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Q: Funeral homes on the decline ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Funeral homes on the decline
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: stan1111-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 18 Dec 2003 10:58 PST
Expires: 17 Jan 2004 10:58 PST
Question ID: 288380
Along with some of my friends, I have been having trouble swallowing
the high costs of burial and funerals. Funerals are the only time I
ride in an expensive limousine and am feeling foolish that the funeral
business exists by presuming to have such a lock on my emotions. It
seems like an institution built to serve the needs of my great grand
parents and without change will go the way of the buggy whip. Can you
point me to articles, books, Web or other references that a) discuss
current thinking, express frustration or provide hope that the funeral
system can be upgraded to serve the needs of the baby boomers, and b)
discuss alternatives to burial beyond cremation that might be coming?
Subject: Re: Funeral homes on the decline
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 18 Dec 2003 18:33 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello stan1111,

Thank you for your question.

Surprisingly, for an industry that seems to generate incredible ( or
some say obscene) profits, there is a shortage of help. Just last
month the UC Berkeley School of Journalism noted:

"...Dying to find a new job?

The National Funeral Directors Association is predicting a severe
shortage of funeral directors and embalmers within the next decade as
baby boomers age and a wave of older funeral directors retire or, for
lack of a better term, become their own clients.

Enrollment at mortuary schools has been steadily declining, and the
average age of a funeral director is approaching 55 years of age,
according to Connecticut Funeral Director Association President Arthur

The only accredited mortuary school in Northern California, said
student enrollment and graduation rates in mortuary schools are down

Even Poynter online notes the shortage of undertakers:

"...One day soon, finding a good mortician could take an eternity. 

"Everybody is looking for help," said David Lowery, past president of
the Florida Funeral Directors Association and vice president of
Panciera Family Funeral Care in Hollywood, Fla. The National Funeral
Directors Association predicts a serious shortage of undertakers
within 10 years. It expects a spike in deaths as baby boomers age, as
well as a wave of retirements among seasoned funeral directors. And
there are not enough trainees in the pipeline to replace them, in part
because the children in many family-owned businesses are choosing
other paths.

From 1994 to 2000, the number of students who attended mortuary
science programs and earned licenses across the United States fell by
12 percent. In Florida, mortuary job openings are expected to be 11
percent higher in 2006 than in 1996.

Bilingual morticians are especially in demand...."

And although the Wave Magazine says "May You Get Ripped Off in Peace":
( more on Wave a little later)

"...?Mom and Pop? funeral homes have to charge more money to compete
with the large funeral home corporations. The large firms could
undercut the small firms by providing their services at about ¼ the
current cost. But the large firms are in bed together, so they charge
as much as the smaller funeral homes to keep their profit margins
outrageously high.
Casket prices are marked up from wholesale cost by 300 to 1,000
percent. To avoid this, buy your own casket direct from a wholesaler
and take advantage of a new federal law that requires funeral homes to
accept any casket you provide.
Almost all funeral homes try to convince consumers to purchase
services they do not need. For example, funeral homes will offer to
place an obituary ad for you in the local newspaper? at five times the
normal cost! Why not just pick up the phone and do it yourself?
Many funeral homes engage in the practice of offering gifts to local
clergy with the hope that the men of cloth will, in turn, recommend
the funeral home to their aging parishioners.
Many funeral homes will act like they?re doing you a favor by handling
all of the details regarding your burial insurance policy (if you have
one). But if they know how much you?re covered for, they?ll find ways
to spend every last penny of it..."

...Poynter notes that employees of funeral service providers are not
particularly well paid:

"...The grief business isn't glamorous: The hours are long and
erratic, there is no way to escape Embalming 101, and the average pay
is mediocre. In 2000, the median annual salary for funeral directors
was only $41,110. For embalmers, it was $32,870, according to the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics..."


CNN estimates the size of the industry as even larger:

Business Unusual

"...One of the great investment ideas of the past century has been the
funeral industry. Profits were predictable. And the publicly traded
casket and funeral companies were Wall Street darlings.

