Issue with not being told about potential obit costs by funeral home

Hi all,

My father just died a few weeks ago, and the funeral director said if we gave her the obituary, she would submit it. While I see now that the contract does say TBD on the line item for obit, i just glanced at it at the time and looked at the bottom line believing that was the cost. I had no idea, nor did anyone in my family, that an obit cost money. We all thought it was a public service (confused with death notice I’ve come to see). In fact, I only found out when a friend asked me “how much I’d been soaked” for the obit because he didn’t know either. I should probably add that my family was almost totally indifferent to having an obit in the paper (I actually didn’t want it) even if it was free.

The obit cost my friends $1000 in the Star Ledger (NJ) paper and, given the length of my fathers, I’m guessing mine will be more (going in same paper). My mother can hardly afford that. Most people I asked who had never dealt with a funeral home either assumed it was free or was $200 max. The funeral director made no mention that an obit cost money, let alone it was as expensive as it was at that newspaper. Given that it will increase the bill by almost 50%, I think she owed me a warning (maybe not legally, but ethically).

What do you think I and the funeral director should do in this case? Do you think I deserve some sort of discount for her error? Can I ask her to have me deal with the newspaper directly? I noticed the newspaper edited the obit for punctuation that arguably I could I have wanted as my brother wrote originally. Anyone know if I can at least get the newspaper to discount based on their editing without my consent? Thanks in advance.

Yes, the funeral director was wrong, this is a bad business practice. If you had placed the funeral notice yourself, you would have been given a quote in advance, with an opportunity to shorten the notice or to publish it online only if you wished (or not at all). This is the sort of thing that gives funeral homes a bad name.

This puts you and your mother in a difficult situation, which of course you should not have to face at any time, but especially in a time of bereavement. I would certainly consider reporting this to the Better Business Bureau and the state association of funeral homes (most states have these, I believe, to help self-regulate practices like this, that hurt the industry). Here is their URL: https://web.njsfda.org/public/ and they may have some advice about how to approach the funeral director about making this right.

Yeah, not only do they cost something, they cost a lot. Having a really long obit is a bit of a status symbol. There’s a reason why most people make them as brief as possible while others are practically a reader’s digest version of their life story.

I’ve since found out it is actually an FTC violation and that any unknown prices must be given a good faith estimate. I’m not gonna report because I don’t think it was done in bad faith, and I’m sure she’ll work with me.

Does the newspaper say it costs that much, or does the funeral director claim it costs that much?

Good point. I wouldn’t trust the funeral home without getting independent corroboration.

I paid for my mother’s obituary through the funeral home, it was about $250. This did not take me by surprise. I don’t remember if the woman at the funeral home mentioned this when we met - there was a lot to take in. I did appreciate the service and not having to deal with the local paper myself.

We also got a really nice copy of the obit from the paper, laminated on a small wooden “remembrance” plaque. It came in the mail a few weeks after it ran, it was a nice surprise.

Her obituary was fairly short, 5 paragraphs. My family gave me a little bit of a hard time for using the euphemism “passed away” instead of “died” in the obit - but when I read the paper that day everyone else that died “had crossed over to be with Jesus” or “gone to live with the Lord”, so I felt better.

I suspect the funeral home has a practical interest in placing the obit themselves if you are using their facilities for visitation or a memorial service - this way they can assure that the obit is placed at least a few days before and the dates and times and address is correct.

$1000 sounds like an expensive obit and I honestly would have expected a heads up from the funeral home. My experience with our funeral director was excellent, she explained all charges clearly and didn’t pressure us to upgrade the very basic services we selected… cremation in the basic cardboard box, no services through the funeral home, no urn.

It helped that my mom had left her last wishes on file with the funeral home, she really didn’t want anything more than the legal minimum.

I think you have a morally valid complaint but probably not a legal one.

Sure, but also, they’re not doing it for free. Whatever they paid (which may be at a discounted rate over what you’d pay on your own), they’re going to mark it up before passing the expense along to you.

I know that in my local newspaper, publishing an obit is basically considered a sub-set of advertising, and it’s way more expensive than you would think. It depends on the length, of course, but $1000 would not surprise me in the least.

In my experience, death notices aren’t free either. I don’t mean the funeral director charges for them - I mean the newspaper charges for them. Not nearly $1000, but a couple of hundred for the newspapers I just checked. An obituary would certainly be more, as they are longer.

