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Debt after Death: WREG investigates the high costs of funerals, surveys local homes

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- If you've ever visited the website of a funeral home, you'll notice options for fancy cars, and even details on where to find food and speakers. However, what`s often missing is information about how much all of it costs.

New research indicates some funeral homes don't do a good job of disclosing prices, especially online.

A WREG investigation also found that getting precise details about costs can be difficult even when speaking to funeral directors over the phone.

One might say that planning such a ceremony often only takes place in person, but even then, information about costs can be difficult to understand.

Funeral homes sell lots of services and products in packages.

Not to mention, if families are dealing with a death, the entire process can be overwhelming.

"When you go to arrange a funeral and you have not thought about this at all, you have done no pre-planning, you can most certainly be taken advantage of," says Furniss Harkness.

Harkness is the pastor of Bethany Christian Church in Eads, TN.

However, NewsChannel 3 spoke with him because he's the Chair of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the MidSouth.

"You're looking at some of these funeral homes, $15,000 to $20,000 dollars for a funeral...is easily done," explained Harkness regarding costs.

He added, "Funeral Consumers Alliance exists to try to change the culture and to get people to be aware that if you shop around, the costs can come down."

However, in a recent study, the national FCA found lots of funeral homes don't disclose prices online which could make it harder for consumers to compare.

The research also revealed one of the largest death care companies, Service Corporation International, whose main brand is Dignity Memorial, charges prices some 70% higher than independent funeral homes, for certain services.

Harkness says in general, families should understand, funeral homes are in the bottom line business too.

"Business wise for me, what am I trying to do? I'm trying to make money for myself and my business. We're trying to tell people, you need to have that same mind set, that I am trying to save money for myself and my family."

So how can a MidSouth family save, what are prices like in our area? WREG called 30 funeral homes to ask about prices for three specific services.

We used a 2014 survey Harkness and the FCA of the Midsouth completed as a guide.

WREG asked each funeral home for prices for the following:

  • Simple/Direct Cremation (Transporting body, completing paperwork, cremation, return of remains to family)
  • Simple/Immediate Burial (No embalming, price of casket not included)
  • Full Service Funeral (Service fee for typical funeral, price of casket not included)

Findings:

Simple/Direct Cremation

  • Least expensive-$745
  • Most expensive-$4790

Simple/Immediate Burial

  • Least expensive-$945
  • Most expensive-$6670

Full Service Funeral

  • Least expensive-$2,000
  • Most expensive-$8,000 (this was the average cost at this particular funeral home)

Regarding the prices, Harkness says their research has shown there's not big difference in what's provided with simple cremations.

As far as the funerals he said, "High end funeral homes would claim that they have superior services and products."

Harkness says he can't speak to that.

What he does say is families should consider what they can afford, and do it long before someone actually needs a funeral.

"When we allow ourselves to get into a position where our emotions rule, we end up spending way more than we can afford. "

WREG Survey Information/Observations

  • 30 funeral homes surveyed (two could not be reached for information)
  • 6 listed prices online (some only provided package prices)
  • Several didn't have websites, some had Facebook pages
  • Dignity Memorial locations were more expensive
  • Prices varied dramatically and getting exact figures was sometimes difficult
  • Quotes for full service funerals were a bit more difficult to obtain. Most provided an estimate, average or package price with a casket. In some cases, WREG was able to simply get the funeral home's "service charge".
  • Most staff members directed calls to a funeral director to answer price questions
  • Some provided details by quoting directly from a price list
  • Several funeral homes offered to mail a price list

Your Legal Rights

  • Funeral homes must provide price information over the phone when requested
  • Callers don't have to provide a name, or additional contact details
  • Funeral homes must provide a breakdown of services, called a "General Price List" when requested in person

What is a General Price List and how do I read it?

Read more about your rights when planning a funeral

Cost/Pricing Checklist

The Federal Trade Commission will be reviewing regulations in 2018 regarding funeral homes. The FCA and other advocacy groups plan to push for mandatory online pricing.

Additional Recommendations from MidSouth FCA:

  • Don't ignore idea of death
  • Plan ahead
  • "Pre-plan, not pre-pay"
  • Set aside money in separate account for funeral expenses for yourself and loved ones

WREG Survey