Sunday, December 25, 2011


"Funny Things People Do When Shopping for Caskets"

 In 1996, a young lady called me on the telephone and wanted to know if I could help her find a register book for a funeral. She stated that she just lost her Dad and the funeral home wanted over $150 for the guest register book. I gave her a source that would sell her a nice register for $19.95 plus $2.75 for the funeral inserts. She thanked me. But then I asked her if she had time for me to ask her a few questions.  She said no problem.

I asked her if she would mind telling me which funeral home was conducting the service.  She told me.  It was a very expensive establishment.

"Have you already purchased Dad's casket?"

"Oh, Yes. It is a beautiful copper and perfect for my dad. Then she went on to describe the casket in detail."

"Do you mind me asking how much you paid for the casket?"

"Not at all," she said. "We paid $6,500."

"Suppose I  told you I could get you that same casket, same manufacturer, delivered to the funeral home in three hours, and the funeral home has to accept it. And it would only cost you $3500, a  savings of over $3000."

She responded, "Oh, my mother would never go for that." She hanged up the telephone.

Wait a minute, Ken. You are stating that she was upset about paying $100 too much for a register book, but paying $3000 too much for a casket was no problem? 

That's right. It doesn't make sense. But why was she not interested?

The answer is that she knows how much a register book should cost.
She has no idea what a casket should cost.

Some funeral homes buy caskets for less than $600 then sell them for $3000. In 1994, it was a lot worse.  Competition has helped bring prices down. Education of consumers has also helped.
Another aspect of casket shopping is that not all caskets are alike, even though they are described the same on funeral contracts.

The following comments are simply my observations and opinions:

In general, metal caskets are in six categories: least expensive is 20 gauge steel, then 18 gauge, then 16 gauge, then Stainless Steel, Copper, and Bronze (the most expensive usually). The most expensive casket I know of in Houston is copper coated with silver.  Over the last 10 years its price has ranged from $86,000 to over $107,000, absolutely outrageous. Hey, someone will want it and if they don't have it, the family will go somewhere else to get it.

Wooden Caskets start with poplar, birch, pine, pecan, oak, maple, walnut, and mahogany.  The poplars are also available in veneers.  There are even fiberboard caskets.

All caskets can be used for cremation, including the metal caskets.  While cremation is usually done with the body placed in an alternative container (funeral home lingo for cardboard box), funeral homes would prefer that you purchase a cremation casket. "Hey, this is your dad we're talking about. You mean you are going to have him cremated in a cardboard box?"  Before it was an alternative container, now it is a cardboard box. Most are cremated in the alternative container, but we are getting off on a tangent.  Back to caskets.

The two most popular caskets are 20 and 18 gauge caskets.  In my opinion, if you purchase anything more expensive, you are throwing your money away.

I will limit most of my discussion to 20 and 18 gauge caskets.

The difference between a 20 and 18 gauge casket is the difference between a mid-sized car and a luxury sedan. Or it is the difference between a subcompact and a luxury car, depending upon the funeral provider and the merchandise purchased.

In most moderately priced and expensive funeral homes, the least expensive casket is designed to be unappealing.  The funeral homes can buy very attractive 20 gauge caskets or they can buy very unappealing 20 gauge caskets. the manufacturers sell both.

Question?  Why would the manufacturers make unappealing caskets?  Because the funeral homes want them.  When you place a $1300 price tag on a casket that looks like something you wouldn't be caught dead in, the $3000 casket does not look so expensive.

The "Oswald"
One funeral home in Dallas, Texas names its least expensive casket, "The Oswald".  No one is going to purchase The Oswald.  It is ugly, sad gray cloth covered with a linen look interior.  The hardware is made out of plastic so cheap you can see the screws through the faded plastic.  But it sells for over $1000.  If a family had to purchase the Oswald because that is all they could afford, the funeral home would probably give them a free upgrade because they probably don't want the Oswald to be shown at the funeral with other families in attendance.  Realistically the family who cannot afford the Oswald has absolutely no business at that funeral home. It is over-priced and outrageously manipulative an d the funeral director will use this casket in every way possible to his or her advantage.

But did you know that some very beautiful 20 gauged, non-protective caskets can be purchased for less than $850.  Chrome hardware, a beautiful glossy finish, with a triple fold panel in the head panel.  Very simple but very attractive also.

The Oswald, if it were a car, would be known as the "loss leader" or the "ad car". Whoever sells the ad car loses his job.  It is there to get the customer in the door so you can sell them the more expensive products.

There are a lot of games played in the casket selection room.  Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

1.  Do Keep the Casket Price List Handy.  By Federal Regulation, the funeral home is required to give you the casket and outer burial price lists before you set foot in the casket selection room. Do not fold up the casket price list and place it in your wallet or purse.  Keep it out.

2.  Do Make sure you see every casket on the price list.  Many casket show rooms are set up so you see the most expensive merchandise first.  If you keep asking to see the less expensive merchandise, it gets embarrassing. That is the funeral provider's intent. 

