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Funeral and Memorial Practices - The Funeral As A Purchase

aging social differences death final press arrangements

It is customary to think about funeral, burial, and memorial practices as social, religious, and cultural rituals, but they have become characterized as consumer transactions as well. The American Way of Death (1963), a best-selling book detailing the anticonsumer practices of some members of the funeral industry, helped to expand the grassroots Funeral and Memorial Society movement, now known as the "Funeral Consumers Alliance." Currently there are about one hundred local societies dedicated to educating consumers on funeral options and costs.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission issued the Funeral Rule, requiring every funeral home in the country to provide accurate, itemized, written price information to anyone who asks for it in person. The rule also prohibits funeral homes from engaging in deceptive or unfair practices. The Funeral Rule applies to both preneed and at need (after the death) funeral home purchases, but does not cover cemetery, crematory, grave marker, or third-party casket sellers. Consumer advocates are calling for an expansion of the Funeral Rule to include all vendors of funeral-related goods and services.

With most deaths postponed until older adulthood, and funeral directors serving as the repository of final arrangement information, many families face making or overseeing final arrangements without much experience. A 1995 study reported that half the people responsible for final arrangements of a deceased loved one had no idea what the final costs would be before they met with the funeral director. Despite this lack of knowledge, a lot of money is at stake. The mean cost of final arrangements, the study found, was $6,500 (a range of less than $200 to over $14,000).

It is ironic that as the number of funeral and memorial options has increased, the average adult's experience with making final arrangements has decreased. There is also a lack of consensus as to who is responsible for making final arrangements, and when they should be made. Especially in the case of older adults, should decedents make and pay for arrangements before death? Or should this responsibility fall to survivors? These decisions are generally dealt with on a family-by-family basis, though more information, discussion, and options regarding funeral and memorial practices can be expected with the aging of the baby boom cohort.




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