The benefits of making funeral arrangements ahead of time

The benefits of making funeral arrangements ahead of time »Play Video
Comparison shopping almost always saves you money. But when it comes to funeral arrangements, a lot of people don't feel comfortable doing that.

Death is something we just don't like to think about. But like it or not, a funeral is a purchase.

Robert Krughoff, president of Puget Sound Consumers' CHECKBOOK magazine, is a big believer in planning one's own departure from this world.

"These are very difficult decisions, and it's ideal if you think of these things in advance, on your own behalf, and sharing with your family," he said. "They don't have to make all these difficult decisions at a real moment of crisis."

CHECBOOK price-shopped funeral homes in the Seattle area, and found big differences for the same service.

According to the magazine, embalming could cost from $300 all the way to $895, and a ride in a hearse could cost anything between $95 and $425. And the price of caskets can run as high as $5,185 and as low as $2,295, with solid oak caskets being the least expensive options.

And believe it or not, Krughoff says you don't need to use a funeral director. If you're up to it, you can plan the funeral on your own.

"They handle the whole process themselves," he said. "They wouldn't do, you know, embalming, but they hold the body and arrange for it to be directly buried, et cetera."

And as I mentioned above, caskets can be wildly expensive. But remember, you don't have to go with what the funeral home has to offer.

"You can order one online," said Krughoff. "They'll be delivered in a day, and you're likely to save a fair amount of money. If you don't want to do that, it's worth at least knowing what that price would be, so that if you're having a discussion with a funeral director, you could say, 'Well, that sounds like a lot of money. I was thinking I might get one through this other source ... Can't we find a middle ground here?'"

Funeral directors are required by federal regulation to give you an itemized list of fees for each service they offer.

"They have to give you a written list of that, and most of them will give it over the phone," said Krughoff. "So you don't have to do all that price-shopping in the back end. You actually know, 'Well, this place provides a good service at a good price.' And that just simplifies the whole decision-making right at the last moment.

“It’s a nice idea, of course, to decide on a funeral home in advance. We don’t recommend putting down money in advance. Because for all you know, the person may move away or something. You might not want that funeral home at all. But at least decide on what the plans would be in general.”

CHECKBOOK gives high marks to Seattle's People's Memorial Funeral Cooperative, which specializes in helping people plan simple, dignified and affordable final arrangements to people who live in the King County area.