Pluralistic: 09 Sep 2022 How to die without getting rooked

Today's links

A graveside casket. Dancing atop it is a drawing of Monopoly's Rich Uncle Pennybags, but instead of a cane, he is wielding a scythe. His face has been turned into a skull.

Guide to a ripoff-free funeral (permalink)

In the decade-plus that I've been reading and watching Caitlin Doughty, I've become increasingly aware that even death is no escape from late-stage capitalism – indeed, if you have the misfortune to die unprepared, you will pass out of this world attended by a monopolistic, rapacious, price-gouging monopoly.

Indeed, the situation is so grim that I've often joked about leaving my body to med-school pranks: corpse at the alumni dinner, arm hanging from a toll-booth, etc. But for the mourners whose grief is turned into cash, this is no laughing matter.

Writing today for Propublica, Carson Kessler delivers an essential piece of service journalism: "How to Avoid Being Overcharged for a Funeral," whose advice and analysis is exactly the kind of clear guidance needed to carry you through a very difficult moment:

The funeral home industry is governed by a set of reasonably good regulations, but you only benefit from this if you know about them. Kessler turns to Joshua Slocum, of the Funeral Consumers Alliance to explain them:

  • You have the right to get a quote by phone;

  • You have the right to an itemized, printed price-list;

  • You have the right to order a la carte; funeral homes can't force you to buy a bundle of products and services.

When your loved one dies, the first thing to remember is that "death is not an emergency." Don't let yourself be hurried (this is harder for people planning Jewish burials, which are scripturally mandated to take place within 24 hours of death).

If your loved one died in hospital, check whether the morgue will keep them for a few days while you check with funeral homes in a 20-30 mile radius. Set a budget. Under no circumstances should you tell a funeral director, "Money is no object, she deserves the best."

Funeral home pricing can vary wildly – businesses within a few miles of each other will often charge thousands of dollars more or less than one another. Don't imagine that you have a "family funeral home." The funeral home you used last time is not part of your family – they're a business.

As mentioned, funeral homes are actually the best-regulated part of the death industry. Far worse are cemeteries, which have transitioned from being largely nonprofit providers of public goods to for-profit ventures frolicking in an unregulated ocean of easy money.

Cemeteries don't have to show you price-lists and they can bundle products and services as a condition of doing business with them. If you buy a third-party tombstone and avoid their price-gouging, they'll hit you with an "inspection fee" to make up the difference.

Thankfully, the FTC has taken up the long-neglected question of cemetery and funeral home regulation. A new docket seeks public comment on the question; the Funeral Consumers Alliance comments are an excellent template to start with:

They call for an expansion of the rule requiring funeral homes to give you a printed price-list, so those lists would have to be published on funeral homes' websites. More importantly, they're calling for the extension of funeral-home rules to cemeteries, forcing them to disclose prices and unbundle services.

Private equity has rolled up funeral homes and cemeteries into massive, national chains of hundreds of businesses, and the giants of the industry, like Service Corporation International, have doubled their earnings between 2019 and 2021:

Caskets are also a monopoly. Hillrom is a private-equity backed rollup that has cornered the market on both hospital beds and caskets (talk about "complementary businesses!"), using its market power to jack up prices:

Slocum advises that the best way to avoid funeral ripoffs is to shop around and skip the price-gouging funeral homes. Failing that, you can ask the funeral home to meet their competitors' prices – even if they've already picked up your loved one's body "as a courtesy."

It's not cheap or gauche to want to avoid having your pocket picked when you plant a loved one's remains. Your mom might have wanted a decent burial, but she didn't want you to hand over thousands of dollars to a hedge-fund-backed monopolist.

Remember, "everything is optional." No US state requires embalming. This is an emotional moment, but that's why it's become a robber-baron racket.

(Image: Eugene Peretz, CC BY-SA 2.0, modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Increasingly desperate quest to find photos to illustrate news stories about Eurozone crisis

#5yrsago The Voynich Manuscript appears to be a fairly routine anthology of ancient women’s health advice

#5yrsago Australia’s housing bubble is built on a deadly, about-to-burst credit bubble

#5yrsago Equifax lobbied to take away breach victims’ right to sue

#5yrsago Equifax’s dox of America: Sign up for “free” monitoring, get billed forever

Colophon (permalink)

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