Another factor is called the fear factor.  Families don't like casket selection rooms.   I call this technique "When the Widow Bolts."  The game goes like this. The widow sees the most expensive merchandise but the salesman drags his feet. Soon she becomes uncomfortable but she will not admit it. Then she asks to leave to go to the restroom or some other excuse.  Wild horses couldn't get her back in there.  But the least expensive caskets were never seen.  Soon her children are asking, "Mom, what casket did you like?" 

"I really liked that Walnut or the Copper."  The children will do anything to get Mom the casket she wants. But it will be very difficult to get her back in the casket selection room. And the funeral sales person knows this.  If the family pressures her to go back in a make a more reasonable selection, the funeral salesman will come to her defense. "You should not pressure your mother like this. If she doesn't get what she wants, she and you will regret it later."

Ken, are you making this up?  "No."  One of my first clients went through this situation.  She bolted after about 3 minutes in the casket selection room.  "I need to go." And believe it or not the exit door was left open and in full view at a strategic point for her to make her exit. "I just need to go to the bathroom."  When she returned from the bathroom, she was very nervous.  I then asked her if she had made up her mind on the casket.  She stated that she liked the Walnut which was over $5000.  I then challenged her to go back in the casket selection room and showed her that there were several other caskets on the Casket Price List which she had not seen. Then she stated she was afraid. She said, "Vampires."  This wonderful lady had seen too many horror movies and was also afraid she would come across a body in the casket selection room.

I then assured her there was no reason to be afraid.  "The preparation room is on the other side of the funeral home. And no funeral home would be stupid enough to let you come across a body accidentally in the casket selection room.  Besides, think of them as wooden coffee tables.  Would you pay $5000 for a Walnut coffee table?"

"No way," she says. 

I assured her, "I will be with you the whole time. I will not let anything happen to you."  She slowly went back in and fell in love with a beautiful poplar casket for $3000 which we later negotiated to $1800.  Had she not gone back into the casket selection room, she would have spent another $3200 on just the casket.

If she had gone back in and still wanted the Walnut casket, that would have been fine. But it would have been her choice, not a manipulated event.

This incident brings us to my next point:

3. Never visit the casket selection room alone or simply with your family or spouse. Have a friend, or another more objective party, go with you to the funeral home and cemetery.  The casket selection can be incredibly emotional.  And in an emotional state of mind even when you are suspicious that the funeral salesman is playing games, you will not pick up on the game as well as someone with you who can step back and observe what is happening.  You also have another witness if the sales person uses illegal sales tactics.  And yes, it has been my experience that Federal Trade Commission violations occur regularly, especially in the casket selection room.  And often sales people are unaware that they are breaking the law. It sure helps negotiations when they realize you are familiar with the law and more than one person saw it happen.

4. Do not let another funeral home representative separate family members during the sales process.  This is especially important if you purchased a pre-arranged funeral plan. Several funeral homes have gone to double-teaming the family. Here is an example:

The husband and wife purchased a pre-arranged funeral plan over 10 years ago.  The husband just passed away and the family is at the funeral home. The sales person suggests that they look at the caskets again.  Mom really doesn't want to go into the selection room and the salesperson prompts her to complete some paperwork while her son and daughter take a look at the casket. The salesman doesn't want Mom in the casket selection room either.  The salesman then shows the children the most unattractive casket in the contract category that Mom and Dad purchased on the pre-arranged funeral plan.  Then the salesman waits for their reaction.  The salesman will possibly add, "You know Mom and Dad were pretty frugal and were probably watching their finances closely.  It is probably all they could afford."  Then comes the classic, "We could use this casket, but don't you think your Dad deserves a nicer casket?"  Then one of the daughters will probably chime in, "We need to get Mom in here so we can discuss this."

The salesman then jumps in, "Wait a minute.  You are not going to burden your mother with this are you? She has enough on her mind and it could be embarrassing for her.  Let me show you what is available." The salesman then proceeds to talk the family members into a "more fittin casket" for their dad.  He may also use a lot of guilt on the family member who was too busy to visit or help out. "You know this is the last thing you can do to really honor your Dad."  TRANSLATION: "Where were you when your sister needed your help taking care of Mom and Dad?"  The family ends up spending another $3000 on the casket. 

Keep in mind that the objective of the salesperson is to upgrade the funeral. The casket is a big ticket item. And don't be surprised if the salesman suggests that they go look at the cemetery lots Mom and Dad purchased (a higher ticket item with a larger commission percentage for the sales person).  And yes, the family will probably get a tour of the mausoleum while Mom is kept busy.  If Mom goes along, the son or the wayward party, will really get the pressure applied.
Mom may discover that the casket is nicer than she remembered. She may suspect that someone paid to have it upgraded. She may never find out; but, if she does, it will be too late to do anything about it. Once Dad is in the casket, you bought it.
Remember.  Do not let them separate your family in the sales process. This is also referred to as the discovery phase:  Find out the hot buttons in the family. Who has money?  Who has money and guilt?  Who is really angry? Who really loved Dad the most, but does not have any money to spend?  Generally the family member that wants the most expensive merchandise is not the one paying for the funeral. There is the exception of the family member who wants to blow a big wad of cash to show how much he cares.  The sales staff and manager will be looking for these "flags" and capitalize on them.
How do they justify these tactics?  "The family will appreciate us later because this is the last thing they can do for their loved one.  If we let them go cheaper on the funeral, they will always regret it and will blame us for not letting them know that nicer arrangements and merchandise were available.  And we made it affordable for them! We are in the people business - helping families get what they want and what their loved one deserves. They will thank us later."

