Consumer Rights

Five Ways Funeral Directors Can Bully Their Customers

There are bullies in every business.  In the funeral industry — because of the customers emotional vulnerability and the fact that the purchases are often of high value — there’s a greater opportunity for bully funeral directors to exploit their customers.

Back in elementary school, I learned a lesson about bullies: they gain their value off provoking emotional reactions and thrive off feeling a sense of power over you.  Take away the power, take away the emotional reactions, and — they might still be mean — but they no longer have the power and value they so desperately seek.

While I continue to believe that the majority of funeral director are honest, empathetic and service oriented, some funeral director will bully their clients into more expensive funerals, especially pricier vaults and caskets purchases.  While the elementary school bullying has evolved, the intention is still the same: to exploit emotions and gain power.

Here are five ways — and some cliche lines — funeral directors use to manipulate their customers into upsells:

Creating false and/or unsubstantiated expectations:

If you buy this vault, your husband will be protected for ALL ETERNITY.

Buying this casket will ensure that your son will stay in perfect shape for the next hundred years.

Guilt Trip.

I’m sure he was the best dad ever.  He certainly deserves the best casket.

I wouldn’t put my dog in that vault.

You may not have been able to provide the best stuff for your son in life, but you can give him the best in death.

Emotional Manipulation.

I hate the thought of worms eating my loved one’s flesh, which is why this sealer vault gives me peace of mind.

Can you put a price on your peace of mind?

Religious Persuasion.

Jesus Christ had a sealer tomb.

Insects, mice, nothing can get into this casket except the Lord Jesus Christ on Resurrection Day.

(I’ve actually heard of funeral directors who dissuade customers from cremation with religious reasons.  Yes, Islam and Judaism traditionally prohibit cremation, but all Christian traditions [except for Eastern Orthodoxy] allow for the cremation of the deceased’s remains).

Aggressive Sales Tactics.

THIS is the casket you need.

I KNEW your father and I KNOW that your father would want this vault.

You don’t want a CHEAP casket.  Do you?

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As I’ve said before, if you EVER feel like you’re being manipulated or exploited by a funeral director, fire your funeral director.  Walk out and tell them, “I’m taking my business somewhere else.”  Death causes us to be emotional vulnerable and the last thing you need is a funeral director attempting to weasel his/her way into your wallet.

If you’re already the type of person who is susceptible to manipulation (you’re a “people pleaser”, you lack assertiveness, low self-esteem, etc.), it’s smart to bring someone with you when you to make arrangements.  The last thing you need while coping with a death is to feel like you’ve been exploited by a funeral director.

 

Common Funeral Myths

Today’s guest post is from Funeral Consumers Alliance:

1.  Embalming is required by law. Embalming is NEVER required for the first 24 hours. In many states, it’s not required at all under any circumstances. Refrigeration is almost always an alternative to embalming if there will be a delay before final disposition.

2.  Embalming protects the public health. There is NO public health purpose served by embalming. In fact, the embalming process may create a health hazard by exposing embalmers to disease and toxic chemicals. In many cases, disease can still be found in an embalmed body. A dead body is less of a threat to public health than a live one that is still coughing and breathing.

3.  An embalmed body will last like the “beautiful memory picture” forever. Mortuary-type embalming is meant to hold the body only for a week or so. Ultimately, the body will decompose, even if it has been embalmed. Temperature and climate are more influential factors affecting the rate of decomposition.

4.  Viewing is necessary for “closure” after a death. When the death has been anticipated, family members have already started their “good-byes.” There is relatively little need to see the body to accept the reality of death. In fact, according to a 1990 Wirthlin study commissioned by the funeral industry, 32% of those interviewed found the viewing experience an unpleasant one for various reasons.

5.  “Protective” caskets help to preserve the body. While gasketed caskets may keep out air, water, and other outside elements for a while, the body will decompose regardless. In fact, a gasketed or “sealer” casket interferes with the natural dehydration that would otherwise occur. Fluids are released from the body as it begins to decompose, and the casket is likely to rust out from the inside.

