ABC27 investigates what you need to know about funeral planning

YORK HAVEN, Pa. (WHTM) – Doris Culley of York Haven recently lost her husband Richard. It was a heartbreaking time for her and her family.

Doris reached out to the ABC27 Investigators after she got her bill for the funeral.

“I was a little angry about it,” Doris said.

Doris says she told the funeral director she only had $7,000 to spend on the funeral, but the final bill was over $10,000. The family was upset they were charged almost $500 for a hearse to go about three miles to the cemetery and another $275 for a van to transport three flower arrangements.

The family felt they weren’t fully prepared to make decisions about the funeral so quickly.

“You are so vulnerable when this situation happens,” Doris’ son Charles said. “Dad died on Wednesday and we were over (at the funeral home) at 9:00 Thursday morning. I hardly slept, we’re sitting there and your mind is going 900 miles an hour and they start throwing all this at you, and it more or less just goes over your head.”

The ABC27 Investigators reached out the Myers-Buhrig Funeral Home and Crematory in Mechanicsburg to find out what consumers should now about the funeral planning process. Myers-Buhrig did not handle the funeral for the Culley family.

“I think what consumers don’t know is really where the trouble begins. They really don’t know what their options are,” Bob Buhrig, funeral director and owner of Myers-Buhrig Funeral Home and Crematory, said.

Buhrig says every consumer should know that the Federal Trade Commission sets certain requirements for funeral directors. For example every funeral home must provide consumers with a General Price List.

“The General Price List is a price list that every funeral home is required to disclose to anyone that they are speaking to before discussing prices, services, or merchandise and the key is before,” Buhrig said. “The reason for it is to make clear what charges are applicable for what services and should give the consumer power and knowledge to choose only those things that they wish.”

Consumers can call any funeral home and request their general price list and you can do it anonymously.

“There are certain requirements about what time of day and what level of staff person is required to disclose that information, but it must be provided,” Buhrig said.

He suggests bringing several people to the funeral home for the arrangement conference, which is when you plan the funeral service. These conferences can take a few hours. The law requires you be presented with a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services during the conference.

“We use the Statement of Goods and Services as way of packaging the items that they have selected,” Buhrig said. “(The consumer) should be given the opportunity to accept or reject individual components as they deem appropriate.”

The Statement of Goods and Services will list all of the prices for the services you requested and include the grand total for the services. The law requires the consumer and the funeral director sign the Statement of Goods.

“A photocopy must be given to the consumer prior to the arrangement conference ending. The only time that the price would change from what is stated on the Statement of Goods and Services is where estimates were made for cash advance items, where exact costs is not known at the time of arrangements and that does happen almost every time,” Buhrig said.

However that difference should not be several thousands of dollars.

“I would be very suspect of that,” Buhrig said.

Merchandise, like caskets and urns, is an area where consumers can save money. Buhrig offers all of his merchandise at cost so there are no mark ups.

“Traditionally, funeral directors have always had a reasonable and fair mark up on merchandise that can range,” Buhrig explained.

The law also requires certain benefits be given to honorably discharged veterans.

“Most honorably discharged veterans are entitled to burial spaces, markers, and opening and closing of the graves for them and their spouse, as well as perpetual care for them and their spouse at the National Cemetery at Indiantown Gap, which can save a family upwards of $6,000,” Buhrig said.

If you are relying on life insurance to pay for a funeral, know that Medicaid can affect that coverage.

“Life insurance can cover funeral costs, but again, when Medicaid becomes a reality in someone’s life, often those insurance policies are forfeited or surrendered so that cant be counted on 100 percent,” Buhrig said.

The important thing to remember is a funeral should be personal and right for you and your family

“The key is to do what feels healing,” Buhrig said.

As for the Culley family, it does not appear the funeral home they worked with broke any laws but there was a lack of communication.

In Your Corner Investigator Kendra Nichols contacted the funeral home, which agreed to refund the family $275, the cost of the service van used to transport the flowers to the cemetery.

“My main concern with this is just to get the word out to let people know it is something that everybody should think about. I know I have changed my way of thinking about it,” Charles said.

Want to get  the conversation started? Here are five question suggested by the Myers-Buhrig Funeral home:

  1. Do you prefer cremation, body burial, or body donation?
  2. Where will your remains be going?
  3. Do you want a public viewing?
  4. Is it OK for those who survive you to see you face-to-face and say goodbye?
  5. How do you want to be remembered?

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