5.  Do write down the gauge, manufacturer's name, and color of the casket and any distinctive designs in the casket selection room.  Why and how will this information become handy?  Here are several reasons to get this information and write it down:

Suppose you see a casket that you fall in love with, but it is in copper with a $5000 price tag.  Ask the question, do you have a casket catalog we could look at?  Then after you see the catalog, ask the question, does this casket come in 18 gauge? (It would probably be about $2000 less expensive).  The real answer is "Yes" in many cases; but the funeral salesman has a choice at this point.  He can tell the truth; or, he can lie.  If he says, "No", he is probably telling a lie.  Even if he says "Yes" he will probably add but I don't think we can get it here in time (another lie).  If you keep running into road blocks, find an excuse to go to lunch for an hour or so.  Then call Ken Lambert with the description.  He will find it for you in the gauge you desire if it is possible.  But even if the exact replica is not available, there are several manufacturers with remarkably similar models.  Ken can probably find it in an 18 gauge and often for less than $2000 retail.

Then you have other choices. You can go back to the funeral home and get them to get the merchandise and match the price or lose the sale to a third party.  Note - It is illegal for the funeral home to refuse third party merchandise, refuse to help you because you purchased the third party merchandise, nor can they tack on a casket handling fee.

But by this time, if the salesperson is not cooperating or changes his tune and becomes nasty, you may decide that, "You know, I am really starting not to like these guys. I thought they had a great reputation, but in several instances I feel we were going to be ripped off.  I really did not like the way they played the game with Mom and how they separated us."  About this time, you will call Ken Lambert and ask, "Ken, is it too late for us to switch funeral providers? Mom and Dad had a pre-arranged funeral plan, but can we switch?"  You would be amazed at how easy it is to accomplish everything you want to do. And if you decide to stay with the original funeral home, if you are properly coached, you and Ken will make them fight for the opportunity to continue to serve your family.  Very seldom does Ken bluff.  He means business and he loves coaching families especially after the family is really interested in playing this nasty game.  Before, the family really was not in the game, now they are ready to play hard-ball.  A family in this situation will get the nicest funeral and the best price and the funeral home will be begging them to allow them to do business with their family. The family in this situation will save thousands of dollars, usually over $5000 and they will get a nicer funeral.  But the real benefit is the family's pride in knowing they kept control and got what was best for their Dad at the best price. They established a Memorial Fund for Dad's grand children with the money they saved.  Now that is honoring your loved one! 

You know the best way to honor Dad?  Making sure that his best friend (his wife) is not taken advantage of after he is gone and he is no longer able to help her and that the money she has left to live on is not sucked away by the funeral salesman.

Here are some other things you can do to ensure success in the casket selection room.

6. Do use the casket comparison checklist when shopping by telephone.  By telephone shopping you can generally figure out quickly if the funeral provider is in your price range.

7.  Don't assume price and quality go hand-in-hand.  Some expensive funeral providers have cheap and poor quality merchandise and service. Some beautiful, professionally run funeral homes are very inexpensive with high quality merchandise and services.  Remember - Shop by phone; then, go see what you are getting.

8.  Advise of Friends can be very misleading.  Unfortunately, when it comes to funerals, most people do not know what they are talking about.  I was giving a seminar to some ladies at a nursing home and one lady told me, "Ken,  I never encountered the situations you described.  I was very pleased with the way they treated me and my family. I sent my neighbors there."  I then asked her if she minded sharing with us what she paid for her husband's funeral. She stated, "Well you know funerals are expensive. I paid just under XXXX."  The lady next to her gasped. The other said, "Oh, my gosh."  Then silence as the realization crept onto her face that she had been taken for a ride. I tactfully went on with my presentation.

9. Don't Let Them Wear You Down.  A pastor recommended a lady to me last year. She just lost her husband. There was some life insurance but not really enough to do what she wanted to do. I helped her negotiate the funeral with another funeral provider at the same cemetery but with all the services at her church. I saved her over $5000.  But his children by a previous marriage had gone to the first funeral home and insisted on going there and promised to pay the additional cost.  She gave into their demands and thanked me for my help. A week later she called me and said she got stuck with the bill and the funeral ended up being even more expensive than previously thought. She had to go into her savings because there was not enough life insurance. "Ken, I should have listened to you. They just wore me down. I wanted you to know."   Had this lady stuck to her guns and put everyone on hold for a few hours so she could think, maybe to get some rest and set things up the next morning, she would have saved over $5000 and got exactly what she wanted.  The family ended up getting almost the identical funeral, but the funeral home manipulated her, used the animosity of the other family members, and jointly look this dear lady to the cleaners.  Sarcastically, they really honored their dad by taking advantage of his second wife.

