Undercover inspection finds Funeral Rule violations

An undercover inspection at a funeral home?  It may sound like the plot summary for a movie pitch, but it's the very real — and very serious — work of people trying to make sure consumers are protected when they're shopping for funeral services.

The FTC conducts undercover inspections every year to see that funeral homes are complying with the Funeral Rule, which gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements.  Key provisions require funeral homes to give people an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements and a casket price list before they take a look at any caskets.  The Rule also makes it illegal for funeral homes to require consumers to buy any item (like a casket) as a condition of buying other goods or services.

According to the FTC, its most recent undercover inspection spotted significant violations in 23 of the 102 funeral homes visited in nine states. Thirty-three funeral homes had minor compliance deficiencies.

But law enforcement isn't the only option when the FTC believes companies have violated the Funeral Rule.  Funeral homes with significant violations can enter the three-year Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP) as an alternative to federal lawsuits that could lead to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.  Run by the National Funeral Directors Association, FROP offers participants ongoing training, testing and monitoring to boost Rule compliance.  Participating funeral homes make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty and pay annual administrative fees to the Association.

Since FROP began in 1996, the FTC has inspected more than 2,500 funeral homes and found fewer than 400 with significant Rule violations. Recent inspections focused on cities in Connecticut, Indiana, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Where can funeral homes go for guidance?  Read Complying with the Funeral Rule, available at the FTC's special site for members of the industry.

But even if you're not in the funeral business, sooner or later most people will have to make decisions about buying funeral services at a time when it's particularly difficult to weigh the dollars-and-cents choices.  To make those decisions a little easier, read Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services (also available in Spanish) and Funerals: A Consumer Guide (in Spanish).  Print a copy and include it in that “just in case” file of important papers everyone should have.

While we’re on the subject, planning your own funeral arrangements can be a thoughtful and considerate way to ease the burden on your family.  That way you can take the time to comparison shop just as you would for other major purchases.  Planning also relieves loved ones of difficult decisions that can be clouded by bereavement.

 

Comments

Owner of Golden Gate Monument a small business that sell headstones. In the past we did not have problems selling headstones and setting them in the cemeteries in the Golden Triangle area: These are some of the problems we have encountered recently:
1. Cemeteries will not provide a copy of the Rules and Regulations regarding Headstones and installation of headstones to us--even in person.
2. Consumers are not being made aware of the headstone requirements when they purchase a plot from the cemetery. Such as a Flat headstone or an Upright headstone is required. Liveoak Cemetery has a new section that requires that every other headstone must be upright and every other one must be flat---Which would make it impossible for a customer to know the requirements---by looking at the grounds many assume that either or can be used---not knowing that the plot determines which they must purchase.
3. Installation practices: Frequently telling the customer that there will be a unreasonable fee to have a headstone purchased from an outside vendor---however the fee will be waived if they purchase from the cemetery.
4. Greenlawn in Port Arthur recently refused to set a headstone purchased from our company--and added a new rule that ONLY their Cemetery workers could set the headstones--That was finally resolved wehen the customer threatened to sue the cemetery--however she ended up paying a huge penalty for purchasing from our company.
5. In the past we were able to set headstones at all of the surrounding cemeteries---due to many customers purchasing from us--the Cemeteries have frequently changed the Rules and Requirements related to our company from being able to set headstones in their cemetery. We can not get a copy of the rules and regulations--so they change frequently--We had to purchase a 1,000,000 liability policy, next they added #300,000 to the vehicles, now they are asking for an umbrella insurance policy and workers compensation-which owners are not required to carry in Texas. By doing this they are able to inflate an outside purchase to penalize customers and keep them from shopping around.
6. The cemeteries even harass us--example we were told that the plot had been staked and given the location and garden section of the cemetery where it was to be installed. After installation we were called and told it was set in the wrong place---which was the only staked area in that section...Of course we returned to move the headstone only to find out that it had never been staked as were previously told---causing us to make several unnecessary trips to the cemetery--How hard would it be for them to put a name on the staked site?
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make it easier on both the customer and outside vendors, so that the cemeteries can not continue to have market cornered.

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