So you might as well face it as a smart shopper.
Planning a funeral used to fall almost entirely to funeral homes, which guided bereaved loved ones into standardized deals that might have included services or items the dearly departed might not have chosen. But federal and state laws have put the power of choice into the hands of consumers, and more and more people are taking advantage of it by planning their own send-offs, thereby controlling the cost.
A poll conducted by Harris Interactive in 2005 found that 47% of people said they were going to plan their own funerals. And businesses -- factory-direct emporiums, online merchants and even Costco -- have responded with products to meet the need.
It's not difficult, according to consumer advocates, to design a funeral that can cost a good deal less than the national average of about $6,500. You can even go green with an environmentally friendly exit strategy.
So if you choose to go death shopping, the place to start is with your rights under the law.
The Funeral Rule
The bedrock federal consumer law on death matters went into effect in 1984. It's known throughout the industry as the "Funeral Rule."
The law has strong provisions that govern how funeral providers have to deal with consumers:
* If you call a funeral home and ask about prices, the staff has to give them to you, even if you don't disclose your name or telephone number.
* If you visit a funeral home and ask about prices, they must give you a detailed, printed document known as the "general price list." And you can take it home.
* You have the right to buy some items, such as caskets, from outside providers. The funeral home can't add a corkage-type fee when you BYOB (bring your own box).
* Caskets are not required for cremations. A provider who offers cremations must make alternative boxes available.
* Before you buy, all the goods and services you've chosen must be detailed in a written statement that shows the cost of each item. If an item is required because of a law or cemetery requirement, that must be noted.
Now that you know the rules, it's times to plan.
If there's one thing the funeral establishment and consumer advocates can agree upon, it's the value of making a plan that takes into account both your wishes and financial realities.
"It allows a person to make decisions at a time when emotions are not raw," said Shaun Meyers, a funeral director in Ogden, Utah, and a member of the National Funeral Directors Assn. executive board.
Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance watchdog group, advised visiting or at least calling several funeral homes to compare. Be wary, he said, of package deals that include the casket, service, flowers and other items.