Avoiding funeral cost scandals

Darren Eddy, from the Funeral Directors Association, talks about the scams funeral homes may use on vulnerable people, and how to avoid funeral cost scandals

How to avoid funeral cost scandals

Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Work.Life.Money. I’ve got to say that during your life, many people don’t like to think about the end. Of course, for members of families who are left behind, the end means an awful lot of organization. You’ve got to try and make certain that A, the person’s wills, estate planning, all that sort of stuff is in order well before the person passes. Then, you’ve also got funerals.

In just the last little while, Choice, for example, has come out with a big report asking questions about whether there was transparency and competitiveness in the funeral industry in Australia. Now, for a long time, we have known that there has been different types of funerals, different if you like, price points that people can go into, some people are better off, some people are not. Everybody, ultimately, has to come to some decision as to how their funeral will be arranged.

The earlier you do that quite clearly, the better off it is for the family. They have certainty but also for the individual, they have peace of mind. Just exactly how should you go about planning this? Then the second part about that, that transparency issue and if you sat down with a funeral director and you get a quote, are you entitled to get up and go and see another funeral director, and see if they’re quite as competitive? Let’s try and find out.

Darren Eddy is the Immediate Past National President of the Australian Funeral Directors Association in Australia. He’s been in the business for 28 years in Albury-Wodonga area and also, the Vice President of the International Council of Direction. This is the world organization of funeral operatives. He’s on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Darren.

Interview with Darren Eddy, Past National President of the Australian Funeral Directors Association

Darren Eddy:  You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Ross Greenwood:  You’re well aware, much more than me, that this is a highly sensitive area for families. They’re very vulnerable. It can be very emotional times. It’s often a time when people are told not to make big business decisions. Given the fact that the average price of a funeral is around $6,000 and then there are other costs on top, it’s also a big financial decision that many families have to make while they’re under that pressure. How do funeral directors at least try and ease the pressure?

Darren Eddy:  Look at ease, it’s one of life’s major expenses. No doubt. It’s also one of life’s most important decisions. Funerals should never be seen as a burden or a farce but they’re a privilege. A good funeral director will ensure that when we talk to a family, we can walk them through the processes, and the options that they’ve got available to create a meaningful service but also one within their financial budgets.

That’s crucially important. Funeral directors pride themselves on being able to offer many different options for families.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay. Here is the problem. I’m sitting with you, having this conversation. It’s a tough time. I’m trying to make a decision about whether it’s the right service and whether it’s appropriate. Then the price comes and I sit there and think, “Well, actually, should I go down the road and go to your competitor and see if it’s cheaper?” I know it sounds like a fairly crass thing to do but is the person entitled to at least have that option of trying to work out whether they’ve got a competitive price?

Darren Eddy:  Absolutely. Yes, and by all means. Certainly, at the time of the arrangement, it is more than appropriate if you feel that the funeral director’s cost are outside of what you think is appropriate. Also, I would encourage people to make calls beforehand, perhaps in a clearer time of day, to say, “Okay, look. This is the type of service that I’m looking for. Can you give me an estimate or a price on what that is?”

By all means, contact at least one or two other funeral directors to make sure that you are looking at something within your financial constraints. Also, make sure that you are getting quoted for the same service.

Ross Greenwood:  Therefore, technically, if I were, say for example, in my 70s, I could ring a number of funeral directors and say, “Look, could I quote on my own funeral?” Make some of the arrangements myself before I was deceased. As a result, take some of the burden off the family by making those decisions myself.

Darren Eddy:  Absolutely. We encourage that, we do a number of talks at community groups. We get invited quite a lot. One of the things that we make sure that they’re aware of is that there’s no issues. It’s not something that they shouldn’t think about. It’s asking for what prices are because it’s an interesting thing. One of the things in New South Wales, particularly, that we’re trying to have happen nationally is Fair Trading in New South Wales made it so that before a funeral is held, the funeral director must provide the family with a fully-itemized estimate of what cost are involved.