The funeral business is now a $50 billion industry. But the outlook
has changed. Even though the baby boomers are aging, the giant
population bulge is also living longer.

And as Tony Guida reports, the generation made famous for disdaining
the tried and true is finding unique ways to deal with the final

Most of their coverage on funeral alternatives are covered below in
other articles, but you might enjoy reading this transcript

Forbes talks about the future of the funeral business:

Financial insecurity seems to be a constant theme of HBO's series Six
Feet Under, a dark comedy about a family of undertakers. In reality,
the funeral and cemetery business is a lively $12 billion industry.

And, at the risk of sounding ghoulish, as the boomer generation ages
and ails, analysts predict it's going to get even better.

Because the funeral business is so remarkably profitable, there hasn't
been much incentive to change it. It's a staid--and extremely
conservative--industry. One of the last major trends, for example,
occurred in the 19th century, when the Cambridge, Mass., Mount Auburn
Cemetery was opened in 1831. Said to be modeled after the Parisian
cemetery Pere Lachaise, Mount Auburn was considered revolutionary,
because it looked more like a public garden than a modest or
functional graveyard.

Yet Advanced Funeral Planning seems to attribute the high costs to
inflation and the cost of doing business and encourages pre-paying
your funeral expenses now, which seems to be a very common theme in
the industry:

"...Inflation affects everything. Yes, even funeral costs. Why? Mainly
because each year it costs more to do business and if funeral homes
did not raise their costs over time, they would not be able to offer
their nice facilities, services, and professional staff. At the same
time, merchandise manufacturers and cemeteries will increase their
costs, and that will affect the total costs as well.

What the funeral industry has seen is that funeral costs will nearly
double every 10-12 years with inflation. If you think about it, that
pales in comparison to the inflationary costs of homes, automobiles,
and many other things.

The fact is that inflation will be a factor in the future cost of a funeral. 

But there is something that you can do to control that. You can pay
for your funeral costs in advance, and there are several ways to do

Many funeral providers will encourage payment plans or prepayment for
prior need, which in effect act as insurance premiums and allow them
to invest your payments prior to the time of need offsetting the
higher costs likely in the future.

The computer age and Internet have had an effect on everybody and
every industry and the funeral business has not been overlooked.
Although email condolences are beginning to modernize the funeral
services, more modern ideas are being adopted:

"Funeral Home Online--Funeral Home Goes High Tech 
  from Utah Prime Times July 2000

Cutting edge technology has arrived in the Funeral Home industry and
Larkin Mortuary is at the forefront using new computer age concepts to
help families plan their needs...

...The Funeral directors are using a new software package called
"Family Advisor" developed by Aurora Casket Company, which they have
customized and added to. Zachery Larkin has spent a large amount of
his time recently working to program these changes. With this program,
customers are assisted with funeral plans using a "virtual showroom"
on a large television screen in a very comfortable setting around a
table where they can complete all the arrangements.

According to Lance Larkin, "this new approach to funeral planning
allows us to save the family from ¾ to 1 ½ hours of the family time."
He adds, "This approach gives us the ability to offer so much more to
the consumer than what a traditional showroom can provide."

We are able to help write the obituary on the screen right in front of
the customer, says Larkin. We even scan the picture right at that time
so the family doesn't have to worry about losing their precious photo.
The family can take a completed copy of the obituary just as it will
appear in the paper...

You can now choose the casket with any custom touches you desire and
even the price is right on the screen as you choose. There are all the
various program covers to choose from. A full selection of guest
registers is available. Then you are able to select floral pieces
right there without running all over town to find a florist..."

And Yahoo even has a directory now for online memorials! Some of the
sites listed include:

An obituary hosting site.

Living Tributes

and the Virtual Memorial Garden as well as many more.

