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How to Choose a Funeral Home

A Few Things EVERYONE Should Know

When a loved one has died, you may feel the pressure of the moment to call someone, anyone, to help you. But it will be wise for you to take a few moments now, to learn the facts and consider your choices. The funeral industry has changed quite a lot in recent years, and the public sometimes is confused by new and unfamiliar terms and a growing number of choices. Large corporations have been buying what have always been locally owned, independent funeral homes. In addition, alternative providers, offering only limited types of funeral arrangements, as well as retail casket stores are appearing in some areas. Some people now prefer different kinds of funeral services, or perhaps no funeral ceremonies at all, in place of the type of funerals their families have chosen in the past.

Whatever your beliefs or preferences, it is very important that the funeral home you choose is one that can provide the information, guidance and options that will help you to arrange a funeral service that is right for you.

 Funerals TODAY

The Majority of people still choose what is called a "traditional" funeral service or ceremony. This funeral may include a time for people to gather together, often the day before the funeral itself, (commonly known as a visitation or "wake") and usually the casket is open. Then there is the funeral ceremony held in a place of worship or at the funeral home. Finally, there is a burial in the family plot in a local cemetery.

In recent years, some people have begun to view funerals differently than their parents and grandparents did. Some prefer to have a ceremony at the cemetery only, commonly referred to as a "graveside service." Others have chosen to have the ceremony be followed not by earth burial, but by cremation, the process of reducing the body to bone fragments by intense heat. The cremated remains ("ashes") may then be buried in a cemetery, scattered by the family or funeral home in a place that has special significance, or placed in an urn to be kept by the family.

Instead of a funeral service with the casket and body present, some people may choose to have a memorial service, either in a place of worship, funeral home, or other location that was particularly meaningful to the person who has died. Others may choose to omit ceremonies altogether, and prefer that the body simply be buried or cremated as soon as possible after death.

Whatever you prefer, it is important to select a funeral home that can offer many different options, a funeral home that will work with you to arrange a tribute that meets the needs and desires of you and your family.

 Fact vs. FICTION

In recent years, the media in the United States and in other countries have focused a lot of attention on funeral service, focusing primarily on unfortunate stories where the public has not been served well by the funeral homes they chose. According to surveys, however, most people are very satisfied with their dealings with funeral homes-an important fact rarely brought to light.

In a survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, an international research firm, 81% of those surveyed said that they would not change anything about their personal experience with the funeral home they had chosen. In addition, 93% of the survey participants said that the funeral home had taken special care to reflect the wishes of their families.

These statistics reflect the likelihood that you can find a dedicated and experienced funeral director in your community. It is still important, though, to understand what is available for funeral ceremonies and what is right for you and your family. Understanding and knowledge is the key in any purchase decision - your best bet in selecting a funeral provider is to know what you want and what to expect.

 REPUTATION:  A Funeral Home's Most Important Asset

Consistently over the years, research indicates that people will choose a funeral home for different reasons:

Convenience Which one is closest to my home?
Previous Experience    Which one has my family always used?
Reputation Many of my friends recommended this funeral home.

However, any one of these things may not be enough. The most convenient funeral home may not be the best value or the one best suited for your needs. The funeral home your family has always used in the past may not be the same place it was years ago. And, reputation requires much more than one person's opinion.

Things That Really Count

In general, any locally owned, independent business relies upon its reputation for continued success. Most funeral homes have been owned by the same family for many years, and the generation in charge today knows that the business has been built by serving the community well.

They're very protective of their reputation of integrity and trustworthiness that's taken so long to earn. 

But even if a particular funeral home hasn't been around for years, it may still be the best choice for your family. What's more important is the funeral home's ability to help you to arrange a tribute or memorial service that is right for you, depending on your personal preferences and the amount of money you choose to spend. An excellent reputation is really only as good as what it means to people today.

Depending on the type of funeral arrangements you prefer, the size, appearance and other qualities of the funeral home itself may be very important. The funeral home should be comfortable, neat and spacious enough to accommodate your needs, and convey an atmosphere that is comfortable, not intimidating. There should be a private area for family members to gather as necessary. Many funeral homes also provide an area where children can be entertained and supervised without disturbing others. The chapel or other room where the visitation and/or funeral service will be held should have ample seating, lighting and climate control.

The exterior of the funeral home should be well maintained and offer enough parking for those attending the visitation or funeral. If access for disabled persons is a consideration, it should be discussed with a funeral director in advance.

The funeral director you meet should be pleasant and knowledgeable, and give you confidence in his or her abilities. Your impression should be that the person assisting you really knows how to help and is there to support you in your decisions at a very difficult time, rather than just trying to make a sale. You should feel free to ask any questions, make suggestions and take as much time as you need to discuss things with other family members. The funeral director should be most interested in listening to you; not constantly telling you what "should be done." He or she should ask questions that will help you make decisions that are right you.

