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Uniquely Vulnerable

By John Lantz

At the time of “at need” funeral planning, we often refer to the funeral consumers as “uniquely vulnerable.” There are several reasons why those shopping for a funeral are vulnerable in a way they are not in any other retail transaction.

1. THE NEED TO MAKE DECISIONS – The person responsible for making the arrangements for the care of the deceased knows there is a real need for a wide range of important decisions, which can be stressful, perplexing and even bewildering, particularly when the situation is unfamiliar.

2. URGENCY – There must be some kind of care for the body in a short period of time. Society expects some action. Other decisions need to be made soon. Often we do not even know what the time requirements are.

3. TABOO TOPIC – There is now a social taboo against freely discussing death, dying, and funeral arrangements in pleasant social circumstances. When the topic is raised at a dinner party, we are sometimes told it is not a proper topic of conversation. We are accustomed to avoiding the topic of death because we do not want to think about dying. The idea of death is immediately associated with sadness.

4. FUNERAL INDUSTRY SECRECY – The funeral industry as a whole is very secretive about prices. Funeral providers often refuse to disclose consumer-friendly price information. However, the federal government passed the “Funeral Rule,” which became law in 1984, requiring every funeral establishment to publish the price for each of 16 designated services if they are offered. That list, known as the General Price List (GPL) is required to be given to each consumer who walks into the funeral establishment. A GPL must also be given over the telephone when requested. However, the GPL is not required to be mailed, emailed, or placed on the Internet, nor is it is required to be in any particular form or format. So even with these rules, getting easy-to-understand price information can prove to be a difficult process.

5. INTENSE EMOTIONS – It is an almost universal reaction that the death of a friend or family member leaves the survivor in a heightened emotional state, making appropriate and reasonable decisions much more difficult for the bereaved.

The confluence of these issues makes the “at need” funeral consumer uniquely vulnerable. Without clear information and while facing the stress of a death, grieving people are susceptible to “expert” funeral directors with an interest in influencing their purchasing decision. The bargaining positions are not equal. The transactions are open to abuse.

John Lantz is the President of the Memorial Society of Georgia, an FCA affiliate. He also serves on the FCA Board of Trustees.