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Most consumers still don’t know their rights on funeral costs

Casket for Burial-Brown Wood 2028289_640In 1981, I won my first journalism prize. The topic was funeral costs.

I interviewed funeral directors from each of the funeral homes in Spokane, Washington. All said they fully informed customers about costs and didn’t disparage cremation, a less costly alternative. I didn’t have a story.

I decided to do a telephone survey of consumers who had arranged a funeral more than a year ago. I found about a quarter didn’t receive a price list when they were arranging a funeral. Six percent didn’t know the cost of the funeral until they received the bill.

A recent survey of consumers showed similar results.

Only one-quarter of consumers surveyed know that funeral homes are required to provide price quotes over the phone and an itemized price list at the funeral home, according to a survey conducted for the Funeral Consumers Alliance and Consumer Federation of America.

Only 5 percent of consumers are aware that funeral homes are required to accept a casket provided by the bereaved without charging a handling fee, the survey also showed.

“It is understandable that consumers who rarely purchase funeral services are not aware of well-established consumer protections,” said Josh Slocum, executive director of FCA.

Online price disclosure being debated

The Federal Trade Commission is currently considering whether to revise its Funeral Rule. FCA, CFA and other groups argue that this revision should include requiring funeral homes to post their price lists online.

“Online prices could be easily compared, obviating the need to visit a number of funeral homes to collect price lists,” said Slocum. “One cannot expect a recently bereaved family under pressure to make quick decisions to take the time and effort to visit several funeral homes.”

Some funeral homes do voluntarily post costs on their websites although it isn’t required.

Only 17 percent of the 2,009 respondents correctly thought that direct cremation of the body is usually available for less than $1,200. Fifteen percent thought the low price was usually above $2,400, and 38 percent said they didn’t know.

“Online price lists would dramatically increase a consumer’s ability to cut funeral costs,” said Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow. “Online posting of an existing price list would cost funeral homes a trivial amount.”

Older persons least informed about funeral rights

Only 15 percent of those 65 years and older know that funeral homes are required to provide price quotes over the phone and a price list at the home, and 60 percent said they didn’t know. However, nearly 30 percent of those aged 18-54 knew the correct answer.

Seventy-six percent of older persons surveyed said they didn’t know whether funeral homes were required to accept a casket provided by the bereaved without charge.

“We were surprised to learn that older persons are least aware of their funeral rights because they are the age group most likely to confront funeral-related decisions,” said Slocum.

Pamphlet provides money-saving tips

A pamphlet, “Planning a Funeral: 5 Key Tips,” is available from FCA and CFA. Funeral cost tips include:

  • Talk it out ahead of time: Tough decisions about cremation or burial, venue of any memorial services, and other issues can be resolved without the pressures of immediate disposition of the body.
  • Know your rights: The FTC’s Funeral Rule provides specific rights including an itemized price list, a written price estimate, and acceptance of your casket without a handling fee.
  • Shop around: Comparing prices at area funeral homes can lower costs by as much as 50 percent.
  • Keep it simple: The cost of a full funeral is about $7,360, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. However, in most areas a cremation without extras can cost only $800-$1,200
  • Avoid expensive extras: Most funeral homes offer dozens of service options, including sealed caskets, that may not provide you with value.

“Planning a funeral ahead of time can reduce costs by well over 50 percent and provide peace of mind,” said Brobeck.

The pamphlet is available online on the FCA and CFA websites.

Comments

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Jennifer

When my mother died, she had her funeral planned out, right down to the food that would be served afterward. But the funeral home was really good about clarifying what the costs were and helped steer us to lower-cost items, like her urn that would be buried, where applicable.

Meryl

Recently my girlfriend's husband died. She planned his funeral a couple of weeks before he died (he was terminally ill), and after he died she planned hers. I think older folks are reluctant to face their own mortality, ask the hard questions and plan beforehand, only learning the information when there is a funeral they must plan. Not smart, but a human reaction...

Rita

Jennifer and Meryl,

These consumers did a good job of planning ahead. Most don't, whether they don't want to face their own death yet or they don't have the money now. (Paying a funeral home in advance isn't a good idea because it may go out of business. The best thing to do is set aside money in a special account.)

My dad said he didn't want to plan his funeral because he knew a guy who planned his own funeral and he died the next day. However, my dad had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and he knew he was going to die. So, we went to the funeral home and made the arrangements.

That being said, it is good to prepare. A good friend of mine died this month. My daughter reminded me that I need to write my own obituary. I have things I want in it that my daughters may not know.

Rita

Carol Cassara

I'm going to share this. The info is extremely important.

Laurie Stone

My dad passed away over five years ago and my mom and I could've used this information. A sad, tough subject, but an important one. Thank you.

Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

The price of funerals is so crazy, especially burial costs. Personally, I'd just like to be turned into a tree or spread out in the ocean.

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