Funeral homes and cemeteries are businesses that serve families when they are most vulnerable. To guard against exploitation, the death care industry establishes standards of professionalism, and state governments pass laws and regulations. Consumer advocacy plays an important role in educating consumers about these standards, and providing families tools in evaluating death care operators. To best serve their members, consumer advocates must be informed and objective in responding to potential abuses. If not, these organizations can discredit their purpose and damage their relationships with the death care industry.
A Fort Myers newspaper ran a recent story about the frustrations of an elderly couple that wanted to trade in their burial crypts for cremation services. The story indicates the couple had purchased two burial crypts more than a decade ago, and became angry when the cemetery would not provide a credit equal to their original purchase price. The story relies upon Bill Swain, President of the Florida Funeral and Cemetery Consumer Advocacy, to flesh out the facts and to provide a perspective. In doing so, Mr. Swain seems to have spun the facts in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: labeling the cemetery as greedy and disparaging preneed.
In response to the cemetery refusing to re-purchase the burial crypts from the couple, the paper attributes the following to Mr. Swain:
This is one of the drawbacks of prepaying for any funeral needs, ….
Why not just give them the money back when (the cemetery) can sell it for three times as much?
The laws in Florida are on the side of the funeral business, not on the consumers.
It is no secret that consumer advocates oppose preneed, and a casual read of the story would suggest that this is another example of preneed abuse. The couple also has the perception that the cemetery has been earning interest on the funds paid for the burial crypts. However, the story is misleading, and one can question whether Mr. Swain is responsible.
It is not clear from the facts whether the couple even purchased their burial spaces through a preneed contract. If the couple went to the cemetery, paid the purchase price and then received a deed to the spaces, that does not constitute a preneed transaction. If the spaces were purchased through a preneed transaction, the news report indicates the couple own the spaces, and therefore, one can conclude they received the property they contracted to purchase. Consequently, Mr. Swain’s statements are misleading, particularly when you attempt to reconcile the 3rd statement from above with the FFCCA website:
Friends and Neighbors: The Governor signed SB 528, "The Sen. Howard Futch Memorial Act," into law!! We win!!! Whee!! Thank you, ALL of you, both industry and consumerr reps, for the support you gave our good cause. NOW…(you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), we have to stay on top of the process by which the new regulatory structure will be put in place. Please stay alert. The effective date to implement "our" legislation is October 2005. There are lots and lots of critical dates between now and then, and we (FFCCA) will keep you informed. Let’s all take a few deep breaths and yell: "Yeeeee-haw!! Bill Swain
Putting the preneed issue aside, another question is whether Mr. Swain is suggesting that cemeteries should refund a burial space purchase price whenever the owner changes his mind. If so, then it’s fair for the Florida death care industry to question whether Mr. Swain has made the necessary effort to become informed, and whether he can be objective in responding to consumers and reporters.