People in the Funeral Business Are Trained to Take Advantage of Your Emotions

In this video a former family counselor at a funeral home explains his experience being trained to take advantage of vulnerable survivors when planning funerals. He was paid 30% commission on the total cost of a funeral.

Related: Shopping for Funeral ServicesFuneral Director Post on the Bad Practices in the Funeral Industrydiscussion of video on RedditFinal Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death

The Economics of Death

Crash Course is a wonderful series of webcasts on various topics (economics and more). This item isn’t solely on affordable funeral services but it is pretty closely related so I thought it would be interesting to many of our readers, enjoy:

One of the import issues they discuss is the huge amount of health care spending at the end of life.

They also do discuss funeral costs: median price for funeral and burial in the USA was $7,181 (not including burial plot or the headstone) and for a funeral and cremation was $6,078.

The webcast recommend planning as the best advice to reduce costs of end of life care and funeral costs and we agree. As we have said in other posts, the funeral industry often plays on people’s fragile emotions to drain their bank account. By planning ahead and not leaving your survivors venerable you can help them avoid being taken advantage of.

Related: Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of DeathShopping for Funeral ServicesLong Term Care Insurance, Financially Wise but Current Options are Less Than Ideal

USA Funeral Cost Study

The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released a report based on a national survey of the prices and price disclosures of a representative sample of 150 funeral homes from ten different regions of the USA.

The survey revealed significant price differences – for example, from $2,580 to $13,800 for a full-service funeral – and the failure of most funeral homes to disclose their prices adequately: Only 38 of the 150 homes (25%) fully disclosed prices on their websites, while 24 (16%) failed to fully disclose prices both on their website and in response to an email and a phone call.

table of funeral prices for several cities and several funeral options

“Most funeral homes need to give consumers much better access to price information,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s Executive Director. “The Federal Trade Commission should update antiquated disclosure rules developed in the pre-Internet 1980s, just as California has successfully done,” he added.

For example, California requires funeral homes to disclose on their websites the same prices the FTC requires funeral homes to disclose by phone or in an in-person visit. 13 of 15 surveyed California funeral homes fully disclosed prices on their websites.

“The FTC needs to require funeral homes to disclose prices clearly and completely on their websites,” said FCA’s Slocum. “This disclosure will greatly increase consumer search for price information. It will also allow journalists, consumer information services, and consumer groups to much more easily research, compare, and report on prices,” Slocum added.

See our previous post on shopping for funeral services.

Full press release on the national funeral cost study.

Related: Funeral Director’s Post on the Bad Practices in the Funeral IndustryFinal Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of DeathMake Your Own Coffin

Las Vegas Entrepreneur Takes on Overpriced Burial Caskets

Rest in Peace for Less With Caskets Made in China

in 1972, the Federal Trade Commission began a decade-long investigation into the industry’s anticompetitive practices. In 1984 the FTC passed the Funeral Rule, which ended prepackaging and forced funeral homes to provide price sheets and offer services and products a la carte.

The law also requires funeral homes to let consumers bring their own casket at no charge. Malamas was far from the first to spot an opportunity. Online retailers began appearing in the late 1990s, and Costco jumped into the game in 2004, to much media coverage….

In 1960 fewer than 4 percent of dead Americans were cremated, according to the Cremation Association of North America. In 2012 the figure was 43 percent and is expected to continue rising. Cremations cost less than a third of traditional funerals.

Consumers deserve better than the exploitation of their emotions by those seeking to charge outrageous amounts for funeral services. We need entrepreneurs like Jim Malamas, ACE Caskets, and large companies like Costco that are focused on customer value instead of those trying to line their pockets when people are emotionally vulnerable.

Cremations are increasing for several reasons but the high cost of burial is likely a very significant factor.

The large companies are needed to fight the law suits brought by those taking advantage of consumers today and to fight through the corruption of the current system. The corruption of the current political system is used by those taking advantage of consumers to give politicians cash so they will introduce anti-competitive practices into state regulation and laws. These are overturned with enough cash to pay lawyers to fight the corruption but it costs money so we need large companies that can afford to fight it to be involved.

Related: Shopping for Funeral Services (FTC help for consumers)Statistics on cremationFuneral Director Comments on the Bad Practices in the Funeral IndustryFinal Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Crowdfunding for High Funeral Costs

I would rather reduce the excessive costs the system currently imposes. But that is still a work in progress. As long as the excessive costs remain this is one option for those that don’t leave an estate sufficient for covering the costs.

Crowdfunding Funeral Costs for a Loved One

With the average funeral now topping $7,045, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, families often find that saying goodbye to their loved ones comes with a higher price tag than they anticipated.

GoFundMe is currently hosting more than 8,000 funeral campaigns.

A crowdfunding campaign can also turn into an online memorial, a place for loved ones to share special memories and connect with others in a shared grief.

“The original intent and purpose [of a funeral crowdfunding campaign] is to raise money but, in a dark time, it’s also a place to celebrate a loved one’s life,” says Vargas. “It brings people together from all over the country who can’t make it to the funeral but want to say goodbye.”

I do like the idea of online memorials that let people share their thoughts and feelings.

Sadly our world if full of scammers. I would donate to one of these funds without real world confirmation that it was properly set up. I can certainly imagine criminals will post such things about people that really died and then take the money and run. This is sad, but I feel a likely scenario.

Related: Advice on Shopping for Funeral ServicesA Blog Post From a Funeral Director on the Bad Practices in the Funeral Industry

Statistics on Cremation

The cremation rate in the USA in 2012 was 43%, quite a bit higher than I would have guessed. Cremation costs are significantly lower than casket and burial costs – perhaps 20-30% (the national average cremation costs were $1,650 in 2012). Direct cremation, without a memorial service, should cost below $1,000.

