What you need to know before a funeral

July 20, 2009 PRESS RELSEASE (BACKGROUND) National expert Josh Slocum is the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. He runs the organization which is the principal lobbying force behind the FTC's funeral rule. Slocum says while the FTC funeral rule highly regulates funeral directors, it allows cemeteries to get away with chicanery and impunity. Slocum says his organization has been a vocal proponent of tougher standards for cemeteries and funeral homes and lobbied to get the FTC to reopen its rule making.

Slocum notes that Burr Oak case is NOT the first case of a cemetery moving and dumping bodies.

He suggests at the very least, states should have the ability to audit and compare sales records with the plot deeds. He says a reasonable number of audits of large cemeteries once a year would at least serve as a deterrent.

Slocum also points out that while the FTC rule DOES require funeral directors to disclose what they charge for so called "cash advance" services... funeral directors are NOT required to tell the consumer the amount of the mark-up)

* Reaction to Burr Oak Cemetery scandal and tougher regulations:

Disgusted. While no law will ever stop a determined criminal, some minimal auditing/inspection by the state would go a long way. State regulators should audit cemeteries not just financially, but by checking the burial records, the maps and plats, against the sales records. Verifying a match, and walking te grounds, would help catch these sorts of things.

IL law allows the Comptroller's office to investigate cemeteries, but I haven't found any proactive requirement or mandatory on-site inspections. Double-sold graves are a problem around the country, and no state is doing enough to stop it.

In general, most states have laws that are too lax on cemeteries. Almost all have too few staff to get the job done, too. The FTC Funeral Rule, a consumer bill of rights, doesn't *even apply to cemeteries at all.* Things that this federal reg bars funeral homes from doing, cemeteries can get away with. To IL's credit, the state requires cems. to give consumers price lists, though most states don't.

* Consumer tips when dealing with cemeteries or making funeral arrangements:

1. Know your "last rights"

read up on the FTC Funeral Rule (available at www.funerals.org). Most Americans don't know they even have legal rights

2. Shop around ahead of time

Whether it's a cemetery or funeral home, shop around ahead of time.

Get price lists, and compare them at home. Don't be pressured into a costly sale at the time of death. Plan ahead.

The average funeral with a coffin, viewing and burial costs about $7,300, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. That includes a $1,595 basic services fee; $750 embalming and body preparation fees; $870 in facility and staff fees; $720 in transportation and other fees; and $3,400 for a casket and vault. The cemetery plot and burial fees are extra.

3. Don't Prepay!

The funeral and cemetery industry promise "peace of mind," but consumers often lose a big portion of their prepayment if they move away or change their minds. The whole transaction benefits the industry - especially cemeteries - at the public's expense.

4: Finally, visit www.funerals.org for factual information on funeral planning. We're a nonprofit organization funded by public donations, not industry or government. We have local chapters around the country - including one in Chicago - that distribute tips and guidelines on getting the best deal without being taken to the cleaners.

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