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- - Site established 1995

          FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
Q&A - Questions Asked by Viewers

FAQ topics covered below:

   1)  Is embalming required?

   2) Social Security Death Benefit

    3) (Answers to many more frequent questions will appear here shortly.)

Viewers' questions and comments answered below:

   1)  Problem: High cemetery prices charged for items needed at the time of
           burial - but not included in the prepaid plan
(Patricia M., e-mail, Sept. 15/08)

   2)  Mortician warns against sealed caskets. (D.T., mortician, e-mail)

   3)  "MORE INFO desired!" (D.M., with consulting firm, Iowa)

   4)  Mortician complains and accuses cemeteries. (F.F., mortician)

   5)  Mortician complains about tactics of large chains. (A.R., NY)

   6)  Funeral Costs (J.C., e-mail)

   7)  Mortician agrees with most site statements. (D.H., NC)

   8)  High funeral prices (C.J., Elderly Law attorney, FL)

   9)  Mortician disagrees with some site statements. (E.R., PA)

  10)  " 'Beautiful memories' don't need gilding of expensive funerals."
             (Letter to "Dear Abby" from Jessica Mitford, famous author and investigator
             of the funeral industry, and
Abby's answer)

     (Note:  Shortly, there will be more of the questions and problems we've received in
      the past years by phone, letter and e-mail from nearly every state. There is not
      room for all the messages received but we'll give you an idea of the wide range of
      questions, comments, experiences and information.)


                   FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

   1)  Is embalming required?

    Embalming is not required for burial or cremation. However, many mortuaries require embalming if the body is to be viewed or shipped. Embalming fluid is pumped into an artery and pushes the blood ahead of it, out of the body and down a drain.

     Embalming slows body deterioriation for only a week or two; it does not preserve the body. It minimizes body odor and allows the body to be at normal temperature viewing.

     Some religions do not allow embalming, so the body is kept refrigerated and is fairly cold when viewed. When shipping or transporting such a body, dry ice can be placed in the casket to keep the body refrigerated.

   2) Social Security Death Benefit

     Briefly: A one-time payment of $255 can be paid to a spouse who was living with the worker at the time of death. If there is none, it can be paid to: A spouse who is eligible for benefits. A child or children eligible for benefits. This payment can not be made if there is no eligible spouse or child.
     You can apply for benefits by telephone (1-800-772-1213) or by going to any Social Security office. You may need certain documents, but
don't delay your application because you don't have all the information. If you don't have a document you need, Social Security can help you get it.

     3) (Answers to many more frequent questions will appear here shortly.)


            Viewers' questions, comments and answers

   1)  Problem:  Cemetery charges high prices for items needed at the time of burial - but not included in prepaid plan (Patricia M., e-mail, Sept. 15/08)

     My parents have already purchased their plots at a cemetery in Scottsdale, AZ - this cemetery is telling me we will have to pay for the opening and closing of the earth - $1400!  THEN the cheapest "OUTER" container is $1000!  then $250 to install the outer container,  then $100 permit fee,  then about $2000 for a headstone!  This is NOT even the mortuary costs - this is the cemetery cost without the cost of the plot.

     Answer: One of the problems with prepaying is that mortuaries, cemeteries and plans, and their salespersons, often intentionally don't tell you about everything that you will be required to buy - or don't allow you to pay for everything that eventually will be needed.

     One reason for this is that they think that they can coax you to spend MORE on each item if they allow you to buy only HALF of the items needed - because you won't be thinking about how much the final TOTAL might be. Then, later or at the time of death, they can charge you really HIGH PRICES for the other things needed because you're stuck with their mortuary, cemetery or plan.

     This kind of rip-off is one of the reasons that MONEY magazine says "Don't Prepay For Your Funeral".

     Example: An elderly couple in Sun Lakes, Arizona, thought they had a good deal for two cremations and burial of the ashes ("cremains") for  $1,713. However, after several visits by the salesman, each time telling them that various things had been left out, their final total rose to $6,644.

   2)  Mortician warns against sealed caskets in mausoleums. (From D.T., mortician, e-mail)

    "In regard to caskets placed in mausoleums, of course you should not seal them and, if possible, prop the lid of the casket open in the crypt. Mausoleums use a method of preservation quite different from a sealed casket. The air in most crypts is constantly being changed, on average every 10-15 minutes. This change is called "air swipe". Air swipe dessicates and dries dead tissue, or basically mummifies it. Sealing a casket inside a mausoleum would be bad practice, because of the great temperature extremes most mausoleums undergo." D.T. (mortician, e-mail)

   3)  "MORE INFO desired!" (D.M., with consulting firm, Iowa)

     I have encountered so many people who have been abused by the "professionals" in the mortuary business. A man I recently encountered spent $9,000 for a cremation, and to add even more he purchased the casket.

     I work with seniors in the area of Medicare sign-up and need some information which I can get to them regarding the rip-off! Do you have any brochures, small articles which are available to purchase and hand out to these people.

     I also work with over 50 churches in just my county, and think the idea of getting the info to the public through the clergy and churches is great. A small seminar format to inform them would be excellent. Do you have any resources along these lines?

