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#346 Consumer Rights: Funeral Arrangements

mp3 #346 Funeral Arrangements -What Are Your Rights? (mp3 file)

While many funerals may be in line with the deceased person's wishes or financial circumstances, too often funeral plans become more complicated and costly than necessary, because they are made under the stress grief and time pressure. Also, family members often are confused and disagree because some might feel guilty about economizing on the last rites of Uncle Joe or Grandmother Smith, while others desire a simple but dignified service and burial.

Pre-need planning is essential to ensure that the funeral meets the financial circumstances and emotional needs of both the deceased and survivors. This planning gives the opportunity to discuss arrangements without emotional stress.

You should realize that the funeral service and gravesite burial are purchased separately. Therefore, you need to contact both funeral homes and cemeteries to find out the services and costs of each.

The two major portions of the funeral expenses are the professional service fees and the casket. Both costs vary, but the casket really determines the total cost, as a less expensive casket can come with the same professional service fees as the most expensive. California law requires that the funeral director must give you an itemized price list of all services, including a price range for all caskets.

Before you sign a contract, you must also receive an itemized list of the charges for the services and merchandise you are purchasing. Read this list carefully.

Most funeral directors offer standard services for a basic fee, which usually covers use of the facilities, staff service arrangements, preparing the body, and use of automotive equipment.

1. Facilities: this includes use of the funeral home, the slumber room for viewing and visitation, the chapel, and the funeral home equipment. Although items are grouped like this, they are not all required or expected to be used. If you want to change services, such as having a service in a church or home, or a service with no viewing, you should do so and receive a price reduction.

2. Staff: most homes provide 24 hour staff service, including a licensed funeral director and staff to help with service.

3. Service arrangements: these arrangements might include getting necessary burial permits and death certificates; placing obituary and funeral notices in the newspaper; assisting in making arrangements for burial or cremation; notifying fraternal orders or other organizations; planning place, time and type of service, including arrangements for the music and minister; transporting the body when the service will be held in another area; and assisting with insurance and other benefits.

4. Preparation of body: the body can be prepared in two ways, embalming and sanitization. Embalming is not required by law, unless the body is to be transported by public transportation or the death is from a contagious disease. If the body can't be embalmed or is in a state of decomposition and must be transported by common carrier, it must be placed in either an airtight casket, or an airtight metal-lined shipping container.

Under normal circumstances, embalming is really only necessary to preserve the body for viewing, which may be psychologically important to survivors. However, most funeral directors do not have refrigerated holding facilities and will not keep a body for more than 24 hours without embalming because the dead body's deterioration soon creates a very offensive odor. If not embalmed, the body may be sanitized by being washed and chemically treated. Preparing the body also includes cosmetology and dressing.

5. Automotive equipment: usually the funeral director transports the body from the place of death to the funeral home and from funeral home to the final disposition site, and a fee is charged for the automotive equipment. A hearse, flower car and limousine are often used to transport the body from the funeral home or other place of service to the cemetery. Using a limousine, in particular, might be an unnecessary expense.

6. Cash advances: the funeral director may pay directly for certain costs related to the funeral (cash advances), such as clergy honorarium, long distance calls, special musicians, coroner's fees, newspaper obituary notices, and filing fees connected with the disposition permit. Before you sign a contract, you must also receive a listing of these costs. If some of the costs are not known at the time of the contract, the funeral director must notify you within a reasonable length of time after the information becomes available.

7. Clothing: you can also usually buy clothing, but normally, the deceased's own clothing is the most meaningful and appropriate attire.

8. Casket costs: the casket selection can make a difference between a modestly priced and an expensive funeral. Caskets range from inexpensive cloth covered wood to very expensive solid bronze, with interiors and exteriors in various colors and designs. You can even purchase a casket with adjustable springs and mattresses "for the appearance of utmost comfort in repose." you might question whether this comfort is important.

Caskets are made with sealers designed to keep the casket air and watertight, but this protection is not always guaranteed. If you are told there is a guarantee, get a copy of it. You should realize, though, any casket will ultimately be subject to conditions which promote corrosion and rusting. And no casket will prevent decomposition of the body.

Most funeral homes have a room where the caskets are displayed. California law states that each casket must be priced individually regardless of the type of service purchased and that the price must be conspicuously placed on each casket.

In addition, if the funeral director advertises a funeral service for a certain cost, the casket used for determining that price must be conveniently displayed in the showroom and be available for sale. Otherwise, the least expensive caskets might be at the back of the room, relatively "hidden, or not available in the showroom at all. Always ask to see the least expensive casket available if cost is a consideration. Using the least expensive casket particularly makes sense when the body will be cremated after the funeral service.

When selecting the casket, bring along an emotionally univolved third party to help you decide. Remember, love for the deceased can't be measured by the casket's price.

If you have a complaint that the funeral establishment will not resolve or if you would like to learn more about your rights with regard to funeral arrangements, write to: California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Board, 1625 North Market Boulevard, Suite S-208 Sacramento. CA 95834 (916) 574-7870,

A federal government ruling in 1984 made it easier and, quite possibly, less expensive to purchase funeral products and services. It's called the Funeral Rule, and it's administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Basically, the rule requires all funeral directors to make specific price information available over the phone.

In the past, some funeral directors would not give information over the phone, insisting that you had to come over to see what was available. This way, it was possible to pressure bereaved family members into buying more paraphernalia and services than were really necessary.

Once the purchaser of funeral services arranges to visit the parlor, the FTC rule says that he or she must be given a general price list that must include:

-the cost of each individual funeral product and the service offered;

-the cost of embalming and the notification that it is not required under law except in certain cases;

-the funeral home policy concerning a .fee for cash advance items such as newspaper notices and flowers;

-the right to purchase an unfinished wooden box or other alternative container for cremation or simple burial; and finally,

-the purchases that are required by law and the specific law involved.

Once decisions have been made as to the products and services desired, the funeral director must supply an itemized list of all costs, including cemetery or crematory charges that would add to the total. The purchaser may then review the list and make changes as desired.

Being able to shop for services by phone to gather advance information is a big help.

The major cost in a funeral is usually based on the kind of casket you get. The least expensive caskets can reduce overall funeral costs considerably.

If cremation is in order, it's usually not necessary to purchase a casket. A simple transportation box or container will do.

The same goes for whole body donations to medical schools or research organizations.

Pre-planning your own funeral may seem grisly, but it can be of great help to your survivors. When there is no pressure, you can decide what you want done with your remains and write it down for survivors to use as a guideline.

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