Mortuary Management recently ran a short editorial criticizing cemeteries, stating “we can only conclude that cemeteries will, in the long run, be the losers”, and “it may be time for a reevaluation of standards and staunch principles of the past”. The editorial is nothing more than a handful of comments from anonymous funeral directors about interment charges, and a vague criticism of cemeteries. However, the quotes are representative of the friction that frequently exists between the funeral home and the cemetery that maintain an adversarial relationship while seeking to serve the same families. All too often, families get caught in the middle of that competition, and in the long run, everyone loses.
The funeral home often has the initial contact with the family, and it is natural that the funeral director will attempt to provide as much of the final arrangement as possible. The family often leaves the funeral home believing that everything has been taken care of. But as the quotes from the editorial indicate, the cemetery will charge the family for opening and closing the burial space. There may also be cemetery charges for weekend interments, the rental of a tent, vault installation charges, second interment rights and memorial installation charges.
The editorial seems to suggest that cemeteries are solely to blame when families are surprised by such charges. In that cemeteries are not subject to the General Price List disclosure requirements of the FTC’s Funeral Rule, funeral directors may not have access to information about what the cemetery charges. The same may be true for monument dealers who need to know about marker restrictions, setting fees and care charges. Unfortunately, some cemeteries view lot owners as their customers, and do attempt to keep the funeral director and monument dealer “in the dark”. If the intent of the editorial was to call out this practice, then the criticism is appropriate.
However, many cemeteries do publish their services, restrictions and fee requirements. The funeral director has no duty to ensure that the family understands all of the cemetery’s services and charges, but he/she does a disservice to the family when omitting that information from the arrangement meeting, and then subsequently assigning blame to the cemetery.
As the editorial suggests, the funeral home and the cemetery are going to experience a decline in their traditional services. It is time for both to reevaluate the “standards and staunch principles” established by their competition. The funeral home and cemetery under common ownership has an economic advantage over its independent competitors. The ‘combo’ operator can package funeral and burial selections to provide the consumer a more competitive price, and better ensure the consumer understands the cemetery requirements.