Honoring Funeral Professionals – Landmark Funeral Home Records Histories of One-Half Century Funeral Businesses!

July 18, 2009

A wonderful post appeared in Connecting Directors that seemed worthy on mention here on Funeral News.  All too often the news is less than inspiring, so perhaps this will provide some encouragement to those who proudly service in the funeral service industry.  We encourage you to visit Connecting Directors and support Ashley Boyd in her noble efforts!

Asley has started a website, www.landmarkfuneralhome.com, to honor family owned funeral homes who have been in business for over 50 years. Her goal is to “record the histories of the people who paved the way for all the funeral professionals serving families today”. With all the bad press the industry has been getting latley it is refreshing to see someone who is honoring those who founded this industry and have continiued to offer services based on honesty and intergratiy. Continue to read below for more information about LandmarkFuneralHome.com.

Letter from Ashley:

In 2006 I began to work on a project for our family owned funeral home.  My father, Patrick, had decided to renovate one of our locations and part of the renovation was adding a café to the layout.  The café would serve as a place for the family to have coffee, refreshments and talk.  His design idea was to have a Legacy Café, the walls would be covered in the history of the surrounding area, our funeral home and our family, specially designed tables held family and funeral home memorabilia under glass tops for everyone to see.  Graphic design is my specialty so he gave me the job of taking all the stories and memorabilia from my grandparents, his parents, who had started the funeral home in 1958, and creating the café.  Little did we know that the project would take place during the last 6 months of my grandpa’s life.

I began to sit and talk with them, recording all of their stories and creating the frames with information by decade.  The first frame, entitled “Beginnings”, quotes my grandfather saying “When someone dies it is like a library burning down, all the information and knowledge is lost… unless you share it.”  The project was an amazing gift, to make sure that the legacy of the people who shaped my life so strongly was recorded.

This inspired me to create my newest project, landmarkfuneralhome.com.  I decided to take the opportunity to allow other family owned funeral  homes, with a rich history and strong family background, to share their stories.  LandmarkFuneralHome.com gives family owned funeral homes a chance to share their dedication for their communities with the rest of the country.

The site is completely free and open to any family owned funeral home that is 50 years old or older.  My goal is to record the histories of the people who paved the way for all the funeral professionals serving families today.

Many of us joined the funeral industry because of a family member or friend who had touched us with their commitment to the grieving community.  I want to honor those who came before us and helped build the foundations of the business we value so much.

If you would like to join Landmarkfuneralhome.com please contact Ashley Boyd via email; AshleyBoyd1@mac.com.  You can also visit the site and fill out a contact form.


Cafe inside Boyd Family Funeral Home


Funeral and Cemetery Expenses in Charlotte, NC – Lack of Competition Drives Up Prices

July 18, 2009

An excellent article appeared in the Charlotte Observer.  Unfortunately, the news isn’t good for Charlotte area residents as it shows what can happen when Competition is reduced.  The article appears below…

When Service Corp. International, the nation’s largest funeral-home chain, bought its biggest competitor in 2006, it took a commanding stake in the Charlotte market and promised to provide quality services and reasonable prices. But three years later, a new survey shows what consumer advocates at the time feared: Charlotte funeral prices have risen, making the city the most expensive in which to be buried or cremated. According to a June survey by Everest Funeral, a research company that works with consumers and life-insurance companies, average funerals in Charlotte cost $5,500, while cremations average $2,821.

The figure for funerals is $1,600 more than the South Atlantic average and $1,500 more than the national average, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Some local independent funeral directors blame the high prices on Service Corp., a Houston-based company that owns more than 1,300 funeral homes nationwide, including 60 percent of the homes in Charlotte.

“It’s called controlling the market, and I hate to say that it’s working,” said Tito Truesdale, co-owner of Rosadale Funeral Parlor, an independent home on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte that competes with Service Corp.

Shawn Strickland, Service Corp.’s market manager for the Charlotte area, says he doesn’t believe the results of the survey because he thinks that funerals in big cities such as New York and Washington cost far more than in Charlotte. He said Service Corp. offers a wide range of prices but that the basic price for a funeral is determined by the cost of that home’s overhead.

“It’s such a subjective question, because it really depends on the family and what they want to see happen,” he said. “We don’t have pricing any much different than anyone else does.”

