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FCA recognizes that the dissemination of individual experiences, the reporting of public information, and linking to other sites can help further our mission of educating the public on their funeral rights and options. However, FCA's limited resources and the nature of the Internet make it impossible to verify the content of personal experiences that are supplied by others or to verify the content of linked sites. FCA accepts no responsibility for these. Comments on the contents of personal reports and linked websites should be directed to the author(s).



Funeral Insurance Scam

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Beware of anything called funeral "insurance."

INSURANCE - A formal social device for reducing risk by transferring the risks of several individual entities to an insurer. The insurer agrees, for a consideration, to assume, to a specified extent, the losses suffered by the insured.

Unlike homeowners or life insurance, there is NO risk for the "insurance" company selling funeral insurance. If you plan a $5,000 funeral, you will be expected to pay the full $5,000 for the funeral insurance, whether you pay it all at once or make time payments or whether your survivors end up paying the rest after your death. (The income that the company makes by investing your money pays the company, pays the commission, and should cover funeral inflation.)

Buying funeral insurance is like giving away your money to the insurance company in exchange for an IOU that is usually made out to one of their funeral-home-owning buddies. IT IS NO LONGER YOUR MONEY!

Here's the sad experience Anna Jones had with Fortis Family, a group of so-called "insurance" companies, that specializes in preneed funeral "insurance." She first wrote the FCA office on March 4th, 2001:

Ten years ago when my husband died, I paid for his funeral. I also paid
for mine at the same time. [$2,481.60] I was terribly devastated, even was
considering suicide because of my loss at the time. Thank God I didn't,
because life is good again. I have moved from the area, will not be
going back. I also want to donate my body to science so there will be no
funeral. I have been told I can not get any of my money back from the
funeral home where I purchased the contract. They said the policy has
been sold several times to different companies, I don't even know who has
it. I was under the impression when I paid for it that it was with the
funeral home in DuQuoin, Il. where I took it out. I don't understand how
this works, but it is MY money and it seems like even if I took a loss on
the interest that has accumulated by now, that since my plans have
changed, why can't I get my money back. I can really use it now, and
what will happen when I die, with my money if I can't get it back. Like
I said, I won't have a funeral. Please let me know who I can contact to
get this information. Thank you. Anna Jones

We gave Anna some suggestions, including the address of the Illinois Comptroller who is supposed to be monitoring preneed funeral issues in that state. On March 28th Anna e-mailed:

I wrote to the funeral home as you suggested, he wrote me back
and told me that I would have to contact the Fortis people who hold the
policy to see if I can cash it in. I received a letter from them a few
days ago, and they said that the Funeral Home is the beneficiary. They
said the funeral home is the one who has the discretion as to what to do
with the policy. I sent the funeral home another letter yesterday,
telling them what the Ins. co. wrote me.

I told him once again, that there will be no funeral. Also there is a
chance I will be leaving here even farther and going to California where
my son and daughter in law are living. Even now I live too far from the
area, that if I died they would not be here to take care of me. Surely
there is something that can be done. Would the funeral home get all the
money when there is no funeral? My kids were supposed to get any money
that wasn't spent on the actual funeral but if there is none, what
happens? I just wish I hadn't been in such a crazy state when he died
ten years ago. Then I wouldn't have made such a dumb decision. But the
Searby's were local people where I lived for many years. I trusted them
I guess. Now I just don't know.

The FCA office decided to ask Fortis directly what their policies were. The following letter was faxed to the president of Fortis Family on March 30, 2001.

Alan Feagin, President
Fortis Family
via fax: 888-232-9835
Dear Mr. Feagin:
I am writing to find out your official policy for consumers who might wish to cancel their Fortis funeral "insurance." While prepaying for a funeral has been a blessing for some, for others it has been a disaster when a change of plans is desired or necessary. Specifically, I'd like to know:
May consumers contact Fortis directly to determine the present value of their policies?
What is the rate of growth on a funeral policy with Fortis?
May consumers contact Fortis directly for a refund?
If not, what recourse do consumers have if a funeral home won't request a refund?
What is the rate for determining cash value for a canceled policy?
Sincerely,
Lisa Carlson
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance

On April 3rd, Anna wrote:

In keeping up with my problem, I received another letter from the funeral
home yesterday. They wrote:

Dear Mrs. Jones

You can forward a copy of this letter to Fortis Family Insurance. As far
as the funeral home is concerned you can cash in your policy with the
company. This will make your pre-paid funeral void at that time.

