Funerals-Ripoffs.org - Site established 1995
Interfaith Funeral Information Committee
July 2011 (long form)
and how to avoid unfair charges, prices and deceptive tactics
Many people think that it ought to be easy or unnecessary to protect themselves against obscene prices and deceptive practices. The information here should change your mind and make you want to be very cautious in dealing with every part of the funeral industry, especially your neighborhood funeral homes - that you thought could be trusted - and that have always claimed to
be "honest" and "caring".
The least expensive cremation method is “Direct Cremation”. This means that a mortuary (funeral home):
1) picks up the body from the home or hospital;
2) obtains a death certificate and does a few minutes of paperwork;
3) refrigerates the body for a day or two (They should not charge for this, but some charge a high price, so ask about it.);
4) puts the body in the normal cardboard "cremation container" box that should be included in cremation price (the box
wholesales for about $50, but one well-known Phoenix mortuary has charged $675 for it);
5) cremates the body or sends it to a crematory (and pays a cremation fee of about $185 or so);
6) and makes the ashes (cremains) available to the family in a small cardboard or plastic box. (You don't have to buy a
high-priced urn at the mortuary. See "Urn" below.)
Direct Cremation should include all of the items above. (CAUTION: On the phone and in advertising, many mortuaries give false, low prices that cover only a few of the items above - to trick you into choosing their mortuary. Many surveys list these false prices because the newspapers, TV stations and consumer groups don't know much about all the mortuary tricks and tactics.
The price for “Direct Cremation” varies from about $645 to $4,000 at different mortuaries - depending on how much profit the mortuaries want to make. (Some mortuaries add a refrigeration charge, as much as $300 per day, so ask about this.)
Caution: If you ask a mortuary to do any more than the above items, or if the mortuary makes a "friendly" offer to do anything more than the above (like: print folders, call your church, take the ashes to the church, etc.), they may charge you the price of a funeral, not a mere cremation. So, always ask how the price will be affected by anything that a mortuary offers to do.
(One Texas mortuary charges $12,000 for Direct Cremation, which includes cremating an $11,000 mahogany wood casket along with the body, instead of using the normal strong-cardboard body container, even though nobody will ever see the costly casket. A photocopy of this item on their price list is shown in another part of this site.)
Our Good Shepherd Funeral Program offers this complete Direct Cremation for $645 total to all Arizona families through mortuaries cooperating with our non-profit community program. (NOTE: The program offers, without charge, to help small or large groups anywhere in the U.S. to start a similar program.)
The MOST IMPORTANT thing for every family is: CHOOSE A MORTUARY WITH FAIR PRICES AND TACTICS, regardless of its location, to avoid being ripped off by hundreds or thousands of dollars. Most often, this is NOT a mortuary in your neighborhood. The only FAIR-PRICED mortuary may be in another city. It will be happy to take care of all of your funeral needs.
ARIZONA: Our Good Shepherd Program prices are offered in all parts of Arizona through the HARPER MORTUARY, Phoenix, (602) 243-3961 and ABEL FUNERAL HOME, Phoenix, (602) 442-7747. They are available 24-hour a day. Outside the Phoenix area, phone the mortuary and it will immediately travel to your area to obtain the body and discuss with the family their desires for cremation and/or funeral services.
NOTE: To obtain the Good Shepherd prices, the family needs say that it wants the Good Shepherd Program prices.
TO FIND FAIR-PRICED CREMATION in all states (two methods):
1) PHONE MANY mortuaries and ask the right questions (See the FORM at the bottom of this page.);
or 2) PHONE your local FCA: The non-profit Funeral Consumer Alliance (FCA; formerly called "Memorial Society") in your area can give you its recommendation of fair mortuaries based on results of its local surveys. (CAUTION: There are fraudulent "cremation and burial societies" listed in nearly every U.S. phone book, which are usually fraudulent listings by high-priced mortuaries trying to trick you into calling them instead of your local FCA.
(Note: "Neptune Society" is not a legitimate FCA society. It puts big ads in newspapers, appearing to be some kind of normal cremation operation. In some areas, as Phoenix, you pay a high price to Neptune - thinking that Neptune will cremate the body. However, Neptune doesn't have a crematory, so it pays a low price to a local mortuary to pick up the body and cremate it. It keeps a large part of your money for merely answering your phone call - and calling somebody else to do the cremation.
