When someone dies in your client’s family, you help them in a multitude of ways. Here is one more option you can add to your bereavement service offerings.
Last year, NPR conducted a two-part investigation of funeral costs in the United States. What they found is disturbing. Despite a 1984 federal regulation requiring price disclosures of at least 16 standard goods and services, funeral homes are notoriously unwilling to make their full price lists available online or even to people calling to hire them. This makes it nearly impossible to comparison shop, whether ahead of time or in the moment of need. In addition, many funeral homes upsell by promoting “packages,” which almost invariably include numerous extra charges.
In light of this investigation, what can you do to help educate and protect your clients and their families during a very difficult time in their lives?
While in Good Health
Well ahead of time, recommend that clients put wishes for their own services in writing. For instance, do they want to be cremated, buried or donate their body to science? What sort of services do they want? Are there particular hymns, readings, poems or songs they want to include? Then encourage clients to have family discussions to get everyone’s perspective. For example, clients can say to their spouse and/or kids: “This is what I think I’d want; what do you want?” Sometimes the discussion can even be prompted by news of a celebrity’s death or funeral, as people contrast what that celebrity did with what they’d want for themselves.
While some clients will be reluctant to do this because they don’t want to think about their own death, remind them that it allows them to retain control. It also saves their family the burden of being swamped with choices or of paying for things that aren’t important anyway. Besides, it is often quite an interesting discussion, as various family members share what they think.
When a Loved One Is Seriously Ill
Recommend that the family look at funeral homes before the death actually occurs, so there is less pressure. They can start online at Parting, a company that provides pricing data on 75 percent of U.S. funeral homes, searchable by zip code. Also, if clients know of someone who had to plan a funeral recently, they can call to ask about the experience. Though it may seem unusual to do so, most people are happy to share their impressions, regrets and reviews. Another option: If your client is a member of a faith community that has staff members in charge of helping plan services, ask for their input on the funeral homes they find most accommodating and straightforward.
Encourage your clients to call or drop by a few area funeral homes that look good and request the general price list. This listing at minimum should include the standard goods and services required by law. Ideally, it will go beyond the minimum and give a full range of the available services from that funeral home. Their willingness to give clients this information, combined with the level of comprehensiveness, is an excellent indication of the transparency of that establishment. With information and reviews in hand from several funeral homes, the family can make a reasoned choice.
After Death Occurs
When clients visit a funeral home after a death of a loved one, suggest they bring someone trustworthy who is not grieving. (If you’re comfortable, you may volunteer as their financial advocate. If not, then another trusted person.) Remind them that although the funeral home staff may be empathetic, they have a vested interest in upselling, so clients should insist on only what is desired without additional extras or luxury packages. Funeral home staff should not ask for, nor should clients ever disclose, any financial information such as the deceased’s level of assets or insurance that could help pay for the funeral costs. Instead, the staff should work with your client to provide only the services that are truly important to the family.
Although there are countless transparent, ethical funeral home directors, this report highlights the fact that some are not. Just as you protect your clients from unwise investment decisions, be there for them in this very emotional time to help them plan according to their loved one’s wishes while not overpaying for the services. It’s the right thing to do for your clients, and it builds their trust and loyalty with you.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.