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TOPIC: Decision Fatigue and Funeral Choices

Re: Decision Fatigue and Funeral Choices 04 Dec 2011 18:06 #699

Northstar/Michael,

What you are suggesting is a *blatant* violation of the Rule for which you might get a $16,000 fine if caught. I'm quoting from the actual wording of the Rule in the Federal Register, not the staff-written "guide":

453.2 Price Disclosures . . .
(4) General Price List
(i)(A) . . . The funeral provider must give the list upon beginning discussion of any of the following:
. . .
(2) the overall type of funeral service or disposition

No, not just set it on the desk to the side within arm's reach. It says "give."

You don't go to a resaurant and usually say, "gee, what do I want to eat tonight" without looking at the menu. While some folks may know exactly what they want in a funeral --regardless of the price-- for most folks it will be the first and maybe the only funeral they've ever arranged or will arrange.

It is NOT your job to talk the family into what kind of funeral you want to sell, which is exactly what it sounds as if you are doing, keeping the folks focussed on your patter so they don't have time to look at the GPL. I just had to delete what I wanted to say next.
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Re: Decision Fatigue and Funeral Choices 05 Dec 2011 10:31 #704

joshua@funerals.org wrote:
The basic services fee is the most abused provision of the FTC Funeral Rule. It's merely a cover charge to get in the door. It buys you absolutely no goods and services, yet it's the most expensive single item on the GPL. The FTC never should have authorized it in this form as it allows funeral homes to inflate it to the point of absurdity. Since it's the one fee consumers can't refuse to pay, the fee lets funeral homes thwart the consumer's ability to fully control costs through itemization. Funeral homes should spread their costs out among the goods and services they actually provide, rather than using the basic fee as a guaranteed-employment fee. Sure, prices on individual items will rise, but the consumer can choose how to balance their spending through itemization.


Josh Slocum
FCA Executive Director

Well without the "cover charge" there would be no funeral home or staff to wait 24 hours a day 365 days a year for the public to call for a removal. This fee pays the salaries of those paid to wait around the clock, and the cost of providing a building. Funeral homes by their very nature can't operate out of a phone booth. It costs big money to build a funeral home and pay a staff to wait around the clock. Not even wedding chapels have specialized surgical suites or a staff waiting around the clock, yet we are constantly compared to the prices of weddings (which by the way usually cost way more than an earthen burial if you hire a wedding professional).

I think one day funeral homes will wake up and charge appropriate prices for embalming, too. For instance, you can't even get surgery in a hospital for less than probably $1,000 dollars. Embalming should cost at least that much. The funeral home has to have a dedicated space (a surgical suite) to embalm in, the equipment is expensive, the college education of the embalmer was specialized (just like a surgeon) and his time is worth a lot more money than the average embalming price at today's funeral homes.

Just my .02 worth...
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Re: Decision Fatigue and Funeral Choices 05 Dec 2011 17:11 #708

I agree with you about the typical price for embalming. It's the only specialized skil a funeral director or embalmer has. It also puts that person at risk, with a higher death rate than average vocations.

Unfortunately, there are way too many funeral homes for the deathrate as many want full-time pay for part-time work. Years ago, the funeral home was affiliated with a furniture store or a livery stable perhaps. In Vermont in a small town, the sign read "Upholstery-Hardware-Undertaking" when I was a kid.

Unless the FD starts selling home-owners insurance or refinishing antiques on the side to help cover overhead, the public will rebel against the otherwise too-high prices and avoid the funeral home altogether.l
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Re: Decision Fatigue and Funeral Choices 07 Dec 2011 02:00 #714

  • northstar73
  • northstar73's Avatar
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  • Licensed Embalmer and Funeral Director
funeralethics wrote:
Northstar/Michael,

What you are suggesting is a *blatant* violation of the Rule for which you might get a $16,000 fine if caught. I'm quoting from the actual wording of the Rule in the Federal Register, not the staff-written "guide":

453.2 Price Disclosures . . .
(4) General Price List
(i)(A) . . . The funeral provider must give the list upon beginning discussion of any of the following:
. . .
(2) the overall type of funeral service or disposition

No, not just set it on the desk to the side within arm's reach. It says "give."

You don't go to a resaurant and usually say, "gee, what do I want to eat tonight" without looking at the menu. While some folks may know exactly what they want in a funeral --regardless of the price-- for most folks it will be the first and maybe the only funeral they've ever arranged or will arrange.

It is NOT your job to talk the family into what kind of funeral you want to sell, which is exactly what it sounds as if you are doing, keeping the folks focussed on your patter so they don't have time to look at the GPL. I just had to delete what I wanted to say next.

Lisa,

It is unfortunate that at the end of your post you felt the need to delete what you wanted to say in your response. Knowing that we both have the best interest of the bereaved as our ultimate goal, I appreciate the passion with which you pursue that goal and thank you for your thoughts, the opportunity to discuss this, and the continued pursuit of protecting the bereaved. The fact that you had to delete some comments further shows me the energy with which you confront those who do not share our desire to aid and protect families at a difficult time. I applaud that and note that while some comments were deleted, many were left in the post. Now please allow me the opportunity to address those comments that were not deleted.

