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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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.” 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” 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.
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.
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.
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
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” , 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.
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.
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.
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.
Good funeral homes have a unicorn. Great funeral homes have a blessing of unicorns.
 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:
- the consumer has the right to select only the goods and services desired;
- embalming is not always required by local law;
- alternative containers are available for direct cremations; and
- 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.
Every time tragedy strikes, the swindlers come out in drovers. In fact, a couple scam artists set up fake charitable organizations during the Sandy Hook School Shooting and were taking “donations” for the families of the victims. There are few words to describe the awful level of humanity one must adopt to scam those experiencing tragedy. And while we’d like to think scamming those at their weakest moment is a confined event, it takes place as a matter of practice by some who are masquerading as “funeral directors.”
I’d like to say that ALL funeral directors are in the funeral business to serve people, but sadly there are those who are looking to profiteer on humanity in their weakest moment. Yes, many — even most funeral directors — are good people, but there are some.
In 1984 the Federal Trade Commission established The Funeral Rule. It was created to protect you, the consumer, from scam artists who hide under the guise of respectable, here-to-help-you “undertakers.” Even decent funeral directors tend to bend parts of the The Funeral Rule, and I – being a funeral director – know which parts tend to be bent.
Let me highlight those parts of The Funeral Rule that you, as the consumer, should be aware:
One. A burial vault is NOT required by state law. Most cemeteries require a vault to keep the ground from eventually caving in, but some do not require vaults. If you don’t want to pay the extra expense of a burial vault, find a cemetery that doesn’t require them!
Two. While embalming still constitutes the “traditional funeral”, it is NOT required. In fact, we must have the permission of the next of kin to embalm. You can even have a public viewing with an unembalmed body. No worries, no one will catch death if an unembalmed body is displayed in public. *Some states require embalming when transporting a body from one state to the next.
Three. You don’t need a casket for cremation. Profiteering funeral directors will try to sell a rather pricey “alternative container” for cremation, but most crematories only require a body bag that keeps body fluids contained.
Four. You don’t have to buy the casket, urn or merchandise from the funeral home. You can buy it from a third-party, such as Wal-Mart; or, you can make it yourself.
Five. Our “basic service fee” is necessary to pay, but everything else is an optional item/service to be purchased, such as a casket and even transportation of remains (you can do this yourself … although you need to go through the proper channels).
When all is said and dead, if you want a “traditional” funeral or cremation, it should be more cost effective and efficient to use your local funeral home’s services and products, but sometimes it’s not. I advise you to price shop BEFORE you pass. Some funeral homes are nearly twice as expensive as others and it’s helpful to find that out before you die.
There are funeral directors who are legally sound, but ethically stinky in their pricing. Make sure you find a funeral director that YOU can trust with your funeral and your money. And know your rights.