by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

I work at a small family owned casket factory in Los Angeles that has been around since 1933.  The Let the Corpses Decay posts from last week captured a few of the peculiarities of funerals, but neither mentioned the grotesqueness of funeral industry overpricing. Funerals are overpriced mostly because of mortuaries and partially due to people’s lack of awareness of how to shop for a funeral (e.g. people usually spend an extra thousand dollars by shopping at cemeteries instead of through cemetery brokers). The biggest price gouging normally occurs at mortuaries.  Large mortuaries are usually very overpriced, but sometimes local mom and pop mortuaries are worse.  Even though the FTC attempted to regulate exorbitant funeral prices with the Funeral Rule in 1984 and put a stop to a number of deceptive marketing tactics, mortuaries have developed new sales tricks.  Prior to the Funeral Rule, mortuaries could refuse to accept outside caskets.  This allowed them to put exorbitant mark-ups of 2.5 to 7 times the cost of the caskets they would then resell.

After the Funeral Rule, some casket manufacturers sold directly to the public, and a savvy consumer could cut thousands of dollars out of a funeral transaction.  This is still possible; however, mortuaries have a number of methods to keep this from happening.  One is offering people “package deals” which sell a funeral service and a casket together, promising huge savings on the casket.  Listed prices for the casket and funeral savings are deliberately inflated to have no bearing on their real value, just to give the illusion of huge savings after their costs to the consumer are “cut.”  The remaining mark-up after the so-called “savings” is what is really huge.

Mortuaries now try to lock families into using them by adding an exorbitant corpse movement fee (it used to be about $400 a few months ago, now it is frequently over $1000).  Bodies are often taken to mortuaries in a rush because the need to immediately refrigerate them leaves people with 2-3 hours to find a place for them.  If a family discovers their mortuary is grossly overpriced and wants to move the body elsewhere, it may be too late because the unreasonable thousand plus dollar moving fee removes potential savings (trapping the family at that overpriced mortuary). Newly bereaved individuals or families often are short of time and energy and do not take the proper precautions of shopping around for a fairly priced casket, cemetery, and mortuary instead taking the path of least resistance (the predatory sales packages that many heavily marketed mortuaries “generously” offer their customers).

Considering the costliness of funerals, failure to properly prepare for them in advance often ends up costing thousands of dollars extra per funeral. This is not to say that pre-purchasing a casket is a good idea either since many of these arrangements also sell an overpriced product, or disappear from bankruptcy before the person for whom the casket was bought dies and fail to reimburse them.

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