Guide to a ripoff-free funeral

Terminal-stage capitalism for the worm-food set.

Cory Doctorow


A graveside casket. Dancing atop it is a drawing of Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags, but instead of a cane, he is wielding a scythe. His face has been turned into a skull. Image: Eugene Peretz (modified) CC BY-SA 2.0

In the decade-plus that I’ve been reading and watching Caitlin Doughty, I’ve become increasingly aware that even death is no escape from late-stage capitalism — indeed, if you have the misfortune to die unprepared, you will pass out of this world attended by a monopolistic, rapacious, price-gouging monopoly.

Indeed, the situation is so grim that I’ve often joked about leaving my body to med-school pranks: corpse at the alumni dinner, arm hanging from a toll-booth, etc. But for the mourners whose grief is turned into cash, this is no laughing matter.

Writing today for Propublica, Carson Kessler delivers an essential piece of service journalism: “How to Avoid Being Overcharged for a Funeral,” whose advice and analysis is exactly the kind of clear guidance needed to carry you through a very difficult moment:

The funeral home industry is governed by a set of reasonably good regulations, but you only benefit from this if you know about them. Kessler turns to Joshua Slocum, of the Funeral Consumers Alliance to explain them:

  • You have the right to get a quote by phone;
  • You have the right to an itemized, printed price-list;
  • You have the right to order a la carte; funeral homes can’t force you to buy a bundle of products and services.

When your loved one dies, the first thing to remember is that “death is not an emergency.” Don’t let yourself be hurried (this is harder for people planning Jewish burials, which are scripturally mandated to take place within 24 hours of death).

If your loved one died in hospital, check whether the morgue will keep them for a few days while you check with funeral homes in a 20–30 mile radius. Set a budget. Under no circumstances should you tell a funeral director, “Money is no object, she deserves the best.”

Funeral home pricing can vary wildly — businesses within a few miles of each other will often charge thousands of dollars more or less than one another. Don’t imagine that you have a…