WASHINGTON, D. C. – Following an investigation into the District’s funeral industry that included a price survey and a “secret shop,” Attorney General Karl A. Racine has sent warning letters to nine District funeral homes whose practices raised concerns that they may be in violation of local and federal consumer protection laws. In addition, today the Attorney General released new resources to guide District consumers as they plan funerals and introduced new legislation designed to ensure greater price transparency in the District’s funeral industry and make consumers aware of their rights as they plan funerals.
“Planning a funeral can be very emotional and expensive, and grieving families shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being taken advantage of,” said Attorney General Racine. “We want to make sure consumers have access to accurate and complete information about funeral prices and services, which is why we conducted this investigation, created our educational materials, and drafted legislation to make the District’s funeral industry more consumer-friendly.”
Investigation of District Funeral Industry
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Office of Consumer Protection conducted an investigation of the District’s funeral homes using both a price survey and undercover shoppers. This investigation found practices at nine funeral homes that may violate laws governing their pricing and sales practices. The potential violations OAG investigators found included failing to provide pricing information on specific items as required by law, unlawfully stating that consumers cannot cancel pre-need contracts, unlawfully padding prices for certain services, and unlawfully disparaging coffins sold by online vendors. OAG sent letters to these funeral homes detailing the problems and asking the homes to respond within 30 days to confirm that they are in compliance with the law.
Funeral Planning Guide and Price Survey for Consumers
To ensure consumers are aware of their rights under the law and can access the information they need, Attorney General Racine has released a fact sheet about consumers’ rights when planning a funeral, as well as a survey of current prices for funeral services compiled by the Office of Consumer Protection.
The “Shopping for Funeral Services” fact sheet details legal protections for consumers who are planning a funeral, including a right to access pricing information over the phone or in person and the right to choose only the funeral services you want. It is available here.
The “Survey of Funeral Costs” was compiled by OAG in August of 2017 and details both the range of prices charged for various items and services by the 38 funeral homes in the District as well as the average prices for those items. The survey revealed the wide range of prices that District funeral homes charge for their services. It is available here.
Attorney General Racine has introduced legislation in the Council of the District of Columbia to increase transparency in the funeral industry, and to make it easier to enforce the laws that protect consumers. The “Funeral Services Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2017” will:
Create a process, led by OAG in consultation with the District’s Board of Funeral Directors, to draft a Funeral Bill of Rights that funeral homes must then disclose to consumers clearly and conspicuously on their websites as well as during any initial in-person meeting with a potential customer to discuss services and pricing;
Require funeral homes to clearly and conspicuously display their price lists on their websites;
Require funeral homes, in customers’ final bills, to provide receipts for any services the funeral home provided through third parties, and paid for in advance to that third party;
And amend the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act to further clarify OAG’s authority to bring cases against funeral homes.
A copy of the “Funeral Services Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2017,” along with its transmittal letter, is attached.
Filing a Consumer Complaint
Consumers who believe that a funeral home is violating the law, or who have any other consumer issue, can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection by, calling our hotline at (202) 442-9828, emailing [email protected], or filing a complaint online at http://oag.dc.gov.