The president of the local chapter of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group that works to educate consumers about funeral-service options, said Service Corp.’s hold on the Charlotte market easily makes the city the priciest for funeral services.

“I hate that Charlotte is at the top of the list, but I don’t doubt it one bit,” said Mary Brack. The Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t have a survey that compares funeral pricing in different cities, but Brack said she’s known for a while that Charlotte had to be one of the most expensive.

Local Service Corp. funeral-home owners offer a variety of explanations for Charlotte’s top ranking. They said cemetery costs and property taxes are rising, and that the move toward less-expensive cremations is forcing up traditional-funeral prices to maintain revenue.

Funeral pricing varies, but experts said smaller, independent companies tend to be less expensive than larger chains because they have less corporate overhead and don’t have to pay dividends to shareholders.

Price shopping

When Mamie Stowe knew she was going lose her husband, Eugene, after his two-year battle with cancer, she almost dreaded the funeral-planning process more than his passing. Stowe wanted to honor him with a church service. But she was afraid of being gouged by a funeral home that wanted to be paid upfront and paid a lot.

After Stowe called around in June for quotes that were “ridiculous” and too expensive, a social worker helped her find T.H. Robertson, owner of a private funeral and cremation practice by the same name. Robertson is able to cut overhead costs by meeting customers in their houses instead of requiring them to come to a funeral home.

Robertson said his prices, starting at $3,295 for funerals and $1,295 for cremations, are lower than Service Corp.’s.

The average price of a Charlotte funeral with Service Corp. has risen 10.5 percent to about $6,300 from about $5,700 in 2006, another Everest survey indicates. Nationally, Service Corp. funerals cost $5,097, which is about $1,200 less than the company’s Charlotte prices, according to the company’s most recent federal earnings reports.

When Service Corp. bought Alderwoods Group Inc. in 2006, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission forced it to sell one of the five Charlotte funeral homes it had acquired. The FTC’s decision reduced Service Corp.’s share of the Charlotte-Gastonia-Monroe market to 44 percent from 62 percent and attempted to prevent the merger from raising funeral prices. But Service Corp. still owns six out of 10 Charlotte funeral homes, and prices have climbed in the years since the merger.

Nationally, Service Corp. controls only 7.8 percent of the funeral industry, with 1,302 funeral homes and 369 cemeteries. The company has its largest presence in Charlotte, owning Harry & Bryant Funeral Home, Forest Lawn West Funeral and Cremation Service, all of the McEwen Funeral Service locations and Wilson Funeral and Cremation Service.

“Charlotte is unique,” said Mark Duffey, president and chief executive of Everest. “Usually you don’t see that level of consolidation, which is what makes (funerals) so expensive there.”

Everest is a national research company that helps clients to compare funeral prices and create a customized funeral service with the home of their choice. Consumers pay $495 for unlimited access to Everest specialists and research data or get help from the company as a life insurance benefit through their employers. The survey is based on a six-month national study that looked at basic funeral prices of homes in a 10-mile radius of each city.

Brandon Cook, manager of Service Corp.-owned Forest Lawn Funeral Home said Charlotte’s high taxes and cost of living escalate the area funeral-home prices. But that still doesn’t explain why Charlotte ranks first on the list of most expensive cities for funerals while major cities with comparable or higher costs of living rank significantly lower – Washington is 12th, New York is 15th and Houston is 20th.

Service Corp. funeral managers also point to Charlotte’s high cremation percentage – 30 percent of Charlotte’s deceased are cremated – as the reason for escalating burial costs. Cremations appeal to people everywhere because they’re cheaper, said Cook, but they are particularly popular in Charlotte because of its transient population.

“If people want to be here only for a brief amount of time, they will be able to take their loved ones with them when they move,” Cook said. The shift from high-cost burials to cremations threatens revenue for the funeral industry, which can force overhead prices to go up. But that doesn’t explain why Charlotte outranks all other cities for funeral expenses because cremations have been on the rise nationwide, attributing for 37 percent of the industry.

Financially squeezed families that are going ahead with burial plans are opting for less formal services. That means cutting out limousine rides, purchasing less ornate caskets and in some cases putting off tombstone purchases, funeral industry experts say.