And funerals are even being web cast!:

Business News October 11, 2000 

Funeral-Cast First and Only Site Broadcasting Funerals 
By Paul Nicholls 

"[Burlington, CANADA] Launched in August, is a unique
application of Web technologies allowing family, friends and
acquaintances the opportunity to view funeral, memorial, and graveside
services online from any location.

Site activity during the first 60 days of operation has far exceeded
the company's expectations.

Visitors to the site have viewed over 11,000 funeral, memorial, or
graveside services and over 27,000 viewings of online death notices
and or online memorials have occurred.

Services have been viewed from as far away as France, Poland, and Australia. 

The funeral homes are supplied with self installable kits, starting at
US $1500 that allow for easy installation in about 2 hours..."

The Sacramento Bee ran an interesting article a few years ago on the cost of dying:

"Let's face it," said Verne Lind, who retired last year after a
half-century as a funeral director, "most people don't want to think
about it (shopping for a funeral). Then when it hits 'em in the face,
they're least emotionally able to deal with it. They have to make a
lot of decisions pretty rapidly, usually within 24 hours. They're not
prepared mentally or emotionally to compare prices. They don't want to
shop around."

But shopping for the best prices and service -- and having some idea
of what services you are shopping for -- are vital if you want to keep
a big funeral bill from adding to your woes when someone close dies.

The law is on your side. Federal Trade Commission rules require
funeral homes to quote prices for goods and services over the
telephone, and give you price lists for general services and caskets
when you show up in person.

In addition, the homes must give you an itemized list of all costs for
all services and items you select, including estimates of those that
can't be determined at the time.

But the law does allow funeral homes to charge a "non-declinable" fee
that is in addition to anything else you select, and covers a lot of
vague things like staff costs and general overhead.

It's also recommended that you take someone with you if the deceased
was a close relative or friend, as a safeguard against bad decisions
or overspending.

"You can't make up for anything you said or didn't say by overspending
on a casket," said Lind. "Guilt gets to some people. They think, 'What
if, what if, what if.' That is not the time to make up for it. You
can't change history."...

They offer a number of good consumer tips and suggestions and the
article is worth the read, but they fail to address alternatives that
are starting to become both more affordable and popular.

A UK company called Environ has been pioneering "natural " burials:

"Although we spend months planning christenings and weddings, death is
one of those inevitable events we often prefer to put to the back of
our minds. But arranging to have a natural burial, which helps to
create protected nature reserves for the future, is one way to make
the prospect of passing away more positive.

The Natural Burial Company, established in 1999, runs two beautiful
sites in Leicestershire. The first site, Prestwold Natural Burial
Ground, near Loughborough, has a wonderful wildflower meadow and
maturing woodland. The company also opened a new site in the midst of
rolling countryside at Scraptoft, east of Leicester, in November,

Natural burials have becoming an increasingly popular as traditional
cemeteries have become overcrowded and sometimes rundown. The Natural
Burial Company does not allow headstones at its sites, so they blend
into the surrounding countryside as much as possible. Instead,
families can choose to remember their loved ones with a memorial tree
planted over the grave, engraved oak plaque, oak benches, pine
bird-boxes or a virtual memorial on the Internet.

Clients are also encouraged to use biodegradable and environmentally
friendly coffins, which are made from wicker or cardboard, but this
isn't a requirement..."

Another UK company offers these alternatives:


Although most funerals are arranged by funeral directors there is no
reason why you shouldn't do part, or all, yourself. Most funeral
directors are willing for you to take as active a part as you want to
in the arrangements. Be it burial or cremation it can be arranged
independently but be prepared, you need to be able to cope with many
rules and regulations, and the paperwork that goes with them, and be
an extremely good organiser.

The New Natural death handbook covers everything you need to know
about arranging a funeral yourself, you can find them on Or contact The Natural Death Centre, 20 Heber
Road, London NW2 6AA Tel:020 8208 2853. Alternatively visit on their new website.


A licence needs to be obtained from the Ministry of
Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) for burial at sea.