     I have seen my own father taken advantage of 3 times by these professionals and I think it's time that some one does a PROFESSIONAL job in getting out the TRUTH.

     Thanks. D.M." (with consulting firm, Iowa)

   4) "Cemeteries?" (F.F., mortician)

     "I am one of those small (approx. 100 per year) funeral homes that you seem to think you're going to put out of business. Each of us could, without a doubt, swamp you with our cards and letters of appreciation from the families we've served.

     (F&R comment: Many families (including some of our members) who trusted that morticians were treating them fairly and honestly with their high prices and neoprene seals, and perhaps sent cards of thanks, have learned about markups, realize how badly they were taken advantage of, and now warn others away from the same firms.)

     I am sending this note after reading your trash only to ask why you seem to have overlooked the cemeterians in your zealous quest to expose. I'm writing this at the end of yet another 18 hour day serving grieving families.

     (F&R comment: Our members include professional family counselors, social workers, doctors, clergy, members of senior citizen groups, accountants, etc. We are acquainted with mortuaries which have two to three funerals a day on average. We and others have used them for funerals of family members and have been well satisfied with their concern and services. They offer "traditional" funerals with beautiful metal caskets for less than $2,000 total. They have made their accounting books available to our accountants.

     We don't understand what you do during your 18-hour days, with only two funerals a week. Morticians with so few funerals should have a second business to help support the mortuary, family, etc., instead of putting all the expenses of a mostly unoccupied week and an unused, unneeded chapel (most people have churches and don't need mortuary chapels) and other facilities on the backs of two families. That is what a dentist, counselor or anyone in any other business with only a couple of clients a week would have to do.

     On the other hand, it is interesting to read classified ads in YB News (an industry publication), etc., which say: "Good business for sale, 30 cases (bodies) a year. Lots of golf, boating and fishing nearby.")

     Today I served a family that chose to purchase a "companion crypt" (means 2 spaces) mausoleum space directly from a local cemetery for a whopping $27,000. This same cemetery chain sells single grave spaces for $1500 and up, and something called ground crypts for $3000 per space and up. Why don't you spread some of your poison in their direction?"
In disgust, F.F (mortician)

   5)  Letter from a mortician (A.R., NY)

     "Embalmed bodies don't explode.
(F&R comment:  False. Bodies and organs do burst. Read the deterioration chart and other information from embalming books quoted in Document 2 - Planning.)

     You want to drive prices down, then hold up (name of a large chain of mortuaries) with their deceptive tactics, clustering, pennypinching, and high pressure tactics.

     -- Deceptive as far as changing the model number of a particular casket so the consumers can't compare it to other firms.

     -- Clustering so that should a family walk out of one (chain) chapel they'll probably walk right into another. Money still goes to (chain's headquarters city).

     -- Pennypinching through what they call interchangeability. One director works for many firms. Did you know that they store bodies in other chapels without the families' knowledge? Did you know that more often than not they only have one working embalming room in an area? Did you know they own EVERY Jewish funeral home in (a large Eastern city). Every one of them. There was an interesting article in the Post you might want to read.

     They now have a "leave no money on the table" program going on. (emphasis added)
     (F&R: He probably means that salespersons should take as much money as possible from each family.)

     And they're offering commissions to the best salespeople in a particular location. PA's they're called. All they have to do is sell a percentage over what (the chain) projects and they get a piece of it.

     Why is it (chain) firms don't identify themselves?

     You can make this page good, just provide information which educates. Lots of potential.

     Good luck. -- A.R. (e-mail, NY)

   6)  "Funeral Costs" (J.C., e-mail)

     "I am in the insurance business. I know that the information you are providing is factual. Do you have this information available in printed form that could be given to my clients? Do you have a Video presentation.

     Thanks. J.C."

   7)  Letter from mortician (D.H., NC)

     "I just read your web information and found it to be correct in most cases. I worked in the funeral industry for 5 years. I sold monuments, funeral plans, gravesites, and vaults. I compared funeral prices in Salt Lake City and offered the breakdown to my customers. You are correct in saying that:

     ** Sealed caskets don't work -- I've seen them "pop" even before we closed the vault.

     ** Most funeral homes attack the situation of the family and sell them items they do not need.

     ** There is a wide discrepancy in prices for similar items and services.

     I was recruited by (name of a large mortuary chain) to sell in (city), NC. Upon buying the cemetery, (the chain) immediately doubled all the prices. The response from the (chain) people was that the families will pay it anyway.

     Nonetheless, you cannot determine which is a fair markup by simply looking at the wholesale price. Funeral homes have high overhead. Some more than others. A funeral home may mark up a casket 100% and still not make money on the P&L.
     (F&R comment: In our surveying every mortuary in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and Houston (for local TV stations) we found only a handful with a markup as low as 100%. Most markups were 300% to 700%, some 900% or more.)

     Furthermore, I never saw that prices were hidden from the public. When I showed pricing to families, in advance of a service, they would still insist on paying higher prices for services because they had always used a particular home or because they just didn't care.

     Overall, I think that the sales tactics should be exposed. However, it is still up to the customer to find the best deal.

