It's always wise to do your research before you need to make an important decision.
Finding a funeral director to care for a deceased loved one is one such important decision that, in some circumstances, may need to be made urgently. For example, if you have a relative in aged care, and you haven't appointed a funeral provider to care for your loved one when the time comes, the facility may urge you to make a decision, or they may call their local funeral home to collect your person.
Once you authorise a particular company to bring your loved one into their care, you may not have the option to change your mind, or, if you do, you will be charged a fee ($300–$550) to cover the initial transfer.
Below are some questions to ask (and information to consider) during your research, so that if/when you need to call a funeral director, you will have had time to find the right one for you. Of course, some of the points below may have more importance for you than others – but you'll learn more about the values of the company if you ask:
Where will my loved one's body be cared for before cremation?
Can I see/view/spend time with my loved one before cremation?
Many people assume that when they visit a funeral director's office for an arrangement meeting, their loved ones are there on site, however that is often not the case. The large funeral companies (and the smaller independent homes they have bought out), have central holding facilities where they keep all loved ones in their care until the funeral. Some of these facilities store 100 or so deceased people at a time, where they provide mortuary care, only bringing loved ones to the funeral office or chapel just prior to the viewing or funeral.
Can I follow the hearse to the crematorium?
Where will my loved one be cremated?
Can I witness the cremation if I choose to do so?
How do I know that the ashes I receive back belong to my loved one?
In 2019, ABC Four Corners program investigated the funeral industry and reported that one of the best known and highly priced Victorian based funeral companies owns crematoriums in NSW where there are no regulations. This large, busy organisation transports up to eight deceased people, together in a van, to the company's privately owned (unregulated) crematorium over the border.
Will I have a face to face meeting with the person caring for my loved one?
Will my loved one be bathed and dressed before being taken for cremation?
Can I bathe and dress my loved one, and/or place memorabilia in their coffin?
One by-product of the pandemic was a start up company offering to 'shake up the funeral industry', by providing cheap cremations, however they have also shaken up the ACCC who have slapped them on the wrist for misleading the public regarding price.
This company also doesn't offer any contact with loved ones after they are taken into care. This may seem ok at the time, but many people later say that they don't have 'closure' when a loved one is whisked off without ceremony. The suitcase companies such as this one, also won't meet with family members, instead only offering phone or email consultations. Again, it's ok if you are fully aware of all of this upfront.
Who really owns the funeral home?
Many small funeral homes advertise that they are 'family owned', or 'Australian owned', claiming for instance; that they have 'worked with families in the area for over forty years'; leading people to believe that they are dealing with small independent Funeral Directors – when in fact the company is part of a very large organisation that may even be based interstate. The original Funeral directors have sold out to a larger organisation which has kept the original business name to keep people believing they're dealing with the same people with the same values etc. If this is important to you, ask the question.
Can they all be 'the best'?
In this competitive industry, many funeral company websites will make claims such as; "We are 'the most compassionate and kind funeral directors', the most highly skilled', 'the most experienced', 'the most highly regarded', the most affordable', etc...
Our suggestion is – give them a call and make your own judgement based upon the response you receive. Generally, most funeral companies do employ compassionate, experienced, kind, thoughtful people.
Stating that any company has more of those qualities makes you question what else they are claiming to be true.
Is there continuity of care?
Will the person who answers the phone when you call, be the same professional who will assist you at every step through this important event? Some of the larger organisations have staff allocated to certain tasks, so that the person who takes your first call, may be a call-centre operator who hands you to another person for the arrangement meeting, and may work alongside you right even up to the day of the funeral when yet another funeral director or team take you through the ceremony.
Is my local funeral company truly independent?
Two of the largest funeral providers in Australia, are shareholder driven. One was originally US based before selling 80% of it's shareholding to a consortium led by one of Australia's large banks. Both providers have bought up many smaller independent, or even a few of the large organisations and kept the original trading name, leading the public to believe they are still that same organisation who looked after Grandma all those years ago. These two big operators have both been fined by the ACCC for misleading the public stating that they were local, independent homes.
Is my local funeral company truly local?
When you search for a local funeral parlour in your area, several Google ads will pop up ahead of the others – some using SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques to appear that they are local when in fact they may be based across the other side of town. Some don't own a home-base care facilty at all – instead renting storage space from other funeral homes. These 'suitcase' or web-based funeral directors usually don't offer services to help ease the grief of families who may have opted for no-service cremation to avoid the higher costs associated with traditional funerals, but still need some chance to say 'good-bye.'
Is the quote you provide the full amount I will pay?
Beware of hidden charges and add-ons that you have not requested, and haven't agreed to.
Ask if you will receive a fully itemised account, in fact ask to see a fully itemised quote!