Funeral Consumer Digest

Information For Funeral Consumers

The Future for Funeral Consumers

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Leading funeral industry consultant James Patton explores the changing trends in funeral service, including the changes that are occurring between funeral service providers and consumers.

The Future for Funeral Consumers


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June 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Have a Safe Memorial Day Weekend

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May 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Mark DeSteffan Follows R. Brian Burkhardt In Looking Out For Funeral Consumers

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With the death of funeral consumer advocate R. Brian Burkhardt, Mark DeSteffan has stepped in to fill the void. He has created a new blog called Funeral Consumer Advocate. He points out that the blog, unlike many others, will not cater to funeral directors.

“Of course, I know funeral directors will take a look,” says DeSteffan. “I would even go so far to predict that they will not like what they see. My goal is to focus on the consumers. Brian Burkhardt was a champion for funeral consumers and his vision should continue.”

Mark DeSteffan is a licensed funeral director & embalmer. After many years in the funeral profession, including funeral home and cemetery management, he became disenchanted with the many tactics and ethics abuses he witnessed, while working in the corporate funeral arena.

          In 2009, he made the decision to pursue other ventures and devote special attention to consumer protection and education. After speaking out against the funeral industry, for safety reasons, he prefers to keep his location private.

He is also the creator of The Business of Death, a revealing and on-going memoir series, where he pulls back the curtin and shares industry truths and memories from his own experiences.

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May 6, 2011 at 6:05 am

Funeral Parlor Offers Drive-Thru Viewing

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Compton, California

In our fast-paced world of drive-thru burger joints and drive-thru banks, it is not uncommon to wonder what’s next. One California funeral home is working hard to make life (or death) a little easier by offering drive-thru casket viewing.

Yes, at the Robert L. Adams Mortuary in Compton, south of Los Angeles, it is possible to view the deceased resting in a casket display window while cruising past in your car, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

“It’s a unique feature that sets us aside from other funeral parlors,” said owner Peggy Scott Adams.

“You can come by after work, you don’t need to deal with parking, you can sign the book outside and the family knows that you paid your respects,” Scott Adams explained. “It’s a convenience thing.”

Although the Times reported a handful of drive-thru funeral parlors were known to operate in other parts of the US, this was believed to be the first in southern California, home of cars and convenience.

The paper also pointed out some additional pluses for those who favor mobile mourning: seniors do not have to leave their cars, families can avoid hosting a formal viewing and the disabled can roll past in their wheelchairs.


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May 2, 2011 at 1:57 am

Another Prepaid Funeral Scandal

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Sacramento, California

State regulators have filed a lawsuit against one of California’s largest funeral trusts, claiming that millions of dollars worth of customers’ money has been “misused, misspent, and mismanaged,” according to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names the California Master Trust as the defendant. It seeks to take over control of the trust, oust the current directors, and force those currently in control to repay $14 million in missing trust funds.

The trust is one of the nation’s largest administrators of pre-need funeral plans — funeral services paid for while the buyer is still alive. Those plans are sold by individual funeral homes, with the payments held by the trust.

Administrators illegally used those payments to pay more than $4 million in kickbacks to funeral homes in order to make sure their plans were sold to customers, according to the lawsuit.

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Houston Texas Cemetery Admits To Flubbed Grave Plots

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The Latest Scandal for Houston-Based Funeral Corporation SCI (NYSE:SCI)


 Houston, Texas

Several children’s graves may be mismarked and their families may not even know about it. The problem is at the Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery, owned by Service Corporation International (SCI Hispana), in southeast Houston.

This all came to light because of one Houston-area family. They started asking probing questions about their own loved ones gravesite. They’d been visiting it for years. They planned to place a headstone on the grave.

Their plans suddenly changed when they say a cemetery employee told them they’ve been visiting the wrong grave all this time. Farrell was furious.

“Where I was sitting was someone else’s little girl,” LeAnne Farrell said.

When we first asked general manager John Krasnick questions, he wasn’t eager to answer them.

Farrell says she was told her son’s grave is marked correctly but that several other children’s graves may not be.


How To Choose A Cremation Provider And Minimize Risk

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It seems that as the popularity of cremation continues to rise, so does the various news reports of cremation scandals. So, as a consumer, how do we go about choosing a cremation provider and hopefully, minimize the risk of becoming a victim of scandal? We turn to a leading funeral director, consultant and consumer advocate James Patton.

First things first, like with the purchase of anything, homework is essential. When purchasing a car, do you automatically assume the sales person has your best interest at heart? The same is true with funeral services. And I am saddened to say, often times, funeral providers can be worse.  

There have been a couple of recent incidents in the Houston, Texas area that are disheartening. Likewise, I have received countless letters from families that have been taken advantage of and treated poorly. Many of these families have trusted the signs that say “cremation society,” wrongfully under the impression that a “society” would have some added value or particular expertise. In fact, the opposite is true. Often, a cremation society will have an unseasoned funeral director, one that has never actually handled a full funeral. Businesses that specialize in cremations are, for lack of a better term, order takers. Anyone can take an order and that is what you will find nine times out of ten. Also, the majority of cremation providers do not own their own crematory. This means that a third-party crematory is used, one that may be servicing a number of funeral homes. These crematories often hire third-party drivers to transport the deceased to and from the funeral home and crematory. In Houston alone, I have seen some rather sad set-ups and shady characters hired, all based on their ability to be the lowest bidder.

So, for starters, consumers need to be armed with questions.

  • Is the owner of the facility a licensed funeral director?
  • Do they own their own crematory?
  • What are their guidelines for chain-of-custody of the body?
  • Where will your loved one be taken?
  • Does the off-site location offer refrigeration?
  • Has the storefront cremation provider actually visited the outside crematory?
  • How can they be certain the correct cremated remains are returned?

If a cremation provider or society cannot (or will not) answer these questions, I would run for the door. Again, never take things at face value. Cremation “Societies” mean absolutely nothing, except that you may be further exposed to outside risk. Treat the selection process like any other important task with research, research, research.

James Patton is a licensed funeral director, consultant and consumer advocate. To learn more, you can visit his consulting blog.