Due to the changing nature of the Death Care Industry recently, it’s helpful to define the roles played by the three traditional main sectors: funeral homes, cemeteries, and monument retailers. Other “sub-sectors” do exist, such as casket manufacturers, vault suppliers, florists, etc., whose products and services are usually arranged by one of the main sectors. Their influence on the consumer will not be specified separately, but only in conjunction with their effect through one of the three main sectors.
Separation of the Sectors
For most of recorded history in North America, the three main sectors have been separate, each performing its own duties for the consumer. This separation has permitted the consumer to shop for a satisfactory price and mix of the products and services desired.
It has been determined by grief therapists that the period of grieving needed by someone who has lost a loved one varies from several weeks to many months. In this extended time period, a survivor has to grasp the finality of the loss, learn to cope with that loss, and once again become a functioning member of society. The currently accelerating practice of combining the monument sale with the funeral arrangements, or cemetery property purchase, places an undue burden on the survivors when dealing with memorialization. Many are unable to properly consider the meaningfulness of the memorialization offered and its value in the overall grieving process. They have asked to consider memorialization. However, when the separate sectors provide their distinctive services and products, the survivors can choose to pursue memorialization, as they feel comfortable to do so.
Level Playing Field
An additional benefit to the separation of the three main sectors is the consumer’s right to choose the time and the place for doing business. This permits the consumer to operate on a level playing field, where no one sector has the ability to take advantage of an emotional situation and turn it to the consumer’s disadvantage. No cross ownership between the three sectors would be a step in the direction of a level playing field. Another benefit of this position is the elimination of questionable or illegal tie-in sales.
Cooling off Period
It is helpful to have a cooling off period for postponable purchases. This cooling-off period should be a minimum of fourteen days following a death. During this time, no one would be permitted to approach the survivors to solicit the sale of a monument or related services.
All business within each sector should disclose and post in a public place their true ownership. There should be full and free disclosure to the public of cemetery rules and regulations. Disclosure would enable the consumer to make an informed choice.
Trusting of Care Funds
There is a need of oversight of the care funds of cemeteries and the pre-need funds of all sectors. Standard accounting practices should be required to prevent the listing of trusted care funds as assets on balance sheets. All sectors, which sell pre-need items, should have the same trusting rights, requirements and rules.
All cemeteries should be required to pay taxes, as do other businesses in the death care industry, if they sell products other than grave spaces.
There should be consumer oversight committees set up to monitor the practices of the death care industry. Boards or commissions now in effect should have consumer members and new committees are needed where they are now lacking. Boards or commissions should consist of members of the three sectors plus consumer members(s). All the voting members of any given Board should be lay people (that is, consumers) to avoid self-serving decisions. The advisory staff should include one member from each of the three sectors plus legal counsel, none of whom may be related to one another through a parent corporation or in any other way.
A government agency, whether federal or state/provincial, should be available for consumers to turn to for help when they fear abuses in the death care industry. In those states and provinces, which presently have agencies, the agencies’ mission statements should be reviewed to assure that they are truly serving the consumer and incorporating the areas mentioned above. Separate licensure or registration should be required or each sector with no crossover or duality (an entity holding more than one such license). Two or more sectors should not occupy the same location, either by ownership or leave. Further, the FTC “Funeral Rule” should be expanded to include all sectors