Antitrust accusations

Service Corp. has run into antitrust accusations before. In 2005, the Funeral Consumers Alliance filed a class-action suit against Service Corp. and other major players in the death-care industry. The suit alleged the companies conspired to overcharge customers on caskets by suppressing competition. While not dismissed, the case has not gone forward.

In 1999, Service Corp. faced charges from the New York state attorney general that the company was dominating the Jewish funeral home business there and hurting consumers by raising funeral prices. Service Corp. settled out of court, agreeing to sell three of its Jewish funeral homes and pay the state $1.2 million for the investigation.

Service Corp. also received civil-investigation demands in 2005 and 2006 from the Maryland attorney general about alleged anticompetitive practices in the funeral industry there.

Barak Richman, a professor at Duke University School of Law, said restrictions are put on monopolies because they can pose harm to market competition.

“When all services in a market are dominated by a single provider, output goes down and prices go up,” he said. “But if a monopolist charges higher prices, that should theoretically allow other people to enter the market and provide services at a lower cost.”

Strickland said Service Corp. does not have a monopoly of the Charlotte area and has continued to meet the needs of residents during their times of grief.

“I don’t want to see you come in when you’ve had a death and have to spend a lot of money,” he said. “We can customize the service to fit any budget.”

By: Cameron Steele cameronsteele@charlotteobserver.com

Do you think that ownership of major funeral and/or cemetery providers in your area has hampered competition?  COMMENTS WELCOME!

James Hines – Cave Funeral Home Loses License For Cutting Off Deceased Legs!

June 5, 2009

There is no excuse…NONE!

That’s what the South Carolina Board of Funeral Service said through their vote to revoke the funeral home’s license. arthineswjbf

In a story reported earlier (here), the family of James Hines felt that there was something wrong with the service and burial of their loved one.  It had been reported that Hines body had been desecrated – legs cut off – in order to make his 6 ft. 7 in. frame fit in the casket.   Originally the allegation was denied, but after review the facts came to the surface.

Funeral Director Michael Cave admitted that he and Charles G. Cave, an unlicensed worker, carried out the proceedure.  The removed Mr. Hines legs between the ankle and calf with an electric saw and placed them along side the coffin.

A News 12 interview just added to the shock of the situation:

News 12’s Lynnsey Gardner speaks with the whistle blower and the accused.

Chopping off a dead man’s legs with an electric saw; it’s what Charlie Cave admits to doing and he tells News 12 he has no regrets.

“I have nothing to hide. “ Charlie Cave answering few questions about why he cut off James Hines legs with an electric saw, an act the funeral home admitted to the State Board of Funeral Service Monday.

Caves, “Nothing but the truth.“
Gardner, “ Do you have any regrets about anything?“
Caves “Ain’t worried about a thing.“
Gardner, “Any thing to say to the Hines family?“
(Caves Shrugs)

No words offered to a family who’s loved one was mutilated by the business both paid and trusted to care for him.

By revoking Cave Funeral Home’s license – they are forced to close.  In addition to the revocation, Cave was also fined $500 and ordered to pay $1,500 for the investigation.  Prosecutors are considering whether to seek criminal charges which could result in up to 10 years in prison.  Local opinion seems to favor prosecution so that a message will be sent that desecrating a body is unacceptable behavior by funeral service providers.


Funeral Funding Using Insurance Assignments Made Easy – Funeral Homes Should Not Be Banks!

May 21, 2009

While the focus of Funeral News is to report on death-care related events, we consider our sponsor to be an important asset in the advancement of our cause.  As such, we have asked American Funeral Financial to provide this guest article to our readers.  The following was provided by the fine folks at American Funeral Financial, LLC.

afflogoYou just received a first call.  The family is facing something that, for them, is unusual and, in many cases, unexpected – the death of a loved one.   Not only are they dealing with the emotion of their loss, but are soon to be faced with the costs associated with paying for – what for most is one of the most expensive single purchases of their life.

As funeral directors and/or death care providers the family comes to expect, especially in this day and age, expert service.  What the family may be unprepared for is the immediate need for payment for the goods and services that funeral professionals provide.  On the other hand, unless the family can pay with cash, a valid check or major credit card – you, the funeral service provider, are relegated to becoming a bank.

