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Make sure to get price information about funeral cost, because some funeral homes failed to disclose it in undercover investigations

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If you can’t leave home or travel to a funeral provider right now due to the covid-19 pandemic, you can get information about what it offers — and how much those goods and services cost. The Funeral Rule says funeral homes must give you information about their products and services, including their prices, over the phone if you ask for it. Some funeral providers also post price information online.

Bridget Small, consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission, says when you make arrangements by phone, online, or in person, you have the right to:

  • Buy only the goods, such as a casket, and services, such as a memorial service, that you want, instead of being required to buy a “package.”
  • Use an alternative container — made of pressed wood, cardboard, or other material — instead of a casket for cremation
  • Use a casket or urn you bought somewhere else.
  • Get a written statement after you decide what you want, but before you pay. The statement must list the price for each good or service you chose, and the total cost. You have a right to get the written statement before you pay, even when you make arrangements by phone.

When you go to a funeral home to make arrangements, you have the right to:

  • Get an itemized price list when you start talking about funeral arrangements and prices.
  • See price lists for caskets and outer burial containers before you discuss or look at them.

Use the FTC’s Funeral Pricing Checklist to ask about available options and compare costs at different funeral providers. 

Undercover investigations

FTC investigators, working undercover in five states, found failures to disclose timely itemized pricing information, as required by the Funeral Rule, in 17 of the 90 funeral homes they've visited since 2018.

Here's the number of funeral homes in five regions that failed to comply:

  • In Marietta and Gainesville, Georgia, seven of the 13 funeral homes inspected.
  • In Lafayette, Louisiana, three of the 20 funeral homes inspected.
  • In Las Vegas, Nevada, three of the 23 funeral homes inspected.
  • In Northern and Central New Jersey, none of the 11 funeral homes inspected.
  • In Beaumont, Texas, four of the 23 funeral homes inspected.

In addition, the FTC identified a number of funeral homes within the tested areas with minor compliance deficiencies. In these cases, the FTC sent letters about the concerns and requiring the funeral homes to provide evidence that they've corrected the problems.

Funeral homes that violate the price disclosure requirements for the first time may be eligible to enter the Funeral Rule Offender’s Program, a training program run by the National Funeral Directors Association designed to increase compliance with the rule.

All of the homes that violated the rule in the inspections listed above have chosen to enter the FROP rather than possibly getting FTC penalties, which can be as high as $43,280 per violation. The FROP provides participants with a legal review of the price disclosures required by the rule and ongoing training, testing, and monitoring for compliance.

Funeral homes that participate in the program make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty, and pay annual administrative fees to the NFDA.

The FTC provides information, in English and Spanish, about consumers’ rights under the Funeral Rule: "Shopping for Funeral Services" and "Paying Final Respects, Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services."

The FTC is seeking comment on whether to make changes to its Funeral Rule as part of the agency’s systematic review of all current FTC rules and guides. The notice has been published in the Federal Register, and the comment period will be open until June 15, 2020. Instructions for filing comments appear in the notice.

Copyright 2020, Rita R. Robison, Consumer and Personal Finance Journalist

Comments

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Carol Cassara

Isn't it awful that people are preyed upon at a time of emotional distress?Thanks for shining a light.

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