6.  “Protective” or sealed vaults help to preserve the body. Nothing the traditional funeral industry sells will preserve the body forever. If there is a flood, however, such vaults have popped out of the ground and floated away. (Mass graves after the plague in England were ultimately found to be without health problems, according to the 1995 British health journal Communicable Disease Report. Burial in containers, however, often kept the disease “encapsulated.”)

7.  Coffin vaults are required by law. NO state has a law requiring burial vaults. Most cemeteries, however, do have such regulations because the vault keeps the grave from sinking in after decomposition of the body and casket, reducing maintenance for the cemetery workers. Grave liners are usually less expensive than vaults. New York state forbids cemeteries from requiring vaults or liners, in deference to religious traditions that require burial directly in the earth. Those who have started “green” burial grounds do not permit vaults or metal caskets.

8.  Vaults are required for the interment of cremated remains. Alas, with the increasing cremation rate, many cemeteries are making this claim, no doubt to generate more income. There is no similar safety reason as claimed for using a casket vault. Any cemetery trying to force such a purchase should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission for unfair marketing practices: 877-FTC-HELP.

9.  What is left after the cremation process are ashes. When people think of “ashes” they envision what you’d find in the fireplace or what’s left over after a campfire. However, what remains after the cremation process are bone fragments, like broken seashells. These are pulverized to a small dimension, not unlike aquarium gravel.

10.  Cremated remains must be placed in an urn and interred in a cemetery lot or niche. There is no reason you can’t keep the cremated remains in the cardboard or plastic box that comes from the crematory. In ALL states it is legal to scatter or bury cremated remains on private property (with the land-owner’s permission). Cremation is considered “final disposition” because there is no longer any health hazard. There are no “cremains police” checking on what you do with cremated remains.

11.  It is a good idea to prepay for a funeral, to lock in prices. Funeral directors selling preneed funerals expect the interest on your money to pay for any increase in prices. They wouldn’t let you prepay unless there was some benefit for the funeral home, such as capturing more market share or being allowed to pocket some of your money now. Prepaid funeral money is NOT well-protected against embezzlement in most states. Furthermore, if you were to move, die while traveling, or simply change your mind—from body burial to cremation, perhaps—you may not get all your money back or transferred to a new funeral home. The interest on your money, in a pay-on-death account at your own bank, should keep up with inflation and will let you stay in control. Please note: We’re seeing more low-cost, low-overhead funeral operations opening up, so prices may go down in the future in areas with open price competition.

12.  With a preneed contract, I took care of everything. There are over 20 items found on many final funeral bills that cannot be included in a preneed contract because these items are purchased from third parties and cannot be calculated prior to death. Extra charges after an autopsy, clergy honoraria, obituary notices, flowers, the crematory fee or grave opening are typical examples. All such items will be paid for by the decedent’s estate or family, in addition to what has already been paid for in the preneed contract.

13.  Insurance is a good way to pay for a funeral. Interest accrued by an insurance policy may be outpaced by funeral inflation and is generally less than what is earned by money in a trust. When a funeral is paid for with funeral insurance, either the funeral director will absorb the loss (and many reluctantly do)—OR figure out a way for your survivors to pay a little more: “The casket your mother picked out is no longer available. You’ll have to pick out a new one, and the price has gone up.” If what you have is life insurance, not funeral insurance, it may be considered an asset when applying for Medicaid. In that case, you’ll have to cash it in, getting pennies on the dollar. The same may be true if you’re making time payments on your funeral insurance, and, in hard times, you decide to stop making payments. In fact, the company may be able to keep everything you paid, as “liquidated damages.”

14.  If you have a Living Will you won’t linger on with a lot of feeding tubes and extraordinary measures. One of the findings from a major study supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was that hospitals often fail to comply with Living Wills. The Living Will is more likely to be honored when there is an aggressive family member to intercede, especially if that person also has a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

Copyright © FCA

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Funeral Consumers Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral.