As far as the beneficiary, the funeral homes are the beneficiaries so they
can get paid for the funeral that has been pre-paid.

If Fortis Family Insurance needs more information from us tell them to
contact us. You will have to request the forms to cash in the policy.

Sincerely,
David H. Searby

An e-mail from Anna on April 30th:

Hi. It's me again. Just wondered if you had ever heard back from Fortis? It has been several weeks and I still haven't heard from them. [No response from Fortis to the FCA letter either.] I sent them the copy of the letter from Searby funeral home, stating that as far as he was concerned I could cash the policy in. I sent a second letter about 8 days ago, and still I have not received any reply either by phone or letter. I just thought I would keep you up to date on what is going on. I recently got a call from the Comptrollers office in Chicago. He also left a message on the answering machine with Fortis and he didn't get a reply either. As you said, it will be interesting. Thank you once again for all your help. I will e mail you if I get any kind of answer. I may try calling again. Thanks.

This e-mail from Anna on May 1st:

Hi again. I received a letter from Fortis today. They sent a cash
surrender form.

In the letter it says:
Type of plan: Sp Series 15
*Death Benefit: $5,350.

Outstanding Loan: $.00
Loan Value: $2,804.76
Net Cash Surrender Value: $2,827.ll
Beneficiary: Searby Funeral Home

*May Include any additional coverages.

Which of these amounts will they send me? I am not sure as to what this
really means. I thought that you could tell me. Will the funeral home
get the rest and will I get the Net /Cash Surrender Value? I will be
waiting to hear from you before I do anything. Thanks again for all your
help.

Hoping that Anna Jones at least had a sense of humor, we sent her the following e-mail:

Ironically, I was on the telephone with a fella I know in our state Banking and Insurance Dept. when I down-loaded your last e-mail. I read it to him. His advice is to take the loan money, making sure that not repaying the loan won't cause the policy to lapse. Then change the beneficiary any time you want to another FH where you live now or where you're moving to when you do. Most med schools require that the family pay to have the body delivered to the med school (tho' it DOES vary from med school to med school). Anyway, you'd surely have enough left in the policy to get your body there and still have $1,500 or so left over for a hellova reception your kids can ask the FD to pay for.

Because I'd never gotten a response from the Fortis president, Sue Simon, editor of Funeral Monitor,managed to chase down a live person to talk to there, and guess what she learned: Fortis is going to charge Anna 8% interest on the "loan." Charging Anna interest to borrow her own money? Yikes! At that rate, the balance of Anna's death benefit money will vaporize in less than 12 years, if the interest is charged against her account; then the policy WOULD lapse. Yes, Fortis has been growing Anna's money at about 8% a year, much faster than most other funeral "insurance" schemes, and Anna didn't have to declare the interest on her income tax. But if Anna had put her money in a long-term CD, she'd have over $4,000 today. Fortis should be ashamed for swiping almost 10 years of interest. m

But Fortis isn't the only company running a funeral "insurance" scheme. Forethought (owned by the folks who make Batesville caskets) estimates about 4% annual growth on their "policies," depending on age and mortality rates among other things. This isn't quite enough to keep up with funeral inflation in most cases, so you'll want to see what is guaranteed and what happens if the casket you picked out is no longer available. (A substitute casket needs to be of equal quality and construction, not equal "value"-price--which is constantly going up from what you paid). And will you get all your money back from Forethought if you cancel after a few years? Only if you live to be 100, I was told by the customer service rep.

NOTE: In some states, funeral directors can take your prepaid funeral money and convert it to funeral "insurance" WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION, pocketing a commission in the process!
 

Corporate Preneed Sales Tactics

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Sales tips from one of the big-three, anonymously leaked to the FCA office:



How often do you ask a prospect for the order? The answer, "One more time." You should be prepared to ask at least four to five times.

•46% ask once and quit

•24% ask twice and quit

•14% ask three times and quit

•12% give up after the fourth attempt.

•60% of all sales are made only after the fifth attempt at closing, yet 96% of the sales people give up before the fifth attempt.