Telephone Shopping

When telephone shopping for caskets, you need to get the price of seven caskets over the telephone.  The price of these caskets will give you an overall feel for how they price all items.

1. The least expensive 20 gauge non-protective casket
2. The least expensive 20 gauge protective casket
3. The most expensive 20 gauge protective casket
4. The least expensive 18 gauge casket.
5. The most expensive 18 gauge casket.
6. The least expensive solid poplar wood casket (not veneer).
7. The least expensive oak casket.

These caskets will give you the overall view of merchandise costs throughout the funeral home.

The Casket Price List

The Casket Price List gives you a listing of all the caskets the funeral home carries on hand or that can be ordered within a few hours.  The list is itemized by type of casket: bronze, copper, stainless steel, wood, and various grades of steel;  and each casket's specific price.  Casket prices vary considerably between funeral homes even though there are only a few casket suppliers.
When shopping for caskets it is important that you understand several differences can occur in the same categories depending upon a particular funeral home's marketing and sales strategy.


I am not trying to tell you what kind of casket to buy, I am just trying to help you understand and purchase the casket you can afford. Dont be manipulated, shop arround and follow your budget. Find and use a facility that is affordable to not just some, but to everyone.

Thank you Ken!

Miguel Legaspi

Sunday, December 4, 2011

SMARTIES! (the candy, that is...)

I was eating dinner about a week ago and the oldest son brought up the topic of business competition and how it works.

This is a good one, because sometimes I wonder "how" some of my fellow funeral home competitors interpret the "how it works" side of business competition. I have come far in my life to do what I am doing. If anything, I think I have earned the right to enter the business market. I have served my country well, made it a point to be part of the community throughout my life, accepted my shortcomings and recognized my faults. So I feel quite justified in being one of those "privileged" individuals in life that has been fortunate enough to own his own business.

I was really quite stunned to sit across the table from a 10 year old and have him ask me a question about competition in a business. I tried to explain it to him as best as I could, well I hold no degree in business management, (I cant even spell half the time) I have spent most of my life in the military and since retirement I've done everything from over the road truck driving, drag line operator, fry cooker and bulldozer operator. So as you can see, owning, operating and managing a funeral home are probably the farthest thing from those previous jobs.

I tried to explain to him that business competition is not always about the prettiest or the fanciest.  I looked around the kitchen trying to figure out what I could possibly use to explain this to him. Silverware, toaster, sink, stove, cat dish, smarties.............SMARTIES!

There sitting on the top of the microwave was a bag of SMARTIES. I got up, walked over and picked it up, returned to the table. I took one out and talked with him......

"Son, tell me what you like about SMARTIES", He said they were good, simple and candy. (kids like candy) So I said to him, "lets say you have a dollar son, and you wanted some SMARTIES, well, in your neighborhood there was only one candy store that sold SMARTIES, and because they were the only candy store in the area that sold those SMARTIES, they started to sell all the kids in the neighborhood those SMARTIES at $1.00 each.  ($1.00 = 1 smarties) This is because all the kids really like SMARTIES, and would buy them all the time.

How would you like that? The boy told me "I would not". The boy was smart enough to also tell me he thought it was not fair that the store sold those SMARTIES for so much just because they were the only candy store in the neighborhood that sold them. He said that that kids really don't know of any other candy stores other than those that are close by, so they don't really know about looking elsewhere. (This boy is also smart enough to know that SMARTIES are not worth $1.00)

So one day a new candy store opens in the neighborhood, and its called "The Candy Store That Sells Candy for the Honest Price of Candy" or words to that effect. They sell SMARTIES for 33 cents. (that's 3 SMARTIES for $1.00)

At first, the candy store did not do to much business, they did not have the money to pay for allot of fancy advertising, put pretty lights all over the place or even open in a more "opulent" facility (fancy candy store) than like the other candy store in the neighborhood with the $1.00 SMARTIES. 

Well, eventually word got out, it's called word of mouth, all the kids told two kids that told two kids that told two kids.......... Now the new candy store is doing ok, BUT! The secret is..... the secret is that even though the candy store is doing good, they still sell those smarties for only 33 cents each. 

I then explained to him that to raise the price of your smarties after you have become popular is called "price gouging" and it is unethical and immoral .  Even if your philosophy is "Why sell one smarties for 33 cents when we can sell one SMARTIES for $1.00 and do the same amount of work and make three times as much". "A good businessman doesn't do that ", I told him. That's called unethical business practices.

Well, the candy store that was selling the smarties for $1.00 start advertising in the local paper.

Because we wear real nice candy store clothes!
and have nice bushes...
.99 cents
and our store has been selling smarties for a long, long time in your neighborhood...

Well, their add didn't work, All the time the new store continued with their simple add of...

For you and your kids!