Sea burials are not particularly encouraged and there 
are complex guidelines. Currently there are only two
places around the coast where sea burials are allowed, 
The Needles, Isle of Wight and Newhaven, East Sussex.
For a licence contact MAFF or the local Fisheries 
District Inspector at the Needles or Newhaven.

There is a specialist company that deals with sea burials:
Britannia Shipping Company
For Burial at Sea Ltd
Unit 3, The Old sawmills,
Hawkerland Road
Collaton Raleigh
Devon EX100 HP
Tel  01395 568652 


In general when speaking about green funerals we are
referring to a meadow or woodland burial. Complemented
by the use of a coffin made from biodegradable materials
i.e. willow or chipboard. The green funeral option continues
to grow in popularity and there are now many woodland 
burial sites all over the country. The environment of
green burial grounds are kept as wild and as natural as
possible. Memorials and headstones are not permitted,
but often memorial trees can be planted to mark the
The Natural Death Centre has established an Association
of Nature Reserve Burial Grounds, the names and
addresses are available on their web site
at or by telephoning
020 8208 2853. 

And other alternatives are listed as well.

A company called Alternative Funeral Services is making what appears
to be dramatic efforts to keep more traditional funeral costs down:

"... We are in our second decade of offering affordable funeral
services to those we serve. Whether you are working with limited funds
or perhaps your needs are non traditional, we are here to handle your

For example, one of their programs:


Pine Program

This service would be selected by the family who wishes to have a
burial/cremation without any family involvement. They would also allow
us to schedule these services at our convenience. Included would be;
the transfer of remains from a local facility, dressing and casketing,
the licensed funeral director to make arrangements, the staff
necessary to follow through on the arrangements and to secure the
necessary documentation, an alternative container (pictured here) and
transportation to a local cemetery/crematory by service van.

Another company targeting those who feel funeral costs should be more
affordable is Personal Alternatives:

"...What was needed is a more common-sense approach to funeral
arrangements - one that demystifies the business, spells out options
in a factual way, reduces the costs, and alleviates purchasing
pressure by giving the family a real sense of control over decision
making. And, that?s what Personal Alternative® does.

So, when you?re faced with the death of someone close to you, making
the final arrangements should not add to your distress. And, that?s
why you need to think twice before assuming the traditional way is the
only way. You do have ?alternatives? and you should certainly make
informed decisions...

...There are several advantages to using Personal Alternative® rather
than a ?traditional? funeral provider or Memorial Society. Here are
just a few of the reasons why using Personal Alternative® just makes

We come to your home to make the final arrangements ? so, not only is
that more convenient for you and your family ? you avoid the
commercial pressure in the ?traditional? funeral homes, (particularly
those corporately owned) to spend beyond your needs or means.

We're affordable.  Our prices are substantially less than
?traditional? funeral homes (particularly those corporately owned).

We practice what we preach ...No Pressure and No Surprises..."

So there appears to be a trend of providing somewhat traditional death
care at more affordable prices. Although their rates vary by location,
their most expensive offering in the Seattle area is $1375.00 plus

"Includes arrangement conference in your home to complete all
necessary documents and authorizations; transfer of deceased from
place of death to mortuary; obtaining and filing Death Certificate and
Registration of Death with Vital Statistics; issuing cremation or
burial permit; preparation of the deceased by embalming; dressing and
personal care of the deceased; coordination of all Service details
including our staff to direct and assist with the Funeral Service; use
of hearse; delivery of Death Certificate(s) and ashes (if cremation)
to family."

Looksmart has an article on how the funeral experience is moving
toward becoming a more meaningful experience:

"Creating Meaningful Experiences is Key to Funeral Industry Future;
Experience Marketing Expert Urges Industry to Focus On Celebrating
Lives With Custom Funeral Experiences.

...the future of funeral service is in creating unique and
personalized experiences for families. "The funeral is probably the
most profound event we experience as human beings. As the Experience
Economy emerges, funerals will become less about physical goods and
more about creating unique life celebrations," Gilmore said. "People
will be looking for companies to help them shape more meaningful
funeral events."