You can visit their website HERE.

10 Terrifying Things About Funeral Homes You Didn’t Know: A Response

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© 2006 Derrick Tyson, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Answers.com published an article entitled “10 Terrifying Things About Funeral Homes You Didn’t Know”.  Answers.com tries to provide answers to the random questions of the internet, but what they come up with in this article is something slightly below Buzzfeed fodder.

Although I appreciate attempts to talk about death and funerals, it’s nice when the facts are right.  And many of Answers.com “10 Terrifying Things” are a stretch.

Here’s their “10 Terrifying Things” and my responses.

1.  Death is Big Business:  Pardon the pun, but funeral homes make a killing. The caskets in funeral homes are set up to where the grieving family members see the most expensive caskets. It’s a billion dollar industry, and bigger funeral service providers will attempt to acquire every aspect of the business, such as florists and tombstone engravers.

Paint in broad strokes much?

Some funeral homes are money hungry.  Yes.  I think Jessica Mitford made this point back in the 1970s.   But — something that goes unnoticed by many is that many funeral homes are service oriented.  Some funeral homes make the most expensive caskets most prominent and other funeral homes — like ours — have our least expensive casket set up as the most prominent.  There are incredibly bad funeral homes and incredible good ones (and a whole variety of variations in between).  And the good ones usually don’t make “a killing”.

And yes, the corporate funeral homes are attempting to acquire every aspect of the industry; and as corporations, they have shareholders; and with those shareholders, it’s all about the bottomline.  And when it’s about the bottomline, you and your family become a means to an end.

2.  They Take Advantage:  People in grief are extremely vulnerable, and some funeral service providers are not above taking advantage of that. A funeral director can easily steer families in the direction of more expensive flowers or coffins. At the time, it seems like a showy, elaborate funeral is the only way to honor the deceased.

For those of us funeral directors who are ultimately concerned about service, the idea that we’re “taking advantage” of our customers frankly pisses us off.

It’s like assuming that all Catholic priests are pedophiles.

Or that all Matthew McConaughey movies involve shirt removal (apparently he keeps his shirt on in Interstellar)

Answers.com is making a blanket statement that simply doesn’t cover us all.  In fact, it’s these blanket statements like this that incite some anger in those of us who find joy in helping those in their greatest hour of need and confusion.  For the good funeral directors, our joy is helping you, not exploiting you.

And while I can say that many — if not most — in this industry exist for service, there is the dark side — those few — that do as Answers.com describes.

3.  Are You Dead or Just Happy to See Me?  When the body begins to decompose, certain areas known to have heavy concentrations of bacteria often swell to more than twice their normal size. Undertakers have to work fast to drain the bodies of all fluids, and they pack all of the body’s openings with cotton to prevent leakage.

If you want embalming, then yes, we do train the body’s fluids.  And we usually pack the nose with cotton to keep any liquids from running down the face during a viewing.

4.  Broken Parts: Funeral home employees are masters in the art of restoration. They often have to make a body presentable for viewing, despite how the person died. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using cosmetics to cover minor scrapes or bruises, but other times, morticians have to stitch bodies back together.

Answers.com got this right.  Although I’m not sure this qualifies as “terrifying”.  Bwahahaha.  I’ll put makeup on your face.  Bwahahah.  Let me trim your beard.  Look at me, I’m a master of restoration and I’m TERRIFYING.

5.  Embalming: Everyone knows that embalming is the process of removing all the fluids from a body and replacing them with preservatives. What happens to all those fluids from the body? They go right into the public sewage system. That’s what’s really running through your pipes.

Right again, but when you think about the other things that get poured down the drawn (various chemicals), it’s not entirely terrifying.

6.  The Eyes Have It: A person’s eyes are not usually removed from the body when its embalmed. They do start to flatten out, so morticians usually place a cap underneath the eyelid so that it still looks curved, or they’ll re-fill the eye to its normal size.

ZZZZZzzzzzz.  Eye caps.  Yes, we use eye caps.  No, we don’t remove eyes.

