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

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

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

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: Casketplans.com 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

Affordable Funeral Services

I am frustrated with how some people take advantage of others who are facing a difficult time in their lives when coping with the deal of a loved one. People have enough to deal with when a loved one dies they should have honest and well meaning advice to help guide them. This site aims to do that as part on my new site on money matters in general.

I actually remember hearing about the pressure tactics used by some to get people to pay way more for a coffin than they would chose to given all their other priorities. The prices are often incredibly high and the tactics used to pressure people into paying more by making it seem like avoiding wasting money on a funeral casket is somehow a sign of not enough love for the deceased I find disheartening. For my father’s funeral our friend made my father’s casket himself and some of those he worked with dug his grave. How much more loving a gesture can there be? That is far more special I think than spending huge amounts of money.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened. I can’t remember if he said he wanted a simple pine box coffin first, I think he did. It is the type of thing he definitely would have wanted – a simple coffin. He wouldn’t want to waste money on a fancy casket. He spent money much more sensibly in my opinion, on things like travel, saving for retirement and paying for his kids education. What is right for each person is up to them and those that love them, but equating the fanciness of the casket with how much the person is loved and respected is wrong.

A funeral is a difficult time. And a meaningful time. And a time when people are venerable. I hope this site can help people find honorable solutions that are also affordable and fitting for their needs.