Gilmore is co-founder of Aurora, Ohio-based Strategic Horizons LLP, a
thinking studio dedicated to helping businesses conceive and design
new ways of adding value to their economic offerings. He is also
co-author of The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business
A Stage (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999), which describes
how businesses can create value by embracing theatre as an operating
model to stage unique experiences that, ultimately, transform those
who participate in them...

And, as mentioned a bit earlier, The Wave magazine urges people to
"Put the fun back in funeral" and seems to have taken the above
suggestions to heart!

They are less than flattering of the industry.

"...The funeral service industry is the greatest scam going in America
and few people are aware of it. It?s the perfect formula for a con
man: Take a bereaving person (usually elderly) who has to make sudden
funeral arrangements, and exploit that emotionally distraught person
for all they?re worth. Last year, funeral homes in the U.S. made $9
billion. It?s a bigger industry than Hollywood.

So, why not skip the expense and hassle of a traditional funeral and
go for something a little less creepy and a whole lot cheaper? If
you?ve got a corpse that needs attending, consider one of these
peculiar alternatives...

Buck Rogers Burial 

This planet has too many living bodies on it, let alone dead ones. So,
do everybody a favor and send your dearly departed into orbit with the
help of Celestis (800-ORBIT-11; The next launch
will take place in early 2003, so if you're interested, die soon.

Basic earth orbit packages, which consist of placing your cremated
remains in a special satellite, range in price from $995 to $5,300.
This is a bargain considering the average price for a typical church
funeral involving zero cool-looking rockets is $5,000. Friends and
family of the deceased also receive the opportunity to look at images
of the earth as seen from their departed loved one?s satellite by
going to Celestis? web site and viewing the satellite?s real-time
camera perspective of our planet...


Rest in peace like a king with the mummification services of Summum
( However, to die like a king requires a king?s
ransom. Mummification ain?t cheap. For starters, Summum is located in
Salt Lake City, Utah, and the deceased body must be transported there
for the process. Then, the actual mummification procedure costs around
$20,000. If you want to go all out and complete the ritual with a
bronze mummiform į la ancient Egypt, that?ll cost $36,000.

But before you say, ?Wrap me up, I?ll take it,? be sure to check out
the Summum philosophy detailed on their web site (clue: Summum?s
founder, Amen Ra, claims he was told by aliens to start the company).
Pet mummifications are welcome, too!

Twenty years ago, cryonics seemed like a sci-fi fairy tale. Today, it
still does. But for those who cling to the hope that medical science
might one day cure your nagging terminal disease, then cryonics is an
option. Cryonics is the practice of freezing a body at an extremely
low temperature (about -196 degrees Celsius) with the intent of
reanimating the body and brain once medical science figures out how to
do so. Since the first cryonic suspension in 1967, more than 100
people have undergone the process and are still frozen to this day.

A cryonic procedure can only take place once someone is legally dead.
However, actual death and legal death are not the same. Legal death
occurs once a physician declares it futile to attempt the
resuscitation of a patient. Real death occurs once the cells of the
body begin an irreversible course of decay, which may happen minutes
or hours after legal death. In that short gap of time between legal
and real death, a cryonics procedure can be performed with proper

Two of the most experienced cryonics companies are Alcor
( and The Cryonics Institute ( Though
there are various pricing options, the average total cost is $30,000.

The Ecopod 
The Ecopod is perfect for environmentally conscious corpses
( Made entirely from recycled paper, the Ecopod is a
fine alternative to wood or metal caskets. And the price ($515 - $700)
will have you conserving money as well as the earth!

Burial on The Bay 
There couldn?t be a more beautiful setting for a funeral than the
shores of Northern California. Here are a few local companies that
specialize in burials at sea or aerial scatterings.

