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Funeral Homes Studies

Running head: FUNERAL HOMES

Abstract

The overcharging of consumers by funeral homes was investigated to prove to consumers that they are being overcharged, and to show them some ways to avoid being overcharged. The goal was to show precisely when the funeral homes are taking advantage of the consumer, and to show that consumers need to be aware that funeral homes have more than one way of taking advantage of them and overcharging them in large amounts. The effects of this severe problem were determined by looking over a law that has been put into place to subdue the crime, ways the crime is committed, and also an interview that was conducted to gather information on one of many alternatives to using the traditional funeral service. There are many alternatives to the traditional funeral; most people just don't know where to learn about them.

Funeral Homes: The Overcharging For Services and Distrust Behind It

It is not easy to lose a loved one. In addition, it is not always easy for a person to find out how much it is going to cost them and their family to give their loved one the proper burial they deserve. During the time of grieving, the family of the deceased is not really concerned with the costs of the funeral, for all they are looking for is a proper burial or funeral ceremony for their loved one. The cost of a typical funeral in the United States in 1983 was around $2,500.00 (Darmstadter, 1983). Solomon (n.d.) states that “the average funeral in the United States costs $6,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The true sum can easily reach $10,000 once a burial plot, flowers and other costs are included, the AARP says.” This price is from around 2004; consumers need to be aware that the prices are steadily rising, and that if they don't watch out for those funeral homes that try to get more money out of them, they could end up losing thousands more dollars than is necessary to spend on a funeral service.

The crime of funeral homes taking advantage of consumers has been around for many years, and in 1984 The Funeral Rule was put into place in order to put a stop to it. “On September 24, 1982, the FTC published a ruling known in the Federal Register as the Funeral Rule” (Schwartz, Jolson, & Lee, 1986). “Under the Rule, the FTC mandates that funeral homes allow customers to buy only those things they choose” (Mark, n.d.). Many people do not realize that during these times of vulnerability, the funeral home they have trusted the care of their loved one with, could be taking advantage of them; overcharging them for already expensive services. Funeral homes are overcharging consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one.

Funeral homes are overcharging consumers for their services. They are taking advantage of them while they are most vulnerable in an emotionally distraught state as they are preoccupied in grieving for the loss of a loved one, and when they are in a hurry to plan a funeral for a sudden death. Funeral homes have several ways of overcharging consumers, and two of the most prominent ways they do this is by teaming up with hospice care centers and by quoting the wrong prices if they will even quote them at all.

Discussion

Taking advantage of vulnerability.

The funeral homes of America take advantage of the bereaved when they are most vulnerable. One of the most common times that a funeral home will take advantage of the bereaved is when they are in the middle of grieving, trying to set up a funeral while they are emotionally distraught. Schlozman and La Grand (1985) state that “death in a family is a personal, emotional experience that can have long term emotional and physical consequences for survivors (cited in Butler, 2007, p. 95).

Funeral directors look for the best chance that they can get to get a grieving person to agree to buy something or to set up an expensive funeral; while the bereaved are emotionally distraught, which is mostly in the beginning of the funeral planning process, is when this happens the most. Many funeral directors will say that funeral homes are not taking advantage of consumers when they are “most vulnerable,” they are simply taking the necessary steps to make sure that the consumer gets what they need and what they ask for so as to get the funeral done in the most complete way possible. When a consumer is preoccupied in grieving for the loss of a loved one, they may be emotionally distraught and kind of out of their norm, however this does not mean that all funeral directors are low enough to take advantage of consumers. Most funeral directors deal with so many emotional people everyday they are at their workplace, that most of them know what it is like for a person to feel the way they do therefore they will not go out of their way to take advantage of them for that little bit of extra money. As one can see, this is clearly not the case. Funeral homes overcharge consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one at times when they are most vulnerable, and with pre-planning, this can be partly eliminated.

