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Tough Shopping Required To Avoid Unfair Charges

Throughout the 20th Century, many funeral homes appeared eager to take advantage of the vulnerable negotiating positions of their harried and emotionally distraught customers to build huge profit margins that made them the envy of nearly every other American industry. Along with this profitability came increased attention from corporate America as a handful of large conglomerates bought out most of the nation’s family-run funeral operations throughout the last part of the century.

The new owners were attracted by the profitability of the funeral homes, and, accordingly, they have continued to operate not necessarily in the best interests of their customer’s finances. This means that customers who have unyielding trust in their local funeral director to handle all of the arrangements when a loved-one dies will likely end up paying thousands of dollars more than is necessary. It also means that, given the quiet political power of the corporations who control the industry, more consumer protection regulation of funeral homes, such as those passed in the 1990’s will be long delayed and/or without much teeth.

So, as difficult as it may be, people whose loved ones have died in America must be as vigilant as ever to avoid paying much more than necessary when making funeral plans. Here are few tips passed down from the growing number of companies that are not funeral homes but who offer funeral –related products (caskets, urns, headstones, etc) at a fraction of the price that funeral homes ask.

  • Always remember that you have the option of buying a grave marker, urn, casket or any other funeral product from some place besides the funeral home. Your funeral director might attempt to persuade you to avoid these “outside” dealers, but he or she may not punish you financially for doing so. (By charging handling fees, raising prices of other services, or any other method.)
  •  When a funeral director realizes that you are about to purchase a product from an outside dealer, he or she may suddenly offer a substantially lower price on the same product. The best response to this would be to demand to know why that price wasn’t offered sooner. One customer advocate suggests the following language, in fact, “Why are you playing games with me during this time of need for my family?” To help protect future consumers from being treated similarly, you should refuse the funeral home’s offer unless it is accompanied by a similar discount on all of funeral home’s other services. Accepting the offer simply helps the funeral home with its ultimate goal of putting lower-priced competitors out of business so that it can maintain artificially high prices indefinitely.
  • Funeral homes are required to give you a price list of all goods and services they provide, more or less, the moment you step into the door. They are also required to give you this information over the telephone. Be careful about giving the funeral home too much information before you receive this price list: some unscrupulous funeral homes have been found to present higher prices to those they know to be considering buying caskets, headstones, urns, etc) from other dealers.
  • If you suspect that you are being treated unfairly by a funeral home, don’t be afraid to mention the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, which can lead to a $10,000 fine per violation and even a loss of a funeral license. This will often bring prices and unreasonable charges quickly down to size.
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