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August 5th, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Beating the high cost of funerals

It's a topic that intrigued us: how are people coping with funeral costs in a tough economy?

Watch Kyra Phillips' interview with Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Association and learn about the big mark up on casket costs and why embalming is actually optional.
(video coming soon)

What do you think? Leave your comments here.

To find more tips from the Funeral Consumers Association click here.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. michael armstrong sr.

    This brings meaning to I cant afford to die I have a free military funeral when I go but if worst comes to worst there's plenty of fire wood and coffie can's around .

    August 5, 2009 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Dave

    I had to dig around to find out why, your excellent guest, Joshua Slocum, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, recommend AGAINST prepaying for a funeral.

    I prepaid for my mom's funeral and was very glad I did–more about that below, but first, here are the reasons why they do not recommend it:

    "Several of you have asked why Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t recommend prepaying. Here is why FCA takes our position:

    1. Only a few states have adequate legal protections for prepaid funeral customers.

    2. In many states, you can lose a significant portion of what you prepaid if you cancel or transfer your account to another funeral home or cemetery. This means the original funeral home or cemetery gets “paid” for having provided you with nothing.

    3. Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone missing, or have been stolen, from supposedly safe prepaid funeral trusts. Go to Google news and put in the terms “prepaid” “funeral” “NPS” “IFDA” for a recent sample.

    4. At FCA, we get at least 10,000 calls, emails, and letters every year. Of the complaints we receive, prepaid funerals are one of the single biggest categories. In my experience, those who prepay falsely believe “everything is taken care of,” but they *don’t* tell their kids the details of the contract. They don’t give the survivors the tools they need if circumstances change (such as dying out of state, the funeral home changing ownership, etc.) Those whose parents have prepaid are often less well “taken care of” than those who have a frank family *planning* discussion about funerals.

    There is one situation in which it may be a good idea to prepay: if you’re facing a Medicaid spend down. But the majority of those who prepay are not in that situation, and do not understand the options they’ve given up or what they stand to lose if they change their minds.

    I realize that those of you who had a good experience when your parents prepaid their funerals aren’t likely to believe how big a problem they are. I’m glad that it went smoothly for you, and I know that it does happen. But as a national expert on this for consumers, the picture is much worse around the country than you probably know. We simply cannot recommend prepaid funerals until the states and the feds take effective financial regulation of these products seriously.

    Joshua Slocum
    Executive Director
    Funeral Consumers Alliance

    August 5, 2009 at 3:59 pm |
  3. Dave

    Back to my own experience with prepaying and let me also address some of the comments made in this excellent piece by Kyra Phillips:

    When my elderly mom had her first-ever accident, I took that as a sign that I'd better prepare for the worst. So I visited one of the oldest and most respected funeral homes in NYC.

    This funeral home, by the way, was part of a major conglomerate known as SCI (North America's leading provider of deathcare products and services) so the suggestion to get price lists from several funeral homes before death is looming and compare them, because “Prices can vary by thousands of dollars...” may not work if all the area funeral homes are owned by SCI (which appears to be the case in this area).

    Under no stress of grief (when one is ill-prepared to make major financial decisions) I decided to negotiate the complete package
    and prepay for the funeral. NY State has one of the most restrictive funeral regulations around, so I was protected. My agreement allowed me to cancel and get a full refund. My agreement called for the funds to be deposited into Chase Bank into an escrow account earning about 5% interest per year with annual statements. The agreement also called for a cap on all costs and a clause that said that no increases would be applied…and none were even though it was 3 years later.

    When my mom passed on, I called the funeral home and told them that I had a pre-pay plan. (They had to look it up). certain conditions were overlooked and I had to remind them to include it as it was part of the original agreement. But overall, I was glad I pre-paid and I even got a refund of about $800 when all was said and done because the funeral director's estimates were on the high side.

    Had I not been around to oversee this funeral and had I not prepaid, my thrifty brother would have opted for the least expensive route of cremation which is against our faith. So if traditional cemetery burial is important to you, either prepay or make your wishes known. The best course of action is to prepay for a graveside burial and leave the decision to have a chapel service to the family members–they can then pay extra for it. Costs for chapel services don't usually change.

    Back to Mr. Slocum's warnings:

    My experience was in a big city with a major venerable funeral home. The same cannot be said for small towns and mom and pop funeral homes that can and will go out of business on a moments notice. Nor can the same hold true for any state that does not have laws in place to protect the consumer as rigorously as mine did.

    So buyer beware!

    To briefly comment on "Home" funerals:

    Is your home prepared?

    Mine isn't or I should say, wasn't. If death is sudden, do you want the added burden of having to tidy up a house to act as a chapel for a funeral?

    And one last note: embalming is a disgusting environmentally damaging practice that should be outlawed. The whole idea of a wake was to allow time for the person to wake up–from a misdiagnosed catatonic state (coma). These days, that is not an issue. Bury fast and mourn later. You'll be glad you did.

    August 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Bee

    My dad died a few years ago, and we were all really surprised that he and my Mom had talked about it, and decided to both get cremated? They said it made better sense, in a lot of ways and I have come to agree. It really seems a bit excessive in hard economic times to bother with an elaborate funeral. They offer a memorial gathering @ funeral home w/ ashes that was not as sad or overdone.

    August 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm |
  5. Mrs. Habibah Shakir

    Muslim Funerals

    1. Muslims bury their dead either the next day or the day after.
    2. The body is ceremonially washed and prayed over.
    3. the body is shrouded in a special burial cloth.
    4. The family and friends have a formal service called "Janazah" at a mosque.
    5. The shrouded body is buried in the cemetery with words from the Imam and witnessed by family and friends.

    Cost: $1500.00 – $3000.00

    Submitted by:
    Mrs. Habibah Shakir
    Executive V.P. Marketing
    Taqwa Productions, Inc.
    Atlanta, GA.

    August 6, 2009 at 2:07 am |
  6. Rosa Wallace

    I want to be cremated. The cost of the casket and the cemetery plot is excessive. To top this off, even if you buy a cemetery plot, your remains can be pulled out and thrashed to make way for a new buyer. Cremation seems like a perfect alternative and also spreading the ashes somewhere you are attached to.

    August 6, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  7. Dodie - California

    I told my family to cremate me, scatter my ashes 3 miles out in international ocean water, take the money you would have spent on a regular funeral and do something fun with it like traveling, etc. I will live on in my children and godchildren's minds.

    I do NOT need to take up precious space on earth after I die!

    August 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  8. alice

    Nobody likes to think about death, and it seems to be a hidden part of our culture.Its very nice and some very valid points, especially about pre-planning! but it gives you a good idea of how things are changing.

    Funeral Homes

    August 24, 2009 at 7:25 am |

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