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Funeral Home Scams and How to Avoid Them

When a loved one dies, family members are at their most emotionally vulnerable. And yet this is when the family is supposed to make decisions about funeral arrangements that can cost thousands of dollars. Despite a family’s best intentions, funeral decisions are often made quickly and without the luxury of planning ahead. After a loved one has died, families are at their most vulnerable to scams.

Here are a few of the more common funeral home scams—and how to avoid them.

High rates for referrals

Funeral

When planning a funeral, it’s important to shop around—and resist the pressure to buy unneeded or pricey features, services, or products.

Some hospices have been found to be working in partnership with specific funeral homes. The hospice will refer a family whose loved one has just died to the funeral home they work with, which will then charge the highest possible rate for funeral services. The funeral home then pays the hospice a kickback fee—so both benefit. Families who inquire with the funeral home outside of the hospice receive lower, more typical market rates.

To avoid this funeral scams, be wary of any hospice that recommends a specific funeral home. Hospices aren’t supposed to recommend one particular funeral home. If they do, ask the funeral home about whether you’re getting the full price or the discounted price—then approach them a second time without the hospice’s recommendation, and see if they give you the same price quote. In addition, shop around and compare pricing with other funeral homes.

Pre-need funerals

Some funeral homes sell “pre-need” funeral packages well in advance of death, then close unexpectedly without reimbursing customers. In 2008, a funeral home in Michigan was found to have done this, closing without warning and without reimbursing dozens of people who had bought pre-need funeral services. Before it had closed, the funeral home had been open for sixteen years—so longevity is no guarantee that you won’t get scammed in an agreement like this.

Price gouging

Some funeral homes are more price-driven than others, even if they are reputable. When you’re grieving, you’re vulnerable—and easy prey for being guilted into spending more money than you have to. Always ask for a price list when walking into a funeral home—know exactly what a “package deal” includes, as some funeral homes will pad the bill with services you don’t want or need. Always ask to see the cheapest caskets, as many funeral homes only put the more expensive ones on display—but won’t tell customers there are cheaper options.

Expensive and unneeded services

If the body is going to be cremated, you don’t need an expensive coffin—and the body does not need to be embalmed. Some funeral homes will try to get you to spend on these items even when you don’t need a burial.

Unrealistic claims

Some funeral home directors may try to sell you a “sealed” coffin that prevents decay. This is an unrealistic claim—and an easy one to pull off, because you aren’t likely to dig up your loved one’s grave in ten years to check. Unless you spring for a full-on Egyptian-style mummification, nothing will prevent the body from decaying—including how well the coffin is sealed.

When planning a funeral, it’s important to shop around—and resist the pressure to buy unneeded or pricey features, services, or products. Some states require you to purchase certain services, such as embalming—but others don’t, or may not for a closed-casket funeral, and it’s important to know your rights. In addition, don’t let anyone guilt you into spending more. You don’t need to spend the most money on the most expensive casket and ceremony to truly honor your loved one. Throughout the process, continually ask yourself what your loved one would want for you—and try to let that be your guide.