Buyer Beware! State regulators fail to enforce laws.

The Mortuary Science Board for the State of Michigan at their last meeting fined a vacant building for licensing violations. The building used to be a licensed funeral establishment and had a licensed manager as required by law. The law requires a “full time” licensed manager. But in the case of the vacant funeral home, the State felt that the licensed manager did not know enough about the funeral home because of his age and lack of involvement with the “business” of the funeral home. So, instead of fining the licensed manager, we wait for a building to write a check and pay a fine for violations of State law.

Recently there have been 3 cases where funeral directors failed to trust and protect consumers' money for funerals paid in advance (pre-need). People who sell funerals in advance are required, by law, to be licensed. They are also required to place the money in a trust or fund it through the sale of an insurance policy. Of these three funeral homes, some were licensed to sell pre-need and some were not. All were caught by consumers who turned them into their local police. The State of Michigan and their regulatory department had nothing to do with enforcing the law. It is important to note, anyone can receive a license to sell funerals in advance: a funeral home, cemetery, grave stone seller, or even you.

A few years ago Michigan had one of the largest cemetery trust fund scandals in the country. The scandal involved almost 30 cemeteries in the state, many were in the Detroit Metro area. Some $70 Million is missing. Neither the Attorney General's office nor Michigan's Department of Regulation knew anything about the missing money until the authorities from the State of Tennessee notified them. As of today, not one penny has been recovered.

Today when you call a funeral home, it is important that you know you are dealing with somebody reputable. Often funeral home operators hide behind the names “society” or “funerals and cremation services” or “pre-arrangement center” or funeral “counseling”. While the buildings they are in may or may not be licensed funeral homes, they mislead the public by calling themselves funeral homes or societies. Many societies are not funeral homes at all, yet offer services that can only be provided by a licensed funeral director working for a licensed funeral establishment.

So what does this mean to you the consumer? It means you better know your local funeral director. More than likely he is a member of your community, supporting local charities and the local tax base. Often quality funeral homes are the nicest looking buildings in the community and take great pride in their history and quality of service.

Experience is worth the price. Experience in funeral service teaches that being honest with the consumer goes above and beyond just being “legal”. McCabe Funeral Home has been serving southeast Michigan for 117 years. Our reputation for excellent service is our most prized asset. The opportunity to assist families during the most difficult times of their lives and assist them in what, hopefully, will be a therapeutic experience. This expertise comes from years of understanding our customers' emotions. Everybody is different. Therefore, their wants and needs are different. Experience and knowledge come from time and effort. It does not come from chin-rubbing idle thought.

Every summer, for a week or so, I go up north. The first thing I do is purchase a fishing license from the State of Michigan. A license that says I'm a fisherman. While on the dock, any observer would say I am fishing. If the Sheriff comes by, he will confirm that I am fishing and can even check my license to make sure the State is allowing me to fish. The problem is I have never caught a fish. (I am starting to believe a worm must be put on a hook, instead of using a pretty lure.) However, my neighbor, 90+ years old, gets in his old fiberglass boat, with his old 20 hp. motor and catches five fish every time. I believe he has experience and knowledge that I do not possess. When it comes to fishing, I am ignorant. This knowledge was not given to my neighbor. He acquired it through years of experience and effort. Something that cannot be passed on from one human being to another. Experience is something that can only come with time and effort whether we are licensed fishermen or licensed funeral directors.

Unfortunately, licensing and regulation mean nothing for the consumer. It means the State doesn't have enough people to police any industry. It means, if the consumer files a complaint with the State, they will be sucked into the same silly bureaucratic process that disturbs most people's souls. It means, in the end, nobody will be satisfied that justice has been done.

So, at this very important time of your life, the job of finding “who is qualified to serve you,” is up to you. Is it about who you can trust or who cares about their reputation? Or do you think all funeral homes, licensed or not, are the same? This time is too important to run into a funeral home and grab a price list and run out. There is, indeed, a difference between those who are involved in the funeral business and those who offer funeral service.

Kevin McCabe

These comments are my own. My comments do not represent any other association, organization, political group or educational institution.

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