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Colorado Passes Mixed Up Funeral Laws

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Colorado's HB 1202 was signed into law by the governor in summer, 2009. (See our earlier post about this troubling bill). While the final version did amend some of the most troubling provisions, the law remains murky and contradictory. The rights of families to care for their own dead without hiring commercial funeral homes are preserved. In addition, nonprofit organizations that educate and support families who choose home funerals are exempt from state oversight. But as always, the devil is in the details. . .

The Good:

  • Nonprofit organizations—such as FCA's chapter in Colorado, or Natural Transitions, a group that supports families who direct their own funerals—are exempt from registering with the state. This preserves their right to educate the public on how to prepare and care for their own dead privately.
  • People who merely sell funeral goods, such as caskets and urns, aren't required to undertake onerous and irrelevant mortuary training.

The Bad:

  • Sloppy grammar leads to confusion. The law says that "a person" can't "offer the services of" a "mortuary science practitioner" or "funeral director" unless that person is working out of a registered funeral establishment. But the next sentence says "Nor shall the funeral establishment sell or offer to sell funeral goods or funeral services to the public." So, what's being regulated - people or "establishments?"
  • Even worse, the definition of "mortuary science practitioner" (remember, this is a category that requires registration and onerous training under the law) includes anyone who "arranges, directs, or supervises funerals, memorial services, or graveside services." Will your preacher be cited for illegally acting as a "mortuary science practitioner?" Will a secular celebrant be charged with illegal practice for renting a room, planning a buffet, and delivering a eulogy?

The Baffling — Colorado now has the most draconian training and apprenticeship standards for funeral workers of any state. Contrary to the claims of industry trade groups, these aren't just requirements that apply to people who "represent themselves" as "having certain professional titles." The law states that no one can offer the services of any of these professional designations without registering with the state, and the clear implication is that anyone who actually performs these services has to meet these ridiculously high standards:

  • Anyone who calls himself a "mortuary science practioner" has to have at least 2,000 hours (50 weeks) practicing or interning, and has to have graduated from a mortuary school (a dubious achievement, given their low standards).
  • Anyone who calls himself a funeral director must have 2,000 hours of practice or interning, and have directed 50 funerals or graveside services.
  • Anyone who calls himself an embalmer must have spent 4,000 hours (almost two years!) interning, on at least 50 bodies.
  • Anyone who calls himself a "cremationist" must have cremated at least 50 bodies. Um, we're sorry to sound crude, but cremating dead people is not rocket science, and it should not take 50 attempts to learn how to turn on the crematory and pulverize the remains to return them to the family.
Last Updated ( Friday, 15 January 2010 13:25 )
 

Wal-Mart Enters Casket Business

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Following Costco's lead, Wal-Mart is now selling caskets to the general public. Reuters reports:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is now catering to its shoppers' needs from cradle to grave.The world's largest retailer has introduced online sales of caskets, expanding a merchandise selection that spans engagement rings and baby gear to a new major milestone in its shoppers' lives.

Shoppers can choose from the Lady de Guadalupe steel casket for $895 or a sienna bronze casket for $2,899.00.Walmart.com spokesman Ravi Jariwala said it is selling the products as a "limited beta test" that launched within the last few weeks.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:52 )
 

AARP Bulletin Features FCA; Smart Advice

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October 5, 2009 --- AARP Bulletin tells the stories of several families with out-of-control funeral costs, and how you can avoid getting taken to the cleaners when you buy a final send-off. The article has good information on home funerals (DIY, no mortuary involved) and green burial, too. Excerpts:

"After her husband of 35 years died unexpectedly while working in Louisiana, Beckey Poplin of Lubbock, Texas, needed to use insurance proceeds to pay a local funeral home more than $16,000. She told local TV station KCBD that she wasn’t given a price quote before receiving the final bill, didn’t know how to read the contract and wasn’t sure what was included. Asked why she hadn’t requested a price estimate, she told the station, “You don’t do that at that time. You don’t really care. You have other issues to deal with.”

. . .
There is a way to avoid pressure tactics and indecision at the funeral home, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance. It advises families to discuss funeral plans in advance, much like they would if they were planning a wedding, a home purchase or making a major life decision. Avoiding the topic will make the funeral more difficult, and likely more expensive, for survivors."

