The FTC has a Rule for a Funeral Homes to have a Price List for Customers
Anyone who has walked into a funeral home in the United States in recent decades has surely been quickly handed a “General Price List” very early in a meeting with a funeral director. This document is required by a federal law, first adopted in the 1980’s and then amended in the 1990’s, called The Funeral Rule. It is intended to offer consumer protection against the abuses that were so common among funeral home proprietors for most of the first part of the 20th century. The document is required to list, in menu form, each service and product that a funeral home offers and the exact price that it charges for said product or service.
Because, in today’s largely consolidated death care industry, many funeral homes also operate cemeteries, this list is often confusing. Many customers expect to receive a similar menu when they begin negotiating the purchase of a grave plot, headstone, or other good or service offered by a cemetery. But that doesn’t happen in most cases.
The reason is that the rule requiring a price list applies only to funeral homes, not to cemeteries. This article aims to clear up confusion about the price list, especially as it applies to cemeteries.
Why Exactly is the Funeral Home Price List Necessary
The General Price List for a Funeral Homes became a requirement of federal law after consumer activists, journalists and legislators across the United States spent years clamoring for better protection for grieving consumers who were often met with abusive, aggressive sales tactics of funeral directors intentionally bent on capitalizing on the emotional state of customers who had lost a loved one. Among other things, funeral homes of the early 20th Century would politely refuse to discuss pricing with customers who inquired via telephone, would offer conflicting price quotes and misleading statements about products to customers, and would neglect to show customers all of their various options for goods and services (often “forgetting” to mention, for example, that low costs caskets were available that many would consider just as suitable as the much more expensive models). Thus, the main feature of the law that aimed to curb all of these abusive sales practices was the General Price List. It has been a mandatory part of the funeral home industry for at least 25 years, and any funeral home that does not make it available quickly – or refuses to discuss it on the telephone – to a customer who comes in for the first time, is likely in serious legal trouble with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the rule. Likewise for any funeral home that does not live up to promises made on its price list.
How Do Cemeteries Follow the General Price List Rule
The short answer is that they do not. Or at least they are not required too by federal law. While cemeteries have no requirement to spell out their prices clearly, in writing, to anyone in the public who may inquire, the fact is, in practice, many do. This is largely because many cemeteries are run by companies that also own funeral homes, and, in fact, the two entities are quite often to be found operating out of the same building on the same property. So, it just stands to reason that a company that would already offer its funeral home customers a general price list detailing all of its various funeral goods and services, would naturally be inclined to do the same for the cemetery side of its business. So that is often what happens. But customers should be wary that it’s not a legal requirement for a cemetery, and a price list for a cemetery is not inspected or monitored by any government official (as it is by the Federal Trade Commission in the case of funeral homes). So there is no formal guarantee – backed by sanctions from the government – that a cemetery’s list be clearly and honestly written.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a trend toward high quality ethics in the death care industry: owners and managers of cemeteries realize that, unless they mind their proverbial p’s and q’s, they could find themselves in the same regulatory position as funeral homes, forced by law into providing a thorough, accurate, honest price list. So, to ward off such legislative efforts before actives and law-makers finally deem them unquestionably necessary, cemetery company executives across the United States have by-in-large adopted a policy of providing a helpful, menu-like document to their customers, even if they are not necessarily required to do so legally.
What Should Customers Watch for with Cemeteries
Since the decision to offer a cemetery price list is not formally required, customers would do well to be wary of cemeteries where the list is not made readily available. Further, they should be mindful that a cemetery’s price list is not checked by anyone involved in the government, so its content should be inspected very closely and even questioned thoroughly by customers before a buying decision is made.
Because many cemeteries do offer a price list (which, by the way, is not always called a “General Price List” as is required of funeral homes), consumer advocates often advise that families who have suffered the loss of a loved one simply refuse to do business with a cemetery that does not offer a price list very quickly and readily. They may also consider letting their Congressional representatives know of any such cases in the event there is a strong push by lawmakers or activists to finally make price lists a requirement of both funeral homes and cemeteries.
Will the Price List Rule Ever Apply to Cemeteries
Perhaps in an effort to keep a little pressure on the cemetery companies of the United States, the House of Representatives has a mild legislative effort waiting in the wings in the event there is sufficient support for it among the public. A bill entitled Consumer Bereavement Bill of Rights was introduced to the House in 2011 before stalling in committees and never being heard on the House floor. This bill remains active in the legislative process however, and could conceivably be brought forth again at just about any time. The main gist of the bill is that it would extend the funeral rule to apply to both funeral homes and cemeteries.
So, as long as that bill remains a possibility of becoming law, operators of cemeteries across the country are likely taking note and doing as much as they can to keep their credibility intact amidst the public, activists, and lawmakers alike.