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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.