(To help your area's families, call Neptune and ask: "What mortuary picks up the body and does the cremation?", "What part of the cremation does Neptune actually do?", "In what way are you a 'society'?", "Does the society have members and meetings?", "Why do you call it a 'society'?", "Why do you charge so much for what little you do?" Call a local newspaper and TV station and ask them to ask Neptune these questions, and write a story about it.)
TO FIND THE LEGITIMATE FCA in your area and its phone number, call the national office, 1-800-765-0107, or visit the national site: www.funerals.org and click "Find a Local FCA". There are FCAs in more than 140 communities in the U.S. and Canada. (In the Phoenix area, the number of the local FCA is 480-929-9659.)
URN: Mortuaries often try to coax or force people to buy a high-priced urn from them. However, you can make a container of wood or metal, or buy one from an import or ceramics store. You can keep the ashes at home, or scatter them in a garden at home, or in a public area, lake or desert.
Burial or niche: You can bury the ashes at a cemetery (some have unfair requirements and high prices as explained below); or put them in a small crypt or niche at a cemetery mausoleum ($500 to $3,000 or more), or put them in the crypt-like spaces in walls or sidewalks that some churches are constructing to enable families to avoid the high costs of many cemeteries and mausoleums.
Alternative: Some families who who decide to scatter the ashes also put a small protion of ashes ("cremains") under an edge of a relative’s grave marker so that relatives can visit the ashes. They use a spoon to make a small hole under an edge of the marker and insert a spoonful of ashes.
Memorial service: The family can arrange for a funeral service (without the body present) before or after the cremation at their church, home or an outdoor location. Families should arrange this with the church themselves, and not involve the mortuary in any way because of the high charges the mortuary may add for its help, as explained above.
Memorial service with the body: The family can arrange for a funeral service with the body present, with cremation afterward. The family pays for a funeral that includes embalming and a loaner casket, and probably an additional cremation charge. (Our Good Shepherd program's price for a one-day funeral with a beautiful casket is $1,752. This price includes burial - or cremation without extra charge.)
Will and Funding: Because nobody may happen to read your will before making funeral arrangements, you can join an FCA group, which will maintain a record of your cremation desires. Give written instructions to family members to call the FCA at the time of death to obtain the information about your cremation desires, and to obtain the names of mortuaries that the FCA is currently recommending at the time of your death.
Or you could find a fair mortuary now and pre-arrange for the exact details and price of your cremation. But, MONEY magazine and consumer groups urge: Do not give any prepay money to a mortuary or plan. Instead, you can set funds aside in a:
1) savings account with a co-named friend,
2) small "payable on death" (POD) saving account,
3) “Totten Trust” at a local bank,
4) small insurance policy for the amount of the cremation. (The mortuaries cooperating with our Good Shepherd Program help families with this if they wish.)
DECEPTIVE TACTICS AND CHARGES that most mortuaries use:
(Arizona families: If you use one of the fair, honest mortuaries cooperating with our Good Shepherd program, you don’t need to worry about the cruel tactics below.)
THE MOST COMMON UNFAIR TACTICS: (PHONE mortuaries to check on ALL of the items listed below.)
1) CHARGE RIDICULOUS PRICES for the few, simple steps involved in Direct Cremation.
2) GIVE FALSE or INCOMPLETE PRICES over the phone and in advertising that leave out needed items - so the price seems lower than at other mortuaries - to trick the callers into choosing the mortuary. (They leave out of the price, as described below, such items as: crematory fee, cardboard body container, needed documents, high refrigeration fee, “identification” viewing, etc.)
To obtain the CORRECT price for cremation when phoning or visiting, use the FORM at the bottom of this page.
3) RIDICULOUS REQUIREMENTS of mortuaries and cemeteries that increase the price; take away some of your rights; add new high-priced requirements after you sign a contract, etc. (Some are listed below.)
4) PREPAY TACTICS (Some are described below, as: deceptive wording and “fine print” on contracts; salespersons lie and intentionally write wrong casket model numbers or incorrect or insufficient descriptions of services and caskets.)
5) Deceptive salespersons and prepay “fine print”: The “fine print” may say the exact opposite of what a salesperson says or promises. Words like “non-refundable,” “non-transferable,” and “non-revocable” can cheat you out of all of your money. Salespersons intentionally write wrong or insufficient descriptions of caskets, urns and services; wrong casket model numbers - to permit the mortuary to give you cheap or junk items at the time of death.
