Choosing a Funeral Home

Legislation enacted by Congress in the mid 1980s and revised in the '90s, the so-called Funeral Rule, has helped considerably in the task of selecting a funeral home. It has not, however, eliminated all the shrewd dealings that go on at many of them. And, since the Clinton administration essentially turned policing and disciplining of the funeral industry over to the National Funeral Directors Association, more than a little caution is advised. Apart from ourselves and a few others, there is no one looking out for your interests. One funeral director was bold enough to state without qualification that he was ". . . more worried about being struck by a meteor than being inspected by the Federal Trade Commission." The FTC is supposed to inspect the industry, but has pretty much handed things over to the industry to monitor itself.

Call ahead.

Per the Funeral Rule, funeral homes are required to furnish customers with a price list for services, even over the phone. They are also required to furnish a casket and outer container price list, but few if any will let you leave with a copy! We'll cover caskets later, so for now let's concentrate on selecting the funeral home.

Phone several funeral homes and have them have a price list waiting for you to pick up. Don't be surprised if they volunteer one of their salesmen (Grief Counsellors, they're called nowadays) to "go over it with you in case there are any questions." Then expect a sales pitch. While at the funeral home, ask to use their restroom. Check the toilet paper and tissues. If they are single-ply, slick, industrial quality .. LEAVE! If they will cut corners on tissues and TP you can bet they'll cut corners on everything else. You can also get the prices by phone, but without reading the actual price list and the fine print you cannot possibly know what you're buying, or whom you're actually dealing with. Send your friend to collect the lists if you don't want to run the gauntlet of sales personnel.

Expand your search, but be careful.

Funeral homes like to think of themselves as geographic entities. They like to 'farm' a community, keep in touch with past customers' families, and count on a sort of loyalty from its citizens. The problem with this is, it WORKS. Often you can find better prices and services only blocks away, but who knows to look? The 'only frog in the pond' attitude allows some funeral homes to take advantage of this loyalty. Realize your loyalty lies with the deceased and your family, get out and find your best option even if it means going to the other side of town.

Beware the Corporate-Owned Funeral Homes

Another pitfall is the corporate-owned funeral homes which pose as 'Mom-and-Pop' establishments to reap all that goodwill developed over generations. SCI (Service Corp. International), Stewarts, and Carriage Services (nee Loewens) handle about a quarter of all funerals conducted in the U.S., and have proven to have their priorities focused on the Bottom Line and their shareholders more than with the families they serve. To make matters worse, they also own hundreds of cemeteries and mausoleums so they can [and will!] get you at both ends. Per a Catholic priest who has been conducting price surveys across the U.S. for over twenty years, these corporate-owned homes charge 35-40% more than their local independently-owned competition. Per our own surveys, this is fairly accurate, particularly in the case of the so-called "Dignity" packages.

Don't expect the conglomerate-owned businesses to advertise* their affiliation or ownership out in the open, you have to read the contract to find any mention of SCI, Stewarts, etc. And if you do, it's my opinion you should go on down the road to another establishment. With their bulk-buying power these giants get many of their goods at nearly 25% less than their independantly-owned counterparts, and yet their prices are grossly inflated. Per a contact at MONEY Magazine who'd studied both the NFDA data and the corporations' SEC reports, SCI reported four-times as much profit per funeral as independants.

*New York recently passed a law requiring funeral homes to state their ACTUAL OWNERS in their ads and signage. This law was fought bitterly by the corporate death care industry, but the consumer finally won one. Good work New York! Wouldn't you like to know who you are doing business with? Let your legislators know this, but don't be surprised if restrictive industry-friendly legislation is already 'bought and paid for', as is the case in many states.

Beware of 'Package Deals'

The book goes into detail on what to avoid in Package Deals, but for our purposes let's just say you're probably better off deciding what services you need and want, and pricing them apart from these tricky bundles of services. Do you know what constitutes a Funerary Event, or the difference between a Funeral and a Memorial Service? It could be hundreds of dollars, but you can call your service anything you wish. Just as in the case of a fancy department store or restaurant, the larger the staff, heavier the velvet drapes, and deeper the carpet, the more you'll pay. Decide what you want, price it, then move on to the next one . . . and don't be surprised if a salesperson follows you all the way to your car trying to get you to stay. If one does, make a counter-offer of your own! YOU can take control of the process, if you will.

A List of the Most Consumer-UNfriendly States

A couple of years ago, a piece of gravel cracked one of the front signal lights on my car. I called the dealership and was told I could buy just the LENS for $129.50, but that the lens came as part of the 'Replacement Package' including ALL the parts and cost $159.40! Luckily, there was an independent after-market parts place nearby, and I found the lens for under $10.00, but What if I wasn't ALLOWED to buy from an independent dealer? That would be what is known as 'unfair restriction of trade', but is the law of the land in several states where only licensed funeral directors are allowed to SELL caskets.

Per the Federal Funeral Rule Legislation, however, you can BUY a casket anywhere in North America, from anyone you wish, and have it delivered directly to the funeral home. And, the funeral home is NOT allowed to change its prices or charge you any sort of 'handling fee' if you buy the casket elsewhere. If you live in any of the following states and want a better price on a casket, call us. We'll put you in touch with someone who can deliver and save you about HALF the funeral home prices.

(home base of Stewarts)
(tell Jesse V. about this!)
(even their Supreme Court seems to be sold-out)
South Carolina
(Recently their restrictive laws were overturned in court, despite the fact that several of the legislators including their Speaker of the House have funeral industry ties)
(Possibly the WORST state of all in caring for consumers. Must buy caskets from a funeral director. Finally got around to regulating cemeteries, only to appoint as their 'Consumer Representative' on the regulation committee a freshly-transferred employee of SCI!)

If you live in any of the above states, start making some noise with whatever slick lawyers you've elected to state government and let them know you're tired of them taking the death industry's money, then sending YOU the bill in 'sweetheart' legislation. And keep our number handy.

Toll Free 877-427-0220

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