Consumers have the right to ask for a price list from a funeral home. If the funeral home doesn’t provide one when requested, they are in violation of regulations of the B.C. Consumer Protection Branch. If a funeral home fails to comply with those regulations, the consumer also has the right to file a formal complaint with Consumer Protection B.C.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported last month that one in four funeral homes fail to comply with the FTC’s funeral regulation that allows consumers to pick and choose the funeral services a la carte. The rule was passed in 1984 to help empower consumers during their time of grief, and to reduce the possibility of funeral homes taking advantage of the situation by pressuring consumers to purchase more services than they want or need.
A recent story in MarketWatch (click here to read it) listed nine U.S. federal funeral rules that every U.S. funeral consumer should know before visiting a funeral home, including getting an itemized bill before the funeral takes place, so there are no surprises.
Four Milwaukee funeral homes, for example, recently agreed to make voluntary payments to the U.S. government in order to avoid lawsuits and thousands of dollars in potential penalties after they were caught in an undercover investigation by the FTC last year for failing to provide consumers with an itemized general price list.
Funeral homes that commit price list disclosure violations face a lawsuit by the FTC and penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.
To avoid such lawsuits, the Milwaukee funeral homes agreed to enter a three-year training program called the Federal Rule Offenders Program, which is run by the National
Funeral Directors Association.
The FTC said it inspected 124 funeral homes in eight states last year and found 32 failed to disclose pricing information to consumers as required.
“Funeral services providers operating in B.C. are required by law to display a current price list of all the offered services and products,” says Consumers Protection BC. “This list must be accessible by the public and a copy must be provided to any consumer who asks for it.”
Two years ago, Ralph Zentner, who co-owns the Cornerstone Funeral Home in Lethbridge, Alberta with his wife Faith, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for overcharging about 50 clients for caskets and containers for cremation services.
Originally Zentner and his wife faced a total of nine charges, including committing an indignity to a body for allegedly cutting the finger off a body to remove a ring, but the other charges were dropped after Ralph Zentner pleaded guilty to one count of fraud; all charges against his wife were dropped.
The trial judge gave Zentner a conditional discharge and ordered community service.
Zentner admitted that between 2000 and 2010, some clients were charged for expensive caskets when cheaper ones were used, and on five occasions he received $50 to scatter ashes without doing so, according to a story by the Calgary Sun.
The newspaper reported that an appeal court was later highly critical of the trial judge’s ruling to impose a discharge, finding the judge erred. The appeal court imposed a $5,000 fine, in addition to the $5,000 charitable donation Zentner made as a condition of the trial judge’s discharge.
After Zentner pleaded guilty to criminal fraud, the Alberta Funeral Services Regulatory Board suspended the funeral director’s licence for 24 months. He was not able to re-apply until March of 2014.
The website of Cornerstone Funeral Home says: “Ralph looks forward to each and every day of work in the funeral industry and his tireless commitment to the families he serves [is] his ‘calling’ in life.”
In 2011, another Alberta funeral home market director was sentenced to 18 months in jail for defrauding a Calgary funeral provider of almost $200,000.
According to the court judgment, Gordon Corneilius Allert, then 52, pocketed the cash from Service Corp. International Canada, a division of SCI of Houston, Texas, which owns and operates funeral homes and crematoriums across North America, including many in the Vancouver area.
SCI began an investigation when it noticed an invoice for a repair to an elevator that didn’t exist. After he was caught, Allert repaid SCI Canada $66,500 and the trial judge ordered the remainder to be repaid.
Allert used $34,117 of the money to restore a vintage car: a 1965 Triumph TR4A. A psychological report explaind Allert’s spending spree as a “passive-aggressive…self-medicating” response to angry conflicts he had with his wife of 32 years.
Before moving to Alberta, Allert had worked for SCI in B.C. from 1984 to 2004. He is a graduate of Trinity Western University.
This site is dedicated to the memory of our mother, Holly Haliburton, who died last year in Vancouver, Canada.