First, what I am discussing is not a "*blatant*" violation of the FTC Funeral Rule. The FTC rule requires, as you state, that the funeral provider must give the list to the client. It does not say a provider must put it in the client's hands, nor does it require that once given, the funeral provider immediately review it and begin to discuss the itemized charges. As I mentioned, I give the price list to the client family in such a way that it is clearly a copy they may keep and they are not discouraged from reviewing it. I am not in violation by not reviewing it in detail with them at that exact time nor by not physically placing it in their hands.

Second, the staff written guide is the common sense interpretation and training document used to ensure funeral service providers are following the intent of the rule. In many cases, the interpretation is more specific than the actual text of the rule and if you meet the requirements of the guide, you are meeting the requirements of the rule. Think of it as the rule being the concept while the guide is the practical application. That is why I reference both in my research.

Third, I am not able to equate dealing with a family at an emotionally charged life event like a death to ordering food at a restaurant. If anything, that example only furthers my point in why clients should listen to their funeral professional rather than some “menu” of prices that the federal government mandates. It also explains why I question those “professionals” who use the GPL as the focus of their informational presentation to a client family. A menu may work at a restaurant, but a GPL is no substitute for the counsel and experience a true funeral professional can give a family. I can easily exemplify my point here. I, though a funeral director, can surely go into a restaurant, wait on a table, present a menu, take an order, and deliver food that satisfactorily meets the needs of the customer. Conversely, show me a restaurant server that can go into a funeral home, meet with a family, present the GPL, take the order, and deliver a service that properly meets the needs of the family. It will not happen. In fact, I would be willing to bet that more often than not, the amount of information thrown at them by the presentation of the GPL would lead the family to just select something and move on, with less focus on their needs and more focus on just getting done. They would not be considering only the items relevant to their needs, they would be reviewing all the items on the GPL. In fact, they would not see the true value of those items to them if the main element those items were judged on is the cost, which is the primary focus of the GPL. Think of the last big ticket item you bought and look at all the different elements that go into making that decision. Cost is but one of those and in most cases, cost alone will lead you to the cheapest but not always the best solution for your needs. The memory of poor service and value will live on long after the experience. That leads me to my next point: my job.

With regards to what my job is and is not, it is simple. A funeral home has only one opportunity to do right by a family, there is no “redo” on a funeral. It is my job to listen to the needs of my client family and then “direct” that family through the different service options and offerings that address those needs. It is not my job to present irrelevant information, nor is it my job to be an order taker. When a family asks me about disposition, it is my job to present the multiple levels of service that are offered with a disposition. Whether final disposition is burial or cremation, the service levels selected by almost all families can be broken down into three types:
1. The “full service” type where disposition takes place after the viewing/gathering and/or service. This is commonly called a “Traditional Funeral” but I hesitate to call it that myself. I believe most people today are looking for a unique service experience, at least one as unique as the life it celebrates. The word “traditional” implies doing things the same as before and thus for some, the removal of “uniqueness”. I call this a “Full Service” as it usually utilizes the full spectrum of services provided by a funeral home.
2. The “reduced service” type where disposition takes place either before or concurrently with the viewing/gathering and/or service. This is commonly called a “Memorial Service” or “Graveside Service”. As you may have already determined, I call this a “reduced service” since it provides services and/or a gathering as a full service option does, but reduces the services required by the provider to facilitate.
3. The “minimal/basic service” type where the disposition is the handled by the funeral service provider and rendered without any type of formal gathering and/or formal service. These are the packages on the GPL referred to as “Direct Cremation” and “Immediate Burial”. As disposition of the deceased is the basic need required of all client families of any funeral provider, it is easy to see why this is dubbed a “basic service”.

As a funeral director, it is my job to provide information on these three levels of offerings and let the family decide which level is best for their social, mental, physical, and financial needs. My job is then further defined by the needs expressed and the service choices the family requests. It is a dialogue, a conversation, an ongoing and dynamic interaction as questions are asked, answers provided, needs expressed, solutions presented, and ultimately the pieces fit together into a meaningful and valuable experience that I can facilitate for my client family. This is why a GPL is not an integral part of the process at this time and why it is given to the family at the triggering event but receives no further attention than presenting it to client and placing it within the client’s reach as we talk. A static price list cannot hold a dialogue, it is not interactive, it cannot make recommendations, and it will not be the facilitator of the experience. The price list is simply a reference tool with explicit instructions in the Funeral Rule on what format it must take (i.e. all elements that must be listed on it), when it is to be presented (i.e. triggering events), how it is to be presented (i.e. typed or printed and given in such a manner that the family clearly understands it is theirs to review and retain), and that it is the choice of the client family whether they retain the price list or not. Outside these specific requirements, nothing requires me to review the price list in detail or incorporate it as a main source of information in my presentation. As long as I am compliant with the explicit requirements already mentioned, and do not discourage the family from reviewing the price list, I am following the Funeral Rule

