What is a Funeral Consumers Alliance?
We are a non-profit, educational consumers organization, committed to providing information to consumers. We want to protect everyone's right to choose a simple, meaningful, economical, dignified funeral or memorial service.
Who runs it?
We are a democratic organization, with unpaid directors and officers elected from the membership.
We are not connected in any way with cemeteries or with funeral establishments, nor is there any religious affiliation.
Our work is done by volunteers.
Why do Funeral Consumers Alliances exist?
The "American way of death" is the most elaborate and costly in the world. Competition in the usual sense is absent in the funeral business. Yet, paradoxically, there are too many mortuaries; half of them receive only one or two cases a week. Their prices must be high to stay in business, while those with more cases reap great profit at the consumer's expense. Recently, as small, family-run funeral homes have been purchased by large corporations, there has been pressure to increase profits for the benefit of shareholders. In the process, consumers have sometimes suffered. Most funeral homes use ethical practices, but a few do not. The Federal Trade Commission conducted a nation-wide survey and found that "the emotional trauma of bereavement, the lack of information plus time pressures, place the consumer at an enormous disadvantage in making funeral arrangements." Based on its findings, the Commission created a set of rules in 1984 to regulate the funeral industry. Some of the reports to the FTC that prompted regulation against questionable practices included the following:
• Many undertakers refused to give price information over the phone, making it extremely difficult for the consumer to compare prices upon the death of a loved one. And once the body was sent to a mortuary, few next-of-kin were willing to move it to another mortuary if the price was higher then expected.
• Funerals were usually sold as a package, rather than on an item-by-item basis that would permit the consumer to eliminate the cost of unwanted materials or services.
• Morticians frequently advanced payments — to florists, pallbearers, and clergy — for which the consumer was billed at an increased cost.
• Consumers often were given inaccurate information.
• Low-priced coffins were kept out of sight or in out-of-the-way places in a funeral establishment, or displayed in colors which would discourage their selection.
In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission made undercover shopping trips to see if funeral homes were complying with the Funeral Rule, which has been in place since 1984, requiring funeral homes to provide printed, itemized price lists of their products and services. The FTC found that 25% of the funeral homes had "significant violations." Others had "minor deficiencies." We believe there is still a need to monitor the industry carefully.
Information is a funeral consumer's best self-defense against manipulation by less-than-ethical undertakers. To support the public service work of FCA, and to gain useful information for your family, join today!
What does it cost to join?
There is a one-time fee of $30 per adult for membership. Fill out an application and an instruction form to let your survivors know what your wishes are.
Should I pay for my funeral in advance?
We do not recommend prepaying in most cases. Some of what you pay will go toward commissions and administrative costs. Also, you may move away or change your mind. In addition, the funeral home may go out of business or be bought up by a chain of mortuaries that might not honor your wishes in the way you expected.
What is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service?
The body is usually present at a funeral service. With a memorial service, the body is not present. It is disposed of separately, by burial, by cremation or by donating organs or the whole body to research.
A memorial service can be held at any time that is convenient for family and friends, at a church, a park, a home or any place you choose. You can schedule a memorial service without worrying about preserving the body for viewing.
Does the law require embalming?
California does not require embalming unless a body will be moved by public transportion. If a body must be preserved a long time before cremation or burial, then it must be embalmed or refrigerated.
Of course, you may want embalming if it is important to you that relatives be able to view your body before it is buried or cremated.
The Cemetery and Funeral Bureau of the California Department of Consumer Affairs provides information on the current laws in California. They have an on-line CONSUMER GUIDE TO FUNERAL AND CEMETERY PURCHASES. It may also be ordered, free, from the Department, 400 R Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Att: Funerals. It contains a glossary of terms, suggestions for families, up-to-date legal information, answers to a host of questions on burial, cremation and other matters of interest to consumers. There are also instructions for filing a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Also, the national Funeral Consumers' Alliance dispels some of the common misinformation on this subject. Click on their link to "Frequently Asked Questions."
Are there rules I must follow in planning my funeral or memorial gatherings?
Absolutely not. However, many FCA members believe money spent on elaborate funerals and expensive coffins could better be spent on the living. Some members, not all, prefer simpler arrangements. The choice should be yours. Your options include the following:
• No embalming. Many FCA members choose to be buried or cremated without embalming. Funeral directors often promote embalming, but it is not necessary. In fact, embalming is not required by law in normal cases. Various laws do apply if a body is being transported across state lines or is shipped by public transportation. There is no lasting effect served by embalming. When the body is cremated or buried immediately, a memorial service, without the body present, may be scheduled later to suit the convenience of distant family members.
• No cosmetic make-up or open-casket viewing. Some FCA members feel there is no need for a body to be made to look "natural" and displayed in an open coffin. Family members who wish to say their good-byes are encouraged to do so before the funeral.
• A simple low-cost coffin.
• A simple personalized service. Many FCA members prefer to have a memorial service in a church, park, a home or other suitable location without the body present. Some choose a simple graveside ceremony; others prefer no ceremony at all. The decision is up to you.
Your Instruction Form gives you the opportunity to specify the kind of arrangements you wish. You make the decision.
(Parts of this answer were adapted from the Funeral Consumers Alliance © 1999.)
What if I change my mind about my funeral wishes?
Many people do modify their wishes. Simply fill out a new Instruction form, and distribute it to all your family and friends who might be involved in disposal of your body.
What happens if I move after I join?
If you move locally, please tell us your new address.
If you move out of the area, it is easy to transfer your membership to a similar group, for a minimal charge or sometimes without charge. There are more than a hundred affiliates around the country. We can help you find a Funeral Consumers Alliance near your new home, or check out the national Funeral Consumers Alliance directory.
What happens if I die away from home?
Your next of kin can arrange for cremation near the place of death, and the ashes can be shipped home, if that was your preference. The national Funeral Consumers Alliance has a directory which can provide the name of the nearest affiliated funeral consumers alliance or memorial society.
If your family wants your body shipped home for burial, they should contact the home mortuary which you have chosen for your final arrangements.
For death outside the United States, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can provide assistance.
For more details on all these matters, visit the national Funeral Consumers Alliance webpage, and click on their Frequently Asked Questions.
If I join, must I attend meetings or take part in other ways?
Your involvement can be as great or as little as you choose. As a member you do have a voice in the conduct of your organization's affairs. It is not required, but you are encouraged to attend the annual meeting, at which time you can vote on the election of directors, review financial statements, and provide input on matters of policy. If you wish to become active, volunteer assistance will be appreciated.
Have I forgotten anything?
Please be sure that your family members know what your funeral wishes are. Give written copies of your instructions to anyone who might be involved in your final arrangements.