This is something I wrote to all my friends almost 5 years ago. If you're in the funeral home business, please take note this is my family's experience. It may not at all reflect on how you run your business. 


Good Morning Friends and Family!

I told some of you that I'd collect my thoughts on funerals and share
them. It's been 1 month and 23 days since my father passed away. Here
are my observations:

Things to prepare:

1) Write out all wishes, even the little details. For example, in the
funeral who do you want to attend, to not attend? Do you want a
funeral, memorial service, or graveside service only? Do you want to
have an open casket? What do you want to wear?  How do you want your
hair? Do you want jewelry on? Do you want your glasses on? And the
list goes on. They seem small, but for those planning everything and
grieving at the same time, this will take out the guess work.

2) Write out advice for your spouse. This can be simply financial
details, like location of insurance policies, retirements,
investments, etc.. It could be how to winterize the house every year.
However, it could also be ideas on how to use the insurance money,
like the reason you have a policy is to ______ (pay off the house, use
as income, put children through college, etc...) and prioritize the
list. Again, this seems small or even self evident, but at the time of
grief it will make a huge difference.

3) If you can, then set aside an account with joint survivor ship to
pay for the funeral in cash. If you don't have the cash, the funeral
home asks for the life insurance policy to be handed over. They
collect the full amount and then deduct their expenses, and then give
you the remainder. I don't like that idea.

4) I have mixed feeling about prepaid funerals. The two negative
stories I heard were the funeral home forcing the family to wait 2
weeks before fitting the funeral into the home's schedule or the
funeral home business moving out of the area and not wanting to honor
the prepayment.

During the final preparations:

1) Funeral homes are not, in general, welcoming to shopping around for
the best price. Some are rude enough to make you come into their
business place at their convenience (by appointment) before you even
learn about their prices. This is stressful. Others are rude enough to
tell you that if you wait too long while comparing prices, you are
going to just accept a closed casket funeral. Shop around, stand your
ground, and let those who don't call you back take a hike. Prices can
vary around here from about $3,000 to $8,000 for the same basic service,
with the average place being closer to $8,000. Also, watch out for
little services that will cost a lot, like creating a picture DVD
($95), driving the flowers from the funeral home to your house ($250),
creating paper programs ($65), etc... You can have friends help with much of
this work.

2) Buy the casket from someone who sells caskets at a wholesale price.
This might be hard to find in your area, but look for it. Almost the
same casket from the funeral home for $3,000 was purchased for $1200
from a business in a large city near by and shipped to the funeral home.   P.S.
Don't buy caskets from a guy whole also sells mattresses. You want a
seller who knows the logistics of caskets and how to present them, set them up, etc.

3) Don't let the funeral home tell you that they might have to reject
the casket shipment. Sadly, we had to be there when the casket arrived
to make sure the funeral home accepted it. Again, their goal is to
tell you the one you bought is bad and you have to buy theirs.

4) Shop around on cemetery plots. There's a huge range from $500 to
$4,000 for all for the same size plot. Also, ask the cemetery about
their other fees, like opening and closing. These can be fees that
cost from $400 to $800.

5) I've not gotten to headstone yet. However, another cemetery fee is
to pour the footer for the headstone for $500. This all adds up.


Hound the insurance companies, pension companies, etc... Call every 2
to 3 days. Surprisingly the only people that haven't given the run
around is Social Security. After almost 2 months, insurance still
hasn't paid and the pension said they can't even have an estimate of
benefits before Nov. (4 months later). Now, they offer a one-time
payout estimate. For some reason, that could be ready at any time over
the phone. All of this stresses the importance of having emergency
savings* built up to cover 3+ months of income replacement. Those
savings can be dawn upon in regular, paycheck like, amounts and
frequency to keep the household funded until other money comes in.

That's my thoughts on that.

*(In YNAB terms, have your budget go out 4+ months fully funded)

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  • Here's some comments from my friends at different times after sending the message:

    Friend 1: When my Dad passed in 2012, my mom was in a nursing home. I am sure she would have known much of what your notes revealed. I never imagined I would need to I'm sure you didn't expect. Good info for sure. Funny, dad's funeral nearly came to his insurance amount. I did learn that the small amount left over can go towards the plot next to him. Mom is all set up. I hope her resting place doesn't take the money and run! Thanks for sharing, Ben

    Friend 2: So sorry to hear about your Father.  Appreciated your thoughts on funerals.  Gave me a lot to think about realizing neither my husband or my boys would have a clue of what I wanted.  When I retired my life Insurance ended and I never replaced it.  

    Friend 3: Clark Howard reported on a nationwide life insurance search in his newsletter today. The process starts at It can't hurt to do a search to any unclaimed polices.

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