Unless cost is not an issue, a good place to start when planning a funeral is to figure out how much you can afford to spend. It’s easy, if you don’t have a limit in mind and haven’t done any research into your options before you meet with a funeral director, to end up incurring much larger expenses than you had anticipated. While most funeral directors are well meaning people who sincerely want to help families achieve a meaningful send-off for their loved one, it’s also true that they are in business and therefore have some incentive to guide consumers toward more expensive goods and services.
Of locally available options, traditional in-ground burial is the most expensive. Cremation, an increasingly popular option in the U.S., is much less expensive. Green burial is much more environmentally friendly. Green burial does not entail the cost of embalming, a metal casket, or a grave liner or vault, but the cemetery plot and cost of opening and losing the grave may not be any less than for a traditional burial. The least expensive option is donating the body for medical science, which incurs essentially no costs unless the body has to be transported for a long distance. But it may be hard to arrange this if not done in advance of a death.
It is possible and legal to conduct a home funeral though this requires planning in advance. As a practical matter it may still be advisable to coordinate with a funeral director for assistance with documentation, transportation of the body, and ultimate disposition – cremation or burial.
Once an overall budget has been decided on, it’s helpful to read more about specific options before meeting with a funeral director in person.
If you are beginning your planning after a death, you will probably be under some time pressure to decide which funeral establishment to use. Our price survey of funeral establishments in Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia will help you find out which ones local to your area are more economical. Our last survey was completed in 2018, so the specific information listed there may not be current. You should always call funeral homes you are interested in for current price information.
Of course, you should consider factors other than cost. If you want and can afford services such as viewings before the funeral, catering, parking for many cars, or the use of a chapel for services, it may be worth it to you to pay for the services of a funeral establishment that has beautiful and spacious facilities. If, on the other hand, you don’t need those services, you may prefer to use an establishment that does not need to support that overhead.
After choosing two or three possible funeral establishments, you will benefit from calling those to see how you are treated over the phone as you ask a few basic questions about their services and current prices before committing to one. You should also look at their websites to see if they post their General Price list (GPL) to obtain more complete information before scheduling a visit to make actual arrangements.
Once the body has been transported to the funeral home, you should have some time to think about your options and your budget prior to meeting with the funeral director. Bodies may be refrigerated for several days without embalming, so not all decisions must be made right away.
You should review your legal rights before meeting with a funeral director. Taking a friend or another family member who is less emotionally involved to the meeting with the funeral director is strongly encouraged, to provide support and an objective second pair of eyes and ears.