Ashes Lost In The Mail

Ashes Lost In The Mail

A New York woman is suing the Walter B. Cooke Funeral Home in Manhattan because they returned her mother’s cremated remains to her via postal mail, and they were lost. What most people probably don’t realize is that sending cremated remains via postal mail is surprisingly common. A great many funeral homes receive cremated remains back from the crematory in this way, and use the postal service to get them back to the family in cases where the family can’t or doesn’t want to pick them up. In fact, the practice is  so common the USPS has guidelines about it: they must be shipped Priority Mail Express. And it’s one more reason to do plenty of research about what you want and think you need, before a crisis arises. After all, who would think to ask how cremated remains will be returned to a family?      ...

Funeral Industry Fraud

A new report issued by the Federal Trade Commission or FTC found that funeral home fraud increased in 2014. According to a report on APM’s Marketplace, roughly 1 in 4 funeral homes failed compliance checks by undercover investigators. Those who fail have the option of training their employees in proper compliance through the National Funeral Directors Association, or face civil court action and fines.  Last year, a Westchester county funeral home paid $32,000 in fines for its lack of compliance. The FTC’s Funeral Rule is pretty straight forward: consumers must be presented with a physical copy of the funeral home’s General Price List before arrangements are made or discussed, must be provided with a Casket Price List before viewing and selecting caskets,  and must be provided with an Outer Burial Container Price List before viewing and selecting an outer burial container or vault. Prices must be disclosed on the phone by request, and consumers do not need to provide their name or phone number in order to get them. The Funeral Rule also prohibits funeral homes from packaging services such that consumers are forced to buy products or services they don’t want or need. For instance, if you choose to have a cremation promptly after death, with no viewing or other services, a funeral home can’t require you to purchase embalming or a casket. It was disappointing to see that the National Funeral Directors Association‘s response to this report was the rule is “complicated” and that it is “easy to slip up.” The FTC Funeral Rule was implemented in 1984. It is impossible to become a licensed, professional  funeral...

PrePaid Funerals: Protecting Your Funds

The FBI recently announced convictions of the top officers of National Prearranged Services. The company worked in 19 states, helping people put money for their funerals aside in trusts and insurance policies, and also purchasing prepaid trusts from funeral homes who needed liquidity, and purchasing life insurance policies instead. What the 92,000 victims didn’t know, was NPS officials invested those funds in risky investments, changed the beneficiaries of the insurance policies to themselves, and just plain kept the money for themselves. Victims included individuals, funeral homes, and insurance companies.  After admitting to the $450 million fraud, the company’s founder was sentenced to 115 months in prison, his son got 60 months.  In total, the six people indicted were sentenced to 46 years in prison. So why would you want to pay for a funeral in advance when scams like this seem so rampant? Fortunately, NY is the most regulated state in the nation with regard to funding in advance. By law, all prepaid funeral funds must be placed in an interest-bearing, FDIC backed- account, for which the planner is the sole beneficiary. The only way a funeral home or funeral director can touch those funds is with a death certificate in hand. Most New York Funeral homes use PrePlan, a non-profit master trust backed by the New York State Funeral Directors Association. All funds and interest remain the property of the planner, but by managing so many trusts, they tend to earn a higher interest return.  It has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, and since the funds are always yours, you can move or remove* them at any time....

Funeral Ettiquette and The Mistress

In a recent column of The Ethicist in the New York Times, a reader posed a difficult question: A dying friend asked a man to ensure his mistress was able to attend his funeral, against the wishes of the man’s wife. What to do?  And what should you do when the people who are arguably closer to the person dying, and who know him or her better, are not the ones entitled to make final arrangements? Thanks to a little-known NY State Law,  anyone can appoint an agent to control the disposition of their remains.  This form doesn’t need to be witnessed or even filed with a clerk, and can be revised as often as desired. When first made law, it was intended to help protect gay couples who were being kept from making such decisions or even attending the funerals of their loved ones.  However, in practice, it has had much larger implications: a man can appoint his mistress over his wife, a mother can appoint one child and not the others.  The only area that it gives that person control is in the final disposition- so it doesn’t make you executor of a the will or the controller of the bank accounts. But it can help people ensure their final wishes are carried out in the manner they desire As for the Ethicist- I agree with the writer. If the mistress’ presence will upset the family, she should keep her distance. The funeral is for the family, and they deserve to mourn without distraction....

Funeral Home Price Lists

Did you know funeral homes are required by law  to present you with a General Price List (GPL), Casket Price List (CPL), and Outer Burial Container Price List (OBCPL) whenever they are asked for, and before discussion of any services, goods, or prices takes place? This is a federal law. In fact, the law even dictates how the price lists are structured, mandates certain disclosures, and mandates where on the price list the disclosures must be placed. Funeral homes are not required to mail price lists to people who inquire by phone, but they are required to disclose prices by phone and provide price  lists when such inquiries are in person, regardless of whether or not the person inquiring has lost a loved one, is a competitor, a journalist, or otherwise. Many funeral homes do mail their price lists upon request, and many even wisely publish their price lists on their websites. And when they don’t, they can get in a heap of trouble. A Westchester County funeral home learned this the hard way: John Balsamo, the owner of the Harrison Funeral Home was fined $32,000 and subject to two decades of increased mandated reporting as part of settlement of a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney after they found repeated violations. The U.S. Attorney said the firm was first warned in 2001 that federal authorities knew they were not complying with the FTC Funeral Rule. However, undercover investigators were not given the price lists in four separate incidents in 2010. In a consent decree, the firm admitted to also failing to enroll employees in educational programs intended to prevent such violations.  John Balsamo owns...