Consumer Information About Cremation

ByABC News

Feb. 28, 2002 -- Since the Georgia crematory scandal broke, consumers may be understandably leery about seeking cremation for their loved ones. But government watchdogs and other groups offer suggestions on how consumers can protect themselves or family members when opting for cremation.

Most cremations are arranged through funeral homes. The Federal Trade Commission points out that families can rent caskets for the viewing, saving on the purchase cost. And for those who don’t have a viewing, the funeral provider must offer an inexpensive unfinished wooden box or alternative nonmetal container to be cremated with the body.

According to the FTC, under the so-called Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:

May not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do.

Must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wooden box or an alternative container for a direct cremation.

Must make an unfinished wooden box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

For consumers who want to directly inspect their area crematories, here’s what the Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends you look for on a visit, or ask your funeral director to look for:

Check for general cleanliness, including inside the pickup vehicles. Have the cremains been completely removed since the last cremation? Check the refrigeration or body-storage unit for cleanliness.

How new is the equipment? Modern crematoriums have air scrubbers and emit very little pollution. Some states are better than others in monitoring emissions.

What method of body identification do they use? And will they accept a body directly from the family if all paperwork is in order? If not, why not? Do they keep a record of the type of container the body arrived in. For instance, if a family wants to know if the maple casket was actually cremated, can the crematory answer that question a month later?

Ask for a copy of the authorization form. Is it clear that the crematorium is requesting authorization from the legal next of kin or designated agent? Or can anyone sign?

May a family witness the cremation?

Ask to see the container in which they return cremains. Is it marked “temporary container,” a tactic to get consumers to purchase more expensive urns?

How many cremations do they perform per year? More than three or four cremations a day could indicate an overtime schedule.

What is their policy on abandoned cremated remains?

Is the crematory licensed by any state agency? If so, how often does the agency do inspections? Are the visits announced ahead of time?

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