Connecticut Attorney General's Office
Blumenthal and ConnPIRG Offer Checklist to Avoid Funeral Ripoffs
Monday, March 24, 1997
Connecticut consumers can pay less for funeral goods and services armed with information in a report released today by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG).
The Connecticut Funeral Home Investigation shows that many consumers in Connecticut -- where funerals average about $6,000 -- may spend more than is necessary on funerals and unknowingly pay for goods and services they don't want because many funeral homes don't give complete information on prices and options.
The study resulted in the development of a Consumer Checklist for Funderal Purchases to help consumers make wise and economical decisions, whether they are in immediate need of making funeral arrangements; are making future arrangements for a loved one who is terminally ill; or plan to purchase a prepaid funeral contract for themselves.
"Thinking about death is always painful, but uninformed decisions can be even more painful because what you don't know can hurt you, when you're most vulnerable," Blumenthal said. "Our investigation shows that incomplete information is so common as to be real cause for alarm. This report -- especially the checklist -- will help consumers to choose only the goods and services they want, at the best price."
"Consumers need to be armed with the right information when making funeral arrangements," said Laura Cordes, ConnPIRG Organizing Director. "Knowing what questions to ask concerning everything from the cost of the casket to prepaid funeral contracts, will reward the consumer with less stress and lower cost."
The report is the result of an investigation by volunteers from the Attorney General's Senior Volunteer Assistance Program (SVAP) and ConnPIRG. The volunteers visited 16 randomly selected funeral homes in the state to determine whether they comply with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Funeral Rule and to determine if the state needs a law to require more disclosure regarding prepaid funeral contracts.Prepaid funerals
The findings of the investigation suggest that consumers should plan ahead if they can. However, if consumers choose the option of a prepaid funeral contract, they must make sure they have complete information regarding their rights and the goods and services they have purchased. The funeral homes surveyed offered little information about prepaid funeral contracts, underscoring the need for a law that will require certain disclosures.
In 1994, he sued the operators of a now-defunct funeral home in New Haven for the alleged mishandling of thousands of dollars in prepaid funeral contracts. Under a court settlement, the operators were ordered to pay nearly $65,000 and are prohibited from ever again selling prepaid funeral contracts in Connecticut. During the survey, a quarter of the funeral homes did not discuss the financial risk or expected rate of return for setting the funds aside.
None of the funeral homes volunteered information about what is done with excess prepaid funds after the funeral goods and services have been provided. When asked, 64 percent said they return it to the consumer's estate, as is required under Connecticut law. The others spend the money on additional funeral services or transfer it to a surviving relative.
Funeral goods and services
While 96 percent of the funeral homes visited volunteered general price lists, as required by the FTC Funeral Rule, only 38 percent volunteered separate lists with specific prices for caskets and vaults, which are also required by the rule. When asked, only 69 percent provided a price list for caskets, and only 56 percent provided a separate list for vault prices.
All funeral homes indicated in writing that embalming is not required by law, except under certain circumstances. But about a third of them failed to mention the less expensive options of direct cremation or immediate burial, and six percent discouraged the consumer from selecting the less expensive options. Disturbingly, nearly 20 percent of the funeral homes implied that remains would be protected indefinitely by sealing the casket or vault, which is not true.
Only 63 percent of the funeral homes had all caskets on display, and there were no prices displayed on the caskets in 13 percent of the funeral homes. A quarter of the funeral homes failed to provide the volunteers with statement of goods and services they selected. This leaves consumers unable to compare prices with other funeral homes.
Many consumers pay for unwanted goods and services, in part because the FTC's Funeral Rule allows cosmetology, hairdressing, reconstruction, dressing, and casketing to be listed as a single item. Consumers may pay for all of the services, even if dressing and casketing are the only services they ask for.
Consumers also may pay for services that they could do themselves more cheaply, such as arranging flower deliveries, scheduling a clergy member, placing obituary notices, and filing papers regarding cremation, burial, and transportation. Charges for these services are included in a "nondeclinable fee." Consumers should ask for the details of what is included in the nondeclinable fee, and insist that it be reduced by the cost of any unwanted goods or services.
What consumers can do
Consumers may receive a free copy of the Connecticut Funeral Home Investigation report or A Consumer's Funderal Home Checklist by writing to the Office of the Attorney General, 55 Elm Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 06106. They are encouraged to bring the checklist with them to the funeral home. It includes the following points:
Consumer's Funeral Home Checklist
- The funeral home must provide the prices of the goods and services described in the general price list when you inquire on the telephone.
- If you can, bring someone with you who can give you emotional support and help you go through this checklist and review the options.
- A copy of the general price list must be provided when you inquire in person.
- Copies of separate price lists for caskets, vaults, and cremation urns must be provided.
- If you choose to take care of certain services yourself, such as placing death notices in the newspaper or contacting clergy, be aware that charges for those services may be included in the funeral home's mandatory fee. Ask the funeral director to explain the services included in the fee and insist that the fee be reduced if you make any of those arrangements yourself.
- Embalming is sometimes included when it is not needed. Ask the funeral director to explain exactly when embalming is necessary.
- Many services may be included in the funeral home's fee for other preparation of the body. Ask exactly what services are included in that fee. Insist that the fee be reduced if you do not want a particular service.
- In prepaid funeral agreements, it is not always clear what goods or services are guaranteed, or how excess funds will be handled. Be sure that any contract you sign clearly specifies the responsibilities of the funeral home in each circumstance.
- Prepaid funeral funds placed in escrow should be managed as carefully as any other investment you make. Ask the funeral director to describe the investment risk and rate of return of every option.
- Contact the escrow agents directly to inquire about their management policies regarding prepaid funeral funds.
- Be sure to obtain a written statement of the goods and services you have selected. This is an important list for comparing prices and holding the funeral home accountable.
- If you believe you may have been scammed, contact the Office of the Attorney General at 860-808-5400.