Funeral Arrangements – Who Makes the Decisions?

“Would you like the two-year or four-year extended warranty?” asked the man behind the desk.

Years ago, I was shopping for a used car for one of my kids. We had picked out the car we wanted and haggled with the sales manager to get a fair price. 

Next, we were ushered into the Business Manager’s office to complete the paperwork and offered a two-year or four-year extended warranty.

Fortunately, I have a brother who has managed car dealerships for years, and we have had a lot of conversations about the games salespeople play to increase revenue.

Business Managers ask, “Would you like the two-year or four-year extended warranty?” because many people will choose one of them without understanding that they can also decline the offer. 

That’s called an upsell. 

“Would you like the two-year or four-year warranty?” is an example of a script the Business Manager is trained to deliver. According to my brother, scripts like that are standard practice in car dealerships. 

The classic script in the fast food industry is “Would you like fries with that?” 

If you say yes, you will typically be asked, “Would you like to add a drink and make that a meal for just 50 cents more?”

That’s how a pimply-faced teenager running the cash register at McDonald’s turns your Big Mac order into a Big Mac Meal with fries and a drink. That’s also how the gross profit on your order went from 20% on a Big Mac to 61% on a Big Mac Meal.

A script that offers an upsell makes it possible for even the most junior employee on your team to increase sales. They don’t have to develop the script or spend months testing different scripts. Instead, they just have to recite what they’ve been trained to say.

Scripts are common in the funeral industry, especially when it comes to pre-need or cemetery sales. For example, most pre-need sales reps are trained on what to say to encourage someone to make funeral arrangements and fund their pre-need contract.

Scripts are less common on the at-need side of the funeral business, where most Funeral Directors will go out of their way never to be perceived as a salesperson. But that underestimates the potential use of a well-written script.

Business leaders create scripts to address a wide variety of situations and problems. Increasing sales is just one of the uses.

One challenging situation that has become quite common these days involves who gets to decide on funeral arrangements in the case of an at-need death call. Unfortunately, family members often disagree on decisions, and Funeral Directors get caught in the middle.

Consider the following scenario.

A 45-year-old woman passes away in a car accident, and her family comes to your funeral home to make arrangements. In walks the following people.

  • Her two adult daughters from her first marriage.
  • Her current husband, whom she married a year ago.
  • And her 70-year-old mother.

The mother and two daughters can’t stand the new husband, and they immediately try to control the arrangements. As a result, the tension in the arrangement room is extremely high, and the Funeral Director tries to be a peacemaker. 

In most states, the husband has the legal authority to make funeral arrangements regardless of how long they’ve been married. In this situation, the mother and daughters simply don’t have legal standing.

The Funeral Director abides by state law and follows the husband’s wishes. However, after the funeral, the mother and daughters are still furious and leave the funeral home one-star Google reviews.

Having two new one-star Google reviews damages the funeral home’s online reputation and causes other families to question their choice of funeral homes. All because state laws tied the Funeral Director’s hands.

What could the Funeral Director do during the arrangement meeting to diffuse the situation?

He can use something that I call the “Confirming Authority” script. Here’s how it goes…

“Our state government has very clear rules about who legally makes funeral decisions. In this situation, the husband gets to make the decisions. That’s not our rule; that’s the state’s rule. The laws of the state tie my hands. Everybody’s input is welcome, but legally he gets to decide.”

The mother and daughters are still going to be angry. But hopefully, by using this script, the Funeral Director can redirect that anger away from the funeral home and toward the state.

This is an example of using a script to diffuse a situation. The Funeral Director is not trying to sell anything; they’re just trying to avoid being blamed for something they have no control over.

My new Consultative Arrangement Course includes a lot of scripts. The Confirming Authority script is just one of them.

The primary goal of the course is to help Funeral Directors navigate the process of making arrangements with Boomer and Gen X families. Funeral home owners often have decades of experience and have learned how to deal with any situation, but less experienced arrangers can sometimes feel overwhelmed and “lost for words” at times. That’s the problem we need to solve.

Until next time


PS: Editing the video training modules is complete, and we’ll be loading them into a training website next week. After that, I’ll give access to the early reviewers, and if all goes well, general availability will be shortly after that.


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