For example, there should be opportunities for family and friends to participate in the ceremony if you wish. You may want to bring items that would be displayed during the visitation or ceremony that reflect the life of the person who has died, bringing special meaning and significance to your memorial tribute. You should not feel pressured into making quick decisions, nor should you be influenced by the opinions and preferences of others if they are not appropriate for you. As you look back in the weeks, months and years following the death, it is very important that you are comfortable with the decisions you and your family have made.

It is likely that you will come in contact with several members of the funeral home staff, especially if you arrange any type of visitation or ceremony. They should be genuinely courteous and professional , and willing to help with any questions or requests that you have. If an employee cannot help with something, you should ask to speak to the funeral director immediately.

Things to be on the Lookout For

The process of making funeral arrangements should start with a conversation about your questions and concerns. The first words from a funeral director should NOT be, "I presume you'll be wanting a traditional funeral, right?" or, "How much insurance is there?"

It should be more like, "Please tell me what questions or concerns you have that we can talk about right away, before we go any further." The funeral director should also take some time to get to know something about the person who has died; things like his or her occupation, interests, memberships and other things that were unique. The funeral director should also be interested in details about the family members. If you are having a ceremony, will family members or friends be participating? Are there special considerations for elderly parents, grandparents, or young children in the family? By asking these types of questions, the funeral director will then be better able to make suggestions that might be helpful to you.

Also, ask about other funerals they've conducted that were especially meaningful to the families involved. You may get some ideas you might not have considered.

If at any point you meet resistance, hear comments like "well, we just don't do things that way," or just don't feel right about the funeral home before you finalize anything, just remember, you CAN change funeral homes, if you don't like what you see or hear.

Funeral Service Providers Come in Different Shapes and Sizes

All funeral homes are not created equal and some may be quite different from what you would expect. In many communities, there may be as many as three categories of funeral "provider" from which to choose:

Full Service Providers do just that. They can handle any service request at any time. They offer facilities for people to gather in for visitations and ceremonies. They have vehicles such as the hearse and limousines for processions to the funeral, cemetery or crematory. They also offer a full range of caskets, urns, and other items known as funeral merchandise. This is what most people think of as a funeral home. Remember full service funeral homes frequently provide simplified services with the same quality and attention to detail as they do for more elaborate services.

Specialized Service Providers offer many of the same things a full service funeral home well, but on a more limited basis. The building itself may be smaller than a full service funeral home, possibly with one area for visitations and ceremonies. Hours of operation may be shorter and merchandise selection may often occupy "storefront" type locations or a building that may look a lot like a doctor's office or insurance agency.

Limited Service Providers typically arrange direct cremations or immediate burials, usually without ceremonies. Their services may be limited to completion of necessary documentation and transferring the person who has died from the place of death to the crematory or cemetery. You may or may not have a selection of merchandise from which to choose.

 Some Things NOT EVERYONE Knows

"A funeral home is a funeral home. They all do the same things about the same way, so it doesn't really matter which one you choose, right?"

Wrong. There can be quite a difference in funeral homes, and the things that make the difference can't always be seen from the outside. You have to take a closer look.

It's Important to Know Who Owns the Funeral Home

In recent years, some large corporations have been buying up funeral homes. A lot of them. The idea isn't new, it's called consolidation. Banks, hospitals, car dealers, grocery stores, insurance companies, and many other types of local businesses have been affected by consolidation for a long time. You usually know when it happens because the new owners publicize it, promote it and promise a number of improvements that will benefit their customers.

But that isn't necessarily true with funeral homes. When a large company buys a funeral home, employees may change, prices may go up and the whole nature of the place may become different-almost overnight-and you'd never know.

Why? Because nothing appears to be different. Often, there is no change in the funeral home's name, the former owner may continue to be employed there, and the funeral home's advertising doesn't say anything about the change of ownership. Is it possible that's just the way the big corporations want it?

Why don't they tell you?

They probably realize most people still want to use funeral homes that are owned and operated by local people to have an established reputation in the community. If fact, a 1999 survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide showed that, if given a choice, only 2% of those surveyed would choose a funeral home owned by a large national company.

In most cases, independently owned funeral homes have been a part of their communities for generations. The funeral home owner and staff are familiar with the customs and traditions of the area having gathered extensive experience serving local families. They are active in the community, often devoting time, effort and money to activities and projects that help to improve the quality of life for their friends and neighbors.