Times have changed and so have expectations.  Assume for a moment that you were to receive your paycheck on Friday and today is Tuesday.  Could you go to Walmart and purchase groceries with the promise of payment from your check on Friday?  Could secure a cell phone from Verizon with the promise of payment in the future?  The obvious answer to these, or similar questions, is a resounding – NO!  It is no longer reasonable to assume that funeral service providers should be forced to wait for their funds considering the difficulty that many face with insurance assignments today.

Due to the rising costs of goods and services, more and more funeral homes and cemeteries are requiring payment in full prior to providing funeral services getcashnow-newor making the interment.  With the economy today, we find more and more families are relying on insurance as the funding vehicle to pay for those services.  Unfortunately, it can take weeks or even months for the insurance company to pay the claim to the beneficiary or funeral home.  In addition, the paperwork associated with funeral financing via an insurance assignment is becoming more complicated and time consuming, taking valuable time away from doing what you do best – serving families.

American Funeral Financial has created an industry leading proprietary system that takes the burden off of you and your staff and makes the process of funeral funding through insurance assignments easy.

  • No longer do you have to verify the insurance assignment with the insurance company – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to due the burdensome paperwork – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to have experience waiting for your funds – American Funeral Financial pays you the next day following verification.

The process is simple.  Once you have signed on with American Funeral Financial – Your Funeral Funding Experts – you’ll have access to our simple web-based entry system.  Working with the American Funeral Financial web system is easy.  Sign in and in less than 10 minutes you will have the paperwork done and the verification process begun.  American Funeral Financial does the verification for you.  Once you have been notified that the assignment can be done, you will have the beneficiary sign the paperwork (that we prepared for you on the web) and we will fund your services.  It is that simple!  Fees to AFF are competitive and come directly from the policy assignment proceeds so funeral homes and cemeteries are paid their full fee for services rendered.  There is no cost to the funeral home or cemetery.

No waiting for your funds, no hassle, no problems!  American Funeral Financial is a full service firm that is run by professionals with years of experience in the death-care industry.  AFF knows what you need when you need it.

But there’s more!  American Funeral Financial knows that you need your money for services rendered.  You do not need to be the bank!  Likewise, so do the beneficiaries.  Therefore, as part of the process – when your firm has signed up with American Funeral Financial – the funeral funding experts – the beneficiaries of the life insurance policies being assigned are eligible to have advanced to them the remainder of the policy to take care of any short term funding needs that they may have personally.  That’s right – you are paid and they get the funds advanced to them for the remaining part of the policy (assuming they want a personal cash advance).

Our team working for your team when you need it the most – because the cash you have today can have a profound effect on the success of your business tomorrow!

SCI Face Complaints Over Mishandled Baby Remains – Is SCI at Fault?

May 4, 2009

The following is an article that was written by Josh White,a Washington Post Staff Writer.  Read the article and then consider answering the following questions:

  1. 1.  She was told the “Memorial wouldn’t fit” – is it the responsibility of the cemetery to make sure that the merchandise sold will be appropriate for the last resting place of the deceased?

2.  It is alleged that the depth of the grave was insufficient.  It is stated that standard depth for the burial of a coffin would require 18 inches of topsoil to cover the grave.  Therefore, is 8 inches of soil covering the top of the cherub sufficient?

The article is as follows:

A hole began to appear in the fresh dirt over Jordan Hale’s tiny grave at Mount Comfort Cemetery weeks after her burial, prompting cemetery workers to cover the site with a granite slab. Mourning the loss of her stillborn daughter in July 2007 and wondering what was happening, Nsombi Hale was informed that a grave marker she had chosen would not fit and that her baby would have to be reburied. But Hale later learned from a cemetery employee that that wasn’t the real problem.

Instead, Jordan’s small white coffin — called a cherub — had been placed in a shallow grave and covered by just eight inches of soil. When Hale went to witness the disinterment, workers pulled it out in a matter of five minutes, she said.

“It never crossed my mind that something questionable was going on,” Nsombi Hale said, tears slowly rolling down her face. “But it was clear that the grave wasn’t deep enough. They mishandled the remains of my baby, and she deserved more than that.”

The Alexandria cemetery is one of 12 in Virginia owned by Service Corporation International, a Houston-based funeral services conglomerate that is facing allegations of mishandling as many as 200 bodies over the past year at a central preparation facility in Falls Church. SCI owns more than 1,700 funeral homes and cemeteries across the country, making it the largest company of its kind. State regulators are investigating.