7.  They May Not Be Doing Their Jobs: In 2002, it was discovered that the Tri-State Crematory had been scattering the bodies rather than properly cremating them. Over 300 hundred bodies were discovered on the crematory’s property. It was revealed that the crematory had been giving the families concrete dust instead of ashes. Some of the bodies were never identified due to body decomposition.

Sadly, this one is true.  Tri-State Crematory did do just as they say.

8.  Please Wait Outside: When funeral directors have to go into someone’s home to retrieve a body, they are often in a hurry. The grieving family naturally wants time to say goodbye, but family members can hinder the work of funeral directors.

If you EVER feel any type of pressure from a funeral home or funeral director FIRE THEM!  Seriously, just fire them.  The fact is that your mind is already clouded by grief and the last thing you need in your life is someone trying to push you around.  You just experienced a death in your life.  You need people who will give you the time and space you need, NOT people who want to push you around.

9.  Drops Happen: Sometimes, dropping the body is unavoidable. Removing bodies of overweight people from five-story buildings, for example, can prove to be quite tricky. Hopefully if it happens, it doesn’t occur in the eyes of the family.

Yes, drops do happen.  I’ve handled a few thousand deceased persons and I’ve never dropped one.  But, it might happen.  I hope it doesn’t.

10.  Caskets Don’t Have to Be Expensive: Caskets are where funeral homes make a lot of their money — the average price of a casket is over $1000. However, a nice casket can be bought between $400 – 600. You just have to shop around. A decent service for your loved one doesn’t have to put you in debt.

Casket’s don’t have to be expensive and many funeral homes do mark up their caskets, BUT I’m not sure a “nice” casket can be bought between $400 to $600.

You can buy a pine box for $500 HERE.  But you have to put it together youself.

Walmart actually sells a pretty nice casket for $759.  You can buy it HERE.

Do Funeral Homes Charge too Much? 10 Thoughts on the Cost of Funerals

Do you think funeral homes charge too much for their merchandise and services?

I asked this question on my Facebook page yesterday.  Over 200 people answered.  And the discussion became pretty heated.  Being that I like hot topics, I thought I’d take a stab at the question.

Let me preface this article by saying that I am not an economist, nor am I an exceptional business man.  The following are ten observations that are a combination of experience in the funeral industry and my heart felt intention to meet the needs of the people I serve – needs that often include an economical funeral.


One.  Yes, there are bad guys (and bad corporations) in the funeral industry.  Legit racketeers.

Two.  Yes, there are good guys. 

Funeral directors who are more concerned with helping you through the funeral process than with making money.  There’s probably more good guys than bad guys.  We’re out there.  Find us.

Three.  Shifting Cultural Attitude towards Death 

The industrialization of dying has removed the dying of our loved ones from home care.  The institutionalization of dying means that you will probably die in an institutional setting (hospitals, nursing homes), where “professionals” treat the body while (often) ignoring social and spiritual aspects of dying.  In fact, three out of four deaths in the United States occur in a hospital or nursing home, outside of our home surrounding and outside of the comfort of our family.

The professionalization of death has removed death from home and family.  The Amish hire the funeral director to embalm the body and produce the legal paper work, but they do the rest.  They dress the body, they casket the body, they have the funeral at their home and they direct the funeral service.  There’s something to be said about one’s caretakers in life also being one’s caretakers in death.

With the industrialization and professionalization of death and dying, we have had the responsibility taken away from the community, and without that responsibility, without that personal investment in dying and death, we no longer see the full value of funeralization.   

Four.  Jessica Mitford and the Public Perception. 

“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty”, said Mitford.  In Stephen Colbert-esque fashion, Mitford’s “The American Way of Death” wittingly embarrassed the abuses of the funeral industry in the 1960s and paved the way for the “Funeral Rule” in the early 1980s.