Large publicly traded companies have a responsibility to their shareholders. Locally owned funeral homes are committed to and depend upon the people in their communities for the ongoing success of their businesses. They understand the special circumstances that may arise, and are not dependent upon approval from a distant corporate headquarters before they can accommodate the needs of the families they serve. To put is another way, they have the flexibility, creativity and willingness to do what it takes for you and your family.

Many people assume that large corporations can offer services at significantly lower prices than smaller, independently owned funeral homes can. That is not necessarily true. Published accounts have repeatedly shown that many funeral homes owned by the "chains" charge more for their services than the locally owned funeral homes in the same communities.

In a growing number of states, a funeral home is required to disclose the name of the company or individual that owns it. If you are not sure whether the funeral home you are considering is independently owned, be sure to ask. The answer may be quite different from what you expected.

What the Law Says About Funeral Homes

U.S. states and Canadian provinces have enacted regulations that govern the funeral industry, although the regulations can vary. In some areas, funeral homes are regulated by a Licensing Board, often made up on funeral directors and consumer representatives. These Boards may be under the supervision of an Attorney General, Banking Commission or Department of Health.

In the U.S., the federal government also regulates funeral service. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted the Funeral Rule in 1984 to ensure that consumers would receive information about funerals before finalizing any arrangements. The Funeral Rule requires that specific information be provided to consumers before any discussion about funeral arrangements occurs, and also ensures that consumers are provided with information about which services they can and cannot be required to purchase, as well as details about embalming, cremation and caskets. The Federal Trade Commission provides many safeguards for you in its Funeral Rule. Four of the most important are:

* Every person making arrangements shall be given a General Price List to keep for reference.

* Funeral homes must give out price information over the phone if asked to do so.

* Funeral homes must provide a casket and outer burial container price list upon beginning discussion of, or before showing, caskets and outer burial container.

* Once the funeral arrangements have been made, an itemized Statement of Funeral Goods and Services selected must be given to the persons that are responsible for the arrangements.

What do we think about the rule? That's easy. Even if the regulations didn't require these things, we'd choose to do them anyway, because they're the right things to do.

Actually, we feel these and 99% of all the other regulations we work under are just fine because we're probably tougher on ourselves than the law is.

 Dollars and SENSE:

Who cares how much a funeral costs?

Everybody does. Even those who'd say money is no object have a practical limit somewhere. The key is finding the best value for your money.

Depending upon the arrangements you choose, the total costs can be several hundred to several thousand dollars. For example, the price for a direct cremation without any ceremonies, can be quite a bit less than a funeral service with visitation, embalming and a casket. It is best to thoroughly review the funeral home's general price list, and once you have made the necessary decisions, study the written statement listing the charges that apply to your selections. If you are confused by what you see and hear, you should feel free to ask the funeral director to explain everything in detail, and you should continue to ask questions until you have the information you need.

What Goes Into Funeral Costs?

Typically the charges for funeral service fall into three different categories:

  • The services of the funeral director (or other provider), including the services of the funeral director and staff; embalming and/or other preparation of the body, if necessary; use of the facilities required to a visitation or ceremony; and vehicles, such as the hearse or limousine.
  • The merchandise purchased, such as a casket, outer burial enclosure (or "burial Vault"), cremation urn, acknowledgment cards, etc.
  • Fees charged by others for their services, such as the cemetery or crematory; newspapers; clergy; florists and others. In most cases, the funeral home will help to coordinate these services, but the charges may not appear on the funeral home statement. In that case, you may have to pay these other parties directly, perhaps prior to the funeral or final disposition of the body.

Who actually determines the cost of a funeral?

You do. Before you meet with the funeral director, it is helpful to have a general idea of what you would like. During the meeting, be specific about what your family thinks is best, and don't hesitate to leave out those things that you don't want or need. If you're unsure about anything, ask as many questions as necessary. Your choices should be guided by your needs, and your decisions determine the total cost. Any truly good funeral director will appreciate this approach and will really work to help you and your family.

Today, many families choose to plan their funeral arrangement in advance. It's an opportunity for them to reduce the stress of indecision and the uncertainty when a death occurs. It allows them to select, in advance, the type of tribute they feel is right for their family. Many of those same families also pre-fund their arrangements. It gives them the added peace of mind, knowing there will be adequate funds to cover funeral expenses. Whether you pre-fund your funeral arrangement or not, it is important that you discuss your selections and choices with your family.

 How Funeral Homes CHOOSE Funeral Homes

Perhaps someone in your family has retired and moved to another state. "But when the time comes," she says, "I want to be buried back home." In this case, two funeral homes - one here and one there would coordinate their services to make this happen.

