NJ does ‘very poor job’ explaining funeral rights to consumers: report
Did you know a funeral home has to give you prices over the phone if you request them? Did you know embalming a body is rarely required?
New Jersey does a poor job informing consumers of their rights related to planning funerals, and on its website the state funeral service regulator doesn't seem interested in catering to individuals who've lost a loved one, according to a new report.
The Garden State receives a "D" grade in the report by the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, which analyzed whether state funeral regulators are living up to their mandate to serve the public interest.
"There's no clearly labeled consumer information link," Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, said of the website for the State Board of Mortuary Science of New Jersey. "All of the questions under 'frequently asked questions,' none of them are for consumers ... They're all about how to get a license to be a funeral director, how much it costs, and how to be an intern."
According to the report, websites receiving a "D" contained little consumer information, and what was offered is not labeled prominently, or they offered no consumer-specific information at all.
New Jersey is one of 26 states to receive a "D." Another seven earned an "F" grade. Excluding Hawaii, all U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have regulatory offices or boards that govern the commercial practice of funeral directing, the report noted.
"The one good mark is that you can look up past disciplinary actions taken against funeral homes," Slocum said of New Jersey's site. "That's important, but it's not the most important."
The most important aspect from a consumer's perspective, he said, is learning what their legal rights are when they're shopping for a funeral or arranging a future service.
Under federal law, for example, funeral homes can't refuse to offer price quotes over the phone. Also, funeral homes are supposed to hand consumers a printed itemized price list at the beginning of a conversation about future services.
Slocum said he suggests that New Jersey's funeral regulatory agency does not "see itself as primarily serving the consumer."
"I think they see themselves as serving the industry," he said. "There's nothing for the consumer on here — very poor job," he said.
When reached for comment, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state's regulatory board for funeral homes, said its webpage provides information regarding license verification, disciplinary history, meeting minutes, applicable legal requirements, frequently asked questions, and various educational resources, including materials regarding pre-need funeral arrangements.
"Consumers with questions or complaints regarding the practice of mortuary science may contact the Board via e-mail (MortuaryScience@dca.njoag.gov) or by telephone (973-504-6425)," a spokesperson said.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.