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.
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.