Funeral Planning Tips from Angie’s List Founder

Nov 7, 2011 | 0 comments

It’s good to see the word getting out to consumers that pre-need shopping around is better than waiting for someone to die before doing funeral planning. Angie’s List, the popular consumer service ranking site, recently put out some great tips for consumers. I’m pleased to share their information as today’s guest post.

Planning a funeral is an emotionally difficult process, but pre-planning helps you avoid making rushed decisions and allows you to shop around without time constraints.

However, unfamiliarity with the funeral industry can leave consumers vulnerable to fraudulent schemes that range from overpaying for goods and services to the embezzlement of prepaid funds.

Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, said many consumers will go to the same funeral home that their family has used, simply because they have experience and they know what to expect. “But funerals are expensive so it is good to shop around to make sure you are getting the best price possible,” she said.

The national average cost of a funeral is $6,600, but some cost thousands more than that. On average, consumers spend $2,295 for the casket alone. Other costs include vaults, embalming, cremation, funeral staff and facilities, transportation for deceased and family. You can even purchase programs and note cards, tribute videos and online memorials from some funeral homes.

A nationwide Angie’s List poll found:

51 percent of Angie’s List members in a recent poll have never planned a funeral.

Of those who have, 19 percent say the experience was a poor one.

53 percent consider family tradition and reputation the most important factors in choosing a funeral provider.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission established the Funeral Rule, which is designed to protect consumers by requiring funeral providers to give adequate information about their services:

1. Give an itemized price list over the phone or in person.

2. Let you choose only the goods and services you want (with some exceptions).

3. Disclose on the price list if state or local law requires you to buy any item.

4. Handle without charge a casket or urn you bought elsewhere.

5. Obtain your permission for embalming services and disclose in writing that they’re not required by law (except in special cases).

Angie’s List is the nation’s premier provider of local consumer reviews including funeral homes.

Angie’s List tips for pre-planning a funeral:

Talk to your family about your wishes and write down a plan: Do you want a traditional burial or cremation? Do you want a simple or elaborate funeral? Share your ideas with family and put all your wishes in writing.

Know your rights – shop around: According the FTC’s “Funeral Rule” you have the right to stop in any funeral home and request a General Price List (GPL). Visit several funeral homes and use the lists to compare prices. If a funeral home says you have to buy a certain kind of casket, urn, etc. ask why and find out the law or regulation that requires it.

Pre-paying for a funeral: Be very cautious if you decide to pre-pay for services with a funeral home – ask what happens to your money if you want to transfer the funds to a different funeral home or if the funeral home you’ve selected goes out of business. Only nine states have funds that step in to protect consumers when funds are stolen or if the funeral service goes out of business. (FL, IN, Iowa, MO, NC, OR Texas, VT and WV)

If you choose to pre-pay now, a better option is to put that money in a checking or savings account and add a POD – payable on death designation. Your bank or credit union will have you fill out a form and have it paid to the person who will be taking care of the arrangements. Talk to a certified financial planner about the best plan for you.

Licensing is mandatory for funeral directors nationwide: You can confirm a funeral director’s license by checking with the licensing board in your state. Requirements vary from state to state, but most call for individuals to be at least 21 years old, have two years of education that include mortuary science, serve a one-year apprenticeship and pass an exam.

Schedule a meeting with the funeral director: Take this time to ask the director your questions (including services/costs) to help gauge if they would be a good company for you to use.Unhappy with a funeral home? If you have a problem, it’s best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are still having issues, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

A Good Goodbye