5 On Your Side

Movement afoot to make funeral costs more transparent

Posted November 7

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— When a loved one dies, the last thing you want to think about is money.

Unfortunately, funeral costs and arrangements are some of the first things family members and friends have to think about when someone passes away.

​A lot goes into planning a funeral – the casket, the viewing, the type of service – and not all funeral homes are transparent when it comes to price comparison. Funeral homes are not required to post their prices online, and many don't.

According to Consumer Reports, that may soon change.

Stephanie Garry runs one of a handful of nonprofit funeral homes in the country. She and funeral director Mitch Kronish say it should be quick and easy for families to estimate the cost of a funeral. "Whatever we can do to ease someone's burden, we try to do," said Garry.

"We post our prices on our website," added Kronish. "We also make our prices available at our front door and over the phone, by email or by fax."

To help their clients compare prices fairly, Garry and Kronish also publish the prices charged by nearby funeral homes on their website.

That kind of transparency is rare, but it may not be for long. A new proposal before the Federal Trade Commission would require all funeral homes to put their prices online.

"Funerals can cost thousands of dollars, and, usually, time is of the essence," said Nikhil Hutheesing, a money editor at Consumer Reports. "The problem is, in that rush to plan, you often have to call or visit the funeral home to get a price sheet."

Officials at Consumer Reports recommend getting quotes from at least five funeral homes before making a final decision. The experts also recommend you set a firm budget beforehand and stick with it. Don't be pushed into spending more.

"You don't have to buy the full package that a funeral home may pitch," said Hutheesing. "You have the right to pay a la carte just for the products and services you want."

For example, you don't have to buy the casket at the funeral home. Retailers like Costco sell them, too, and will deliver them to the funeral home for you.

The experts say another way to save money is to skip the embalming process, since it's generally not needed if the burial or cremation takes place within a certain time.

"The Federal Trade Commission has a handy checklist and other resources for funeral services and products," said Hutheesing. "Just go to FTC.gov and type in funeral checklist."

Once you've decided on a funeral home, you're entitled by law to get an itemized statement so you know exactly what you will pay in the end.

The experts also suggest that, while it may seem too energy-consuming, it's within your right to negotiate with a funeral home, especially if you are on a fixed or low income.

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