Ashes To Ashes – How to Avoid Cremation Scams

How to Evaluate Cremation Services And Avoid Problems: Internet ScamBusters #247

ScamBusters #243 was a special issue on funeral scams, and frankly we were very surprised at how popular it was. (We had thought subscribers might shy away from this topic, but we were wrong.)

We got a lot of positive feedback — and a lot of questions. Most of the questions related to cremation. So today, we’re doing a follow-up issue on cremation scams — and what to watch out for. We interviewed a funeral industry leader and pulled together the best info to answer your questions.

Again, we suggest you read through this issue now and then remember to look at it again if you ever need to plan a funeral that involves cremation, or help someone else who is making these decisions. This can really make a big difference, especially at a very difficult time.

On to today’s main topic…

Ashes To Ashes – How to Avoid Cremation Scams

Fortunately, there are fewer cremation scams than other funeral scams, but there are certainly important things to watch out for.

You will definitely want to check out a crematory’s practices for diligence and fairness.

Proper handling of a loved one’s remains and fair pricing are concerns best addressed before the emotional days after a loved one has passed away.

Though this certainly is a sad time, many people feel there’s something comforting about the idea of cremation. There is a serenity of ashes scattered out to sea or at a favorite place of a loved one.

There are also many options. Cremains have been worked with paint to create a memorial painting; attached to a concrete structure that, when dropped to the bottom of the ocean, becomes a “living” reef, and processed into carbon pendants that are worn by the bereaved.

“As people are becoming more educated about funerals they realize cremations give them more options,” said Mike Nicodemus, board member of the Cremation Association of North America.

The national cremation rate stands at 28 percent and is on the rise. When Nicodemus first directed funerals in 1979, about 5 percent of his clients opted for cremation. Now that number has risen to 43 percent.

However to avoid problems, you should definitely plan ahead so your last memory of a loved one doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Who’s Really in That Urn?

Properly identifying remains is one of the biggest issues in the cremation industry today. Nicodemus says there “absolutely” have been cases where a family was delivered ashes not belonging to their loved one.

“There was one story of a person who was cremated in Florida who was scattered in their three favorite places,” said Nicodemus. “When the family got to the third and final location, a vacation spot in Maine, they found a set of dentures at the bottom of the ashes. Only the deceased had never worn dentures.”

In a second case, a family scattered remains in several far-flung locations, only to discover afterwards the ID tag on the container didn’t match the paperwork from the funeral home.

Obviously, these cases are rare. However, for this reason, it’s important to ask a crematory what procedures they use to track the body through the cremation process and to verify the identity of the remains following cremation.

A crematory can have a family member or friend visually identify a loved one before cremation in states where this is allowed. Otherwise, the funeral director should have a diligent tagging system.

“It can be a big problem because certain states will not let the funeral director open the container the body has been placed in,” Nicodemus said. This is especially a concern when funeral homes contract a removal service to retrieve the body from the hospital.

Also, a good funeral director should allow you to tour their facility, present their license and be able to show that their operators are certified. Make sure what you see leaves you with peace of mind.

Here are some other cremation questions you may want to ask:

  1. Can the cremation be witnessed by a family member or designated individual?
  2. What is the average time between receiving the deceased and the completion of the cremation?
  3. Do they have refrigeration facilities for use prior to cremation?
  4. How are the cremated remains returned if an urn is not provided prior to cremation? What is the policy regarding holding of the cremated remains after the cremation is completed?

From the Cremation Association of North America.

How High a Price for Ashes?

The high expense of traditional funerals is another reason why cremations have become more popular. But cremation itself is no guarantee of a good value in a funeral.

Make sure you understand your options and don’t get roped into services you don’t really want or need.

You may wish to forgo one or all of the following in a cremation: the casket, the viewing, the visitation and the funeral service. Called “direct cremation,” this option can cost consumers $1000 or less.

The Funeral Rule, a federal law that protects consumers from unfair funeral practices, says:

  • The funeral director should not charge you for embalming services with direct cremation because there will not be a viewing.
  • There is no state that has a law requiring the purchase of a casket with a cremation (in spite of what funeral directors may tell you).
  • You have the right to purchase an unfinished wood box to be used prior to cremation.

Finally, it is not necessary to purchase an expensive urn for remains. Crematories may place remains in a metal, plastic or cardboard container adequate for burying or transporting.

However, if you choose direct cremation, you definitely may still wish to hold a memorial service run by the family. Talk with your loved ones ahead of time. If planning your own funeral, don’t just go with the cheapest option — this can really be a disservice.

So as you can see, there definitely are important questions and facts to be aware of when deciding on a cremation. We hope these tips will help during a very difficult time.

Time to close — and we’re off to take a walk. See you next week.