     If I can be of any help to your organization please let me know. D.H."

   8) "Funeral Prices" (C.J., Elder Law attorney, FL)

     "I enjoyed your research bibliography of funeral ripoffs. Had no idea that the industry had been exposed to such degree. As an attorney in Florida, I have heard first hand from clients of bogus sales practices, then come to discover that the charlatan is not rare and that pressure sales are the norm. (emphasis added)

     I'm writing a guide book for Florida Elder Law, for mass appeal. I would love to include your research and commentary. Do you market books or guides? Do you make info available to the public? Do you have a monograph I can copy?

     Please reply, C.J."

   9)  "Homepage comments" (E.R., PA)

     I recently reviewed your homepage on the world wide web on FUNERALS AND RIPOFFS. I personally found this quite offensive and demoralizing of the funeral industry. I personally know numerous funeral directors PERSONALLY and know that they are not like this.

     Also, the wholesale prices on some of the caskets you quoted were not even near wholesale at all. They may not be what they sell them for retail but they sure as hell aren't what you said they are sold at wholesale for.
     (F&R comment:  The wholesale prices are correct, taken from wholesale distributors' lists. This is the ONLY site on the Internet that has the correct wholesale prices.)

     Your information page lacked one thing that all the investigative shows honestly report: THAT NOT ALL FUNERAL HOMES ARE IN FACT RIPOFFS.
(F&R:  We don't say that ALL morticians and plan salespersons are unfair. We say that MOST are unfair because MOST use outrageous markups; subtle- or high-pressure; push fraudulent, 25-75 year warranted, harmful sealer caskets; and use deceptive tactics. Many investigators say that most mortuaries abuse families. See investigators' comments in Document 1 -- Introduction; and elsewhere.)

   10)  'Beautiful memories' don't need gilding of expensive funerals
              (Letter of famous author Jessica Mitford written to "Dear Abby"
and Abby's response)

     "DEAR ABBY: Your correspondent "UNFINISHED BUSINESS" attended a friend's funeral and was "dismayed to learn that the family had decided to have a closed-coffin burial," thereby denying a visual farewell and the opportunity to cope better with reality. As you rightly pointed out, the next of kin have the final say.

     A word of amplification: The open-casket funeral is unique to the United States and Canada. In no other country is the bizarre ritual of "viewing" the deceased a part of any funeral service.

     In the 1920s, a public-relations spokesman for the funeral industry coined the phrase "beautiful memory picture" to describe the embalmed and prettified cadaver in a suitably costly casket.

     The funeral industry long has tried to convince the public that "viewing" is essential to what they are pleased to call "grief therapy," swallowed whole by the likes of "UNFINISHED BUSINESS".

     Readers looking for a simple and inexpensive funeral should write to the Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, an educational non-profit organization with affiliates in most major cities. The organization can provide information on dignified low-cost funerals. The phone is 1-800-765-0107.

     Jessica Mitford"  (Author of the famous 1963 The American Way of Death exposé of the industry)

     DEAR JESSICA: How well I remember the bombshell your book created in 1963. The American Way of Death rode the best-seller list for a year. And in its wake (no pun intended) was spawned a new generation of Americans who would bury their loved ones with dignified low-cost funerals, without feelings of guilt or embarassment.

     (F&R comment:  Ms. Mitford's book led to Congressional Hearings, and then to the Federal Trade Commission's 1972-75 nationwide investigation of the funeral industry. The 526-page Investigative Report led to the FTC's 1984 "Funeral Rule" federal law designed to stop the massive fraud and rip-off of nearly every U.S. family by nearly every neighborhood mortuary. However, heavy industry lobbying caused the FTC to "water down" the regulations four times before publishing them in 1984.

     (So, today, morticians are only lightly regulated (although they claim heavy regulation) - and have figured out ways to get around almost all of the regulations. Unhappily, the regulations do nothing to prevent even the worst "price gouging," so families now suffer a rip-off of $12 billion a year in 2009, more than half of the industry's $23 billion income.

     (Ms. Mitford wrote a second book about the industry, The American Way of Death Revisited, published in 1998. She dedicated the book to Fr. Wasielewski of our IFIC, and Lisa Carlson and Karen Leonard of FCA to honor their funeral advocacy efforts. She described Wasielewski's activities and called him an "avenging angel." Ms. Mitford died shortly before the book was published.)


E-mail to:
Truthful information -- needed immediately

if a death occurs, or one is expected,
or if considering a prepay plan.

How to Arrange for a Funeral
and avoid the unfair prices and deceptive tactics
used by
most mortuaries, cemeteries and prepay plans.

FAIR PRICES:  Funerals with Beautiful Metal Caskets: $2,200,
not $4000-$10,000.  Cremation: $700, not $1,500-$2,500+.
Truthful information -- needed immediately
if a death occurs, or one is expected,
or if considering a
prepay plan.

How to Arrange for a Funeral
and avoid the unfair prices and deceptive tactics
used by
most mortuaries, cemeteries and prepay plans.

FAIR PRICES:  Funerals with Beautiful Metal Caskets: $2,200,
not $4000-$10,000.  Cremation: $700, not $1,500-$2,500+.
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