Again, that was so that they’ve got the opportunity to say, “You know what? It’s probably outside of what I thought. Perhaps we should look at different options.” Now, not all states are following that, but we’re hopeful that that is the case. Certainly all of our members, of our association, that’s a requirement of membership. We encourage that. Also, we also encourage that you may not be in a position to put money aside for your funeral but at least, put some details down about what are these that you want. Because that can then ease the burden on the families. Because a burial, let’s say a burial in Sydney, can be anywhere up to $10,000 for the grave alone.

Ross Greenwood:  Wow.

Darren Eddy:  Now, if a family aren’t aware of whether you want burial or cremation, that can be a really difficult decision.

Ross Greenwood:  That’s incredible. It’s not just house prices going up in Sydney like Topsy, it’s funeral plots as well.

Darren Eddy:  Well, absolutely. Cemetery because the thing is they’re running out. The issue is it’s becoming very difficult to find new areas where they can have burials. I guess that’s probably why we’re seeing a marked increase in cremations across the country.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay. Just another one. If a person is of limited means and they know if, say, for example, they’re trying to organize this ahead of time and they’re trying to see a cheaper– Everybody ultimately has to be buried or cremated. We do recognize that. How does a person make it as cost-efficient if they are of limited resources?

Darren Eddy:  Well, there’s a number of ways. Obviously, having a chat about what type of service you’re looking for is the most important one. If it happens that the person has no means whatsoever, there is provision within the state governments to provide what’s called a person without means. It’s a very, very simple service. Generally, it would be a service directed at the crematorium or at the grave site. It’s very simple with what it is.

That’s paid for by the government. Look, to be honest, I don’t think many people would have an issue with that being a part of our taxes. To say, “You know what, at least we can give somebody the dignity of a funeral service when their time comes if their circumstances are such that they have no money.” If they do have limited means, we can sit down and go, “Okay, look, these are the types of coffins that are available. This is the type of service.”

Perhaps the options may be different. They may not necessarily need flowers to go on the coffin. They may not need to have a notice to go in the local newspaper. There are things that we can discuss with them and say, “Look, these are some of the options but you do not need to take them up.”

Ross Greenwood:  I know this is a little outside the square but I do know that Costco is now selling coffins. Just take me through that one and explain how that would fit into the whole scheme of a person’s funeral arrangements.

Darren Eddy:  Yes and look, Costco is not the only. People have been able to buy coffins direct from manufacturers for a number of years. They tend to be imported mostly from Southeast Asia and of course, that’s why they cost so low because their labor costs are very low. You can literally go into a Costco or somewhere like that, select the particular coffin, and then have it delivered. I guess the only thing that we would encourage people about that to do is to, just do their homework on a particular type of coffin that they’re looking for.

Because often than not, the cheap price only relates to some way where they can deliver within a very short area. When you’re delivering into state and things like that, well, the freight charges can make it almost at the same price as what you can get it from a funeral director anyway.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay. Just explain also, one last thing to the people. Because I know one company InvoCare has a significant market share especially up the east coast of Australia. It’s got various brands that people will know such as White Lady Funerals, Simplicity Funerals, Guardian Funerals. That market share, does it really mean that people have a lack choice as a result of the dominance of that big organization up the east coast?

Darren Eddy:  Look, InvoCare is predominantly a metropolitan corporate funeral company. They don’t have companies in rural Australia. Mostly their companies are in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, those places. There is a vast market in those particular areas of other funeral directors. The only thing I would suggest is that if you’re concerned that perhaps your funeral director might belong to a corporate group, the simple thing to do would be ask.

Just say, “Look, are you family-owned or are you owned by a corporate group?” If it happens that you’re not comfortable with being a part of the corporate group, well, then you simply can go to another funeral director.

Ross Greenwood:  Yes, so that as you point out right at the very outset, planning ahead and doing some of these while you are still of sound mind and good health is actually taking a burden off yourself but also taking a burden of the family as well. You can do it, really, while you’re alive and kicking and make some rational decisions about all of these. Darren, I’m so pleased to have the conversation with you because it is an issue that so many people do struggle with sometimes.

They don’t need to as we were explaining. The Immediate Past National President of the Australian Funeral Directors Association and also the owner and managing director of Lester and Son Funeral Directors in the Albury-Wodonga region. Darren, we appreciate your time here in Work.Life.Money today.

Darren Eddy:  Thank you very much.

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