Understanding The Funeral Rule, My Role as a Clergy is More Complex Than You Think…

Death is shocking to any surviving family member. When I’m called upon to oversee a graveside or memorial service for the departed my part is much more complex than simply “showing up” to officiate the ceremony.

Going over key details in burial contracts that laymen or survivors may not understand as “hidden fees” or unnecessary expenses also plays an integral role in my duties in order to protect the family from a financial burden that adds to their stress.

Despite having 30 years to “get it right” 1 in 4 funeral homes still are not following a government regulation intended to protect mourners from the confusing and sometimes “slippery” practices of the funeral planning industry.

Annually, the Federal Trade Commission conducts compliance checks across the United States to ensure best practices are being followed among funeral providers. But it’s latest findings, published last week, found that 24.5% of funeral homes FAILED to comply with the FTC’s 1984 Funeral Rule, which makes it possible for consumers to pick and choose the funeral services and goods a la carte. The Funeral Rule was enacted to empower consumers during their time of grief, and to mitigate the chance of funeral homes purposely or inadvertently taking advantage of the situation by getting consumers to purchase more items than they really need or, want.

For example, a funeral home can’t require a consumer to purchase a casket as a condition for obtaining other funeral goods or services.

Since 2010, only 75% of funeral homes have been compliant with the law and that figure has remained stagnant for years according to FTC documents.

Former President of the National Funeral Directors Association, Pat Lynch says “reasonably compliant isn’t good enough; it should always be completely compliant!”

In independent audits , the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a consumer advocacy group, found that at least half of funeral homes have serious violations of the rule in their price packets.

For example, a funeral home may have a dozen packages of goods and services, hiding the itemized list and basic burial or cremation services options somewhere in the middle.

When businesses ignore the FTC’s rules, consumers bear the cost which can be substantial with a median funeral running roughly $7,000 according to NFDA.

If you aren’t ready to visit a funeral home in person you don’t have to, funeral directors are required to provide information over the phone.

When arriving at a funeral home, they must give you a general price list to keep; it will include at least 16 common items and services, these include embalming, make up application and hearse services.

When Gretta Ozee passed, I applied her make up myself as I knew how she liked to wear her make up and hair and, painted her fingernails. While this may be uncomfortable for some- it was very important to me that her last “appearance ” be as close to what she would have wanted as I could get for her to honor her memory.

Pricing in contracts is often very confusing to the survivor, however an experienced funeral clergy knows the laws relating to death and burial and can quickly evaluate whether there are hidden costs or not.

I’m often called upon by grieving families to evaluate a burial contract and conduct the ceremony.

What many don’t realize is that I also offer consultation to assist with a contract negotiation when they are using a clergy from their church and do not need my services to officiate the ceremony for them. My fee to evaluate a contract is a flat $125.00 and I’ve saved families thousands of dollars by going over what’s necessary and, what isn’t.

Buying flowers from the funeral home can prove very costly to families. I’m also an experienced floral designer and can create “real touch” ie: treated real flowers that will last for years in either wreaths or a spray for the casket with 5-7 days notice. I prefer treated flowers for many reasons but mainly because real flowers will either and die at the gravesite which depresses me. I made all of the flowers for Gretta Ozee and even today nearly two years later, they look beautiful and I pull damaged ones out and simply add new ones when I visit her gravesite.

Coffins can be purchased online, at a huge discount from the funeral homes price sheet and some offer overnight delivery. I suggest looking into this option for every family I’ve met in grief counseling. If pricing isn’t provided in a general price list from the funeral director, it must be made available on a separate casket price list, my dad did not receive this from Greenwood- I demanded a copy for him.

Outer burial containers surround a casket in a grave. While they are NOT required by state law, reports the FTC, many cemeteries do use them, so they grave doesn’t “cave in.” If the funeral home sells containers and they aren’t listed on the general price list, you can still request a price sheet prior to seeing the actual containers.

The average embalming service costs nearly $700-$1500 based on reports from the National Funeral Directors Association although there is NO state law that requires embalming for deaths. However, if the body is not buried or cremated within 7 days it is often suggested and if there will be viewing, many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming. To avoid this fee, ask if the funeral home can offer a private family viewing without embalming, or if refrigeration is an acceptable alternative.

Package deals often end up costing much more than simply purchasing a la carte services such as the casket or make up application.

Understanding containers- there is no law requiring consumers to but a casket for cremation. If the funeral home offers cremation services, they are required to disclose alternative choices and make them available to you. Containers are often made of unpolished wood, pressed wood, cardboard and fiberboard.

Occasionally, you may find a great deal on a casket either online or at a funeral supplier warehouse. It is widely unknown that the funeral home CANNOT deny your request to use a casket (or urn) you purchased elsewhere. Also, it is very important that the consumer understands that a funeral home cannot charge a “handling fee” nor require that you be on site when either the casket or urn you’ve purchased elsewhere are delivered to the funeral home.

If the funeral home makes arrangements with a third party vendor on your behalf for flowers, pallbearers, organists, clergy or officiant, etc. You will be the one footing the bill and, sons funeral homes attach a service fee that must be disclosed in writing (although the amount if the mark up doesn’t need to be specified.)

I’m involved in numerous advocacy groups protecting consumers and, the Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends that you shouldn’t prepay for a casket unless you are taking it home with you.

Avoiding emotional over spending regarding the death of a loved one, I know it’s difficult and a tragic position to find yourself in but, no amount of overspending will bring your loved one back.

Do you need help paying for a funeral? www.depositagift.com/memorialfund is a great place for support and donations as is GoFundMe.

You are not alone in a time of grief, my role is to ensure you are not taken advantage of.

There are numerous laws to protect consumers and the sad truth is that most consumers do not realize these laws are put in place specifically to protect them.

If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to use the contact us link to contact me directly.

Reverend Wendy Wortham
The Pawning Planners/Texas Twins Events