Know your rights when making funeral arrangements

via Know your rights when making funeral arrangements, on clarionledger.com

It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone, but at some point, most of us will have to go through the process of making final arrangements, either for ourselves or someone we love. Many people find themselves overwhelmed by the process, and making big decisions when dealing with all the emotions surrounding a loss can make you prone to mistakes.

It doesn’t help that the average funeral — and all the things that go along with it — amount to a major financial investment. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reports that the average cost of final arrangements increased tenfold from around $700 in 1960 to more than $7,000 in 2012 (add another average of $1,200 for a vault), leading to the potential for bad decisions or even having someone take advantage. Therefore, it’s a good idea to educate ourselves before we have to make those decisions. Some of our rights are protected by what’s known as The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Funeral Rule gives you the following rights:

  • You only have to buy the arrangements you want. It’s your right buy your goods and services separately, and you don’t have to purchase a “package” that includes items you don’t want.
  • You can get prices on the telephone. Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.
  • You can get a price list at the funeral home. The funeral home must give you a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one.
  • You can see written casket prices before you see them. That way, you can make a sound financial decision without being potentially swayed by an attractive display.
  • You can see a written outer burial container price list. Outer burial containers (vaults) are not required by state law anywhere in the United States, but many cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from caving in. If the funeral home sells containers, but doesn’t list their prices on the GPL, you have the right to look at a separate container price list before you see the containers. If you don’t see the lower-priced containers listed, ask about them.
  • You should receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay. It should show exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item. The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements.
  • You’re entitled to get a written explanation describing any legal cemetery or crematory requirement that requires you to buy any funeral goods or services.
  • You can use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremations must tell you that alternative containers are available, and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
  • You may provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them.
  • Embalming may not be required. No state law requires routine embalming for every death. In Mississippi, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if “final disposition” does not occur within 48 hours of death, or if it will be “transported within or outside of the state and the destination can’t be reached within 24 hours of the death.” In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.

Pre-Need Services

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office is responsible for the oversight of “pre-need” funeral plans, by which you can make your own arrangements ahead of time and save your family the process. By using pre-need services, you can specify all the details, and pay for it in advance.

Unfortunately, consumers can lose out when pre-need funeral funds are misspent or misappropriated. Back in 2009, Hosemann pursued charges against eight Mississippi pre-need providers because they had depleted funds which had been deposited by customers to pay for services.

Hosemann’s office has this advice when buying pre-need services:

  • Ask questions before you buy. Do not buy any plan that doesn’t specify exactly what you will receive. State law requires the contract to be specific regarding the range of services and the quality/grade of merchandise you are purchasing.
  • Look for specific descriptions of your purchases on the contract regarding the manufacturer or model description of what you are buying. Generic descriptions such as “casket” or “vault” are not acceptable.
  • Know whether the plan is “inflation-proof,” and look for assurances that the services will be covered regardless of how costs change.
  • Ask to see a copy of their registration with the Secretary of State’s Office, and their registration number.
  • Ask if their pre-need registration has ever been suspended or revoked by the Secretary of State’s Office.
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