How do funeral homes choose another to help with these details? They all have national funeral home directory books, or they can go to the internet and search for even more listings, but most don't do it that way.

Mostly, they do it by reputation.

Funeral directors do just as you might do. They talk to each other, to suppliers and others in and around the funeral business. It doesn't take too long to find out which funeral homes are really good, and which aren't. They use a funeral home they know and feel they can trust, or depend on the recommendations of others whose opinions count.

But there's an even better way.

Call it preference by association. In 1917, several very good funeral homes owners from across the United States got together and formed a professional association. They wanted to have a way to share good ideas with each other, but mainly they wanted to raise the standards of the profession, so that any funeral home that qualified to join was more than worthy of the distinction. One you could count on if you needed them. Membership was by invitation only and not all funeral homes qualified. Their Code of Ethics was rigorous. Among funeral directors, the members of what became known as National Selected Morticians were regarded as leaders in their field.

Today, this association is called Selected Independent Funeral Homes and has members worldwide.

Selected Independent Funeral Homes

This symbol takes away the guesswork.

 How You Can Have The Same ADVANTAGE

This symbol takes away a lot of the guesswork. Selected Independent Funeral Homes has always stood for providing you, the consumer; with all the information you need and even more if you want it. So you can make choices based on what's important to you.

When you see this symbol, you can be sure it signifies the best in funeral service. The best in hospitality. The best in facilities. The best people with the best reputation and service attitude. This symbol points the way to value.

 Finding The RIGHT Funeral Home for You

Up to now you've read of several ways to judge funeral homes, but little on how to go about finding them. On the presumption you don't know any funeral directors yourself, perhaps it's best to first ask you friends and relatives. When funeral homes have they been to? Which one stood out in their minds? Of course, anybody can have an opinion. Do they have a useful one for you?

Your own good sense counts for a lot.

Members of the clergy, hospice, or some healthcare workers may give you suggestions with a degree of qualification behind them. Often, they have a lot of experience with all of the funeral homes in the community, and can help you learn about those you might be considering.

Funeral home advertising can give you names to think about, as well as some initial impressions of that firm. But it's usually a good idea to get more information.

Make an appointment to meet with representatives of those funeral firms you have selected. Trust your instincts. In addition to what they say, how do they say it? Do they have some warmth and personality? Do you sense they're approachable and easy to talk with? Mainly, are they real and believable?

Or You Can Call

Selected Independent Funeral Homes

If you need to locate a Selected Independent Funeral Home in some other city, state or even another country, they can help put you on the right track. And it's a free service. Call 1-800-323-4219, or go to their web site: www.selectedfuneralhomes.org.

They'll Give You the Best Referrals.

The professional distinction of Selected Independent Funeral Homes is extended to funeral homes themselves, rather than individuals. Membership is by invitation only, and is available exclusively to independently owned funeral firms only after a thorough evaluation of their reputation, character, service and facilities. The selection of members is an intensive process, and not all funeral homes qualify. For these reasons, Selected Independent Funeral Homes is a mark of quality and distinction that guarantees the utmost in service and attention to detail.

 What it MEANS to Be a Selected Independent Funeral Home

In acceptance of their responsibilities, and as a condition of their affiliation with Selected Independent Funeral Homes, our members affirm the following standards of Good Funeral Practice and hereby pledge:

To provide the public with information about funerals, including prices, and the functions, services and responsibilities of funeral directors

To afford an ongoing opportunity to all persons to discuss or arrange funerals in advance

To make funerals available in as wide a range of price categories as necessary to meet the needs of all segments of our community, and to affirmatively extend to everyone the right of inspecting and freely considering them all

To quote conspicuously in writing the charge for every funeral offered, and to clearly identify the services, facilities, equipment and merchandise included in such quotations

To furnish each family, at the time funeral arrangements are made, with a written memorandum of charges and to make no additional charge without the approval of the purchaser

To make no representation, written or oral, which may be false or misleading and to apply a standard of honesty in all dealings.

To respect all faiths, creeds and customs; and to give full effect to the role of the clergy

To maintain qualified and competent staff, complete facilities and suitable equipment required for comprehensive funeral service

To assure those we serve the right of personal choice and decision in making funeral arrangements

To be responsive to the needs of the financially strained, serving them within their means

To comply fully with the requirements of the FTC Trade Regulation Rule on funeral practices

We pledge to conduct ourselves in every way and at all times in such a manner as to deserve the public trust, and to place a copy of this Code of Good Funeral Practice in the possession of a representative of all parties with whom we arrange funerals.

Halsted N. Gray-Carew & English Funeral Directors
This page has been designed to help make the selection of a funeral home easier. If you have questions after reading through it, please call us. We'll do our very best to provide additional information.
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