The “Funeral Rule” is meant “to protect consumers by requiring that they receive adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider.”[1]  And while some of the abuses in the funeral industry have been quelled by the Funeral Rule, the depiction of funeral directors as “oleaginous salesman pushing me to buy a mink-lined steel casket with an Eternal Memory Foam pillow fringed in Flemish crepe and gently scented with lilac”[2] has – to one degree or another – remained in the public perception.

On the one hand, it’s important to recognize that Mitford’s criticisms were – and, in some cases, are — warranted; on the other hand, it’s important to recognize that Mitford viewed the funeral industry through the lens of economics and class.  She seemed to believe that the funeral industry was based on a desire to assert one’s standing in society.  Why else would you spend a couple grand on a funeral, unless you were attempting to distinguish yourself from others?  And funeral directors capitalized on this desire to brag in death.  In your moment of intense weakness, we play on your pride and reach into your wallet.  So, of course we are overcharging … at least, that’s part of the public perception.

Five.  Value.

And this leads us to the value of a funeral.  In a capitalist market, value is determined by the market … by you.  If you value it, you’ll pay for it. And seeing value in a funeral is the real question.  It’s not, “Do funeral homes charge too much?”; rather, its, “Is there real value in funerals?”  Once we answer the value question, then we can answer the cost question.

If you don’t see value in what a funeral home is offering you, find one that offers you the product and services that you do value.

If you don’t see value in the products that the industry is offering you, demand different products and service.

If we do indeed charge too much, it’s because the market doesn’t see value in what we’re offering.

Six. Trust. 

The funeral home that is geographically closest to us charges roughly two grand more per funeral than our funeral home.  We know some of the people they bury and – because it’s generally known that our funeral home is rather inexpensive – I often wonder, “Why do they go to Such-and-such Funeral Home when we’re less expensive?”  My conclusion?  Trust.  They have a better relationship with that funeral director than they do with us.

Because we recognize that death has altered our reasoning, when someone dies and we have to make arrangements, we want to go to somebody we trust … and, if possible, someone we already know.  In our transient society, there’s situations where we have not connections to funeral directors / funeral homes.

But, when there is trust with a funeral director, when there is a relationship with a funeral director, especially during times of death, money isn’t as much of a consideration.  The value of trust usually outweighs the cost.

Seven.  Non-profit vs. for profit.

I think there’s an expectation for us to be a non-profit organization.  To be a ministry.  But, if we were a non-profit ministry, there’d simply be less consumer options.  It would be governed by a board, the products would be determined by donors and the service might be even more cookie cutter than it already is.

1587Eight.  Options. 

There are options.  You should be able to find a funeral home that offers a direct cremation for under $2,000.  You don’t have to be embalmed.  There are cemeteries that don’t require vaults.  There are inexpensive caskets.

You can die at home.  You can be more involved in the death process.  In 1996 Jessica Mitford was buried for $533.31.  With inflation rates factored in, you can purchase the equivalent of Mitford’s funeral today.

Nine.  Prepaying / Insurance Policies.

It’s always much more difficult to handle the expenses of a funeral when you have to pay it all at once.  Think buying a car with cash.  Not all of us can do it.

If you plan ahead, or buy an insurance policy, you can pay in increments and when the time comes it’s not as much of a shock.

Ten.  Pre-planning: Now is the Time to Think about Death.  

We plan for weddings.  We plan for births.  Think about your dying and death now.  Think about what you want.  Think about how you want your funeral to look.  Find a funeral director who can meet your needs

 

 


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funeral_Rule

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godandthemachine/2013/06/finaljourney/

What to Look for When You Hire a Funeral Director

Today, many families live in transience.  Jobs and wanderlust have us town hopping.

It used to be that generation after generation lived and died in the same area, but that’s no longer the case.  It used to be that families had almost a family-type bond with their local funeral director.  Now, families have a closer relationship with their local Wal-Mart.

Transience is fun, until someone dies.  Whereas generations before would call a funeral director that they personally knew, you now have to entrust your loved one to a complete stranger. So, you play mortician roulette and hope that the funeral director you happen to pick doesn’t end up making mom look like a Picasso painting.

