Funeral planning – whether it’s done as a funeral pre-plan or soon after losing a loved one – is never an easy thing to undertake. In addition to the grief associated with death, there are a number of difficult decisions to make, many of which come with a heavy price tag or other ramifications.
That’s why funeral planning companies that take advantage of consumers are some of the worst organizations out there. Capitalizing on someone else’s grief (and oftentimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars) is a horrible crime. And while there are national organizations out there helping to maintain a level of ethics when it comes to funeral plans, every consumer has to be on the lookout for possible scams or that always difficult fine print.
Pre-Need Funeral Warnings
Pre-planning a funeral is a great way to save money, time, and grief, and it’s a process many people are capitalizing on these days. However, it is important to have a lawyer look over any paperwork before you sign. That’s because you should always ensure that there are contingencies if: a) the funeral home goes out of business, b) the funeral home is bought by another company, or c) you want the option to change your mind about where and how you will be buried. A good pre-planned funeral option will offer a cancellation clause and be priced accordingly.
You also have to be on the lookout for fraudulent companies. Some funeral planning services offer prices that are much higher than traditional funerals or rope clients into contracts that are difficult to ever get out of.
The laws regarding how well-regulated funeral companies are vary from state to state, so it can be difficult to know what protection you have against fraudulent companies. For example, California and Michigan have strict laws allowing refunds of up to 80 percent, should you change your mind. Other states (including Mississippi and Florida) are less monitored, and may present a higher risk for the consumer. In other states (like Pennsylvania), only licensed funeral directors can offer pre-paid services, so there is an extra layer of protection.
You should always have plenty of time to make your decision and feel comfortable asking questions about the funeral pre-plan process. Any company that requires you to make a fast decision or forgo shopping around are likely to be one of the disreputable organizations, and you should avoid signing anything without consulting someone first.
Traditional Funeral Warnings
If you are not pre-planning a funeral, there are still red flags to look for before handing over your credit card or signing on the dotted line. Funeral homes are required, by federal law, to allow you to bring in a casket, funeral flowers, and other ancillary services rather than purchase them directly from the funeral home. You are also allowed to make your own decisions regarding cremation versus burial without additional fees for choosing against funeral home advice or for not choosing to have the deceased cremated in a traditional casket.
There are some local laws that might prohibit things like embalming, the use of burial vaults or burial liners, or even the amount of time you are required to have a body interred by, so make sure you talk with city or state officials if anything the funeral home requires seems a little bit “off” to you.
For more information on your legal rights and where you can turn for help, visit the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro26.shtm.