The funeral homes of America also take advantage of the bereaved when they are in a hurry to get the funeral set up. There is not much time between when a person passes away, and the time the funeral needs to be set up and followed through with. “Most of the major decisions regarding funeral arrangements must be made within 24-48 hours (Sommer, Nelson, and Hoyt, 1985). Many people do not know that their loved one is going to pass on when they do, so they are in a frantic hurry to get the funeral set up and that is what gets them into such a bind with the funeral homes taking advantage of and overcharging them.

One thing that a person who is in a hurry to set up a funeral typically does is calls funeral homes in their area asking for price quotes. When a person uses the phone to contact funeral homes about prices, they can “compare prices among funeral providers,” this may eventually help them to decide which funeral home and arrangement they would like to consider (USA Funeral Homes Online, 1999). Also, when a person is in a hurry to set up a funeral for a loved one, it is advised that they gather “price lists” from some of the funeral homes in their area “to compare pricing and options” (Wilke, 2005). Mark (n.d.) states that “the funeral rule also requires that GPLs (“General Price Lists”) list the prices of up to 16 items if they are services that the funeral home offers. . . .” If a person were to go around to funeral homes in their area, a general price list is a good tool that the funeral homes are required to give them, so they know the prices, thus promoting smart decision making, and the possibility of preventing being overcharged and taken advantage of.

It is often though that when a consumer has a sudden death in the family and they are in a hurry to plan a funeral, most funeral directors are not going out of their way to overcharge them to get that little bit of extra money. They may indeed be overcharging them; however, they may simply be charging the prices they do because they want to be sure to get the consumer everything that they need since the process is so hurried in this type of situation. These thoughts are obviously not relevant because, as one can see, if the funeral directors were as caring as they make them seem, they would give any unused money back to the consumer when the funeral is all said and done. Shopping around for the best priced funeral home, and ignoring any suggestions given by hospice care centers, could be one of the most important ways for a consumer to greatly decrease the chance of being overcharged. Funeral homes overcharge consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one, at times when they are in a hurry to plan a funeral for a sudden death, and with pre-planning and smart decision making, this can be partly eliminated.

Teaming up with hospice care centers.

Consumers need to be aware that funeral homes have different ways of overcharging them. One of the main ways this happens is when funeral homes go together with hospice care centers. The Hospice Patients Alliance (n.d.) states that:

One of the major scams committed by such rogue hospices is to refer the family to one particular funeral home, if they haven't made arrangements beforehand with another funeral home. The funeral home then charges their very highest rates for funeral home services and the family has no idea that they have been scammed, because they trust the “compassionate” hospice people. If individuals go to that funeral home directly inquiring about charges for funeral services, they get offered discounted rates, but hospice referrals get charged the highest rates.

When funeral homes team up with hospice care centers, they can overcharge consumers large amounts of money, and they can do it very discreetly. Many people would not suspect a hospice care center to refer them to a high priced funeral home; this is why consumers need to be aware that this could happen. Consumers need to be aware that shopping around for a funeral home with the best prices is one of the best things they can do to prevent being overcharged, even if a hospice care center that their family trusts recommends a funeral home, or they are pressed with time and any other issue that may come their way. The Hospice Patients Alliance (n.d.) states that “you do not have to use the funeral home “recommended” by a hospice. They should not be recommending any funeral homes... that is a decision for you to make, not the hospice.” Many funeral directors will say that funeral homes may indeed be teaming up with hospice care centers in being sure that the funeral home will have a steady flow of business on account of the recommendations given by the hospice care centers; but this does not mean that they are doing it to overcharge the consumers. They may in fact be doing this simply to help the family eliminate the hassle of finding a funeral home and going through the process of looking for price quotes, etc. This is clearly not the case as one can see, simply because if funeral directors were as caring as they seem, they would not be trying to get consumers away from looking for price quotes and things like that, they would help them find the funeral home they are looking for, or be sure to accommodate their needs as best they can. Also, if a funeral home has that much trouble getting business, something needs to be done, and that funeral home should probably be looked at as a fraud. Funeral homes overcharge consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one. Many people do not realize that it may not only be the funeral home that is in on the scam; hospice care centers play a major role in this deception of the consumers also.