I own a small community newspaper and I don’t charge at all for local obits, but do charge $50 for out-of-town obits. BUT, that is definitely not the norm. Thankfully I know all the local funeral homes and trust that they’re not charging the families, but when I get something from a funeral home outside the area, I always worry a bit that they will turn around and charge the family. But $1000 seems quite excessive to me, although with the drop in advertising revenue, it is one way to recoup some of that loss - obituaries and Legal Notices.
As far as editing, that’s the newspaper’s job - to correct spelling/grammatical errors and to put it into a similar format for consistency. Also, they can be edited down for space constraints. People definitely get carried away at times. You’re not entitled for it to run as written - some of the ones I get are a mess and readers would think I’d lost my red pen! It reflects poorly on the paper if it’s not edited.

Yes, funeral homes often have contract rates if they ran a lot of funeral notices, but at the paper I worked at, most funeral homes did this as a service and passed along the savings to their customers. They would share a copy of the itemized bill for the notice with the customer so they know that’s what was going on.

There are paid funeral notices, which are advertising and often very profitable, and then their are news obituaries. For the latter, the news department controls who gets one and what is said in it. In the paid funeral notices the family gets to say pretty much what they want (there are very broad limits). Some papers have a free death notice, which is just a couple of lines with the name and date of death. (I should say this is the way it is in major metro papers, small local papers have all kinds of arrangements.)

When I’ve done them I’ve done them directly with the newspaper(s). They are priced just like classified advertising: $X per word and you can have as many or few words as you want.

Anything amounting to more than name, date of death, and funeral specifics, is gonna cost a couple hundred.

There’s some naiveté on the OP’s part that something like that, where the family controls the volume of text would be a) included in the fixed price of teh funeral, and/or b) be trivially cheap. None of us are skilled consumers when buying our first funeral. So whether that naiveté is typical or excessive I can’t say.

I also know that a lot more is said by the funeral sales folks than is retained by the bereaved family members they’re dealing with. That was sure the case when I was doing this for my parents in turn.

In all a messy problem to be sure. Whether to make 'rassling with the funeral home about this a central part of your own last memories of the decedent is up to you.

On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, I think they, and plenty of other industries prey on that. Look at all the extra expenses that are tacked on when you buy a car or hire a caterer for a wedding or refinance your house. When you’re already spending $40,000, they know full well you’re not going to spend a lot of energy arguing with them about a $50 service charge for one thing or a $100 fee for something else.

However, what can happen, IME, is that when it’s time to do it again, buy another car, have another funeral, that’s when you remember all those nickels and dimes and take your business elsewhere. It might not be any different, (you assume) it can’t be any worse.

You should probably look over your contract with the funeral director. I would guess there is some wording in there which says that they may take certain actions based on your requests and that you will be responsible for the associated cost. I would think that’s somewhat normal with funerals. Many people don’t want to worry about all the little details and leave it up to the funeral director to work it all out. I would assume there are going to be lots of little details like this, so make sure you find out the prices for everything when making plans. You may even want to tell them you want cost to be discussed upfront and that all costs need to be signed off on by a family member.

Dad died a couple weeks ago, knowing it was coming we went in before hand to start the paper work, made selections and got a quote.

A week later we arrive at the viewing to be presented with an invoice totaling $1000 more than quoted for the same exact services they quoted, which they promptly keistered at our behest. They then inexplicably fucked up enough after that I couldn’t decide to be glad we caught it or sorry that we had.

I don’t know it’s representative of the industry or not, maybe there’s an unspoken of extra grand traditionally added to everyone’s services. We didn’t spend anywhere near 40k though.

I’m sure the funeral home tacks on a fee. But Obits are stunningly expensive. And the bigger the newspaper the more they cost. A small town rag might not be too pricey. But a major metro paper? Whoa!

It’s just a part of the money gouging scam that the entire funeral industry is. They have the right to charge whatever they want but people need to wise up about much of this stuff. Place the obit yourself, reject ridiculously priced boxes that are going to be buried in the ground, etc…

Somewhat recent guide on obituary costs:
How Much Does an Obituary in the Newspaper Cost? | HowMuchIsIt.org

It’s naive but natural to think of obituaries as a sort of news article, that the newspaper ought to print for free as part of their mission of keeping their readers informed, just like all the other news they print.

And that’s why I referred to “death notices” - there are plenty of obituaries that are in fact news articles, that are printed for free just like all the other news they print. But not every death is newsworthy* - and in a non-newsworthy case , if the family wants a “death notice” ( or an “In Memoriam” notice to mark a birthday, anniversary , or holiday) it will have to be paid for by the family, typically by the line or inch.

  • And yes, newsworthy might be different depending on the town and the newspaper- just because a neighborhood newspaper in Queens thinks the death of a long-time local business owner is newsworthy doesn’t mean the New York Times will.