A customer, contractors and several current and former employees told The Washington Post in an article this month that conditions at SCI’s central facility at National Funeral Home were disrespectful and unsanitary. They said that bodies of retired military officers destined for Arlington National Cemetery were stored on a rack in the garage for weeks or months and that bodies that had not been embalmed were left in unrefrigerated areas of the facility, where they decomposed and leaked fluids.

Family members of retired Army Col. Andrew Degraff have since filed lawsuits in Fairfax County against SCI. Hale also filed a lawsuit against the company last week in Fairfax, her attorney saying that she had been traumatized by watching her daughter’s grave opened.

“Throughout the disinterment and reinterment, the disturbing odor from the cherub permeated the air at the site, sickening [Hale], who forced herself to remain until her daughter had a proper burial,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jack Burgess.

Virginia law and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation do not specify how deep graves should be, but cemetery officials in Northern Virginia said coffins are generally buried with at least 18 inches of soil above them.

SCI Virginia Funeral Services, a division of SCI, said in a statement that it discovered the problem with Jordan’s grave and “proactively self-reported the issue to the family and made every effort to resolve it.”

“Although Virginia law does not require a minimum depth of interment, once we determined that the interment did not have 18 inches of depth from the top of the casket to the top of ground level, we alerted Ms. Hale to request her permission to disinter and re-inter Jordan P. Hale,” the company said in a statement, also expressing sympathy for Hale’s loss. “As part of our commitment to transparency, if we make a mistake, we are committed to doing the right thing.”

Hale said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has nightmares and trouble trusting people.

“I needed to be there for Jordan,” Hale said, adding that the beautiful ceremony weeks earlier, with balloons and goodbyes, was dignified and special, in contrast to the shovels and backhoe that accompanied the reinterment. “I wanted to stay to make sure it was done properly.”

In a letter to Burgess on Feb. 14, SCI Market Director Christopher Downey apologized to Hale but said, “Mt. Comfort performed its services as requested,” and noted that the cemetery provided Hale with a refund check of $2,488.75. She has not cashed it.

Downey, who has management and oversight responsibilities for SCI’s 13 locations in the Washington area, wrote that the initial burial was “too shallow” and that a four-inch-thick granite slab was placed over the grave after “an animal had been spotted by the gravesite.” Downey also wrote that cemetery employees strongly advised Hale not to view the disinterment but “despite our warning and insistence, she demanded to be present.”

He offered to donate $500 to charity in Jordan’s name as recompense, according to the letter.

Whistleblowers who have brought the allegations about mishandling of bodies at SCI’s central preparation facility have said that Downey is at the heart of problems there. Steven Napper, a former Maryland state trooper who worked as an SCI embalmer, said he went to Downey in January to raise concerns about the inappropriate storage of bodies in the garage and unsanitary conditions.

Napper said Downey, whose office is at National Funeral Home, brushed him off and appeared to ignore the complaints. Napper later reported his concerns to a Virginia regulatory board and resigned in February. After the Post article appeared, SCI launched an internal investigation.

“I went to Chris Downey personally in January to explain that there was not enough storage capacity at central and to discuss my concerns about the handling of the deceased,” Napper said. “He knew all about it, but he did not respond.”

Requests to speak with Downey were referred to an SCI spokeswoman.

“All of us want to know the facts behind what happened, and we’re diligently conducting an investigation,” said Lisa Marshall, the spokeswoman. “If we find wrongdoing, we will promptly take the necessary corrective action required.”

Family members of two military officers whose bodies were stored on unrefrigerated garage racks said Downey contacted them just before the first Post story ran and said that the allegations were false and were coming from a disgruntled former employee.

Richard Morgan Jr., whose father, Maj. Richard Morgan, was left in his light oak coffin on the racks before his burial at Arlington in February, said Downey backed down when Morgan said he had seen photographs of the conditions in the garage.

“I got a little irate, and I said, ‘I’ve seen the pictures, and you can’t dispute the pictures. These aren’t just allegations,’ ” Morgan said. He added that Downey offered him a refund and that he recently received a check for $14,111, though he said he does not plan to cash it as he pursues legal options.

Hale, who has a 9-month-old daughter named Zoe, said she is suing SCI because she wants things to change at Mount Comfort Cemetery. Burgess, her attorney, said the company already appears to have acknowledged that the burial did not go as it should have.