Never sign a contract unless a lawyer checks every word of the “fine print”, services, and model numbers. Demand that a contract include a color photo of casket, urn, etc.
6) Charge $300 or more per day for refrigeration, and then intentionally delay the cremation for several days so that the mortuary can add hundreds of dollars to the cremation price. Some say “no refrigeration charge” but this means for only one day.)
[Decent mortuaries charge little or nothing for refrigeration because it costs only a few dollars a day to keep a body refrigerated.]
7) Require an unneeded “identification” viewing and charge an additional high fee for it. [Refuse to do this.]
8) Don’t include the “crematory fee” in the price of Direct Cremation (so that the price they quote on the phone will sound better), and then they add a $300 to $700 cremation fee later.
9) Don’t include the normal, cardboard cremation body-container in their Direct Cremation price and then add $100 to $675 for the box (that wholesales for $35 to $50).
(A well-known Phoenix mortuary charged the $675. It won “Pursuit of Excellence” awards by the National Funeral Directors Association for several years, including First Place one year. This, and false information continually published by the NFDA, show the deceptive nature of most of the industry.)
10) Damage or deface the normal cardboard body cremation box and show it to the family to try to force them to buy an unneeded casket, for $500 to $11,000, to cremate with the body (the latter price was charged by a Texas mortuary).
[If this happens, you should demand that an undamaged box be used, and refuse to listen to any sales pitch for a costly, unneeded “beautiful cremation casket” to cremate with the body, a casket that will never be seen by anyone.]
11) Don’t include paperwork and obtaining documents (most obtained via a fax machine), and then charge $200 or more for the paperwork, unless the family wants to drive around to obtain documents and do the paperwork (a tactic used by a well-known local mortuary).
12) Offer to do things that are NOT part of “Direct Cremation” (as: to contact a church or clergy person, to print memorial folders, or to take the small box of ashes to a church service). These extra items enable the mortuary to call this a “funeral”, instead of “Direct Cremation”, and add an unfair funeral “professional fee” of $500 to $2,000 or more.
[Families should not accept any such “friendly” offers unless they first ask if the Direct Cremation price will increase.]
13) Salespersons return many times, saying that some needed or required items were not included in the contract, and so they need to be added (such as: costly vault that the cemetery decided to require to falsely “protect ashes from being squashed”), a tactic used by mortuaries/cemeteries nationwide. After several visits, a Phoenix couple’s total increased from $1,713 to $6,744.
14) Don’t return the CORRECT ASHES to the family. Many families are worried that they may not receive back the ashes of their relative. In many cases, families have received the ashes of another person, or ashes that contain parts of another person or animal that were cremated before or at the same time as their relative; most families never know of the switch. This sometimes happens because employees (often low-paid) accidentally or intentionally switch bodies or ashes as a joke. This has happened with high-priced and lower-priced mortuaries. Phoenix area families have later learned that they received ashes of animals from a well-known mortuary and crematory which had a contract with a pet cemetery.
THE ONLY WAY TO BE CERTAIN that you receive your relative's ashes, and nothing else, is to have a family member or another trusted person witness the entire cremation procedure.
1) Many crematories permit no witnesses. [Choose another mortuary or crematory.]
2) Some crematories allow witnesses only during the steps before cremation begins – and charge about $250 for witnessing this. ($200 goes to a mortician who is required to be present when a body is viewed for indentification; $50 goes to the crematory.)
A witness for the whole procedure needs to:
1) Watch as the cardboard cremation container is opened to see that the relative’s body is in the container bearing his/her name, and should record the name or number on the metal tag that is attached to the body;
2) look inside the cremation oven ("retort") to see that it is completely empty and does not contain any ashes or body parts left over from the previous cremation, or animal parts;
3) note which retort slot the body is placed into.
(At this time, some crematories require the witness to leave - even though there are additional steps during which the ashes could be switched with other ashes.)
4) Wait an hour or two for the cremation to take place and the oven to cool down;
5) see that all the ashes and bone parts are completely removed from the correct oven - and are placed into the correct small box prepared for the ashes;
6) watch the bone crushing machine to see that the correct ashes go in and come out; and
7) see that all ashes are placed into the correct box for the family.