•DO NOT ask a customer to sign anything--ask him to okay it or initial it.

•DO NOT use the word contract. Substitute word: agreement.

•DO NOT use word: pay, payment, down-payment, monthly payment, or cash price. Substitute word: investment, monthly investment, total investment.



How to answer a customer's objections:

Want to think it over

When a man says to you: "I want to think this over."

(You say) "That's fine, sir, obviously you wouldn't take your time thinking this over unless you were really interested, would you?

"I'm sure you're not telling me this just to get rid of me, so may I assume that you will give it very careful consideration?"

(Begin Summary Closing) "Just to clarify my thinking, sir, what phase of this program it is that you want to think over?"

(Do Not Hesitate at this point)

"Is it the integrity of CMS West Inc. and cemetery name?"

"Is it my personal integrity?"

"Is it the concept of our cemetery?"

"Is it our location?"

"Is it ________etc.?"

(This will allow you to get a final objection. What you have to do is take "I'll think it over" and reduce it to a specific objection. You cannot answer "I'll think it over" because it is an intangible.)



I'm going to have my ashes scattered

Mr(s). _____, before you make a final decision to have your cremated remains disposed of in that manner, please let me explain what happens when a person is cremated. The cremated remains are really not ashes, as most people think, but actually calcium flakes about the size of your fingernail. Because the calcium flakes have nutritional value, if they are scattered about the ground the birds or insects eat them. If they are scattered in the water, the fish will eat them. [Really?]

Experts who have studied this subject advise us it is very important that we have a final resting place where our loved ones can come to visit and pay their respects to us; and to deprive our loved ones of this opportunity can result in their having serious emotional problems.



I want to be buried back home.

Sir, I talk to many men that tell me they want to be buried back home until they find out the problems it creates for their families. First, it's more expensive because (a) two funeral directors are required. . . (b) The body must be accompanied by an escort, by plane or train. The person traveling with the body must carry a ticket marked corpse for the deceased. [false] . . . Mr. _____, why don't we take care of the problem for the family now so that they won't have to worry about this matter-- then if you decide to go back to _______ you can always give your property to one of the children. Or we do have a lot exchange opportunity whereby you can transfer ownership of what you purchase from us to all areas in the United States. . . .[This is out-and-out consumer fraud. One has to use only those cemeteries that are signed up with the "lot exchange" program; a town or religious cemetery is not a likely prospect. Furthermore, you get credit ONLY for the original purchase price, NOT the current value. There is no exchange, lot-for-lot.]



Donating Body to Science

Mr(s). _____, I can understand why you would want to donate your body to science and that's very commendable on your part. In discussing this subject with most people I find that what they really are interested in doing is to make available the vital organs of their body such as their eyes or kidneys, to help another person, and that's wonderful. That can be accomplished with little difficulty by simply contacting the hospital or organization of your choice and in the event of your accidental death and assuming your death occurs in the area where the organization can remove very soon after your death the vital organs you wish to donate, this is a workable idea. . . .

Most people, once they understand what takes place, are not interested in donating their body to a medical school for experi-mentation. 1. Many schools are now rejecting bodies because they have more bodies than can be used. 2. The usual policy is to store bodies in a frozen locker room for a period of one year before using the body. By the way, this isn't a very pleasant thought but they put a large screw type apparatus into your ears and hang you up on a conveyor belt with a room full of other frozen bodies. 3. Perhaps most important of all, the family is deprived of having a fitting burial for you. . . . Mr(s). _____, in view of these facts would it be okay if we were to plan on your donating just your vital organs and allowing the family the opportunity to provide the customary burial for you--that would please everyone involved, okay?



I don't sign anything without

thinking about it.

Mr. and Mrs. _____, aside from the fact that you would like to take some additional time to think about this . . . is there any other reason that you are aware of why you would not want to go ahead and solve this problem? Isn't it true that all of the important possessions that you now have required your signing your signatures? A. To be married you had to sign a marriage license. B. Before the hospital would allow you to take your children home you had to sign a release document, giving them their legal names. C. You had to sign forms for you and your children to receive medical help from a doctor or for them to go to school. D. To buy a car, you had to sign the forms to take delivery. E. Before you could own this lovely home, you had to sign mortgage papers. Mr. and Mrs. _____, when you stop to think about it, wouldn't it be correct to say that virtually every worthwhile possession that you own today required you to sign your name to some kind of document and that had you refused to sign your name you would not today have the beautiful things you do? Folks, you can add to that wonderful collection by simply signing your names to this agreement and gaining the priceless benefits of this program today . . .



