Consumer Alert

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Arkansas Attorney General

Consumers should familiarize themselves with the federal "Funeral Rule" when making decisions in the emotional aftermath of a loved one's death. Funeral costs now represent one of the largest expenditures most families will make in a lifetime. Current estimates range from $7,000 to $10,000+ per funeral (including burial plot, vault and monument).

Many funeral providers offer various "packages" of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral. But when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy individual goods and services.

Knowing your rights when it comes to funeral planning will facilitate wise, well-informed and meaningful purchasing decisions. Funeral directors and cemeteries are required to provide detailed price information, over the phone or in person, if requested. Clients are entitled to a written itemization of the retail prices of all merchandise and services offered for sale, as well as the total price.

Funeral providers are also required to disclose information about state laws involving embalming, and they must inform the family, in writing, of the option of choosing cremation as an alternative to burial. Because many funeral decisions are made when emotions are high and expedience is necessary, it is wise to plan in advance so that families can make better-informed choices and more thoughtful decisions.

A casket or coffin is often the most expensive item purchased for a funeral, but these vary extensively in price and style. Generally sold for visual appeal, caskets are made of metal, wood, fiberglass or plastic. The 'Funeral Rule' prohibits funeral providers from making false or deceptive durability claims.

When thinking about pre-paying for funerals, there are issues to consider and questions to ask. Some tips:

* Pre-need funeral expenses should be made with reputable companies you've researched and trust.

* Contracts should cover even the smallest details, including cancellation and refunds.

* Be sure you know what you are paying for. Are you buying merchandise, such as a casket, or are you purchasing funeral services, as well?

* Are you protected if the firm you are doing business with goes out-of-business?

* What if you move to a different area or die away from home? Can your plan be transferred, and will there be an added cost? Keep copies of any documents signed at the time of pre-arrangement and inform family members of your plans and the whereabouts of these documents.

Attorney General Mike Beebe can be reached at 323 Center Street, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201 or 501-682-2007.