Final Rights

Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Iowa: Caring For Your Own Dead Just Got Harder

Posted By on April 26, 2012

4/27/2012—To our shock, a recently passed bill (HF2369) takes away the ability of local registrars to issue burial-transit permits. Home funeral families are now at the mercy of funeral directors with a conflict of interest or medical examiners who don’t want to cooperate with them. Josh Slocum, on behalf of Funeral Consumers Alliance,  sent the letter below to the state’s chief registrar.

April 27, 2012

Jill France, Chief, Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Ofc. Bldg.
321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines,  IA 50319

Dear Ms. France,

I write to you as the executive director of the nation’s oldest nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of funeral consumers, and as the co-author of a book on funeral law state by state (Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death. Upper Access Books, 2011).

Read MoreI am requesting that you please send a written directive to the state’s funeral directors alerting them that they are required to furnish burial-transit permits to families and lay groups who wish to bury their own dead privately without engaging the commercial funeral industry.  I am shocked and dismayed to learn that HF 2369 removed references to the county registrars, thus restricting access to these permits. Now families who want a home funeral are required to go either to the state registrar (impractical) or to a commercial funeral home. Home funeral educator Bonnie Kauth has told me the funeral homes in her area are refusing to issue these permits. This is a blatant conflict of interest and I have to believe it’s illegal. Funeral directors who issue burial transit permits are acting on the state’s behalf. They must not be permitted to refuse to perform that duty in an attempt to force grieving families to purchase their services. I feel certain the sponsors of this legislation could not have intended to give the commercial funeral industry a legal monopoly on every death in the state.

Families who bury their own dead already secure a physician’s signature on the death certificate; the state’s medico-legal interest in the death is discharged. There is no legal or practical reason to deny them burial transit permits for their own kin.

Please let me know when you plan to address this matter. While families who perform their own funerals are in the minority, their rights are important.  Funeral directors should be required to provide these permits to families on request and should be barred from charging anything other than the state’s administrative fees. If this problem persists there is a very real risk of adverse publicity for the state and the funeral industry, not to mention the likelihood that a family will file suit against Iowa law on constitutional grounds (freedom of religious practice comes to mind with regard to Amish and Quakers who bury their own). While I hope to work with concerned Iowans and lawmakers to redress this legislation, if that fails my organization will actively encourage and support such a lawsuit.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.



Joshua Slocum, Executive Director

Georgia tightens preneed

Posted By on April 19, 2012

Hats off to the Georgia Funeral Directors Association (yes, really!) for their work this legislative season. Thanks in large part to their efforts a proposal to allow consumers’ prepaid funeral money to be taken out of FDIC-insure accounts and invested in more risky products was defeated. In addition, consumers are now entitled to a refund of 97 percent plus interest if they cancel a prepaid funeral contract. Cemeteries that sell merchandise preneed will now have to deposit slightly more into trust as well.

Updates to Alabama, Indiana

Posted By on February 24, 2012

We’ve updated the state-specific chapters for Alabama and Indiana to take account of recent law changes. Alabama now allows citizens to legally choose an agent to carry out their funeral plans while Indiana now bars funeral homes from using “warehousing” of caskets to avoid putting your prepaid money in trust or to deny you a refund or transfer if you change your mind.

The new versions of the chapter are available for just $5 for an instant download.

Why Do Hospitals Want to Hold on to Dead Bodies?

Posted By on February 17, 2012

While most people would prefer to die at home, nearly half the deaths in the U.S. either occur or are confirmed in a hospital. With the growing interest in home funerals, more and more families want to take charge of this intimate and critical life event. One pediatric oncology nurse says she’s seen a dramatic difference in healing when parents who have lost a child have had a hands-on funeral experience. (more…)

Help with home funerals: when it crosses the line

Posted By on November 13, 2011

As a grandmother to the home funeral movement since 1987, I have been thrilled to see the interest in home funerals taking hold around the country. And how wonderful that there are significant learning opportunities to help spread this movement.

However, I am growing alarmed at one of the trends I see: women (typically) calling themselves death midwives (not just home funeral guides) and asking to be paid for being present with the body, to help prepare the body, get the paperwork, and transport the body. Why am I alarmed? For two reasons. One, it is “acting as a funeral director” without a license. When the industry gets riled enough (as they have been in Pennsylvania and in Oregon), there are likely to be measures taken to limit the possibilities for home funerals, to take away that right that we have in all but eight states. That would be tragic!  (more…)

San Antonio News-Express Reviews Final Rights

Posted By on October 11, 2011

—Like Jessica Mitford‘s “American Way of Death,” “Final Rights” deals with the industry that has evolved around our culture’s reluctance to face the immutable fact of our deaths and what to do with “the remains.” Written  by the current and former executive directors of Funeral Consumers Alliance national office, “Final Rights” details in frequently polemic style methods of the funeral industry to increase profit. The authors delve into personal experiences with deaths of family and friends, reports and complaints to the nonprofit FCA and the Funeral Ethics Organization, and publications of the funeral industry itself to support their arguments… —San Antonio News-Express. Full review here.

