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Cemeteries and the Funeral Rule

FTC Rule Largely Silent on Cemeteries

In the 1980’s, after decades of research and debate, the federal government – in the form of the Federal Trade Commission – began enforcing The Funeral Rule, designed to help consumers fight back against decades of death care industry traditions that were not exactly friendly to customers. As a result of the rule, funeral homes are now required to give all customers an itemized list of prices for all services before funeral arrangements are made. Funeral homes must also now accept products such as urns, caskets and headstones from third-parties with no penalty to the customer, and, of course, funeral home employees may no longer tell customers that services such as embalming are legally required when, in fact, they are not.

It is actually in the best interest of the cemetery to follow the funeral ruleCritics will say that The Funeral Rule has not gone nearly far enough in curbing practices aimed at bilking every possible dollar from grieving family members who, of course, want “only the best” for their loved one’s memorial service. But few will say that the rule is entirely useless. Progress for consumers may be slower than many activists would like, but, nevertheless, it is occurring, even the harshest of critics will concede.

Curiously, though, the funeral does not apply to cemeteries.

At first this oversight seems as if it might be a nightmare for consumers. Cemeteries, after all, have spent much of their history playing by the same book as funeral homes: not allowing third-party grave markers on their property, surprising customers with huge bills for overpriced services, and even lying about legal requirements on occasion.

But, in practice, the problem is not quite as bad as it may seem. See, cemeteries have an interest in playing by the Funeral Rule even if it does not formally apply to them.

Steps can be taken to ensure that a funeral home or cemetery abides by the lawCemetery owners, and the lobbying organizations that represent them, realize that large-scale complaints about cemeteries from consumer activists could very well lead to a revised Funeral Rule – this time a “Funeral and Cemetery Rule.” The owners and their legal advisors also know that much of what’s in the Funeral Rule is merely a restating of rules that apply to all businesses under general anti-trust laws. So, to avoid legal problems for their whole industry, self-policing has been the norm for cemeteries since the Funeral Rule came about.  The Funeral Rule does not apply to them per se, but most reputable cemeteries are happy to follow the spirit of the law (ironically, some owners and managers are more happy to do this than are their counter parts at funeral homes).

Here are a few of the ways cemeteries have become more customer friendly since the passing of the funeral rule. If the cemetery you are working with is not willing to live by policies similar to these, you should consider doing business elsewhere. You will very likely find a more customer friendly cemetery nearby:

·         Most cemeteries will not object to your buying a headstone from the dealer of your choice. They will routinely accept delivery of the headstone and install it for you for a reasonable fee.

·         The fee for installation varies according to region, but, generally, it is somewhere between $100 and $400. Cemeteries often charge by the square inch, so larger markers will likely cost more to install than small ones. (Unfortunately, most cemeteries do not allow do-it-yourself installation, but, as flat headstones are usually very heavy, that’s not a good option for most customers. Likewise, cemeteries vary widely on their policies of allowing outside vendors to install markers, but, generally speaking, cemeteries offer competitive rates for installation.)

·         While most cemeteries exercise control over the size of the grave markers they will allow, they generally allow the sizes commonly available from most third-party vendors.

·         Most cemeteries have few restrictions on colors and wording that may be placed on markers.

Vigilant consumers often get the best deal on cemetery products·         Most cemeteries will not attempt to persuade customers from buying a marker from a third-party by suggesting that other companies are not reputable.

·         Most cemeteries will offer you a list of their prices for all products and services during your very first visit.

·         Most cemeteries will make almost all services optional, in other words, they will not attempt to require you to pay for services that you do not request or need.

Many groups such as the Funeral Consumers Alliance continue to ask law makers to include cemeteries in the Funeral Rule, and these efforts have paid off with a number of state and local laws across the country. But, for now, assuring that consumers get the best deal on cemetery products and services requires vigilance on their part. So, if you find your cemetery not being cooperative, your best recourse for now is to just find another cemetery. Fortunately, there are plenty of others ready to take your business.

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