Atlantis Memorials; 415-332-3291
Based in Sausalito. Offers both ash scattering and body burials at sea 

Cloud 9 Coastal Flights; 831-385-5942
Ash scattering by flight along the Big Sur coastline 

Lighthall Yacht Charters; 831-429-1970
Ash scattering in Monterey Bay for cheap: $175 for a one-hour ceremony 

The Riptide; 888-747-8433
Up to 20 people can attend an ash scattering ceremony from Pillar
Point Harbor on a 40?-foot yacht ($250).

You'll find other unique suggestions at their site. 

NPR (National Public Radio) talks about the End of Life and also
touches on the trend to personalize the death experience in less
traditional ways:

"...BOB EDWARDS, HOST: This is MORNING EDITION. I'm Bob Edwards. Until
recently, most Americans ritualized the deaths of their loved ones in
fairly similar ways. Clergymen officiated using traditional prayers
and music, and a funeral home embalmed the body, placed it in a
coffin, and buried it in the ground. That's changing as more families
create personal rituals designed to reflect the individuality of the
deceased. Some in the funeral industry are trying to adapt, saying if
they don't they risk becoming irrelevant.

NPR's John Biewen has the latest report in a series on the end of life...

You can read or listen to the transcript here which includes such recountings as:

"...There was the widow who drove the hearse at her husband's funeral,
because in life he had always insisted that she drive. The family of a
teenager who died recreated the boy's bedroom in the funeral home,
complete with black lights, and replaced "Rock of Ages" with rock by
the loud band Nine Inch Nails. Experts say the growing individuality
in death rituals comes in part from the influence of baby-boomers, who
tend to turn every institution into a form of personal expression. But
a sociologist and author on death and bereavement, George Dickinson
(ph) of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, points to another
factor. He says events of recent decades, from the birth of nuclear
weapons through modern diseases and terrorism, have forced Americans
to confront death more intimately..."

Also an enjoyable read.

The more I searched, the more I found that the unusual is becoming
more commonplace. Simple Alternatives in Canada mentions:

The Simple Alternative can arrange and conduct a funeral at locations
other than its funeral centres, including:

A church
A favourite golf club 
A Legion hall
A theatre
A Visitation, Chapel and Reception Centre

Virtually any building that has the facilities to accommodate a
service, with or without a reception, as long as the owners are

A favourite golf club? Why not.

So, to summarize a bit for you, you are not alone in feeling that the
cost of traditional death services are out of hand and more than they
need to be. The industry is booming, though employees seems to be
underpaid. There are a number of companies that are sensitive to this
and are beginning to offer more affordable services and products and
the industry is beginning to be more environmentally conscious.
Finally, the alternatives and personal celebration choices are
becoming more accepted and more unique.

Additional interesting links:

Kincer Funeral Home
Alternative Services

If I should die - UK

Redwood Funeral Society

Search Strategy:

future of funeral business
alternative funeral

I trust my research has provided you with some insight into the
funeral industry of today and tomorrow. If a link above should fail to
work or anything require further explanation or research, please do
post a Request for Clarification prior to rating the answer and
closing the question and I will be pleased to assist further.


stan1111-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
This was exactly what I was looking for. Good depth and resources for
further followup.

Subject: Re: Funeral homes on the decline
From: clouseau-ga on 26 Dec 2003 22:40 PST
Happy to have helped.

Thank you for the rating and tip!

Best regards,

Subject: Re: Funeral homes on the decline
From: savcash-ga on 24 Sep 2004 16:36 PDT
Your q: "Can you point me to articles, books, Web or other references
that a) discuss current thinking, express frustration or provide hope
that the funeral
system can be upgraded to serve the needs of the baby boomers, and b)
discuss alternatives to burial beyond cremation that might be coming?"

------I agree with the slant of the question (funerals sure should not
cost so much!), and the answer is surely almost complete. The added
url of the National Casket Retailers Assoc. (non profit NCRA of which
I am Vice Chair) at would make it so.
There is a lot of great information on that website there as well.
Plus, doing a search on Google for the DIY funerals that are gaining
strong growth in the United States too, will bring up several great
results. Also the one we did for my beloved husband Bob

Regards, Betty Brown

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