Sign Up: Writer | Buyer
Contact Us

Empire State Building
350 Fifth Ave, Suite 7313
New York, NY 10118
phone: (800) 704-6512

Price: $25.00
Minor modifications of this article are permitted to adjust to the available space or to the publication’s editorial style.
Shop Around Before Needing a Funeral
by Gail Rubin
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

“Just a simple casket, that’s all I want,” my father-in-law told me. That’s not a whole lot of direction when you want to pre-plan a funeral for someone. Although he’s still alive to provide more input, he hasn’t been very forthcoming. I’m reminded of the plague victim in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail who said “I’m not dead yet.”

Granted, no one wants to think about one’s earthly end, but it will happen to all of us sooner or later. If you don’t want to pre-plan your funeral, do your relatives a favor and express some preferences about how you want it handled.

Just like weddings, funerals can be expensive. You can spend the same amount on both events. If you’re willing to do some shopping around before you need such services, you’ll be in a much better position to make rational decisions when undertaking a funeral. It’s a fascinating shopping trip.

Jessica Mitford’s landmark 1963 book The American Way of Death directed a bright spotlight on U.S. funeral practices, illuminating how the burial business was designed to maximize profit and maneuver the bereaved into buying an expensive funeral. To give you an idea of the impact of inflation since 1961, the year cited in her book, the average cost of a funeral then was $1,450 and an average family income was about $5,700 a year. That equates to 25 percent of a year’s pay for a funeral.

The ratio hasn’t changed that much. Median U.S. household income in 2003, the latest year available from the Census Bureau, was about $43,300 a year. In 2005 dollars, a traditional funeral and burial, including a casket and vault, opening and closing the grave, flowers, obituary notice, mortuary services, transportation, clergy honorarium, etc. can range from $6,000 to $10,000 and more if you don’t already have a burial plot.

Shopping for a funeral when you don’t need one is much more pleasant than when you do need one. Just bear in mind that funeral homes will try to get you to buy a pre-need contract. You can make the same arrangements and not pay for them until you need them, but you risk cost increases over time.

Without pre-planning, you also risk that your wishes will not be honored. Mitford told of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had written down instructions, but kept the document in his private safe. He wanted a simple, dark wood casket, no embalming, no hermetically sealed coffin, no grave lining, transportation by gun-carriage, not by hearse, no lying in state anywhere. Unfortunately, the document was discovered a few days after his burial. The only instruction followed was he did not lie in state.

Basic information needed for a pre-planning meeting include the not-yet-deceased’s Social Security number, military discharge papers, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden name), place and date of birth, current address, marital status, spouse’s name, and attending physician. You’ll need to make decisions about disposition of the body, any services, flowers, music, clothing, jewelry, readings, pallbearers, information for the obituary and special instructions, such as donations in lieu of flowers.

Per my father-in-law’s directions, my husband and I looked at the simplest casket offered, but we actually chose a better-than-basic model. The simplest one had no handles, and we knew our pallbearers would need something to grab onto besides the bottom of the box.

I could almost hear that plague victim saying, “I don’t want to go in the cart.”

Gail Rubin is an event planner with more than two decades of experience preparing successful and memorable life cycle events.

Published: Oct 16,2008 15:55
Bookmark and Share
You may flag this article with care.


Featured Authors
Andy Cowan
Andy Cowan, an award-winning writer, whose credits include Cheers and Seinfeld, regularly contributes humor pieces to the Los Angeles Times and the CBS Jack FM Radio Network.
Paul M. J. Suchecki
Paul M. J. Suchecki has more than 30 years of experience as an award winning writer, producer, and cameraman. He's written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Currently he writes, produces and shoots for LA CityView Channel 35 and his more than 250 articles for are approaching half a million readers.
Coby Kindles
Coby Kindles is a freelance journalist, screenplay writer and essayist. She has been a staff writer at Knight Ridder and a regular contributor to The Associated Press.
Debbie Milam
Debbie Milam is a syndicated columnist for United Press International, an occupational therapist, family success consultant, and motivational speaker with more than 20 years experience. Her work on stress management, spirituality, parenting, and special-needs children has been featured in over 300 media outlets including First for Women, The Miami Herald, Elle, Ladies Home Journal, The Hallmark Channel, PBS and WebMD.
Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter has covered the residential real estate industry for more than 15 years. He has contributed real estate stories to the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Business 2.0 Magazine, Home Magazine, Smart HomeOwner Magazine and many others.
Jack Nargundkar
Jack Nargundkar has been repeatedly published in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. He is also an author of "The Bush Diaries" published in July 2005.