You see, at the affordable candy store, the SMARTIES are so affordable that they don't need to be put on a big sale or go around to all the schools telling everyone how great we are, we let our prices and pleasant honest atitude speak for itself.

So I asked my boy, What if I was to sell you the SMARTIES wrapped in ribbons and bows and all kinds of fancy stuff? Would you buy the more expensive one at the other store?

No, why would I want spend more?

How about if I was to tell you that I was in the SMARTIES sales business, or bought a candy store that was selling smarties when I was  not even born, would you buy them then?


So I asked the boy, "So what would it take to get you to buy the more expensive SMARTIES?" 

Nothing, why would I want to spend money on something that I can get at the other store for less and has........ the same value?

I then explained to him, "That is very simple competition" the ability to sell to your client base at the worth of your product or service and not to insult them into thinking that "glitter, sparkle and color" is a necessity to get the job done. People are smarter than you think son, They know when the price of a "SMARTIE" is worth just that.........

The price of a SMARTIE..............

It's all so simple.

I learned something.  Kids are not stupid, nor are they corrupted by the marketing side of life. I guess we need to think more like kids......

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Please enjoy this while you read, it makes me sit and think.
 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”

(Luke 2:8-14)

Christmas is coming!
I wish no ill will on anyone or their desire to help others, lets just be honest about why we do it and the drive behind our efforts.
This is one of the busiest times of the year for businesses, corporate and independent, large and small. This also includes the funeral industry. Now granted, no one can predict death to make it possible for the funeral industry to market its services at Christmas more reasonable over any other time of year. There is really nothing joyful or festive surrounding the death of a family member or friend. Quite the contrary, it is difficult.
So those in the industry sat down and put their heads together and tried to create a plan that could best market and serve the funeral industry. This through the loss of a family member or friend, focusing the families tragic loss around Christmas time. This is what they came up with.
I will break this plan down for you, and how this best serves the owner of a funeral home or corporate interests:
Pre-Need Funeral Insurance
Christmas is the best marketing opportunistic time of the year for a funeral homes pre-need program, especially if you experienced a death over the last year.  YOU are vulnerable, emotional, lonely and a target, be guarded.
Pre-need, what is that? What good could it possibly be other than to provide payment for services when the insured individual dies. Pre-need funeral insurance are NUMBERS! In the funeral industry, those numbers are guaranteed business, AND also increase the value of the funeral home should the owners decide to sell or should a buyer be looking at the funeral home, they would ask to look at the pre-need files that are on hand to see if those numbers would make it worth the $850,000 that the seller was asking for, if that.
A local funeral home the next town over sold to a corporation for a great deal of money, why? The location was not very nice, it was never open BUT! The pre-need files were of great value due to how many there were and the cost of each service. Remember, pre-need funeral insurance, this is the great “Black Friday” of the funeral industry.
Now lets talk about the memorial services that each funeral home will put on and why exactly they will do this and spend so much to impress you.
The Christmas Remembrance Ceremony
A vast majority of those that have Memorial Services in their facilities do not do this with a desire to assist you in the grieving process. You will be asked to bring a picture of your loved one if invited, there will be candles, lots and lots of candles, pictures of services gone by, the candle lighting ceremony, or something that will bring very, very strong emotions to you at a pinnacle moment, at this time you will be in the depth of the ceremony, and you will be approached to commit to something, even if its just a phone number, it is referred to  as a lead. These are of great value, read on and you will understand.
A funeral home or pre-need insurance sales person will pay up to $75 for a single lead from their corporate office. These leads are of great value to an agent and a funeral home. For them to be able to canvas the floor with prospective clients such as yourself for free is a godsend and will appear as if intoxicating.
There will be people there that you do not remember being there when you used the services of this facility. You may ask yourself, "Who are these people that are treating me as if they know me?" These people are the pre-need insurance sales representatives that you have NEVER met. All they care about is obtaining a contact, a "LEAD".  These are very carefully orchestrated and organized events, the only memory that the funeral home wants you to have when you leave is the memory of......... the funeral home and the pre-need agent. REMEMBER! these representatives were hand picked by the funeral home to help sell their facility to you, through pre-need insurance contract sales, to help replenish the mortuary files, that is all. Oh! and also get a fat commission check.

Thus, the Christmas Remembrance Ceremony! Oh there will be many! You can rest assured that EVERY corporate funeral home here in the valley if not all over this country will be conducting a remembrance ceremony. The staff is dressed all festive and there are decorations, lights, food, prayers, maybe a tree, free personalized  ornaments (nice ornaments), free pens and pads and candy and junk with the funeral homes name on it and on and on and on…………. (I pass out junk with our name on it all the time, the hand sanitizers are nice) Oh, those staff members with a conscience? They don’t want to be there. Now the independent locations go a bit further, they may have the event catered.