“It was done out of laziness, it appears, and out of a desire not to dig a deep hole,” he said. “I don’t think it was done maliciously, but it was done fairly recklessly. Nsombi wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. With big corporations, sometimes the only way to get their attention is to get into their pocketbook.”

It is easy to understand how there can be concern on the part of the family in this situation.  However, without specific regulations governing the required burial depth for an infant, the question remains – is SCI at fault or is the Washington Post writer capitalizing on other negative news relating to the handling of human remains in their northern Virginia operations?


Funerals – High Costs, Add-On’s and Your Last Chance To Be A Big Spender! Is The New York Times Article Accurate?

April 21, 2009

It’s always interesting to read about funeral perceptions and where the industry / profession is headed.  A New York Times article written by Gabrielle Glaser addresses that very issue.  The question is – based on what we are hearing – how much truth is there to the idea that folks are spending the same or more for their funerals – since it’s the last thing they can do for their loved one?nytlogo152x23

Let’s take a look at sections from the article and perhaps you can comment with your thoughts.

EVEN in these hard times, Peter Moloney, a funeral director, believes that people should have what they want.

The funeral industry is offering customized products — including urns with a theme.

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select  19death4-190wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

“You have to give people something special,” says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. “If you’re not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today.”

Now it is true that Long Island may not be main street America, but it is interesting to ponder if those who live outside of the more affluent areas of our country feel the same when it comes to add-on’s and personalization with added costs.  Prior to the economic downturn, there was evidence that personalization and memorial add-on’s were helpful in increasing the average traditional funeral.  The effect of which was, for most firms, a way to stabilize their revenue loss from increasing cremation.  The NY Times article goes on to say:

Even in a tough economy, of course, people in the funeral business have something that executives in many other industries don’t: a guaranteed, and expanding, pool of customers.

“The honest-to-goodness truth of the matter is that everybody does die,” says Arvin Starrett, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association and the owner of Starrett Funeral Home in Paris, Tex.

Revenue in the American funeral industry will grow 1.2 percent this year, to $20.7 billion, estimates Toon van Beeck, a senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, the research firm. That’s down from a 2 percent gain last year — but, hey, it’s still growth when companies in other industries are reporting double-digit losses.

Americans may be living longer than ever, but the reality of a graying nation is stark. The annual death rate of about 2.5 million has been rising about 1 percent a year, and is expected to spike in the early 2020s as older baby boomers reach their mid-70s.


Many firms are reporting an increase in cremation that placing accelerating pressure on their traditional revenue stream making it harder to support the large facility required for traditional funerals and the debt load associated with those buildings.  On average cremation is one-third or less the cost of a traditional funeral and is becoming increasing popular as evidenced by the inclusion of popular movies like the “Bucket List.”

“It’s rather amazing the death care references made in that movie,” states American Funeral Financial VP Chuck Gallagher – formerally a sales VP with Stewart Enterprises.  “Not only was cremation embraced with ease, but both characters romanced the idea that their remains could be placed on a mountain far from where any family member could visit or remember.  For that matter, their remains were placed in a ‘Chock Full of Nuts’ container.”

The Times article goes on to state:

Some insiders suggest that the business could be headed for a restructuring as radical as that sweeping through the music or newspaper industries, especially as baby boomers approach their final act.

The same generation that questioned convention in sex, birth and marriage will probably do the same in death care, says Char Barrett, 48, a funeral director in Seattle and the owner of A Sacred Moment, a business that helps families prepare the bodies of loved ones at home. For a home funeral, she charges $1,450 to $2,595.

“It’s your funeral, your choice — and the industry needs to recognize that,” Ms. Barrett says. “Or it can stay in the box, and drive itself out of business.”

A PREFERENCE for cremation is already transforming the funeral industry in the United States. Cremations will account for a projected 38 percent of all deaths this year, compared with 26 percent in 2000, according to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry group based in Chicago.

And if you care a little bit less about ceremony, and are ready to allow your body to go up in smoke, then all of the trappings of traditional funerals matter less as well — like fancy caskets, says Jerry Sullivan, a second-generation funeral director in Chicago.

“Back in the day, families might spend $10,000, $12,000 on a solid African mahogany casket, have an all-out wake and such,” he says. “Those days are over.”