If a family member does not wish to do this, ask another trusted person and write a note authorizing him/her to be your witness. The mortuary you choose can tell you about various crematories’ prohibitions, restrictions and fees for witnessing a cremation.
CEMETERIES: Many cemeteries:
1) charge high prices (like $1,200+) for a tiny cremation burial plot, and then
2) require families to buy a costly cement or bronze "outer burial container/vault" ("so that the ground won't sink" - although the ashes are solid and won't compress underground and cause the ground to sink);
3) charge a high "opening and closing" fee;
4) require buying a costly marker from the cemetery (instead of buying from a marker company that charges half the price);
5) charge an "inspection fee" (meaning that the worker who just installed the marker, takes a second look to see if he did OK);
6) charge a high "perpetual care fee";
7) charge a "recording fee":
8) charge a “secretarial fee” and other scams;
9) don't permit VA-provided markers to be put on graves but require high-priced markers (their excuse is that they want all markers to look the same).
10) Many of the above tactics are used with families who contract for a small niche space in a cemetery mausoleum, so follow the same cautions listed above.
Caution: Some cemeteries change their “zoning” on individual plots (to "exclusive", etc.) a few days after a plot has been contracted for, and then inform families that the new zoning requires a high-priced marker which must be purchased from the cemetery, or else leave the grave unmarked.
For many of the reasons above, families need to ask cemeteries what items they require, what fees are charged, what is the total cost, and what requirements might be changed or added in the future.
If you prepay, you should demand that a notation be written on the contract, signed by the manager, and notarized, stating that “No restrictions or changes can be added to this contract”. If the cemetery refuses the notation, go to a different cemetery.
All of the problems above have been found by our IFIC in our investigations and our surveys of mortuaries' prices and practices in Arizona and other states. See our web site or phone us if you have any questions or problems.
If you encounter any of the above mortuary unfair or illegal actions, the Federal Trade Commission urges you to phone the FTC and report the mortuary's actions or unfair requirements: 1-877-382-4357 (FTC-HELP). This is a free call.
You should also report these to your State Attorney General's office ("Fraud Line"); State Funeral Board; Better Business Bureau; local newspapers, radio and TV stations.
(State Funeral Boards often do little or nothing to help consumers who file complaints with them, according to a nationwide investigation by the FTC -- because State Funeral Boards in all states are composed mostly or entirely of morticians and other funeral industry people who care more about the welfare of their fellow morticians than about helping mistreated families.)
QUESTION FORM to obtain the CORRECT "Direct Cremation" price
Use this form because many mortuaries leave out some needed items to give a false total price (phone, advertising, surveys).
Here are the QUESTIONS TO ASK and BOXES TO MARK when phoning:
1) ASK: "What is your TOTAL PRICE for "Direct Cremation"?" $___________ (Write the price here.)
2) ASK: "Would you please NAME all the items included in that price so that I can check them off?"
(Mark the circles below as he/she names the items. This makes it easy for you to ensure that everything needed is included.)
O Removal of body to mortuary O Obtain death certificates O Needed paper work O All refrigeration
O Normal cardboard body container O Crematory charge O Ashes (cremains) in plastic or cardboard box
3) If any of the above items was not mentioned, ask the following questions.
ASK: "You didn't mention _____________________. What is its price?" $__________.
"You didn't mention _____________________. What is its price?" $__________.
"You didn't mention _____________________. What is its price?" $__________.
(NOTE: Don't include an urn in your price gathering - because there is a great variety of urns and prices.)
4) ASK: "Is ALL refrigeration included in the price?" (If not, then ask: "What is the extra charge?" $_____________.)
5) ASK: "Are there ANY OTHER CHARGES of any kind?" Item: _________________ $_____________.
Item: _________________ $_____________.
6) ASK: "What is the final TOTAL PRICE when everything is included?" (but not an urn) $____________.
7) ASK: "What is your name?" ______________________________________________.
8) ASK: "Please mail me a printed price list." (Give him your name and address if you want the list.)
9) SAY: "Thank you for being so kind.
(To copy and print this form, press your "Fn" & "Prt Sc" keys to copy this screen. Then paste it into WordPad or similar application to print it.)
== NOTES ==
© 1995-2011 Interfaith Funeral Information Committee - Founded 1983
A New Day dawns.
A joyful NEW LIFE
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A New Day dawns.
A joyful NEW LIFE
begins with God.