The List
Now lets ensure we take notice of the list with your families name on it and the carefully blank lines underneath the deceased name, this list will be on a hand carried clip board and each employee will be designated to acquire so many names with phone numbers or better yet, addresses for future contact or to “send an invitation for next years memorial service”.
Now, I’m not telling you to stay away from the “list” people, but you don’t have to share anything with them. The point being here is that the one and ONLY reason you have been invited to this event was to help start re-stuffing the corporate pre-need coffers with all those pre-needs that have been used over the year for that specific funeral home.  Also, if this facility is on cemetery grounds, perhaps they can get you to purchase a piece of property as well on the extended payment service plan making payments over time. You may even be asked to provide names of family or associates you may know along with phone numbers, the insurance sales representatives get quite bold, almost as if in a frenzy, it can almost be identified as "disgusting" if you knew what you were watching unfold before your very eyes.

You will hear all the lines like:
      ~Surly if you can afford to buy little Jimmy a bike you can give him “peace of mind” by ensuring he does not have to go through what you went through with your Dad………

      ~Perhaps you can speak to your Mom and encourage her to do the right thing………

      ~We have such affordable plans and in the end the only positive thing that will come out of this is your family will not suffer when you are gone……….

      ~Christmas is such a giving time of year, such a small little monthly payment is such a huge gift to your family…….

~How about if I call you and we can talk a bit about your Dad over a coffee, you look like you need to talk.........

The list goes on and on. Then the phone calls start, and they do start. And the junk mail, tons of it, all about pre-need.  The counselor can make between $200 -$600 on a pre-need sale if it is a costly service. This is money time for them, this is "their" Black Friday, they have a month to sell as many policies from the amount of leads they get to you, the general public. If the funeral home owner is a pre-need insurance salesman, (I am not) and is writing his or hers own policies, that stacks their own private coffers/income. You know, the next new car or next trip to Europe. That's ok, we all are allowed to make a living however we see fit. But I know if I was dealing in pre-need policies, I would try to back of in December.
 What can you do?
Nothing! Go to the service, eat their food, take the gifts and drink the wine! In the end, don't give them anything at all, your not even obligated to tell them who you are. Oh, remember, if you share that you have no interest in anything they are offering, just the service and you are told there is a fee for so much as a bottle of water, report them to the local city food and beverage department. It is illegal to charge for water or food in a facility, even $1.00 a bottle, or to advertise it unless you have a food vendors permit/licence.
If you enjoy the camaraderie of these types of services, collecting free stuff and eating lots of free good food (and it is probably VERY good food), I encourage you to go. Best way to find out is to call your local funeral home or better yet read your local newspaper to find out when and where, then show up and enjoy!


If asked to RSVP, remember, with that comes names and phone numbers and addresses and names of individuals that will come with you and their phone numbers and on and on and on.  RSVP is also another way of saying "your uninvited unless you give us this information". Think about this, Do Churches make you RSVP prior to a services? So whats the difference?

What if I really want to purchase a pre-need?
Call the funeral home, find something affordable and dignified and make a simple appointment to speak to a counselor (never alone). You don’t need to do it in all the palatial settings, one does to dress up their facility with $3 - $5,000 worth of decorations and food. You see all this fancy and think, “This is the place I want to be taken too”. Remember, if every day was Christmas, we would never go back to work.                                                                  
For the record, independent funeral homes try to do this as well, to boost their numbers, line their coffers and TRY to establish themselves as upstanding citizens and members of the community.  I have learned over my many years of simple Military Service (USMC) that those values are earned over much time and seasoned with ones humble, gracious behavior, not insisted upon or expected over a glass of expensive wine, a cheese tray while trying to sell something to you that you did not want nor did you come for.
Never mind the opulent decorated settings that have nothing to do with memorialization of your loved one. This is the stage laid out to target a grieving family during the holiday season who has lost a loved one in the previous year. This is a deplorable practice, manipulating and preying on your emotions and tugging on your heartstrings for financial and monetary gain. It is a sham.
This is done because you will be missing your loved one the most at this time.............., they know this. They hope you do!
Feel good in knowing that you chose to honor their memory in your own way.

Oh, I have two little poinsettia plants and some garland in my entrance way at the funeral home. It's very humble, and  nice.
Happy Holidays!

P.S. I miss you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


What do we have to be thankful for? Well, were do you start....

I know I met a few families who had the misfortune of of losing a family or friend this year,

While sitting around the table on Thanksgiving, think of those that you have to hold on to, think of those that need to hold onto you.

There are those that have lost their homes due to this horrible economy.........

Remember those that have lost it all, and you are still lucky to have your family there with you, no mater what the roof is that you are under.

There are those that have lost their jobs, their income and their saving...........

They still have their family and the health the good Lord gave them, along with the will and the drive to not give up and continue the search for a better life.

There are the elderly who have no one, they find themselves alone on this most difficult time of the year with the memories of loved ones gone and a life that is good but could be better if the neighbor family next door could maybe take a little time to reach out to them. Invite them over, or even just check in on them.

Their is the single parent who is trying to figure out what to do this holiday season, the 3 kids aren't aware that it may be a little difficult for Mom or Dad this year, All they know that this is a happy time of year, and it should be full of joy and presents. This is a situation that maybe the neighbors could help out with, ensure the parents burden is eased and the kids could have a little better holiday. It's really not asking allot.

