Report: Local Funeral Homes Not Complying with Federal Laws

December 30, 2010
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imageColumbia, SC: About 30 percent of Midlands funeral homes are not complying with federal laws that require them to accurately disclose the prices for their services.

So says a recent report by the Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Carolina, a volunteer advocacy board that gathers comparative funeral price data and other information.

A federal law passed 26 years ago requires funeral homes to offer a price list with separate costs for things like embalming, transport, caskets, cremations and other services. The Funeral Consumers Alliance periodically requests these price lists from funeral homes and releases the data and a report.

In 2010, violations at Midlands funeral homes included outdated price lists; not allowing customers to use their own container for remains; not disclosing that embalming is not required by law; and not disclosing that customers are allowed to buy only the items and services they want to buy.

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That?s a big problem, according to Gere Burke Fulton, a longtime funeral consumer advocate and professor at the USC School of Medicine. Consumers need clear, accurate data.

?Unlike with other purchases, people don?t have time to shop around,? Fulton says. ?They don?t know what their rights are. Most people have never purchased a funeral before. So you?re basically at the mercy of the funeral director of whatever funeral home you use.?

For example, Fulton says, people often pay for embalming when it?s not necessary ? when the body will be cremated or buried without a viewing, for example. According to the survey, embalming prices in the Midlands range from $300 to $995.

?If you?re not being told that embalming is not required by law, then families automatically assume, ?We have to have this body embalmed,?? he says. And the range of prices troubles him: ?It isn?t like you get a better grade of embalming fluid at the $995. The same amount of blood comes out. It takes the same amount of time.?

But to Ernest Adams, president of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association and the inspector for the South Carolina Board of Funeral Service, the new report isn?t anything serious. Adams says people can still trust funeral homes.

?For the most part, funeral homes are very reputable; just like anything else, you may have a bad apple,? Adams says. ?Most funeral homes have a very substantial investment.

They realize if they break the law, their substantial investment would be nullified.?

Adams also says the 30 percent noncompliance rate for the Midlands found in the Funeral Consumer Alliance report is higher than what he finds in his statewide inspections; he thinks the rate is probably closer to 15 percent.

That?s the opposite of what Fulton says; he suspects that in smaller, isolated towns with part-time funeral directors, there?s even less information available to consumers and less compliance with federal and state rules.

The survey also found a large range of costs for funeral services. The price for ?basic services? ? the only thing funeral homes are allowed to require, as it covers staff time, consulting with the family, document handling, planning and other essential services ? ranged from $700 up to $3,995. Casket prices ranged from $195 to $30,000. Vault prices ran from $195 to $22,230.

Download Price List Used for Reporting on the Article

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