One in four funeral homes not playing by the rules

Death is hard enough to deal with without the added insult of being taken advantage of by a funeral home. The Federal Trade Commission recently sent undercover inspectors into 104 funeral homes in seven states and just released a report that found that one in four (26) had significant violations of government regulations intended to protect consumers.

The two locations with the most violations were Northeastern Arkansas, where 73% had serious violations, and San Antonio, where 64% flunked, the FTC reported. All the inspections were conducted in 2008. Minneapolis/St. Paul and Toledo, Ohio, funeral homes fared the best. Each had only one funeral home found to have serious violations.

Here are the results from the other locations:
  • Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska. 11 funeral homes inspected; two had significant violations
  • Orange County, Calif., 18 funeral homes inspected; two had significant violations
  • Nassau County, N.Y., 18 funeral homes inspected; two had significant violations
The federal Funeral Rule spells out disclosures funeral homes are supposed to make it so that customers understand what the costs are going to be and can, if they choose, compare prices. When you go into a funeral home, you should be presented with a price list of the various products and services and should not be shown a casket before being presented with the prices.

The FTC also has a lot of helpful information for anyone who has to deal with planning a funeral.

A long time ago, the funeral industry was dominated by small local businesses that carried on through tradition and reputation. The names remain, but many of these once independent operations are now part of conglomerates.

Like companies acquiring businesses in other industries, the funeral home business achieves cost savings through consolidation. Cremations, embalming and other services are often done in a central facility rather than at the funeral home, which, under group ownership, is now largely a showroom and sales office. The largest of the chains in the death business is Service Corporation International (SCI), which runs some 1,700 funeral homes and cemeteries.

Going to a chain funeral home -- unlike you what you'll find in retail --does not guarantee the lowest price. In fact, surveys have found they are likely to cost more.

The feds have provided a mechanism to allow people to price shop, which can be difficult when a death comes unexpectedly and decisions need to be made quickly., But, if you are able to look around, you should. Prices can vary widely and, be aware, that is quite possible that going to differently named funeral homes will still bring you the same quotes since they could have the same owner. Corporate ownership is not always easy to figure out. Pay attention to some of the names, such as SCI's Dignity Memorial brand and National Cremation chain.

If you go to a funeral home and are not provided with a price list, the business is in violation of federal regulations. You can file a complaint with the FTC if you encounter violations of the Funeral Rule.

Know who you are dealing with, what it will cost and check on previous complaints through the Better Business Bureau database. That will help you to make sure a difficult time isn't compounded by unexpected costs and a lousy funeral home that happened to have a good salesman.
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