Final Rights on the Radio

Posted By on October 11, 2011

10/11/2011 — Anyone who knows me wouldn’t expect me to thank them for getting me up at 6 a.m., but my hat’s off to the fantastic volunteers at the FCA of East Tennessee for a jam-packed and fun day on October 6. Before addressing the membership at their annual convention, my hosts set up two radio interviews to talk about our consumer advocacy work and my new book, Final Rights, co-written with Lisa Carlson.

  • First cup of coffee—a spot on Knoxville’s top-rated Hallerin Hill talk show on WOKI. Thanks Hallerin, and thanks to Channing Smith and WOKI for letting us post the audio (and also to Channing and Karen for the best barbecue and biscuits I’ve had in years)! Click here to download the .mp3.
  • Second (OK, third) cup—an interview with Brandon Hollingsworth of WUOT, Knoxville’s NPR affiliate out of the University of Tennessee

Thanks also to the more than 60 people who turned out for my talk later that day!

Casket Disclaimer Form Prompts Complaint to Federal Trade Commission

Posted By on September 11, 2011

Despite being illegal since 1994, despite years of FTC rulings, and despite how shortsighted it is, some funeral homes are still throwing obstacles in the paths of consumers who exercise their right to buy a casket outside the funeral home. The latest complaint on my desk comes from casket retailer Elder Truss, who runs a business in Pensacola Florida.. He claims the Joe Morris funeral home is requiring customers to sign a disclaimer absolving the funeral home of any responsibility for the casket as a condition of doing business. If true, this violates the FTC Funeral Rule. Click here for a copy of the disclaimer.

In my capacity as executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, I filed this complaint with the FTC:

September 9, 2011

Craig Tregillus|
Funeral Rule Coordinator
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20580

Dear Mr. Tregillus,

I’m forwarding to you a complaint from a casket retailer in Florida. Please consider this email from me a complaint filed by Funeral Consumers Alliance, and also as a request for an advisory opinion. Elder Truss, the casket retailer, has been in contact with us for some time. He alleges that at least two funeral homes in his area are placing obstacles before families who try to buy a casket from his business, rather than from the funeral home. These include requiring families to sign the attached disclaimer before “allowing” them to buy an outside casket. Mr. Truss says several potential customers have dropped their plans to buy his caskets out of intimidation.

The attached disclaimer contains worrying language that seems designed to exploit the emotional state of the recently bereaved. It does not merely ask families to acknowledge that the funeral home is not responsible for merchandise it does not provide. The disclaimer hints ominously about the “suitability” of outside caskets, and instructs families that they purchase one “at their own risk.”

While we know these “risks” are concocted by unscrupulous funeral homes, many grieving families do not. I have no trouble believing such a disclaimer has effectively steered many away from exercising their right to purchase a casket from a third-party, a right given to them by the Funeral Rule.

In addition, Mr. Truss believes the Joe Morris funeral home has intentionally damaged one of his caskets. If this allegation is true, the disclaimer would appear to be an attempt to shield the funeral home from redress. The form absolves the mortuary of responsibility for the “condition” of the casket. While it’s understandable that a funeral home would not want to accept responsibility for a casket that was *delivered* with damage, Joe Morris’ form does not make this distinction. What if the casket’s condition “changes” after it’s delivered and before the family sees it?

I ask FTC staff to give an opinion on:

* whether this disclaimer violates the Funeral Rule

* whether funeral homes may condition the customer’s right to purchase such caskets on the customer’s signing of such forms

Thank you for your time and attention.

Joshua Slocum
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance (national office)
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403


We’ll post whatever we here from the FTC.


No fridge?

Posted By on August 12, 2011

8/12/11—Believe it or not a huge number of funeral homes lack the most obvious basic equipment: a refrigerated body storage unit. Why? Historically funeral homes successfully pushed nearly every family into consenting to embalming, the industry’s preferred and profitable form of preservation. But that just won’t fly any more. The cremation is about 38 percent nationally (up to 70 percent in some states), consumers are more aware that they’re almost never legally required to have embalming, and several religious traditions frown on embalming. Add to that the fact that many states require up to 48 hours to pass before a cremation can take place and having a refrigerator is a no-brainer.

Or not. Two men claim a funeral home kept their dead sister for three days without embalming or refrigeration, resulting in a grotesque appearance. The funeral director disputes that. But whatever the truth behind this story from the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, it’s baffling why any funeral home would risk such a situation. Why in the world would a funeral home not have a refrigerator? Three-body “portable” units can be had for less than $5,000. If the funeral home doesn’t have room, well, it’s time to do a little remodeling.

Carlson undercover—shenanigans in Indiana

Posted By on August 5, 2011

-by Lisa Carlson

I traveled to Sullivan, Indiana this week to see if I could help a young man fight an outrageous funeral bill. His wife, a housekeeper at a local hotel, died suddenly in June ’09, with no insurance or benefits. She was the sole bread-winner, as he is disabled with a back injury. The funeral director was fully aware of the financial circumstances yet behaved illegally and unethically in order to crank up the bill. A brother-in-law contributed $500, and the family got $1,000 from the county. The funeral director refused time payments. In November ’09, the funeral director went to Small Claims Court for the balance of the $6,900 funeral bill. (more…)