold. He pointed out there were three basic ways of making money out of an old cemetery that was full. First, was simply removing the older graves and reselling the sites.

They would dump the bones and trash the casket. If the casket was in fairly good condition they would resell it. I found one of these caskets in a shed on another small old cemetery in Santa Anna, California. I was told the reason it was in the shed for repairs was that the backhoe accidentally stuck it while they were digging up an old grave. The second way to increase revenue is to pretend to bury the body and keep it in cold storage for sale as a cadaver to a medical school. Also body parts were sold to medical schools and labs.

The employee told me they could sell a 40 or 50-year-old body to a medical school for about $1,200. If they could get a child’s or a teenager’s body it would sell for between $4,000 and $5,000 dollars. Children’s and young adults’ bodies were hard to get as cadavers. Of course someone had to forge the documents to make the body a cadaver. The third way to get instance revenue out of a cemetery is to raid its trust fund that is set aside to maintain the cemetery into the future. Some old cemeteries have trust funds as high one million dollars.

One cemetery employee said that when a 10-year-old boy was accidentally killed in a wild gang shooting the cemetery management offered the poor family a free funeral and cemetery burial. The management played this up to the news media as trying to help a family in need. But that is not what they were doing. After the graveside ceremony for the young man the family was told that he would be lowered into the gave after everyone had left. The family went to Mexico for a memorial service. A week later they drove back to LA on a Sunday afternoon.

They decided to take some flowers to their son’s grave. To their total surprise the grave was still open and the casket was gone. They searched around trying to find an employee who could tell them what had happen. There was an old large shed that had a cooling unit in it where flowers were kept for graveside ceremonies. When the father went in to the shed he found his son’s body laid out on a table. The employee said the boy’s body was being stored in the cooling shed until it could be sent to a medical school as a cadaver. He said a young cadaver in good condition could bring up to $10,000. The employee said if someone had just filled in the grave site then the parents would have never known that their son’s body was going to be a cadaver for a medical school. The parents took their complaints to the State of California’s Cemetery Board and the Cemetery settled with them. The Cemetery Board has now been done away with because the state found that the board was apparently involved in illegal activity. It was like the fox guarding the hen house. The California Department of Consumer Affairs now regulates all California Cemeteries. At the old shed where the little boy’s body was found there were also stacks of grave markers that had been removed from graves that were apparently sold as new grave sites.

A salesman for another major LA cemetery did an interview with me on TV with his face shaded so no one could recognize him. He told me there were just so many good gravesites that were under a tree or had a view of the valley or etc. He said I would resell those good sites over and over. The salesman said they heard many complaints from family members who would say, “When I was at the gravesite ceremony five years ago I remember the grave was up there on the hill under a tree, and now the grave marker is down by the back gate. What the “Hell” happen?”

The salesman said the management would always find a mistake in the books and put the marker back on the grave on the top of the hill and just move the marker that was there down to the back gate site. He said after a while it was almost impossible to find where someone was buried because of all the moving of the markers. I got a call from a woman who buried her husband the year before at this exact cemetery and she said they had his marker at the wrong gravesite. I went with her to look at the cemetery site maps and she was right.

The books showed the marker should be at two different sites. She said perhaps, “I have been visiting and praying at the wrong grave.” I told the cemetery management that she had the right to known where her husband was really buried. I demanded that they dig up the casket and check to see who was in the grave that was listed for her husband on the grave map. Remember they had his name on two different grave sites. They did dig up the casket and her brother identified the man as her husband. The marker with his name on it was moved to the location where he was actually buried. The widow who was in tears thanked me, and said, “I might not have know for the rest of my life. They would not have helped me find out for sure if you had not brought your cameras and forced them into checking for sure.”

I suggest that several family members stays after the graveside service and make sure the casket is lowed into the grave and covered. I did this at my family’s last funeral. The cemetery official told me it was not necessary. I looked at him and said, “Yes it is!”