What You Need to Know When Planning A Funeral
We know it’s supposed to be a jolly time of year right now and we hate to be a downer (we'll publish more uplifting stories soon), but studies in the past have shown there tend to be more deaths during the holiday season, largely due to stress. Even putting that aside, it always helps to plan ahead, especially given that you probably won’t be in your right mind on the dreaded day when you need to make most of your decisions. So we compiled some of the most serious complaints, faulty practices and horror stories about funeral homes and cemeteries across the country.
Ultimately, though some of the issues on this list are impossible to foresee, many of these problems can be avoided simply by planning ahead. Funerals are one of the largest investments the average American consumer makes, according to the Federal Trade Commission. “A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $6,000, although "extras" like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards or limousines can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Many funerals run well over $10,000.”
If you are concerned or have a serious problem, we suggest you contact the Funeral Ethics Association or the National Funeral Directors Association.
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Be Careful When Signing Up for A Prepaid Plan
One of the most common complaints from consumers who have done business with funeral homes is their prepaid plan. Many people will purchase prepaid funeral services years in advance, usually in hopes of ensuring that the funeral won’t be too much of a financial burden for relatives down the road. Unfortunately, there have been several stories of funeral homes tapping into that money for other uses in the intervening years. In one notorious case from 2006, Clayton Smart, an oil man and funeral home owner, canceled thousands of prepaid funeral contracts after embezzling the money.
While this is an extreme case, many other examples of fraud from this plan have popped up over the years, and the AARP cleverly labeled the prepaid system one big “R.I.P. off.” They explain that problems are common because “too often funeral companies change hands, close their doors, or simply raid the trust funds where their customers’ payments are supposed to be securely collecting interest. As a result, when the services are needed, there’s no money left. “ So unless you live in a state like New York that requires the funeral home to deposit your prepaid money in a trust that can be refunded to you at any time. Otherwise, it might just be better to put money aside in your own account and avoid this plan all together.
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Overcharged for the Coffin
According to Funerals.org, one of the first things that should happen when you walk into a funeral home is an employee must hand you a general price list, certainly prior to picking out a casket. Furthermore, there should be some caskets on display that cost less than $500. Otherwise, it’s likely you are being duped into buying something more expensive. Yet one study by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that one in four funeral homes fail to abide by these rules, forcing more expensive caskets on their customers.
The FTC offers a checklist that you can bring around to multiple funeral homes in order to price check in advance. After all, there’s no reason you should have to pay thousands of dollars more for a coffin, especially when you can buy one now for super cheap at discount retailers like Wal-Mart.
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Don't Blow Money on A Gasket
One of the ways funeral homes try to wrench more money out of your wallet is by making you pay through the roof for a casket that has a protective seal, also known as a gasket. The gasket supposedly helps the body last for all eternity by fighting against bacteria that decompose the body. Scambusters reports that the gasket is actually worth about $20, at most, yet funeral homes have been known to charge hundreds of dollars extra for a casket that comes with one. To make matters worse, some have argued the gasket can actually hurt the casket, rather than protect it. So we suggest you just ditch it all together. The coffin will last at least to 2012, when the world ends anyway.
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There have been more cases of faulty coffins than there should be. CBS news reported on one Florida woman who found out the casket she bought for her father was a lemon, as the body decayed in a matter of months, rather than the 75 years that was promised. Then there was the story of a coffin whose strap broke at a burial, causing the body to fall out.
While it’s nearly impossible to tell if a coffin is a lemon, one trick CBS recommends is to check if it looks like the funeral home is the type to cut corners (for example, is there chipped paint on the walls or cheap toilet paper in the bathroom). This might hint at whether they would also cut corners on their product.
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Failing to Do Their Jobs
Forget about lasting for all eternity, some funeral homes fail to do their job all together and the body shows up desiccated at the viewing. Some mourners in New York had the unfortunate surprise of attending a wake for a 43-year-old man only to find that the body was covered in wounds (from an autopsy) and flies. “By the end of the funeral the flies buzzing around the body's open wound became so persistent the funeral home placed a white veil over the corpse's head to protect it,” according to one report. Apparently, the funeral home in charge of preparing the body failed to do their job.
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Mistreating the Corpses
Speaking of cutting corners, earlier this year the National Funeral Home in Falls Church, Va., made news because they were “unwilling to pay for refrigeration.” Without this, hundreds of corpses were left to rot and grow mold. Some of these were bodies of veterans. Again, make sure you don’t pick a cash-strapped funeral home. There are other ways to save money if you shop around in advance.
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One Florida funeral home failed to properly embalm a body and for three months, it sat without proper refrigeration. Eventually, a state inspector visited the home and noticed a “foul smell,” which made authorities realize something was wrong. Sure enough, they discovered maggots on the body.
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The Cemetery Plot
Even after you pick out a reputable funeral home, it’s equally important that you pick a good cemetery. Burr Oaks, a Chicago cemetery, made news earlier this year after it was discovered that they had illegally exhumed hundreds of bodies from their graves in order to resell the plots. The bodies were then placed in a mass grave. Part of the problem is that Illinois does not require all cemeteries to be licensed (though they do require all of them to register their basic contact information with the state.) Check your state’s laws and if your concerned, contact your local officials to see if there have been any other complaints about the cemetery in question.
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Not Six Feet Under
One large funeral services company in Virginia was criticized this year for failing to dig graves that were sufficiently deep to protect the coffins. In one heartbreaking case, this forced a woman to have to rebury her child. After going through all the trouble of planning a funeral and burial, the last thing you want is to have deal with it all over again. Ask the cemetery officials what their requirements are for the depth of the grave.
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