Funerals: Your rights
Federal and state laws outline certain consumer rights regarding both pre-planning and funeral services. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that billions of dollars are spent in the United States each year arranging more than 2 million funerals. According to the federal Funeral Rule, outlined on the FTC Web site:
- You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
- The funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list.
- If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
- The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
- A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.
In trying economic times, expenses such as a funeral, which can cost thousands of dollars, can take a toll on a family.
But imagine the economic hardship a family goes through when two family members die within a week.
Beverly Savage Emmett’s father, Junior Dee Savage, passed away Aug. 13 after an extended illness. A hospice worker who had been assisting in Savage’s last days called the funeral home she had been told the family had used many times for their loved ones.
Savage was picked up by the funeral home and embalmed, but when the family went to pay for the services, they quickly learned they didn’t have enough money.
Emmett, husband Adam and their two children went to the funeral home to pay for the funeral services with all the money they were able to get together: $2,500 in $100 bills, Adam Emmett said.
The anger still was plain in his voice Friday as he explained that the roll of money was handed back to him and they were told to leave. The family sought the services of a second funeral home, which turned them down as well.
In the midst of trying to settle the funeral arrangements for her father, Beverly Emmett’s half brother, Kenneth Carney, died Aug. 16. A distraught Emmett considered having her father cremated to save money, something she really didn’t want to do.
Beverly Emmett said it was then that they found an angel in the person of Jerry Ward, one of the owners of Mason & Ward Funeral Home. He told the family to bring the money they had and their loved ones would be laid to rest, Adam Emmett said.
"To be honest, when I walked into that office and saw that man, I thought I saw an angel behind him," Beverly Emmett said Friday, the tears flowing freely and emotion making her voice crack.
She explained that Ward also spoke with her children, ages 10 and 14.
"It made my kids relaxed and they knew then papa was going to be put to rest. ... He even said, ‘Let’s get your daddy and your brother put to rest.’ He’s an angel to me."
Funeral services were held Wednesday at Mason & Ward Funeral Home for both Savage and Carney, with visitation held prior to the services.
Ward said funeral expenses start at about $2,995 for what is considered a direct burial, which includes no cemetery plot, vault or visitation and only a graveside service. However, the cost goes up as other services are added, including visitation, a vault, flowers, minister and music, Ward said.
He said the typical funeral — casket, vault, cemetery plot, flowers, multiple visitations, minister, music and obituary announcement — averages about $12,000. Cremations, which also include many of the same funeral services, typically cost about half that much.
Ward declined to speak about the specifics of the Savage family’s situation, but he did say that funeral directors offer families affordable options for funeral services.
"You offer them the options and work with them on what they can afford. You try to treat everybody with respect," he said. "But there are expenses that we incur that are 365 days out of the year — insurance, employees, building maintenance, power — all the expenses that it takes to operate a funeral home or a funeral service. Like everything else, those expenses are passed on to the consumer, but they do have the choices as to ‘I want to use this service or this service.’"
For instance, embalming is not required by state law and some cemeteries do not require caskets to be placed in vaults, Ward said.
"It should be the responsibility of the funeral director to advise them of their requirements," he said.
In fact, it is required by the federal Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Law also requires that any person who meets with a family or conducts a funeral must be a licensed funeral director. In addition, licensed funeral directors also must be licensed embalmers.
Though he hasn’t noticed any people cutting back on funeral services because of the economy, Ward did say that there has been an increase in pre-need planning. Such planning allows people to plan their funerals, from the casket to the music and Scripture readings, ahead of time and put down a deposit or pay in full, money that earns interest. Pre-need planning is covered by insurance and offered by most funeral homes, Ward said.
"I think what we see is more and more people pre-needing and having what they would want done at the time of their death rather than what the family would want to do," he said. "It takes so much of that emotion out of it and makes it easier for the family."
Beverly Emmett said she and her children still are dealing with the deaths and are getting counseling from the hospice service. But she was pleased with the funerals for her loved ones.
"The people were so nice to us," Emmett said of the Mason & Ward employees.
Emmett said some money still is owed on the two funerals and the family is making payments, but she can’t thank Ward enough for what he did for her family.
"People need to know what an angel that man is. It seemed like he took a ton of bricks off my back," she said. "The community needs to know that he’s willing to help. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor. He’s there to help you."