The 1st Step

Rule #1: NEVER go alone.

Only an utter fool willingly goes alone to a funeral home to make arrangements. As we'll see later, only a fool will go to a funeral home without doing some 'comparison-shopping' by phone first, anyway. You'll need a friend, someone with backbone enough to help you say "No." . . . or at least "Not yet." You will be working closely with this person for several days, so besides selecting someone whose judgement you respect, make certain it's someone you can get along with.

It will help if this person has been through the arrangement process recently, and help even more if they are not related, nor emotionally close to the deceased. Identify this person right now, at this minute, so that if something should happen you'll have that first decision, at least, made. Contact this person as soon as you learn of the death and make no decisions whatsoever, not even having the body moved, until he/she is by your side. Which leads into our second topic . . .

Rule #2: Do not be in a hurry to move the body.

You've heard the old saw "Haste makes waste." all your life, right? Well here is a case where it can make several thousands of dollars worth of waste in unnecessary charges. The Affordable Funeral goes into the details of how this can happen and how to avoid it. For our purposes here, suffice it to say you don't want the body moved until you've made an educated choice of which funeral home [if any!] you'll be using.

Be aware that, if death occurred in a nursing home, you may be pressured to have the deceased moved immediately. If you need an out, you can say you believe the deceased may have written plans for the disposition of his/her remains, and that you need a short time to locate them. Odds are the deceased's room is paid for through the end of the month, so there's no real need to rush so the home can plug another patient into that bed. Hospitals and many cities have a morgue or medical examiner's office where the body can be retained until you have your feet under you enough to make that educated decision.

A word to the wise; don't be surprised if some member of the medical staff -- or even a member of the clergy for that matter -- volunteers to call someone for you. Some funeral homes pay generous finders fees to anyone directing business their way. This can be a most expensive 'kindness' and should be politely refused.

Rule #3 --- Deal with only ONE funeral home.

For cases where death occurs in one state and the funeral or burial is to be in another state, there are a host of financial pitfalls of which you need to be aware. A case in New England recently cost a family about $6,000 just to have the body collected, embalmed, and driven less than ninety miles. Had the family only known, they could have had one phone call made that would have accomplished the same thing -- and in this case by the same funeral home! -- for under $600!

Learning the rules can be expensive. A good rule of thumb is to deal only with the funeral home that will be conducting the funeral, but be aware also that the huge corporations that own literally hundreds and thousands of funeral homes in North America and abroad tend to work together, so there may be no incentive for your funeral director to help you save money if another of his corporate buddies stands to also profit from your misfortune.

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