There is a thousand different situations that a thousand different solutions can solve, and that many more people, people that are in positions to do something... Can you afford a turkey? or two, or five and take them to a church to be passed out, anonymously. Who needs to know? do it for yourself. It feels good, and rest assured that no matter what you might be able to do this year, it will make a kid, a family, a Mother or a Father so much more happy than you will be. Their not asking you to do this every day, their not asking for a direct deposit every week into their bank account. Just a little help now. A little something.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends, happy thanksgiving to you all. I hope you spend good time with good people who love you and enjoy your company.



Thursday, November 3, 2011


An elderly gentleman came in today to inquire about direct cremation. His Mother had tasked him with the job of searching the local funeral homes for an affordable cremation service.

Mr. X as we will call him sat with us and inquired about the charges for a direct cremation, after we shared it with him and told him what was involved and included in the service, he responded with, AND?

I kind of sat there and looked at him and responded with "and what?" He looked back at me and said, the other charges, what about the other charges? I told him, sir, there are no other charges. He seemed a little frustrated like I was trying to get one over on him. He said, "look, I've been all over the west valley today getting prices on direct cremations and everyone has other charges if I push them hard enough. Now I know the day I need your services that those "other charges" will appear, just tell me what they are and we will move on."

I understood the mans frustration, I knew exactly what he was talking about. But again I told him, "There are no other charges Sir".

An all inclusive Direct Cremation consists of many things, but you would be surprised the things that funeral homes will leave out to quote you a lower price. I will explain what they are and why they do it. Well, they do it to get you in the door with a low price.

Direct Cremation consists of:

  • Proportional share of the overhead cost
  • Transport to the Mortuary
  • Administrative fee's
  • Refrigeration
  • Filing of the death certificate
  • County fee's and permits
  • Cremation container
  • Transport to the crematory
  • Cremation Process
  • Container for the Cremains
NOTE - A good funeral home should be able to turn around a cremation in 48 to 96 business hours under good circumstances. Be caucious if a facility tells you it is "standard procedure" for it to take longer. Sometimes it may, but those are things that can be expected at times.

Now, lets break all this down one thing at a time:

Proportional share of the overhead cost - This is a charge that is attached to all services that are provided by the mortuary. It is also referred to as "Basic Service of the Funeral Director and Staff".  This charge or "Service charge" is included and is all overhead that the funeral home acquires on a daily basis, Electricity, water, chemicals, insurance. It can be as high or as low as the funeral home chooses to make it but no higher that the price of the "Basic Service of the Funeral Director and Staff" charge on the General Price List.

Transport to the Mortuary -  Now we start to get tricky and find "Fudge" room in the pricing of a direct cremation. This charge includes the "removal" of the deceased from place of death, a hospital, a hospice care facility, the Medical Examiners office or another funeral home.  It is the same charge or lower of that on the General Price List. NOW! This is were the Funeral home can tell you, "Well Mr. X, we had to do a 2 man removal because it is our policy to send 2 men to a home removal or hospice removal or whatever. That charge alone can run up to $150 more at some locations and if you pay for it, call the hospice facility to ensure that 2 people did show up. Also remember, at a hospice facility the staff is always ready to assist and usually do. Also you may find a charge for a "Human remains pouch" or "body bag". Traditionally, if the deceased is picked up at the hospital, they will provide, if the deceased is picked up at the Medical examiners, you will pay for a pouch. through the funeral home because they "swap" one out. Hospice facilities don't use body bags and if they do, they don't charge. Also, a funeral home will pick up a body up to a certain distance one way, usually 25 miles, after that they charge per mile.

Administrative Fees - Another slippery area, Administrative fees is a very broad charge, it covers just about whatever the funeral home wants it to, or as little as it wants it to. Typically it is covering communications between 3rd parties and the funeral home or anything that goes into the handling of documents or paperwork, this may or may not include obituaries or cemetery in-urnment scheduling. This could cost more. How much more? this is again up to the funeral home. Ask questions.

Refrigeration - WOW! this is a real go getter. It is usually the one cost that can increase your cremation cost up by 1/3. Most funeral homes say refrigeration is included, read the small print, because it is probably provided for up to the first 24 hours. The secret is that the process may "magically" take four to five days thus incurring more charges for "extended" refrigeration, around $95+ a day more. If the doctor fails to provide signature in the allotted time (72 hours max is the law in AZ), you will be expected to pay for his failed responsibilities. This is not uncommon, thus many funeral home administrators have no problem with not using much enthusiasm to pursue a doctor for causes and signature. It's guaranteed cash.