We do not feel there is any need to make this decision now.

Mr. and Mrs. ______, I can understand how you feel about going ahead with this decision at this time. . . but, may I ask each of you a very important question? Let's assume you each knew for certain that you only had a few remaining hours of your life to live . . . what would you each do? (NOTE: Encourage husband and wife to discuss their loved ones and how important their welfare is to them.)

Mr. and Mrs. ______, with all of these things you have just said, not once did you mention that you were going out and spend money on having a good time. Your total concern was for doing those things that would help and protect your loved ones. Doesn't it make a lot of sense to not wait until our time has run out to do those things that we know are important to protect our loved ones?



Parents already have property for us.

Mr. and Mrs. ______, if I could demonstrate to your satisfaction that it would be in your best interest both financially and otherwise that our program was the best for your family, you would definitely want to do business with us -- wouldn't you? May I raise these points--

1.Has the deed for the property been made out in your name so that you would be guaranteed the use of the property? Do you have brothers and sisters that would have first choice if there was a need in their family first?

2. Would there be enough property available for your children and possibly your grandchildren or would you end up with a situation that would make it impossible for your children to be buried with you in the years to come? And, would this be fair to your children?

3. You are aware, I'm sure, that you could be no longer entombed in a dry lawn crypt--but would be buried separately in conventional vaults.

4. Most likely you would end up buying your vaults from a funeral director and your monument from a monument dealer after the death occurs. You would still be paying more money just for those two items than our whole program costs.

5. You would also have to give up all of the protection we provide for you and your children under our Family Protection Plan.

Mr. and Mrs. ________, in view of these facts wouldn't it be a lot better to solve this problem for you and your children with our program?



Closing Procedure

Grave of Sorrow or the Shrine

Mr. & Mrs. ___________, do you know the difference between a Shrine and a Grave of Sorrow? Well let me tell you the difference. Perhaps 75% of the families out here purchase the Grave of Sorrow . . . 75 out of 100 times it is the widow who makes this purchase . . . through lack of foresight she is forced to go out . . . to a strange cemetery . . . on the arm of a relative or friend . . . to make a business transaction concerning a subject she knows nothing about . . . when her mind is clouded with Sorrow, broken hearted . . . and perhaps financially broke . . . in any type of weather . . . 10 inches of snow . . . sleeting rain . . . a blowing gale . . . or a very beautiful day . . . it is a very dark one to her, yet she must make a selection alone.

On the day of the services, she rides through the cemetery . . . to this Grave of Sorrow . . . her loneliness is increased because she has an uncertain future ahead. On the day of the service as she stands here at the graveside . . . for committal . . . she finds this day to be the loneliest and darkest of her life . . . she has lost her husband, sweetheart, father to her children, and income, and they are gone forever. Each time that she returns to this grave . . . for visitation, her mind goes back to the loneliest hours of her life. The hours spent when she purchased this grave . . . and left her sweetheart to rest. It all comes back now . . . broken hear, broken pocketbook . . . broken spirit . . . and an uncertain future ahead . . . her mind goes back to a time . . . when a consultant stopped by their home . . . she is reminded of the excuses that were used that evening . . . to evade or postpone or put off . . . a most important decision . . . the selection of the Family Estate . . . excuses such as cannot afford, want to see it, recession ahead . . . but oh how she knows now that that was a time of great opportunity.

 

SCI Preneed

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Is SCI's Marketing Plan
Set to Gouge the Poor?

In press articles that appeared in Phoenix, Arizona and Louisville, Kentucky papers on October 19, 1999, SCI launched a new marketing plan—"Dignity" funeral packages. These plans run from about $2,000 to over $9,000 and can be financed at the rate of 12.9% to 21%, or so the article implied. The following was posted on our web site a day or two later:

Finance charges on a lay-away plan before they lay you away?

And while they're collecting additional interest on YOUR money in THEIR bank?

The working poor will be hit the hardest by this tactic. Socialworkers, Agencies on Aging, Community Action groups, TAKE NOTICE! As for the "lock in prices now" ploy that many preneed salespeople use? Prices may go DOWN in the future. We're seeing a lot more discount or affordable funeral operations opening up these days.

