Funeral Service Planning and Consumer Rights For Families Living in Pittsburgh, PA
Funeral service planning and consumer rights are concepts that families in Pittsburgh should carefully consider together to avoid costly funeral-related mistakes and unscrupulous providers. Millions of funerals costing thousands of dollars each are arranged every year by people doing it for the first time, and informed consumers wisely take time to understand the consumer-protection rules governing the process. Knowing your rights makes you better able to get through the process without problems. We have answers and are happy to guide you on funeral planning and consumer rights. Just give us a call anytime at 724-770-0100 or click here to request funeral service planning assistance.
Rome Monument has a funeral planning guide and checklist for families that live in Pittsburgh. The Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will send your family a booklet which contains relevant information about Catholic burial and funeral traditions, social security benefits, veterans' benefits, living wills, powers of attorney, wills and other issues that can cause challenges at the time of death. Click here to request the funeral planning guide.
Funeral providers in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania are usually competent professionals working hard to meet client needs during a difficult experience. Unfortunately, not all are trustworthy. Some inflate prices or charge for unnecessary services, and take advantage of unsuspecting or uninformed families. Common concerns include being sold unnecessary or unwanted things, and being charged too much. Click here for a list of select funeral homes in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Greene County, Lawrence County, Washington County and Westmoreland County Pennsylvania with website addresses, phone numbers and street addresses.
Fortunately, the Funeral Rule—actually a number of federal rules that funeral directors must follow enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—allows you to choose only those goods and services you want or need, pay only for those you select (regardless of when the arrangements are made), compare prices among funeral homes, and select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use. (The Rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers, or to cemeteries that lack an on-site funeral home.)
“Funeral Rule” highlights include:
- Itemized Prices / The General Price List — Funeral providers must give anyone who asks a General Price List itemizing prices for products and services, and providing other service information and disclosures, before you make service selections, and before services are provided to you. If you inquire about funeral arrangements in person, they must give you a written price list (to take with you) showing the provider’s goods and services. If you inquire by telephone, they must accurately provide information from their price lists.
- Basic Service Fee — Funeral service providers must inform consumers of any "basic services fee" (the fee for the funeral director’s professional services) added to the total cost of the funeral arrangements, what services or actions it includes/covers (e.g., conferences, planning, securing permits, issuing notices, coordinating with cemetery or crematory, and overhead), and how it is charged. The basic services fee should be identified and detailed on the General Price List.
- Casket and Vault Price Lists — Funeral service providers must disclose that casket and outer burial container (vault) price lists are available, and give you those price lists, including descriptions for caskets and for outer burial containers (vaults)—before you are shown caskets or vaults or select them. If funeral service providers do not list the retail price of each casket or vault they sell on the General Price List, they must provide a separate casket price list or vault price list with the retail price of each casket, alternative container, or vault, along with descriptive information to identify and understand it each item. (Funeral providers must advise consumers that buying a vault or outer burial container is not required under most laws, but that cemetery rules may require them.)
- Documents Required — Funeral service providers should provide a General Price List, a Casket Price List, an Outer Burial Container Price List, and a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected.
- Right to Choose — Funeral providers’ general price lists must disclose in writing that you have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions). They are prohibited from requiring you to buy certain funeral goods or services as a condition to their provision of other funeral goods or services.
- Telephone Inquiries — Funeral providers must reasonably answer service- and pricing-related questions received by telephone with readily available information and cannot require callers to identify themselves, provide personal information, or visit the funeral home before or as a condition to answering the questions asked.
- Identify State Law — Funeral providers’ price lists must disclose and specifically reference state or local law requiring the purchase of any particular item—and they can’t require that you purchase any goods or services not required by law. If you are told something is required by law, ask for a copy of the law.
- Handle Any Casket — Funeral providers may not refuse to handle a casket you bought elsewhere, or charge a fee for doing so.
- Cremation Containers — Crematories and funeral providers offering cremation services must offer alternative (basic) containers or an unfinished wood box for the cremation process, and cannot require that you use or purchase a casket for direct cremation (an option in which the body is cremated shortly after death, without a funeral service beforehand). They must disclose alternative container options along with price listings for direct cremation.
- Can’t Charge Additional Fees — Funeral providers cannot assess additional fees if you separately supply the casket or other funeral related items or services.
- Can’t Misrepresent or Deceive — Funeral providers may not lie about or misrepresent funeral, crematory, or cemetery laws or requirements, or engage in any deceptive or unfair practices.
- Right to Refuse Embalming — Funeral homes are not allowed to embalm for a fee without your permission, and must conspicuously disclose that the law doesn’t require embalming, except in certain circumstances (e.g., when a viewing is part of the funeral plan).
The complete Funeral Rule(s) is here: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule .
Consumer Rights and Preneed (Preplanned) Funeral Arrangements
Millions of Americans preplan funerals, and often pay various providers in advance. A common concern is ensuring that the services paid for are delivered. Many states have rules governing funeral prepayment programs designed to ensure advance payments are used when and as intended. Some offer solid consumer protection, others do not.
What should pre-planners do to know they’re protected? Here are a few keys:
Look into the state’s laws on preplanned funerals.
Ensure that the company selling pre-planned services has a verifiable and proven program to deliver the services purchased in the future, even if they go out of business. Do business with a reputable company with a solid performance and financial history. Before contracting with a pre-planned funeral service provider inquire with the state’s governing agency about how to verify the company’s performance and complaint history.
Verify how any funds you deposit are held, and what protections are in place to guarantee that your funds will be used as intended for your funeral (some states require deposit funds to put in escrow or be used to purchase insurance). Be certain you understand how and under what conditions your payment will be refunded if the provider is unable to deliver, and what steps you or your heirs have to take to recover payments and deposits. Get it in writing.
Be sure you understand what happens and how you’re protected if the company you’re buying from goes out of business.
Create a solid/detailed record of the transaction. Keep the paperwork. Know exactly what you’re paying for. Carefully keep the names of everyone you deal with, and track who says what. For any part of the arrangement and statements made (by you or the provider) that you’re relying on as a “key term” of the deal, ask to have it put in writing and signed. To have a viable claim against a funeral service provider or a cemetery, it’s always best to keep a record of all pertinent information concerning the transaction—so you can later demonstrate what happened or failed to happen.
- Clearly communicate your pre-planning arrangements to your family, executor, etc. and ensure they have reliable access to all relevant documentation and related instructions.
Consumer Rights Lessons for Funeral Planners
Familiarizing yourself with the laws governing consumer transactions involving funeral homes and cemeteries is very helpful to understanding what to expect and holding providers accountable.
- Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Examine available “funeral packages,” but understand that nothing requires you to buy a package, and all services have to be offered separately. You don’t have to accept a package that includes items you don’t want.
Ask for price lists.
Resist pressure to buy products and services you don't want or need.
Avoid emotional overspending. Don’t buy things just because you think it’s necessary to properly honor the dear departed. Remember that you can supply your own casket or urn.
Recognize your rights. Recognize that laws governing funerals and burials vary, and that some goods and services are required by law, and others are not. Know which are optional.
Visit the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association Website. As an organization PFDA has created a series of information brochures to provide consumers with information about cremation options, the benefits of a traditional funeral, handling grief and many other helpful topics.
Knowing your consumer rights concerning funeral related transaction is fairly straightforward, but it requires some thought, focus, organization, and appropriate guidance. When possible, plan as much in advance as possible. It’s best to relax and manage such matter meticulously.
And if you need help, just call us at 724-770-0100 and one of our funeral-planning specialists will help you get the answers you need concerning funeral planning and consumer rights.