10/3/2011—The member-driven review organization Angie’s List did a great piece on the pitfalls of prepaid funerals on September 26. Don’t get buried by funeral planning scams highlighted some recent thefts of consumers’ prepaid money (there’s a lot of that going around) and cautioned readers that paying for your funeral in advance won’t necessarily “take care of everything.”
After her husband died in June 2008, Rebecca Watson decided to plan her own funeral. “Everyone needs some type of pre-need funeral arrangements,” says the Angie’s List member. “It’s not fair to the ones left behind to figure out what you might want and to foot the bill.”
Watson gave $9,185 to Vance Prestwood, owner of Prestwood Funeral Home in Jacksonville, Fla., with the understanding the funds would be placed in an insurance policy to cover the cost of her casket, vault and services.
“He explained how the policy worked and that it would take several months to receive any paperwork,” she says. “It wasn’t a red flag to me as I knew nothing about the funeral home business.”
However, after nearly a year had passed, Watson started to get anxious and requested a full refund from Prestwood but received no response. Even after filing an F report on Angie’s List and a formal complaint to the Florida Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, Watson wasn’t sure if she’d ever see her money again.
Following months of calls and emails, Watson says Prestwood finally sent her refund in April – nearly three years later. “I’m concerned there are others who may not have what they think they purchased,” she says. Calls by Angie’s List Magazine to Prestwood were not returned.
The Magazine turned to FCA for perspective:
“Theft [of prepaid funds] is the biggest consumer abuse issue,” says Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to educating consumers on funeral regulations. “A lot of people get ripped off blind and don’t even know it.”
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Finding a reputable funeral home can be a daunting and emotional task. Fifty-three percent of members responding to our poll consider family tradition and reputation the most important factors in choosing a provider – a move Slocum says is the most common and expensive mistake you can make.
“So what if your family has used it before?” he says. “It’s a terrible way to choose a funeral home. Prices can vary by thousands of dollars within the same metropolitan area.”