Until it's necessary to set aside assets for Medicaid eligibility, it is FAR safer to keep your money in your own bank. It always pays to plan ahead, but it rarely pays to pay ahead. Be sure to take advantage of our local nonprofit consumer groups to find the best deal around and one without any finance charges. Or call the FAMSA~FCA office to see if we know of low-cost providers in your area: 800-765-0107.

 


The following letter was e-mailed to the FAMSA~FCA office the day after the above message was posted:

 

SCI Management Corporation
October 21, 1999

Ms. Lisa Carlson
Executive Director
Funeral and Memorial Societies of America/Funeral Consumers Alliance
P.O. Box 10
Hinesburg, VT 05461

Re: Defamatory Statements

Dear Ms. Carlson:

On Wednesday, October 20, 1999, you posted a page on your organization's web site with the headline "Is SCI's Marketing Plan Set to Gouge the Poor?" You then proceeded to criticize the company for charging finance charges on prearranged funerals sold by its affiliates. In addition, at 10:29 a.m. on the same date, you posted a message on a message board hosted by YAHOO! expressing the same sentiment and claiming the "it makes [you] sick to [your] stomach" that SCI allegedly charges 12.9% to 21% finance charges on prearrangements. Unfortunately, your anti-industry bias has seriously diminished your objectivity and any credibility you might have been able to claim with respect to this matter.

Had you bothered to do even the slightest amount of research, such as calling any affiliate of SCI in Phoenix or Louisville, or contacting anyone in the company's home offices in Houston, you would have learned that the finance rates to which you make reference apply only to at need arrangements. The entire premise of your attack is incorrect. To provide more options for its consumers, SCI made arrangements with a third-party lender, which is the only company that receives payment for the loan, to provide financing for families to purchase funeral goods and services in honor of their loved ones in connection with at need funeral arrangements. Notwithstanding your pronouncements that consumers have no desire for such remembrances, many families want to pay tribute and homage to their departed loved ones in ways that do not conform to your minimalist approach.

It is apparent that your obsession with attacking SCI and its affiliates, as well as other organizations within this industry, has completely overcome any pretense of honesty or accuracy. Many of the consumers that you claim to represent find great value and comfort in the services provided by Service Corporation International and its affiliates and are pleased to know that the company can assist them both professionally and financially in achieving their goals of remembering their loved ones. You certainly have the right to hold and express your own opinions, however misguided they might be, but you do not have the right to publish lies about SCI's efforts to be more responsive to the families that it serves.

In the past you have made other defamatory statements about SCI and its affiliates that were not challenged. These statements, however, are simply too inaccurate, offensive, and unfair to be ignored. We believe that your libelous falsehood that the company gouges the poor is defamatory per se and constitutes grounds for a successful lawsuit against you and your organization. However, if this happened to be an honest mistake arising from lack of information, SCI and its affiliates would consider this matter concluded in return for full retractions and apologies posted on your website and on the YAHOO! message board in question by 5:00 p.m. C.D.T. on October 22, 1999.

Sincerely,

J. Christopher Couch
Corporate Counsel

 


In response: October 22, 1999

J. Christopher Couch
Corporate Counsel
SCI Management Corporation
P.O. Box 130548
Houston, TX 77219-0548

Dear Mr. Couch:

I am delighted to learn that SCI is not levying any finance charges on its new preneed funeral packages, only at need services. I'm sure you'll be pleased to find enclosed copies of my letters- to-the-editor of the respective papers where I had also made accusations about what I thought were SCI's outrageous finance charges. I am happy to let others know there will be no finance charges at all on preneed with SCI, if SCI is the funeral home of choice. I will certainly post an equivalent message on our FAMSA~Funeral Consumers Alliance web site and will make a similar disclaimer on the Yahoo stockholders bulletin board, starting with a copy of your letter to me, of course, followed by a copy of this.

While I know that you can't control what the pesky media report, I trust you do realize that I was responding to news articles that appeared to parrot SCI press material. In the Louisville paper, the term "preneed" never appeared, but your spokesperson, Rybarski, is cited in reference to funeral "planning." That is preneed, is it not? And these plans are "transferable between SCI's 1,300 North American homes [and] can be financed at rates from 12.9 percent to 21 percent." One doesn't usually "transfer" a body once it's buried at need. How did the paper get the idea it might be?