Hopefully, you’re in a position where you already know a good funeral director.  But, if you – like many others – don’t know ANY local funeral directors, here’s a list of characteristics that you should look for when picking one.

One.  Federal Trade Commission Compliance

Per “The Funeral Rule” [1], funeral home are required to give you their “general price list” (GPL) upon request.  This helps you if you’re shopping around and it helps the funeral industry appear honest.  If a funeral home doesn’t have or can’t procure a “general price list” (GPL), this is an immediate red flag.

Two.  Word of Mouth.

Traditional advertising doesn’t always work for funeral homes.  Who wants to see the name of a funeral home on the back of their son’s T-Ball uniform?

We attempt to make up for our lack of advertising opportunities by investing in civic and community events and organizations. As we all know, trust isn’t bought, it’s earned over years and years of consistent professionalism, compassion and bacon gifting.  This trust creates a reputation and funeral homes — like all businesses — guard our reputations with tenacity because we know that our best advertisement comes by word of mouth.

A good funeral home / director will have good reviews from your friends and family.  Head in the direction of good reviews, you’ll probably find a good funeral director.

Three.  Good Listeners.

We may not have Oprah’s skillz, but we should be pretty good.

Four.  Pricing.

There is often a HUGE cost difference from one funeral home to the next, while the value isn’t much different.

About a year ago, a husband and wife died about four months apart.  The wife knew us so we buried her and the husband knew the funeral home in a neighboring town, so they buried him.  They both had the same funeral, same casket, vault, etc.  The family called us to let us know that the other funeral home charged $3,000 more.  Same value, different cost.

A good funeral home will have fair market pricing.  Find the market value by calling around to different funeral homes.  Ask for the GPL.  The less expensive funeral homes are often less expensive for a reason … and that reason is usually a good one.  Remember, cost doesn’t always equal value.

Five.  Respectful.

Good funeral directors don’t have to share your beliefs, your lifestyle, your culture, but they should know how to communicate respect for all that is you.  Although you can’t expect us to play Nickelback at a funeral.  That’s asking too much.

Six.  No Pressure Sales

If you EVER feel pressure from a funeral home or funeral director to buy something more expensive — or something you don’t want — FIRE THEM!  Seriously, just fire them.  Walk out if you need to.  The fact is that your mind is already clouded by grief and the last thing you need in your life is something trying to squeeze money out of you … because they will.  You just experienced a death in your life.  You need people who love you, NOT people who want to exploit you.

Good funeral directors NEVER exploit.

Seven.  Good funeral directors aren’t self-important. 

They understand this time is about the deceased and you.  I’ve met too many self-important funeral directors who have had their ego inflated by one too many compliments from the choir.  Stay away from them.

Eight.  The Extra Mile.

We aren’t slaves, but we are servants.  And we should be willing to walk the extra mile to personalize a funeral to your wishes.  Unless, of course, that extra mile involves a nudist themed funeral.  Then no.  Just no.  No.

Nine.  Direction.

If you loved one didn’t preplan their funeral, you might not know what to do.  A good funeral director will give you good direction.  She will help you feel confident in your choices and decisions.     

Ten. Unicorns. 

Good funeral homes have a unicorn.  Great funeral homes have a blessing of unicorns.

       

 


[1] The Funeral Rule requires providers of funeral goods and services to give consumers itemized lists of funeral goods and services that not only state price and descriptions, but also contain specific disclosures. The “General Price List” (GPL) must list all prices for funeral goods and services offered by the funeral provider, although separate price lists may be developed for caskets and outer burial containers. The GPL must contain four disclosures:

  1. the consumer has the right to select only the goods and services desired;
  2. embalming is not always required by local law;
  3. alternative containers are available for direct cremations; and
  4. the only fee which a consumer can be required to pay is a non-declinable basic services fee.

The rule enables consumers to select and purchase only the goods and services they want, except for those which may be required by law and a basic services fee. Also, funeral providers must seek authorization before performing some services, such as embalming.

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