Today, many funeral directors offer hardwood or metal rental coffins for a short period before cremation, Mr. Sullivan says. He charges roughly $1,000 to rent a hardwood casket for a daylong viewing; a body is placed in a combustible container of cardboard or soft wood, and inserted into the rental coffin lined with fabric.

“We were early adapters,” says Mr. Sullivan, who has rented coffins since 1976. “You want to stay alive in this business, you anticipate your customer’s needs.”

For those who are budget-minded, but don’t want to rent, they can buy coffins at Costco, which offers a selection from $924.99 to $2,999.99.

The Times article (you can read the full article here) is full of ideas that are catching on in various markets and circles.  The following questions remain:

  1. Are families spending the same amount or more for funerals today as compared to two years ago?
  2. How significantly is cremation rising in your market?
  3. Are low cost alternative – Costco – affecting your business?
  4. Do you think as Baby Boomers age and die their generation will radically change the market place for funeral goods and services.


Faye Schilling and Jean Crump Charged with Cashing in on Fake Funerals – Their Take $1 Million!

April 13, 2009

Times may be hard, but when you move to death fraud you’ve hit a new low in white collar crime!

According to the US Attorney’s office in LA – two women – allegedly participated in a scheme to cash life insurance policies for fictitious individuals and istock_000006314744xsmallstage  funerals to create the appearance that the individuals had died.

According to the indictment, Shilling, a phlebotomist, and Crump, an employee at a now-defunct Long Beach mortuary, defrauded multiple insurance companies over a three-year period by cashing life insurance policies for non-existent identities, whom they claimed had died. As part of the scheme, Shilling and Crump allegedly caused the preparation of bogus death certificates, purchased burial plots and staged phony funerals to lend credibility to the scheme. When staging the funerals, the women allegedly filled caskets with various materials to make it appear they contained actual corpses.

Shilling and Crump allegedly defrauded several lending companies that advance cash to cover funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the decedent’s life insurance policy. Shilling, Crump and their accomplices allegedly filed false documents with the County of Los Angeles stating the remains of one man were cremated and scattered at sea, when in fact no corpse existed. The indictment further alleges that defendant Crump offered a medical doctor $50,000 to create records supporting the fake death certificate.

Now reading this several questions exist.  How does one cash in insurance policies for non-existent people?  If they didn’t exist then how was a life insurance policy issued.  It would make sense if they had cashed in policies on folks who had not yet died – claiming that they had died.  But to cash in policies on folks who don’t exist defies imagination.

According to a report in Connectingdirectors.com:

The US Attorney stated said the “dead” were likely fictitious people, but said identities of real people may have been stolen.

In one funeral at a Long Beach mortuary, authorities alleged that the women loaded a casket with various items to simulate the weight of a corpse they called “Jim Davis.” They purchased a plot in a Compton graveyard, had a funeral and had the casket buried.

Talking about identity theft.  Can you imagine the complication of dealing with the IRS and Social Security Administration when it comes to convincing them that you are still alive?  Being “dead” and trying to get your tax refund could be quite an ordeal.  Oh well…sorry for the digression.

In addition to the life insurance claims, which included a $250,000 policy, prosecutors said the women secured payments from financing companies to pay for inflated funeral costs.  We talked with representatives from American Funeral Financial (one of our sponsors) to ask about precautions for such activity.

We (at American Funeral Financial) work hard to provide service to our customers – the many funeral homes and cemeteries across the country that rely on us for funeral funding.  This story is quite amazing and not remotely normal in the standard course of business.  We make sure that we know our customers and have a comfort level of their viability before we enter into any funding transactions.  The steps we deal with to make funeral funding decisions should prevent this type of fraud from happening.  Still this is quite amazing.

Funeral funding companies scammed were Jackman Financial Corp. in Chicago; AC Moore Financial Services in Pomona; and Advanced Funeral Funding in Portsmouth, Va.

Shilling and Crump were charged with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud insurance companies and lending companies out of more than $750,000.  Two other women, Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, owner of a mortuary in Long Beach, and Barbara Lynn, 54, a notary from Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty in the alleged scam, said Montero, and he believed that more arrests were likely.

Schilling, who was freed on bail, denied the charges. “That’s a lie,” she said. “That’s not my line of work, that’s not something I do. . . . That’s not true.” She declined to comment further. Crump and her attorney could not be reached immediately.


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