Choosing a Funeral Director

Finding a funeral director who meets your needs

When you're funeral planning you can typically rely on a funeral director to help you through the process. The image of the dour old funeral director has changed, at least in most places. Today, funeral directors are expected to be friendly and caring, with cultivated people skills. Although traditionally a male role, many women have now found success in the funeral trade.

When choosing a funeral director, you may think that it's best to go with a trusted name or a funeral home that your family has used in the past. However, you need to be aware that there are significant differences in pricing among funeral homes, and the funeral home you have trusted in the past may not be the best financial choice.

Consider Other Possibilities

Many people don't realize that you don't have to choose a funeral home. The use of non-traditional burials and memorials is a growing trend. You're no longer limited to the traditional funeral that can feel so stressful and sometimes doesn't suit the decedent. Advantages of these alternatives are that they are generally less expensive and will probably speak to your personal situation more truthfully. Other choices include:

  1. Cremation

  2. Personalized funerals

Beware the 'Trusted Family Name'

As Darryl Roberts tells in Profits of Death , there are large conglomerates that buy trusted 'family-owned' funeral homes, keeping the name and key personnel. They reap the benefits of a locally-trusted reputation but these consolidated or incorporated funeral homes may actually inflate prices and subtly change some business practices. Some of their 'not quite traditional' business practices might include:

  1. Up-selling when you're in the vulnerable position of having just lost a loved one. They may use pressure tactics or take advantage of your lack of knowledge about the industry. They may even use guilt to get you to buy the more expensive versions of their products and services.

  2. Purchasing select lines of funeral merchandise , thus limiting your choices. They may say they offer 'more economical' choices, but they won't be the best prices, and you'll be encouraged to choose the higher-priced lines.

According to Roberts, "Conglomerates now own approximately 20 percent of all funeral establishments in the United States ." He calls the practice of buying up trusted names a "deceptive practice [that] misleads consumers into using what are usually the highest-priced facilities in the area." You start off thinking that you're going to get the caring and support of a family operation, but in the end you're left only with a large bill.

Extreme Caution

It's an unfortunate reality that there are swindlers in every business, funeral industry included. You have to be careful when you're funeral planning. Some industry watchdogs and investigatory journalists say that the funeral industry has a high percentage of deception and even law-breaking. Funerals are a subject most people prefer to avoid, so there's little attention paid to the industry.

Some funeral directors violate the law by misrepresenting necessary practices. You should report this behavior, and certainly move on to a more reputable firm, if you are told that any of the following items are necessary - or even if they are 'pushy' about these issues:

  1. Embalming and / or viewing of the deceased

  2. Limousines, clothing rentals and other expensive trappings

Some Little Known Facts Provided by The Funeral Rule

The Federal Trade Commission has a set of guidelines called The Funeral Rule. These guidelines are meant to govern funeral industry practices, and prevent fraudulent or unfair practices. Some of the rules established by the FTC include:

  1. You're free to shop around for caskets and you don't need to buy from the funeral home.

  2. The funeral establishment must provide you with a general price list (GPL) and a casket price list (CPL) when you inquire in person.

  3. Funeral establishments must give an itemized statement that includes only those items you selected when you contracted for services.

  4. A funeral package statement must describe and include all goods and services . If you're going to sign a contract, get a total dollar amount in writing first.
Basically, The Funeral Rule states that everything you're paying for has to be out in the open; funeral homes need to be upfront about the price ranges available. A reliable and trustworthy home won't have a problem adhering to The Funeral Rule, and will act as a supportive resource for funeral planning.
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