Quoting the wrong prices.

Another quite common way that funeral homes overcharge consumers is by quoting the wrong prices over the phone, or not quoting any at all. There are many people that are pressed for time when it comes down to planning a funeral, and most of them resort to calling funeral homes to inquire about prices. What many people do not realize, is that the funeral homes may not be giving them the right price quote, and many of them quickly find out that the funeral home may not give them a price quote at all. The reason that some funeral homes do not give any price quotes at all, would be so they could adjust the prices accordingly to each and every funeral they conduct.

“The funeral home is required to give you a free copy of the price list when you visit. It's also required to tell you its prices over the phone. If a funeral director refuses to do so, suggesting instead that you come in for an appointment, "That should be a warning sign," Slocum says” (Block, 2006). Many consumers do not know this important piece of information. The laws that regulate the funeral homes of America are not posted around the nation as are the everyday laws that the people of America are required to follow. This is why, when shopping around for a well priced funeral home; consumers need to be aware of the laws so as to catch the hints that are thrown at them. The hints that should make them think that perhaps they should not trust some funeral homes that they have come in contact with. When a person that is frantically trying to set up a funeral calls a funeral home, they do not expect to be taken advantage of and overcharged because most Americans would agree that this is a very serious business, and that most every funeral home should be trustworthy. However, that is not the case. When consumers are calling funeral homes over the phone, they need to be aware of the potential dangers that it entails. Common thought of consumers is that when a consumer contacts a funeral home over the phone seeking quotes on prices for their services, the funeral directors may quote the wrong prices; this does not mean that is what will be charged. Many funeral directors care enough to provide the consumers only with what they need or would like to have for the funeral, so the prices they quote may only be a ball-park figure for the general funeral service. When a funeral home does not quote a price at all, this may be to eliminate the problem of quoting the wrong prices, or even to eliminate competition between them and other funeral homes. Consumers may be frustrated by this, but in all reality this may be something that could help them because if they went with a funeral home that does not quote a price, they may actually end up spending less money than they would at a funeral home that quoted a price that was too high. The thoughts are clearly irrelevant because if funeral homes were quoting ball-park figures, they would most likely state that the prices they are giving are ball park. Also, if a funeral home does not quote a price at all and others do, it is most obvious that they are planning on giving prices when the funeral is over with so as to inflate the prices and not be detected. Funeral homes overcharge consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one. If consumers are aware of the potential dangers of calling funeral homes for price quotes, and the laws that are supposed to regulate them, this could greatly decrease the risk of being overcharged.

Ways to avoid being overcharged.

There are many things that can be done for a person to prevent being overcharged when they are working with a funeral home to set up a funeral. The most prominent of all alternatives is full body organ donation, which many people participate in. As Carol Wright (personal communication, February 29, 2008) described, full body organ donation is when a person chooses to donate their entire body to an organization of choice before they die. When they die, the organization will pick up their body from wherever they are, and ship them to where the body will be used. After the organization is done using the body for all intents and purposes, they cremate it and send the remains to a family member for a $25.00 shipping fee. Another well-known alternative to being overcharged by a funeral is by using traditional organ donation. This will give the family time to plan the funeral as the hospital or some other form of medical personnel removes the organ(s) the deceased has agreed to donate after death, thus slimming the possibility of being overcharged by the funeral home because it gives the family time to look around and find the best prices available to them.

One good thing about organ donation is that there have been, for the families of people who donate while they are alive and after they have died, some “financial and health care-related reimbursement incentives widely debated” (Boulware, Troll, Wang, & Powe, 2006). Many people don't realize that without these alternatives, nearly every person in the United States would be taken advantage of at some time or another by a funeral home.

