Planning a funeral or memorial service should be a straightforward, positive experience. Whether you’re preplanning to remove the financial burden from your family or arranging a service for a loved one, finding a funeral director that will graciously guide you through every step of the process is crucial to reduce stress.
However, sometimes when preplanning, families think cemetery plot first, funeral home second. In reality, families should think of their funeral director as a champion for you and your loved ones. Guiding you through the financial, emotional, and logistical journey so you can make the best decisions for your family.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of a good funeral director as well as one of the biggest challenges our families face if they decide to go straight to a cemetery: buying caskets.
The job of a Funeral Director
At Bateman-Allen Funeral Home, our funerals, burials, and memorial service are all run and organized by the two owners: Eve and Charles. As both the business owners and funeral directors, Eve and Charles have deep commitments to their community and client satisfaction. Unlike other funeral homes, you won’t interact with a single salesperson or be thrown around from department to department. The owner that picks up the phone when you call will be the one to support you and your family through the entire process.
In addition to supporting your family emotionally, funeral directors, in general, should be able to generously provide you with the information you need to make the best financial and logistical decisions. They’ll walk you through social security, veterans benefits, life insurance benefits, death certificates, event planning, and much more. They usually provide a hearse for transportation, a flower car, or limousines. They are also (spoiler alert) the best source from which to purchase caskets and urns.
On the back end, funeral directors also prepare your loved one’s remains for whichever final resting place you choose. This can include embalming, burial, or cremation of your loved one, as well as dressing, casketing, and or applying any lite cosmetics (applying any sort of cosmetic or substance to the best viable areas of your loved one to enhance appearance).
Did you know death care is among the world’s earliest professions? Ancient Egypt is seen as a probable pioneer in supporting full-time individuals to help prepare bodies for their final resting place. Intentional mummification began c. 2600 BC in ancient Egypt but cultures across the world also developed the practice of planned burial arrangements and body preservation.
We’ve learned a bit more since ancient Egypt but the goal is the same: support the living through the end of life process and honor those that have passed with respect and dignity.
One of the most important decisions funeral directors help you make is choosing the state of your loved one during the funeral or memorial service. Would a funeral at the funeral home be best for your family? Or maybe at the church? Would a memorial service and cremation work best? No matter what you choose, a funeral director can help you purchase the perfect casket or urn for your family.
Preplanning through a Funeral Home
Sometimes, especially when families decide to preplan a funeral, they decide to purchase burial plots first. It’s an American tradition more than any other nation in the world to purchase cemetery property in advance. Research shows that nearly 80% of everyone that intends to be buried already owns a cemetery space. At Bateman-Allen Funeral Home, we recommend to all of our families to investigate burial plots in advance of need so as not to be rushed into an important decision.
One of the main reasons we recommend pre-planning through a funeral home, whether it’s with us or another, is because the funeral and cemetery industries have become increasingly complicated in recent years which unnecessarily increases prices for things such as urns and caskets.
It began in the 1980s when big corporations began consolidating the death care industry (including both funeral homes and cemeteries) to form large, international corporations. Even though some of these corporations are no longer in business, there are currently at least 15 companies in the business of buying and consolidating formerly independent, mostly family-owned funeral homes and cemeteries.
The High Price of Acquired Cemeteries and Funeral Homes
As we discussed in a previous blog post, Questions to Ask When Choosing a Funeral Home, acquisition by these big corporations changes the fundamental objectives and humble values of the business. A family-owned business, such as Bateman-Allen Funeral Home, has a very simple mission: serve our clients and exceed expectations. It’s not as easy to live by that mission at a larger company.
First, these corporations typically have a large amount of debt incurred by buying businesses. The debt, which may include a hefty interest rate, needs to be paid, little by little, every month. With some of these companies, it might take all the sales for the first half of the month to just pay the mortgage.
Secondly, these corporations have high overhead expenses, far greater than those of a family-run business. In a family business, the extended family is usually actively involved in the business operation day to day which keeps costs low and ensures consistent, high-quality service to families. Corporation owners rarely are involved in day-to-day work (mostly focused on finances, investors, and buying more businesses), so unlike a family-owned business, the overhead costs cause a burden on the funeral home.
This all means that acquired funeral homes and cemeteries will do anything to pay off that debt, including sending a forward, commission-based salesperson your way to sell you a plot or merchandise.
Dangers of Purchasing a Casket from an Acquired Cemetery
As a result of decades of buying and trading businesses, local families may not truly know who owns the cemetery or funeral home. Many times, these corporations keep the family business name even if the family is no longer in the picture. Churches, even, sometimes sell these corporations the rights to manage their cemeteries as they see best; yet to the outside world, the cemetery looks church-operated. This misrepresentation helps with rapport within the community since the business still seems small and locally-owned.
If you go to a cemetery first when preplanning, you may get rushed by someone you don’t expect: a commission-based salesperson. We have a problem with this. Insurance agents are licensed. Funeral directors are licensed. Even hairstylists are licensed by their state. However, cemetery salespeople have no credentials to support you in your decision making, no training in ethics, and absolutely no licensing. Meaning, if they behave unethically, they don’t have much to lose.
If you are searching for a plot, right up front you should ask for a price list and don’t agree to anything that day! This will enable you to compare prices and think about your purchasing decisions. A cemetery salesperson may try to convince you into buying items that aren’t within your values, vision, or budget, simply because they would receive a higher commission. And because the corporations invest so much money to acquire the rights to run a cemetery, they will often sell products that families would typically not purchase from a cemetery at all such as caskets or burial vaults (again, all based on commission).
Funeral homes are required by law to present their price list to any individual that walks into their funeral home or inquires about options. And if it’s an independent, family-owned funeral home, these prices are low compared to industry-standard because the owners don’t receive a commission for selling merchandise. You have to actively insist on a price list if you go straight to the cemetery.
The point is, when you’re at a cemetery, know who you’re talking to. Is it a salesperson masked as a customer service representative? Ask for whom does he or she work and get proof.
You can always change your mind
Most state laws regulating prearrangement guarantee the consumer the right to change their mind at any time. They can cancel their prearranged plan with a full refund, or transfer their funds to another funeral home. If you’re considering purchasing a casket or burial vault from a cemetery salesperson, as the representative where your pre-need funds will be held, and make sure to get their policy, in writing, about refunds or transfers.
We bring this up because many cemeteries operate under a system of “constructive delivery” which means the cemetery retains the right to bury your cemetery vault in your grave right away and store your casket in the cemetery grounds or in a warehouse until needed. Yes, they bury your vault even years before its needed. This allows them to take all the money you paid to use immediately because they considered the merchandise delivered and there are no refunds or transfers.
When the vault is eventually needed when someone passes away, the cemetery then re-opens the grave, removes the dirt front he vault, receives the casket from storage, and delivers it to the funeral home for the service. So that supposedly brand new vault may have been in the ground for years, possibly even decades.
The Funeral Director is there to guide you
It’s always smart to utilize a funeral director from a local, family-owned funeral home as your guiding light through the preplanning, funeral, or cremation process. They have your best interest in mind without any other ulterior motives.
It wasn’t long ago that the funeral and cemetery businesses weren’t so complicated. Unfortunately, families have to be on the defense until they confirm who the person (or corporation) is that is operating the establishment and understand their motives. We want you to be able to trust your funeral director again — but it’s important to ask questions first.
Before you make any kind of purchasing decisions for a funeral or cemetery property, consult someone you trust. Most families know a funeral director that has loyally served their family in the past. If you live in Delaware County, we invite you to come to our space and discuss your vision with Charles and Eve. Our door is always open.
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