Almost thirty years ago, associations representing funeral homes, casket suppliers, vault makers, monument builders and life insurers joined together to form the Funeral and Memorialization Information Council (FAMIC). These industries were concerned about the future impact of cremation on the traditional funeral and burial. FAMIC used Wirthlin Worldwide to conduct research studies every 5 years on consumer opinions about funerals and cremation. We did not find any documentation to suggest that any cemetery association belonged to FAMIC in those formative years, or that cemetery associations actively participate in FAMIC today. As a consequence, the research studies have failed to follow up on some key findings regarding consumers and grave ownership.
The Wirthlin reports found that from 1990 through 2004, most consumers began their funeral prearrangement process by purchasing grave spaces. Most of that period was at a time when many funeral homes were discouraging preneed. It was not until 2004 that Wirthlin first included a question about whether consumers had pre-paid for any of their prearrangements through a funeral home or cremation society. Answers to that question reflect that selection of grave spaces was given a higher priority than pre-paying for the funeral.
The Wirthlin reports also reflected that more than half of those surveyed owned cemetery property. After purchasing grave spaces, most families took no further action towards prearrangement such as purchasing a preneed contract from a funeral home or a cremation society. The Wirthlin reports indicate that when the final arrangements were left to surviving children, cost became the overriding factor in completing funeral arrangements.
Wirthlin also found that almost half of the families opting for cremation took the cremains home or scattered the remains at a location other than the cemetery. This would mean that families are not using the grave spaces purchased by their parents. Independent of the Wirthlin studies, antidotal reports indicate that the burial costs (opening/closing services, vault and marker) are the reason families do not use their parents’ grave spaces.
Unlike funeral homes, very few cemeteries offer preneed programs that would allow the parents to prepay opening/closing services, a vault and a marker. Despite the efforts of funeral homes to lower their own funeral costs through prearrangements, unfunded burial costs factor into consumer decisions in favor of cremation. Cemeteries can initiate a preneed program very simply by meeting the needs of existing customers. As many funeral homes do, cemeteries can send out questionnaires to lot owners about their personal disposition preferences and what steps they have taken towards those costs. The cemetery’s top priority should be those families that have already purchased a traditional prearrangement at a funeral home. These will be the families most likely to purchase a cemetery preneed contract for opening/closing services, a vault and a marker.