Fall-Winter 2007: Funeral Price List Report Card

By Jean T.D. Bandler

We appreciate those funeral homes that responded to our price list requests, but remain puzzled that most ignored our letters, apparently willing to keep their charges a secret. We are also surprised that several homes reported the price lists “were unavailable” or provided incomplete “estimates”. We are thankful for the hard work of many FCA volunteers who helped bring our total to over 60%. All lists were read for FTC violations here at our Connecticut office and by our Vermont experts.

The General Price Lists (GPLs) receive a mixed report, with some fine features, some areas of improvement, some items which “need work” and many poor features and failures.

No Honor Roll Candidates: No funeral home or cremation service made the honor roll with excellent compliance with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and reasonable (for Connecticut) prices. Funeral homes, often those run by large corporate chains, with 100% FTC compliance had exorbitant charges, which our readers deemed “astronomical” and “outrageous”. Establishments with moderate prices all had some FTC  problems and errors, both minor and major.

Gold Stars for Good Features:

  •   The explicit notation, by one funeral home, that the shelter charge applied only after the first four days;
  •   The FTC pamphlet Funerals: A Consumer Guide sent by some;
  •   The clear statement of one funeral establishment, that alternate and cremation containers were suitable for burial.

Good Progress in Some Areas:

  •   The elimination by many homes of hidden, illegal casketing handling fees when a casket is purchased elsewhere;
  •   The use of required FTC disclosures on embalming (“not necessary, may choose cremation or direct burial”) and on Professional Service (covers planning, overhead,) by significantly more funeral homes;
  •   The clear statements, by more funeral homes, on whether or not crematory and medical examiner’s charges are included in cremation price.

Failing Marks for Illegal Pricing Tricks:

  •   The effort by several establishments to insert a new, hidden and illegal casketing fee, (from $115 to $500) if an alternate container is used; The continuing practice of some funeral homes to use an illegal casketing  fee when a casket is purchased elsewhere;
  •   The continued use by some of extra, illegal charges (taking the body to the crematorium, getting death certificates).

Bad grades for Misleading Assumptions:

  •   Implying that shelter charges begin at the first day rather than after the accepted three or four days;
  •   Implying that sanitary charges are required if there is no embalming; these charges can reach or exceed embalming fees.

Failing Grades for Illegal Omissions:

  • Some price lists omit required services, as the cost of a graveside service with staff and equipment;
  • A number omit the price range of cremation and immediate burial;
  • Some omit the required listing of alternate containers under direct burial and cremation;
  • Others fail to describe the composition of these containers.

Low Grades for Extra (Sometimes Illegal) Verbiage:

  • Some still insist that the basic professional fee covers the funeral director’s work during a funeral or memorial service;
  • A few funeral homes continue to describe the erroneous health benefits of embalming;
  • Several funeral homes claim their caskets and vaults are “protective”; others declaim that any goods purchased from a third party “must meet all state and cemetery/crematory requirements”.

Unclear Calculations:

  • Many charge the same for a memorial service as a funeral; in a few cases a memorial costs more than a funeral;
  • Some now charge the same or more for receiving a body, as forwarding a body, despite the fact that there is no embalming or paperwork involved;
  • Touted savings on “packages” often fail any frugality test, add some perhaps unwanted products (bookmarks) and sometimes significantly increase costs.

Principal’s Office for Bad Conduct and Citizenship:

  • Making money by an automatic imposition of high additional embalming fees for organ donation (ranging from $200 to $400) is a poor way to recognize a humanitarian gift of life;
  • Using rude, intimidating language specifically directed at cremation and immediate burial (“payment in full at time of arrangements”, “done at our convenience without ceremony or family participation”) is disrespectful to personal choice.

Interesting Price List Prose (and our editorial questions)

  • Only embalmed bodies will be dressed. (Others are just business casual?)
  • We offer a classic cremation package. (Like the Vikings?)
  • Basic fee includes compliance with mandated infectious waste management, employee safety regulations, FTC and OSHA rules? (They charge us to obey the law?)
  • Lowest cost casket – non-protective, no interior?. (That black hole coffin ?)
  • Cremation fees cover…cremation if relevant. (What’s the fee if not relevant?)