Cremation rates have been increasing over time and are projected to continue doing so. In 1998 the cremation rate was just 24% is the USA.

There is a quite a variation between states. Nevada had a 74% cremation rate, Washington 73%, Oregon 71%, Hawaii 70%, Maine 69%, Louisiana 23%, Kentucky 22%, Alabama 20%, Mississippi 17%.

International cremation statistics for 2010: Japan 99.94%, UK 73%, China 49%, France 13%.

Related: Make Your Own CoffinFinal Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of DeathShopping for Funeral Services

Data from: Cremation Association of North America and International cremation stats

Shopping for Funeral Services

The Federal Trade Commission has a consumer information site with information on shopping for funeral services. The take on the process is obviously very influenced by the lobbyist for the funeral services industry but it does provide some guidelines to avoid the worst fraud and abuse by those seeking to take advantage of those grieving.

Some of the tips include:

  • Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Remember that you can supply your own casket or urn.
  • Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them. (note from affordable funeral blog: Costco provides good casket options)
  • Ask for a price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services.
  • Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don’t really want or need.
  • Avoid emotional overspending. It’s not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one.
  • Recognize your rights. Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It’s a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires you to purchase and which are optional.
  • Make funeral arrangements without embalming. No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.
  • Shop in advance. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion, and lifts some of the burden from your family.

Related: Affordable Funeral Services blog introFuneral Director Post on the Bad Practices in the Funeral IndustryFinal Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Funeral Director Post on the Bad Practices in the Funeral Industry

Informative post on Reddit by a funeral director that is not happy with the state of their industry:

Do yourself a favor and read the FTC Funeral Rule. It’s very clear and concise in stating what you as the consumer are required to do and what rights you have. Did you know the casket I’m selling you for $5000 is really just a nicely decorated plywood box? If you were smarter, you’d know you don’t have to buy that from me. In fact, the law requires me to allow you to “BYOB.” Costco and Wal-Mart sell very reasonably priced nice caskets on their websites. If you happen to be armed with that tidbit of information, I’ll try to make it a practical issue: it will be easier to use the caskets we already have here. Another line of crap. All of the caskets at the funeral home are demo models (and are actually nice napping spots on slow days). Anything you buy will be delivered to the funeral home via freight the next day, just like the Wal-Mart caskets.

Another well-worn sales tactic is to try to shame you into going along with the exorbitant cost, implying you didn’t really love grandma enough if you spend less than five figures with me. You should know, by the way, that everything you buy from me – a guestbook, prayer cards, even the damn obituary notices – is marked up at least 200%. See the picture I’m painting here, kids? Smoke and mirrors. It hasn’t always been like this, but with the corporatization of the death care industry, the almighty dollar is the only consideration anymore.

It is a shame so many in the funeral industry have made the decision to take advantage of people in their time of distress. It is also a shame numerous legislators have been paid to, and then do, create legislation that makes it difficult for those trying to provide assistance to those in need.

Related: Make Your Own CoffinFinal Rights, Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death

image of the book cover for Final Rights

Two of leading advocates for consumer rights in dealing with the funeral industry have written a book: Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death. Joshua Slocum is executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit with over 90 chapters throughout the USA and Lisa Carlson is executive director of Funeral Ethics Organization, a nonprofit that works with the funeral industry to try to improve its ethical standards.

Abuse of consumers by the funeral industry has only worsened in the decades since Jessica Mitford’s landmark expose The American Way of death. Families are exploited financially at a time of intense grief, prepaid funeral money vanishes into thin air. In eight states, families are denied the healing that can come from personal involvement in caring for their dead.

But a funeral consumer movement is awakening. As with natural childbirth and hospice, Americans are asserting their right to take charge of a major event in their lives. Many still want the help of a funeral director-but to assist, not to direct. And many are handling it themselves, with home burials, green burials, or direct arrangements with a crematory. Final Rights provides the information consumers need to take back their rights under existing law, while proposing legal changes that could benefit all Americans who will plan or pay for a funeral.

Death is inevitable. We may not like to think about the details but this blog is dedicated to helping people at that difficult time. It is much easier if you can take some time in advance and help those who will be asked to cope in the wake of your death to consider what should be done. This book is a helpful resource to aid that process.

Make Your Own Coffin

The cost of coffins is often too expensive for those who must pay for the expenses of a funeral. And those fancy coffins are often be pushed on grieving relatives as an indication of how much the survivors care – which I hate. The amount you spend on a coffin says nothing about your love for the deceased. If you have lots of money to spare and you want to spend a great deal of money on a coffin, fine. My father’s coffin was hand made by a friend which was incredibly great – much more appropriate than a fancy coffin, in my opinion, and my father’s.

Here is an article on a Coffin-Making class from Make (a great magazine for those that like to make things themselves).

Forty-five year-old Randy Schnobrich, a professional woodworker in Grand Marais, told me that he’s noticed people are paying more attention to green burial options in recent years

Schnobrich’s course costs $700 ($470 materials + $225 tuition) and participants spend three days constructing a coffin out of inch-thick cabinet grade pine. The caskets are made mainly with hand tools (planes and saws).

“You could obviously just use machinery and blast right through [the project] but that’s kind of not the essence of the school,”

Although the course fee includes all materials, one woman who took the course provided her own lumber. Planks from a pecan tree milled on her parents property were used.

Making your own coffin isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But many would value such a connection to the cycle of life. This option is not only are personal and environmentally friendly but save you money that can be used to enjoy life instead of just burying it in the ground.

Related: coffin-making plans for between $40 and $45, as well as kits that range from $700 to $1,700 – Cost of Dying Rises Above £7,000 in the UKAffordable Funeral Services