Because it is often hard to collect the bill once a body has been buried, many funeral homes are reluctant to finance funeral charges (though small-town funeral homes have done so for years). This is, indeed, a revelation if SCI is launching at need financing for the needy in two major cities. That being the case, those reading your press materials obviously missed the point. Perhaps you should re-contact the papers, as well, to straighten them out.

I think all Americans are accustomed to paying interest on money they borrow to purchase items and services they use now—a home, a car, a meal at a restaurant or a pair of shoes paid for by credit card. So the idea of financing at need arrangements will be appreciated by many. But the idea of paying a finance charge on services and merchandise that will be used sometime in the future without even knowing when does defy economic logic, does it not?

I know I'll need another car in a few years (just like people know they re going to die). The 1993 Geo I drive was "used" when I bought it, but I certainly am not going to go to a car dealer and say, "Gee, I'll need a car within the next few years—maybe one year, maybe five—would you do me the favor of letting me pay you for a new car now . . . and by the way, I'd be glad to add a little extra in finance charges if you'll lock in the price . . . at least for most of what I've ordered." I trust this makes the point about how usurious any finance charges appear to be for prepaid funerals.

So, if you can assure me in writing that there will be no finance charges—at any rate, 21% or otherwise—for prepaid SCI funeral arrangements—in Louisville, Phoenix, or anywhere else—I'll be happy to post a retraction on our web site, on the Yahoo stockholders' bulletin board, and anywhere else you request.

Sincerely,

Lisa Carlson
Executive Director

cc: FAMSA legal committee

 


Mr. Couch responded later that day:

"This letter will confirm that there are no finance charges imposed on Dignity Memorial Plan prearranged funeral agreements."

I guess I was wrong about that part and, per my agreement with SCI, do hereby apologize if I misled the public in any way in earlier statements.

However, I do not rest easy. The laws are very different for financial transactions with a funeral home and financial transactions with a cemetery even though a consumer thinks of a "funeral" as involving both. I would caution consumers who might be purchasing such a plan to see if the entire purchase is written on a "Dignity" funeral home contract. Or is the casket (and any other merchandise such as a vault or cremation urn) written up on a cemetery contract not labeled "Dignity," with a finance charge added? Is the family also considering cemetery space and services for which there will be a finance charge?

SCI owns its own funeral insurance company. Consumers may be offered payment terms for purchasing this insurance to pay for the "Dignity" plan. It may or may not be a good idea. If you can't afford to pay for the whole thing at once and are making monthly payments, what happens if you can't keep up the payments? Will you get anything back? How much compared to what you paid? Are you being pressured to purchase more insurance than the funeral contract calls for? Are the casket and other items included? Do all the figures on the paperwork match?

It always pays to plan ahead. It rarely pays to pay ahead. People change their minds for any number of reasons—moving, divorce, remarriage, death while traveling, changing from body burial to cremation, or coming upon hard times and deciding to spend less. Maybe even deciding to use a different funeral home. Buyer beware.

 

Barbara Osborne Sues Batesville Casket

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The Jig Is Up

(The following is an excerpt from the casket chapter in "Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love," available through the FCA bookstore.)
There is no amount of embalming or any particular casket that will preserve a body in a life-like condition forever. But perhaps history has to repeat itself several times before the industry will stop perpetrating such myths. One of the cases that Melvin Belli won early in his career resulted in a significant sum for a son whose mother rotted in the bronze sealer casket he'd purchased to protect her. Now a Mississippi funeral home and Batesville Casket Company are facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit charging similar casket fraud.

Barbara Osborne had no reservations about spending $4,000 for Daddy's "protective" copper casket. Two months later when she went to place flowers for Father's Day—the casket was "stinking to high heaven." Batesville took four months to respond. A video of the rotting flesh confirmed Barbara's worst fears.

"Protective," says the Batesville guarantee that Barbara was given. The Batesville website goes even further: "The urge to keep our loved ones protected and safe is fundamental to all of us. No wonder so many families are comforted by the ability to protect their loved ones with the Batesville Monoseal protective casket." It's going to keep out air, water, and other elements, we're told.