The Federal Trade Commission (2000) stated that:

To relieve their families of some of these decisions, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals, designating their own funeral preferences, and sometimes even paying for them in advance. They see funeral planning as an extension of will and estate planning.

If someone in a family dies, and there has been no planning for a funeral whatsoever, the family members that are to do the planning for the funeral are left in a bind. If a person plans their own funeral, the surviving family is left with “the precedent, information and moral support needed to get the type of service it wants” (Bender, 1974). To eliminate funeral homes taking advantage of and overcharging the bereaved, as The Federal Trade Commissions and Bender state, a person should think about planning their own funeral so that it is set in stone, and the surviving family has much less of a chance of being pressured into meaningless spending while they are most vulnerable. Funeral homes are overcharging consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one.

Review

Major issues.

There have been two major issues discussed in this writing about how funeral homes overcharge consumers; the first being that many funeral homes take advantage of consumers when they are most vulnerable. There were two times in which this happens quite often that were discussed here. The first is when consumers are tied up in grieving and pre-occupied with the whole funeral planning process, and getting things organized and followed through with. The second is when the consumer is pressed for time trying to plan a sudden funeral, and the funeral home takes this hurried process to their advantage.

The second major issue discussed is that consumers need to be aware that funeral homes have different ways of overcharging them. There were two of the most common ways discussed here; the first being that funeral homes overcharge by teaming up with hospice care centers, and the second being that the funeral homes either quote the wrong prices over the phone, or in person, or they simply do not give prices at all, so as to inflate them accordingly with each and every funeral they conduct.

Expenses.

The most popular way for consumers to recognize the death of a loved one is to plan for a traditional funeral. Traditional funerals can be very costly, and often times not exactly what the consumer was looking for when it is all said and done. Most people would agree that the traditional funeral is the best way to go about putting a loved one to rest; however, when funeral homes are overcharging for these services that are already overpriced, it is hard for some consumers to follow through with it because of the fear of running out of money before it is all done with. Darmstadter (1983) stated that “the purchase of a funeral is the third largest single expenditure after a home and a car, that many of us will ever have to make.”

Alternatives to the traditional funeral service.

There are many alternatives to the traditional funeral service, and the most prominent one of those is organ donation. Full body organ donation and traditional organ donation were discussed earlier in the writing. Full body organ donation is when a person has agreed to donate their body to science after thy have passed on. Traditional organ donation is when a person agrees to allow any of their organs that are useable, to be donated to another human being after they have passed on. These are two of the most prominent ways for consumers to avoid being overcharged by funeral homes; and they are used most commonly by people who did not do any pre-planning for their funeral. What many consumers do not realize is that these options are readily available to anyone who would like to take advantage of them; they are just not advertised since death is such a sheltered topic in the United States.

Funeral homes are overcharging consumers while they are grieving for the loss of a loved one. When a consumer is looking around trying to plan a funeral, one of the best ways to avoid being taken advantage of is to be aware of what is happening, and how funeral homes are actually taking advantage of consumers, and what they can do to avoid being take advantage of. A solution to the problem of funeral homes taking advantage of consumers would be for the consumer to shop around for funeral prices and arrangements in advance when anticipating a funeral. Sure, not every person will have time to do this since not all deaths are anticipated; however, this problem will be greatly eliminated if those consumers who are anticipating the death do in fact plan the funeral ahead of time, so as to have the time to go around and shop for the best prices and have the funeral set up the way in which they so desire. Planning a funeral is can be an overwhelming time for the consumer; however, following the simple suggestions that have been given throughout this writing may in fact make the job a lot easier. People need to be aware that in times like these where life just seems like it is not worth living, life will go on. As long as consumers are aware of what is happening out there in the funeral service industry, and they plan for things ahead if possible, problems like these may be wholly eliminated all together.

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