When a loved one passes away, those tasked with arranging funerals and settling estates have to make a multitude of decisions during a stressful time and on a deadline. Cremation? Burial? Embalming? Organ Donation? The possibilities are endless and the choices made often have a lasting effect and although we try to make the most informed decision possible, no one really knows all the questions to ask. So when the Federal Trade Commission created the Funeral Rule in 1984, which requires funeral homes and providers to disclose all their disposition option,rates and pricing on a General Price List, consumers were reassured and confident their rights were being protected. But when a funeral home falsifies or fails to disclose important pricing information, what happens?
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On September 12 the Consumer Federation of America’s Executive Director Stephen Brobeck and Josh Slocum, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumer Alliance held a teleconference following the spontaneous release of an in-depth study on the cost of dying, with a special report on the cost of simple cremation, in America. The results were nothing short of surprising.
The CFA and FCA investigated 142 funeral homes in the top ten metropolitan cities in America including Atlanta, Denver, D.C., Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Princeton, Seattle, Southern California, and Tucson. They examined the General Price Lists disclosed by the homes, compared them to the actual fees charged, as well as the practices and services provided and found a substantial difference in cremation pricing and blatant exploitation of a loophole revealed in the Funeral Rule laws.
Of 142 funeral homes and cremation businesses surveyed:
—prices for Direct Cremation ranged from $495 to $7,595.
— 33 of funeral homes failed to list legally required options and disclosures on their general price lists. This is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule.
—Of the 46 funeral homes that post Direct Cremation prices on their websites, 12 (26%) failed to offer these options and disclosures. If the Funeral Rule applied to websites, these would be in violation.
—Thirty-one of the surveyed funeral homes (22%) advertised a price for their Direct Cremation package that failed to include the cost of the cremation process itself, making the price for a simple cremation seem artificially low. Though this is not a direct violation of the Funeral Rule, it is inherently deceptive and the FTC should bar this practice.
According to the report, the Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide two options when selecting cremation as the chosen means of final disposition:
“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer supplies their own casket or cardboard “alternative container” to hold the body prior to cremation, such as a homemade casket or a container bought from a third-party retailer,”
“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer buys the funeral home’s least expensive alternative container.”
But of the 142 funeral homes investigated, 23% of them failed to list the legally required service options which is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule. In addition, the advertised prices for a simple cremation and the actual cost differed $200, at least, and $595 at most. With the cost of cremation not included in the GPL, low and middle-income consumers were at risk being blindsided by the exorbitant fees and unable to afford even the most simple method of disposition.
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Since the services provided with a simple cremation does not vary between one funeral home and another, the prices and the differences did not add up. A Direct Cremation consists of picking up and transporting the body, filing paperwork, and returning the ashes to the family. There are no ceremonies included, no casket, and no ornamental urn aside from the basic container when a direct or simple cremation is chosen and yet, prices could vary as much as 200 percent for the same service in the same city, according to the report. While many funeral homes use third-party crematories, as they do not have their own, these crematories charge somewhere between $250 and $400 for a cremation, pointing to a large discrepancy in ethical practices and pricing. But if the 2012, 2013 and 2014 lawsuits filed against a NY, Montgomery and D.C. funeral home by the FTC are any indication, the people will soon have their justice.
The full report can be accessed here.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
The FTC educates and provides comprehensive guidance services to businesses and consumers in how to comply. For more information read Shopping for Funeral Services, Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services, and Complying with the Funeral Rule.