Last Updated ( Monday, 02 November 2009 17:55 )
 

Congress Introduces Bill to Protect All Funeral Consumers: Bill Expands Rules to Cover Cemeteries

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Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) is pleased to support The Bereaved Consumer’s Bill of Rights Act of 2009, introduced as HR 3655 by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL). The bill sets national standards for the protection of funeral and cemetery consumers — a goal FCA’s federation of nonprofit consumer education groups has been striving for since the 1970s. The Act will direct the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen and expand the Funeral Rule, which currently applies only to funeral homes, but not cemeteries. The Bill requires the FTC to enact rules that will:

  • Compel cemeteries to give consumers accurate prices before the sale
  • Give cemetery consumers the right to buy only the goods and services they want; families will be able to buy markers, monuments, or grave vaults from less expensive retail vendors rather than being captive to the cemetery’s prices
  • Bar cemeteries from forcing families to buy entire packages of goods or services, if the family wants to choose item by item
  • Require cemeteries to disclose rules and regulations, and consumer rights, before the purchase
  • Require cemeteries to keep accurate records of all burials sold, and where remains are interred, and to make those records available to regulators
  • Bar cemeteries from lying about the law - claiming state laws “require” vaults to surround an in-ground casket, for example

Cremation-only businesses (those that aren't part of a funeral home) that serve the  public directly will also be subject to the price disclosures and consumer rights the Rule currently mandates for funeral homes.  The bill will also require retail monument dealers and casket-sellers to offer accurate price information to consumers and refrain from misrepresenting legal requirements.

“When a friend or relative dies, families are in shock, they’re confused about their options, and they’re vulnerable to misinformation and high-pressure sales pitches,” said FCA executive director Joshua Slocum. “The FTC Funeral Rule has helped correct some of these problems, but only when families are at the funeral home. Rep. Rush’s bill extends those protections through the whole funeral transaction.”

The Bereaved Consumer’s Protection Act grew out of a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on July 27, after the discovery that 300 graves may have been dug up and resold at Chicago’s historic Burr Oak Cemetery. FCA executive director Joshua Slocum testified before lawmakers, urging them to take a broader look at an industry riddled with deceptive practices that take advantage of vulnerable families. While heart-wrenching scandals like Burr Oak grab headlines, he said, many ongoing abuses of funeral and cemetery consumers never make the news and get swept under the rug. FCA offered Congressional staff comments on what provisions the bill should include, and we’re very pleased with the final product.

About FCA: Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., is a nonprofit federation of nearly 100 local organizations that educate the public about sensible funeral planning and stand guard against exploitation of grieving consumers. Founded in 1963, the federation helped push for the successful enactment of the FTC Funeral Rule in 1982, the first national regulations to curb funeral industry abuses. For more information or interviews, contact executive director Joshua Slocum at 802-865-8300, or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated ( Sunday, 01 September 2013 15:26 )
 

Advocacy in Action in Cleveland

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Why join a Funeral Consumers Alliance group? Because you won't find a better source of practical, in-depth, pro-consumer advice on how to choose a funeral that fits your taste and budget  without being scammed. FCA's Cleveland affiliate, the Cleveland Memorial Society (CMS), has produced one of the best newsletters we've ever seen. While it's geared to a local audience, the newsletter is jam-packed with practical advice and incisive commentary on funeral industry practices and consumer empowerment. It includes:

  • The story of how CMS convinced an Amish woodworker to make affordable ($175) wood coffins for members when funeral homes were charging $200 for flimsy cardboard.
  • A cautionary tale about prepaying for your funeral, and all the financial trouble this kind of purchase can bring. Includes an analysis of how state law fails to protect funeral consumers sufficiently, and how buyers can protect themselves.
  • A first-person report on Ohio's first green cemetery - a burial ground that allows natural burial without embalming, metal caskets, and concrete vaults, while keeping the grounds in a natural, beautiful state.
Read the whole newsletter here. If you like what you see, consider joining your local Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Last Updated ( Monday, 05 October 2009 20:02 )
 


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