- Buy only what services and products you want to use.
- Get information on pricing over the phone
- Receive a General Price List (GPL) of Services when you begin an interview at a funeral home.
- Receive a price list of coffins before you see the coffins.
- Get a written list of prices on vaults before you see any outer burial containers.
- Be given a written statement of what you wish to purchase before you pay.
- An explanation of any cemetery rules or crematory rules or legal obligations that require you to purchase any goods or services in the written statement.
- Be told that you can use an “alternative container” for cremation instead of a coffin.
- You may provide the funeral home with a coffin, urn or shroud you purchase elsewhere. They may not charge you a fee to use your own product.
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming.
These are all well fought rights for the consumer, but mind you that the industry will find ways to adhere to the written rule, but can find ways to get around them. For instance you have the right to purchase only that which you want to use, but the funeral home might present you with packages. In them they will include services, which if you want to go a la carte might cost you more like it does at restaurants. For example, if you want to forgo embalming they might charge you for refrigeration and other services which will end up costing the same as embalming, and maybe more. Unlike restaurants where you might not be in shock and grief when dining, when you shop for a funeral it might be at a time when you are not in your best frame of mind.
In every case that I have sat down with a funeral director he or she has presented me with a GPL- General Price List. On these, the cost for coffins has always been present. The problem with them is that many they will present you with a scale of prices like Caskets: $582- 10,000.00 (directly from a GPL). That is a huge range of prices for coffins. I have received a comprehensive listing of prices for coffins, but only once. Be aware of this practice and if you only have a certain amount to spend on a coffin ask to only see those in your price range.
Many of us who are interested in making the death care industry consumer-friendly believe that we might need to take the Funeral Rule into the twenty-first century. Maybe the rule should cover electronic means of communication as well as the phone. At the time the Funeral Rule was passed, many people would use phones to get consumer information. While funeral directors out there will give information out on the web or through email, they are under no obligation to do so. Many would like to have an in person meeting which is the best way to connect with consumers and make a good sales pitch. Those of us who have been in the industry know the power of in person meetings. It places people at ease, and establishes a relationship where emotions come into play. Over the phone or online, a person is able to have a more detached and intellectual pursuit of information.
Get in writing any legal obligations on your statement from the funeral home. If you are shopping around and hear from a funeral director that there is a law that you have to do X, always asked them to show you the law. Remember there are no laws against having a visitation with a natural body. Funeral homes have made it difficult because of policies not because of the law. You can always have a home funeral/visitation and if obligated by law to hire a funeral director and only contact one when you want.
The funeral rule does not cover rights for consumers once you get to a cemetery. Some states have laws that do cover rights of consumers in cemeteries. You have to do your research. Cemetery purchasing therefore should be done carefully. Know that they might not give you a GPL. We were trained to never let the consumer see the GPL. If they tell you something that does not sound right, ask what they mean by that or what law are they quoting. Ask all the questions you want or feel the need to. These choices are important ones. You have a right to make them the way you want to. Maybe the next revision of the funeral rule will include cemeteries. Until then remember the best way to shop is to know your rights and understand how the industry works. The best way to do that is to read and ask questions.