Filing of the death certificate -  This is a VERY SIMPLE PROCESS! it takes maybe 20 to 30 minutes (ON THE INTERNET) at the most, a bit of faxing and a phone call or two to the Doctors office. The Funeral home is responsible for the statistical information that goes on the Death Certificate and the medical information comes from the Doctors office, they are responsible for that. FAXing is a requirement but those charges should be included under the "Proportional Share of the Overhead Costs". Some locations will charge you up to $20 per FAX. Again, a hidden cost. Oh, a funeral home no longer need a vehicle to file, they do not have to drive anywhere, so if you are being charged for the use of a "Service Vehicle" for the filing of the death certificate, you are paying for a service that you do not need nor did they use. Beware of those "extra trips" to the doctors office that are non-existent. Oh, you get a free death certificate for social security, it is the law. SOOOOOOOOO, when the funeral home tells you they will give you a free death certificate! it is yours anyways, they are giving you nothing. The same also goes for the Veterans Administration if the deceased was a veteran. Across the front of the document it says "FOR GOVERNMENT USE ONLY".  It takes a week to 10 days to get a death certificate from the county, please be patient. ($20 each)

County fee's and permits - Very  Simple, not complicated, the counties has a fee for cremation, in Arizona anyways, it's $15. Disposition permit fee is $4. You can't ask or charge anymore for these cash advance items.

Cremation container - In a simple term? A large cardboard Box. Funeral home price? about $10 to $15 dollars. Your charges? up to $130. Allot of funeral home tend to leave this charge off of the "Direct Cremation" price until you fill out all the paperwork. The excuse is then given, "Well we did not include merchandise on this because that's like assuming you wanted to buy an urn also, and we don't want to appear pushy OR now it is time to select the cremation casket".  YOU DO NOT NEED TO PURCHASE A WOOD CREMATION CASKET OR ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE EMBALMING DONE FOR A DIRECT CREMATION! The corporate funeral institution will tell you that embalming is required if the body is present EVEN if the casket is closed. That is fine, ensure the deceased has been dressed and embalmed and that they are placed in the casket AND VIEWABLE! (you paid for it). If embalming is somthing the funeral home insists on, ask for the casket to be displayed empty yet closed if you feel comfortable with that (you will save on all the preperation and the casket insert), this will help you save up to $600 in embalming charges. If the charges and situation surrounding those charges sound ridiculous, they are. Use your best intuition. The funeral industry counts on your lack of knowledge and discomfort in the industry to overcharge you, don not become another victim.

Transport to the crematory - OK, some funeral homes have their own cremation facility on site, most do not. If they have it on site, why are they charging you for transport? If they use another facility, the cremationist usually comes and picks up the deceased. So why would the funeral home be charging you for transportation if it is already included in the cremation facilities charges? Double dipping?

Cremation Process - This fee should be on the "Cash Advance" section of your contract, that is the amount the crematory is paid or charges. If it is not on that section, that is because the funeral home is stacking that charge to make more money and telling you the cost is high because the creationist charges so much. Allot of funeral home tend to leave this charge off of the "Direct Cremation" price until you fill out all the paperwork. The excuse is then given, "Well the price given is my charges, not the crematories. Those are different." or "I can't tell the crematory what to charge".

Container for the Cremains - Now to me, this is a very dirty, dirty little trick that some funeral homes practice. The cremation facility I use gives you the option of having the cremains returned in a black plastic container or a cardboard box. Both cost the same. I prefer the black plastic container, it is more dignified and durable. There are funeral homes that insist on the cardboard box to humiliate and shame a family into purchasing an urn. When they see the urn sale slipping away they may actually come right out and tell you, "you don't want to take your loved one home in just a cardboard box, DO YOU?" That is a very deplorable practice. Ask your facility what the cremains will be returned in, if it is a cardboard box that is taped shut, insist on plastic if you truly cant afford an urn at the time, even better, move on. Oh, if you are being charged to transfer cremains from the "Box" to an urn you might select, that's a hidden fee.

Now, what CAN you expect to pay that would not be included in a "Direct Cremation?

Insurance - If the service is paid with insurance expect to pay an insurance assignment fee, you will pay a certain percentage for the processing and maybe mailing fees. usually no more than 10% of the contract charges. If you are being charged more, re-consider that location.

Weight and size of the deceased - If the deceased weighs over a specific weight, you will be asked to pay more for the cremation process, depending on the weight of the deceased. This is not a ploy to insult but it is the reality of the industry. It takes more fuel and time in the retort (Cremation Oven) to cremate an obese person, thus less cremations in one day by that facility. Usually it is $1 = 1lb. over 250lbs. This should reflect once again on the cash advance section under "Crematory Fee's" if it does not. You are being marked up by the funeral home for their profit.

Taxes - Taxes are paid on merchandise only, this will be the cremation container. Look at the "merchandise" section of your contract, it will tell you exactly what you will be paying taxes on.

It wasn't meant to be this way...

Remember, cremation was meant to be the most affordable way to assist a family in providing closure while providing a disposition for the deceased. It originally started out to be affordable, economical and allowing the family the option of doing something privately with the cremains. Since its full scale introduction into the funeral industry it has become the most abused and manipulated form of disposition. Corporate funeral and some independent funeral institutions are literally profiting thousands of dollars on a procedure that at most costs between $100 and $300.  Please shop around for an affordable solution. You do not have to pay those high prices, the solution could be no more than a mile away down the street and around the corner at the next location.

Miguel Legaspi