Industry experts say asking questions is one way consumers can protect themselves when going through the funeral planning process.
The advice comes after a Global News story about two Alberta families who experienced a roller-coaster of emotions after a funeral home mistakenly gave one family the cremated remains of the other family’s mother.
In 2018, relatives of a Nova Scotia woman were shocked when they discovered she had been mistakenly cremated and another woman’s body was presented as her during a visitation. The Nova Scotia government revoked the funeral director’s licence and brought in legislation to make the industry more accountable.
David Root grew up in the funeral industry. Root is the general manager of Pierson’s Funeral Service, which his grandfather started, and has been working in the industry for 15 years. He is also an instructor with the Funeral Services Program at Mount Royal University.
Root describes funerals as emotionally-charged situations.
“We essentially only get one chance to get it right,” he said. “There’s no do-overs for some of these things.”
Root said families need to keep a few things in mind when dealing with a funeral home.
“If anything is seeming out of place or incorrect, then ask the question,” he said. “If you have a question, ask the question. Don’t hesitate to push for answers to the thing you’re wondering about and wanting to know.”
Root said families can ask to watch the cremation in order to see the process through. He added that they should ask about policies and trust their gut when it comes to asking questions.
WATCH BELOW: There are thousands of funerals and cremations in the province every year and the board regulating them doesn’t get that many complaints overall – roughly 20 a year. Reporter Julia Wong talks about the investigative series.
Josh Slocum, executive director of the U.S.-based Funeral Consumer’s Alliance, said buying a funeral can be an emotional transaction but it is important for people to remember it is also a business transaction.
“There are a lot of areas where problems and misunderstandings can come up,” Slocum said.
“This is a purchase that none of us want to make. Nobody wants to buy a funeral, but it’s something that we have to deal with because everybody’s going to die.”
Slocum said it is important to plan ahead.
“What do I want in a funeral or a burial? What will my children want?” he said.
Slocum said it is also critical to set a budget.
“It gives you a limit so that you’re not going to be talked into signing a contract that’s way beyond your means,” he said. “When you are feeling like, ‘This is an expression of love that I’m doing for the person who died,’ it’s very easy to get in over your head.
“If you can go in with a practical frame of mind and say, ‘This is what we want, this is what we don’t need and this is what is going to satisfy us emotionally,’ you’re going to be in a better position.”
Slocum said it is also important to shop around, compare prices between funeral homes and get the quotes in writing.
“Don’t simply do what everyone does: they walk into the funeral home whose name they remember using the last time someone died,” he said.
“We don’t do it when we buy cars. We don’t say, ‘I never look at another dealership.’
“But we say this about funeral homes, almost treating them like our church, but they’re not our clergy. They’re a business.”
Slocum said it may also be helpful to have someone with you, who is not next of kin or as emotionally close to the deceased, who can remind you about a budget or give advice about plans.