2003-04-19 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes." So goes the popular saying by Benjamin Franklin. Fortunately, you have the ability to determine, to some extent, the amount of taxes you pay. There are countless investment choices, charitable donations, and tax shelters. However, with death, you are not afforded such variety. Nevertheless, you are still empowered, as a consumer, to be proactive in your funeral decisions.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted the Funeral Rule. It is in fact a set of rules that requires funeral providers to give consumers information regarding funeral products and services and ensures consumers pay for only the product and service they want and need. Generally, pursuant to this Rule, the funeral director must tell you the current cost of services and individual items, the General Price List, whether you are inquiring over the phone or in person.

Once you obtain the General Price List, you may decide to pre-plan your funeral. The thought of this often makes people uneasy, but a pre-planned funeral may help your loved ones through an extremely emotional time. Along with the FTC’s Rule, New York State has additional protections in the Pre-Need Funeral Consumer Protection Act that specifically address funeral pre-planning. The terms pre-planning and pre-paying are often used interchangeably, but they are two distinct actions. You can preplan you funeral without paying in advance. Pre-planning involves making decisions about which funeral home you will use, as well as the majority of your wishes regarding goods and other services. The funeral director will keep your pre-planning decisions on file until it is needed. Your estate will then pay for the services at the rate being charged when your funeral is held.

Pre-paying allows you to pay for your funeral ahead of time. The Pre-Need Funeral Consumer Protection Act gives New Yorkers some of the strongest protections in the nation. New York State mandates that all monies given to the funeral director for pre-payment of your funeral will be held in an interest bearing trust. That money, principle and interest, is your money. At any time, you have the ability to withdraw or transfer the funds (Your account can be assessed a .75 percent administrative fee for administering the trust). The funeral director cannot charge any processing fees, administrative fees, or penalties for early withdrawal.

Recognizing the importance of pre-paying for a funeral, I have introduced bill A.2003. This bill would make permanent provisions in the current Funeral Law that will sunset June 1, 2003. Those provisions increase consumer protection for monies used towards funeral goods and services. Specifically, it requires all money used to purchase funeral merchandise to be held in trust in an interest bearing account, prohibits funeral directors from accepting any commission from an insurance company for the promotion of an insurance policy and prohibits any company from giving any consideration to a funeral director for the purpose of inducing the sale of any contract or policy.

The information contained in this article is a foundation upon which you can begin researching funeral options that best suit your needs. Affiliating yourself with a funeral home that you trust may be an important first step. Shop around, compare prices and seek the recommendation from friends and family.

For more information concerning funerals and funeral arrangements in New York, contact the New York State Consumer Protection Board at http://www.consumer.state.ny.us/
default.htm or call 518-474-8583. You can also receive more information by calling the New York State Department of Health at 518-474-5422. Information from the Federal Trade Commission can be obtained by visiting www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-426.


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