Market Overview

Demystifying The Funeral Industry

Demystifying The Funeral Industry

Unfortunately, the funeral industry has garnered a reputation over the years for taking advantage of mourners in order to add a few bucks to their sales.

For, at the end of the day, funeral homes/mortuaries are businesses – a concept that is often overlooked by the general public. They provide a needed service in exchange for monetary compensation. They are on call 24/7 and still have to support their employees and family; when all is said and done, that compensation comes from sales.

And, while the Federal Trade Commission passed the Funeral Rule in 1984, strictly regulating the industry (particularly in regard to transparency concerns), business practices still circulate that can be interpreted as selfish, underhanded and misleading. Taken out of context, these practices might just be called "smart business skills." However, within the scope of bereavement, any actions used to make money above and beyond the necessary costs are liable to receive more than a few sideways glances.

Related Link: After Your Funeral, Your Financial Assets Could Haunt: Estate Planning Basics

Understanding The Funeral Rule

Under the Funeral Rule, the bereaved have the legal right to:

  • Forego Embalming: This is by far one of the most widely circulated assumptions regarding burials. No state requires embalming under "normal" circumstances. To reiterate, no state laws say that the decedent must receive routine embalming in order to be buried. The FTC explains under the Funeral Rule, "Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time […] in most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative."

    In other words, within a window of time, viewings can still take place even if the body is not embalmed. Burials most certainly can be conducted without embalming. While many funeral homes might have their own policies regarding viewings and embalming, it is not required by state law.

  • Forego Traditional Caskets For Cremations: Big, fancy caskets are not necessary for cremation. No caskets are necessary for cremation. Under state and local law, cremations can be performed using "alternative containers." Furthermore, under the Funeral Rule, the funeral home/mortuary is required to inform the bereaved, and have available, alternative containers such as unfinished wood, fiberboard or cardboard containers.
  • Purchase A Container From A Different Business: "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," states the FTC. Purchasing a container at the same funeral home where the decedent has been delivered postmortem may be convenient, but it does not guarantee the best pricing or the best options available on the market.
  • Receive Written Price Lists: By law, funeral directors are required to provide the bereaved with written price lists for caskets, outer burial containers and the entire funerary cost. According to the FTC, "The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements."
  • Receive Pricing Information Over The Phone: You do not have to be physically present or provide any identifying information in order to receive pricing information over the phone; "You don't have to give them your name, address, or telephone number first," the FTC states.
  • Buying A La Carte: Under the Funeral Rule, "You have the right to buy separate goods (such as caskets) and services (such as embalming or a memorial service). You do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want."

Cutting Costs Without Feeling Disrespectful

Emotions run rampant during times of mourning. But, understanding that and taking precautions now to prevent emotionally-charged upcharges can save your family unnecessary expenses.

One of the best ways to avoid being sucked into or dragged through up-talk sales' tactics is to plan ahead. Death is unpredictable, but it is generally assumed that it comes in old age. However, while all deaths can be emotionally draining and leave the bereaved fuzzy-minded and incapable of making otherwise rational or financially-conscious decisions, unexpected deaths throw the entire thought-process out of whack.

It is never too early to write down your end-of life and death care preferences. While it may seem morbid or untimely, the one certainty of life is its uncertainty. If being prepared for the unthinkable could even minutely relieve some of the emotional turmoil your family may experience after you've departed your physical body, wouldn't you do anything you can to make sure that happens?

In parts two and three of this series, specific steps to saving money during bereavement will be discussed.

Posted-In: Federal Trade Commission funeral industry Funeral Rule USAAPersonal Finance


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