The dictionary definition of protection is "to keep from harm." Yes, the gasketed casket may keep out any bugs that didn't accidently get closed inside in the first place, but Batesville doesn't bother to reveal that—by keeping air out—a sealed casket (in anything but the most frigid weather) becomes a slow cooker that will turn the body into a smelly stew.

Some funeral directors are awakening to the problems presented by sealer caskets. One recently wrote to Mortuary Management (June '98): "Sealer caskets are in danger of being identified as an alleged consumer fraud that funeral service has been a party to for far too many years. . . . Funeral service should finally divorce itself from this emerging identity."

 


In 1988, the FTC charged Batesville with making false claims and misrepresentation. Read for yourself the FTC charge and the final consent agreement.
 

Pittsburgh Catholic Funerals

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Pittsburgh Catholic Funerals

Pennsylvania law states:

 

Funeral Director Law, PS 63: 479.2 . . . The term "funeral director" shall also mean a person who makes arrangements for funeral service and who sells funeral merchandise to the public incidental to such service or who makes financial arrangements for the rendering of such services and the sale of such merchandise.
It would appear that ONLY funeral directors may sell financing that is specific to your funeral plans.

 

The Pittsburgh diocese, however, announced a few months ago that it was setting up "The Catholic Funeral Plan" to promote with their own sales people. According to the functionaries I talked with there, the aim of the plan is to:

  • Spread the mission of mercy
  • Minister to the grieving
  • Protect the teachings of the church and liturgy.
At first blush, the insurance might sound like a good deal—transferrable, excess funds refundable to estate or family (not likely to happen given funeral inflation), and built-in "inflation-protection" for families. However, funeral inflation far exceeds general inflation, which is measured by the consumer price index (CPI). At the current low CPI rates, the so-called "inflation protection" isn't likely to kick in, EVEN IF FUNERAL INFLATION is rampant! (Is this inflation protection promise misleading?) Oh, yes, the 4% guaranteed rate of growth is probably no favor to consumers. You can get 5% or more with a CD in your local bank.

The poor in the Pittsburgh district who buy these policies may be at special risk. With the estate or family—not the funeral director—named as the beneficiary of the insurance policy, such a policy will likely be considered an asset for Medicaid purposes and may have to be cashed in before Medicaid will pick up any medical expenses. Cash value of any insurance policy is pennies on the dollar. (Two sons in New Jersey had already paid $7,000 on a $10,000 insurance policy to cover their mother's funeral. When she had a stroke and moved to a nursing home, they had to cash it in. What did they get back? $3,476!!)

Let's assume you've got plenty of money to spend for a funeral. How much funeral insurance will each Pittsburgh Catholic family need? The Catholic Funeral Plan (CFP) has invited local funeral directors to send over their General Price Lists (GPL) along with info on any package pricing the funeral home offers. Now why would CFP need price lists if it were selling just insurance, not funerals? It is this maneuver that sounds suspiciously as if CFP is making "financial arrangements for the rendering of such services," an activity restricted in Pennsylvania to funeral directors. Unless the CFP agents are duly licensed by the state as undertakers, it would seem that showing a specific funeral home price list prior to selling funeral insurance could land someone in jail for up to a year plus a $1,000 fine. And does that make the funeral director an accomplice—if using an unlicensed agent for marketing to his/her funeral clients?

But there are other consumer considerations. There will be enormous pressure on the family to choose a body-present-at-the-church type of funeral even though the Catholic church now accepts and offers memorial masses as well as funeral masses. The CFP spokesman, Matthew Cahalan, was quite definite that a funeral mass is "preferred." For a struggling family, it sounds as if it may be an uphill battle to get the CFP agent to cooperate with a lesser-cost funeral plan such as immediate cremation or burial. The fact that the agent gets a much larger commission when selling an expensive funeral insurance plan is an irresistable incentive to promote expensive funerals, and not meeting sales quotes could risk the loss of medical benefits.

After showing a family the GPL from any or all of the cooperating funeral homes, the CFP agent accepts full or partial payment for the insurance policy, then sends the family to the funeral home to write up the actual preneed agreement. (From a strictly practical point of view, how does one purchase a casket sight-unseen or know how much it will cost?)

