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The Funeral Arrangements

All funeral homes in the United States are governed by the Federal Trade Commission Rule. Copies of both the 1984 rule and the newly revised rule (effective July 19, 1994)

The rule spells out what information must be provided to the consumer and in what form. It specifies how items are to be broken down on the arrangement contract and contains certain disclosure statements that the funeral director must make on that form. The rule is designed to do two things: make it easier for the consumer to comparison shop funeral homes for price, and, having selected one, make funeral arrangements while being presented with no deceptive pricing information. The information and prices, relevant to the family’s decisions regarding the goods and services wanted, are transferred by the funeral director to the arrangement contract. That agreement is then signed by both parties and a copy is given to the consumer. It is now a binding contract of what the bereaved have purchased and attests that the funeral home is in compliance with the rule.

The rule governs not only the arrangement contract, but a General Price List and Outer Burial Container Price List. These items must be made available to a consumer who comes to the funeral home in person, and copies must be available for him to take. These lists must also be prominently displayed when arrangements are being made. This gives the consumer the opportunity to price shop in advance of the time of need. Funeral directors are also required to give pricing information over the phone. A word of caution to the consumer: I would never answer the question “What does a funeral cost?” when asked over the phone.

A funeral director cannot answer such a vague question and hope to be accurate. He can tell consumers the total for an immediate cremation. He can also give the cost of each component item. But until the funeral director actually makes a complete arrangement for a funeral, he cannot include every necessary item and give an accurate price. If a potential client were to receive an answer to the question, “What does a funeral cost?” any quoted figure would probably be a “low ball” to get the family in his door.

The services or merchandise are broken down and explained, and finally, a price range is given. The average prices are taken from the “1990 Survey of Funeral Home Operations” conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The regions of the country, ranked from most expensive to least, are as follows: most expensive: 1. New England, 2. Middle Atlantic, 3. East North Central, 4. West North Central, 5. East South Central, 6. Pacific, 7. South Atlantic, 8. West South Central, and least expensive: 9. Mountain.

No matter how many synonyms we create “arrangements and supervision” is the funeral home’s charge for the professional staff overhead. This figure never declines: when families make arrangements for a funeral, they automatically incur this charge. For a description of what the funeral director does to earn this money, Because it does not decline there is no leeway for the consumer to save money here, with two exceptions: immediate cremation and immediate burial. Both require less professional supervision, i.e., less charges. There are provisions for additional charges to be tacked on for nonlocal necessities. If families are traveling to a cemetery outside the local area, they will be charged more because the funeral director has to take them there and see to the interment. The same is true if he chases down a death certificate or hires additional men not on the payroll. (Price range = $700 to $890)

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