Finally, as funerals go, I do not “sell” anything. The insinuation that I am putting my needs ahead of the family's needs and “selling” funerals is insulting to me as a professional and in no way near the truth of what I do or why I do it. The truth is the funeral I want to arrange and facilitate for my client family is the funeral with the service options that best meet their aforementioned needs based upon their educated decisions. How do I do that? By engaging them in conversation, listening to them, and then informing them on what services I can offer to meet their expressed needs. This is my "patter", which I see as a fundamental part of our communication and hardly the defintion of "patter". Once those needs have been explored and identified, service recommendations are quite simplified and the family can reduce the number of decisions they must make. It turns out, if you realize that those three main service types exist, you can easily package your services to meet those needs. Packaging offers simplicity, ease of presentation, a focus only on necessary services and not irrelevant ones, discounts in some cases over itemization, and a bottom line price instead of the need for constant addition of itemized prices. Once the packages have been presented, the family decides if a package does indeed meet their needs or not. If not, then the General Price List can be used as the resource it is supposed to be. Most of the time, however, the package, when done properly and concisely, will meet the needs of the family without many of the extraneous or unessential bundled items/services that packages get a bad reputation for having. Now compare this process to a funeral director who starts out by presenting a price list as I do, but then asks the family to grab it, open it, and then line by line begins to discuss what services are available. The family is not informed on the service levels, they are not counseled on their needs, they are simply left to say yes or no and try to track the sum total of all the “yes” items as they go along. As you aptly state, the family is very inexperienced to what is going on and will begin to suffer the information overload originally started in this thread when you realize they are exposed to pages and pages of services and costs, both relevant and irrelevant; alternative service packages such as direct dispositions; merchandise listings and price ranges; and paragraphs of disclosures. My method is compliant, provides what really should be a minimally expected level of care and guidance from a funeral professional, reduces stress on the client family, allows them to make an educated decision based on their needs, allows for customization at any level, reduces the opportunity for information overload, and most of all, provides value for what is done. Why do I want value to be a part of their experience? Because if the service has no value to the client family, then it matters not the price, whether costly or inexpensive, the true value was worthless.

Lisa, I too am disappointed and angry when funeral service professionals violate the FTC requirements, whether unknowingly or blatantly. I am also very upset when even in FTC compliance, some “professionals” will "sell" funerals. The FTC funeral rule, after being around since 1984, has been around for far too long to plead ignorance, and “selling” funerals involves removing value from funeral service as a whole at the cost of a family that truly could have been assisted and been helped had their needs been placed before the needs of the funeral provider. It is one of the main reasons why I now focus on providing consulting services to funeral providers and offer in-house seminars on how we as funeral professionals can be compliant with the Funeral Rule, live up to the title of “Professional”, and most importantly, discover the needs of each family and facilitate the right services to meet those needs so that no family ever has to question the value of what we do and how it helped them. Any profession that uses the word “traditional” in their quest to provide “unique” experiences may understand the challenge ir faces but is also sorely looking for help with the solution. One other thing becomes apparent as well. It is no secret that the types of unethical and insensitive funeral providers who created the need for the funeral rule and who are inferred to in these postings are not the funeral providers you find on this forum discussing experiences and offering ideas. They prefer to practice their art of deception and selfish behaviors in relative anonymity. On the other hand, those funeral service professionals like myself, who ARE here posting and contributing, share the same main goal as FCA – to meet the needs of the bereaved first and foremost. In that point, we are not on opposite sides of this issue but the same side, and I believe our mutual goal may be achieved much more efficiently and expediently with open communication, intelligent presentations, real world experiences, and the ability to listen as much as we speak. The day I stop learning is the day I go from a funeral service practitioner to a funeral service client.

My point on this whole forum topic began and dealt with the topic of information overload and how the Funeral Rule has, by some people's unofficial interpretations of it being the main educational tool in counseling a family, only added to that overload. To help with this, I have shared ways I have found to compliantly and effectively present the same options to families in ways that avoid that overload and even add the benefits of providing simplicity, value, and a better opportunity to discover and address all the needs of the client family. I have been doing this for years in both the corporate and private funeral establishment environments and have seen the practices I have learned and trained reviewed many times by professionals in both the legal and funeral service fields who specialize in adherence to the funeral rule. The professional opinions of those who have witnessed and reviewed the actual practices have all been in agreement that said practices are fully compliant with both the letter and intent of the FTC Funeral Rule.

I apologize for taking a little extra time to respond and making it look as though I was guilty as charged by your post. I have found, however, that the extra time to process your comments and then formulate my response has gone far in allowing me to revisit my comments and make changes as necessary to ensure I addressed your concerns while properly appreciating the passion you showed in your post for our mutual goal of service to the bereaved.

- Michael
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