Many Pittsburgh area funeral directors are up in arms. With an aggressive sales team that doesn't want to take "no" for an answer, the Catholic diocese will be foisting a funeral financing plan on its congregations, a plan that has some unfair-to-funeral-directors factors built in. What are the tenets that the local morticians must accept in order to get a referral from CFP?

  • As soon as a death occurs, the funeral director must put any Catholic family in touch with the church. [Not a big deal probably.]
  • The funeral director must agree to accept the proceeds of the policy as payment in full. [With funeral inflation running 5-7% a year and interest on the policy guaranteed at only 4%, who's stuck with the loss?]
  • The funeral director may not charge extra for driving the body to the church. [Why should the funeral director do this for free for the Catholics when all other customers may legitimately be charged for this service?]
That funeral directors are upset and saying so is evidenced by this letter from the lawyer for CFP:

 

Patrick T. Lanigan
Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home
700 Linden Avenue
East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15112

Re. The Catholic Funeral Plan

Dear Mr. Lanigan:

Remarks about the illegality of The Catholic Funeral Plan (the "Plan") and adverse consequences to funeral directors who choose to participate in the Plan have been attributed to you. You are hereby advised that we are legal representatives to the Plan in the area of compliance with the Pennsylvania Funeral Director Law, Federal Trade Commission Rule Regulating Funeral Industry Practices and other applicable federal and state laws, rules and regulations. ["Applicable"? I thought these laws and regulations applied to funeral directors, not insurance folks.] On the facts as we understand them, we believe, first, that you [sic] remarks are incorrect and, second, that your conduct is actionable on the grounds of tortious interference with contractual relations, trade slander/libel, restraint of trade and promotion of secondary boycotting.

You are well aware of your remarks to funeral directors and others involved directly or indirectly with the Plan that give rise to these causes of action. If you do not cease and desist from making these remarks, we will institute suit against you and your business. Being so advised, we trust you will act accordingly.

 

Sincerely,

James, Smith, Durking & Connelly LLP

Gary L. James

Speaking of tortuous interference, perhaps some excerpts from the Pittsburgh Catholic cemetery telephone script will be of interest to consumers. (Shared with the FCA office by a person troubled by the hard-sell tactics expected—and quotas required if a sales rep is to keep his/her medical insurance benefits.)

A free booklet titled "Emergency Record File" is the prop for getting cemetery sales people in the front door. The booklet consists of a few blank forms on which to list personal information, family members, medical information, asset information, and funeral/cemetery information that would, no doubt, be of help at a time of death—simple to fill out, certainly not "confusing."

 

When prospecting from the parish list, the only objection that needs to be handled on the initial approach is: "I'M NOT INTERESTED."

THEM: I'm/We're not interested.

YOU: I can certainly understand how you feel. You're probably not interested in buying cemetery property are you? [Empathy approach, agree with them.]

THEM: That's right, etc.

YOU: Well, Mary, you would have shocked me if you said that you were, but I'll still give you the book because I'm sure you would agree that sooner or later everyone has to do this whether they are interested or not. The Church feels that if we can give you a book which would help you and your family, then when you are ready, you will be better prepared (slight pause). What's usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer options)

NOTE: The key to any approach is to end your side of the conversation with a question. This keeps you in control of the conversation and gives you the opportunity to keep probing for a convenient time to come back with the book.. . .

THEM: Can't you just give me (or mail me) the book and information?

YOU: Mary, what we have found in the past is that when we have just left the book without explaining it, it created more questions than it answered for Catholic families. Mary, other families that have received this book have found it extremely valuable and helpful. The Church just wants families to have as much information as possible so as to be prepared ahead of time. That just makes good sense doesn't it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband afternoon or evenings? (continue to offer options.)

Note: All other specific objections need not be handled on the initial approach. The proper method to handle these objections is to avoid dealing with them unless they would result with you not being able to visit with the family. Regardless of what form this objection may take, here is how to handle that objection:

YOU: THAT'S PERFECTLY OK, (Magic words!) Mary you are still entitled to the book. The Church feels that it is important that every Catholic family should have this information prior to the time it is needed. We feel it is better to have the information and not need it than to need it and not have it. That just makes good sense doesn't it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer times.)

 

Play mental ping-pong.
An objection is only a request for more information.

 

What happened to the Catholic mission of mercy and Church teachings about charity?
 


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