Grave Marker Installation Games

In Pursuit of a Sale, Cemeteries Can Make Installation Tricky

In 1984 the United States Federal Trade Commission established the “funeral rule,” aimed at stopping decades of abusive practices by funeral homes. After years of research, the commission formally acknowledged that funeral homes throughout the United States routinely took advantage of the vulnerable emotional state of their grieving customers and lured them into spending artificially inflated prices for funeral products and services. With the new law,  funeral homes would, among other things, no longer be allowed to prohibit – or even discourage – customers from buying products such as caskets and urns from “outside” vendors. The rule, while not enforced as stringently as consumer advocates would like, has helped assure that consumers can always have access to lower prices for funeral products.

Some cemeteries will try to make delivery and installation of a memorial from an outside vendor difficult

Curiously, however, the funeral rule does not apply to cemeteries who sell grave markers. (Journalist Jessica Mittford speculates in The American Way of Death, her classic book about consumer abuses in the death care industry, that cemeteries are not included in the funeral rule because cemeteries typically control more real estate than funeral homes and, therefore, are more politically powerful. A discussion of that idea is the topic of another article on this site.) Fortunately for consumers, other federal and state laws tend to apply to cemeteries who try to keep customers from buying grave markers from other sources, and most cemeteries today comply with the spirit of the funeral rule even though it does not technically apply to them.

But, that said, cemeteries are usually not eager to lose grave marker sales to other companies and will sometimes resort to questionable practices in hopes of keeping a sale. Since cemeteries are almost always responsible for the installation of all grave markers on their property, the questionable practices often involve the installation. Here is a look at some of the tactics:

1.      Cemeteries will occasionally offer to install outside vendor markers for a higher price than they charge for installing markers they sell. This is illegal under federal anti-trust laws. Cemeteries must charge a uniform price for installation, no matter where the marker was purchased. This rule can be hard to enforce if the cemetery does not publish its installation price before the sale and, because the funeral rule does not apply to cemeteries, a pre-printed price is not required by law as it is for funeral homes. In practice, however, most reputable cemeteries do list their installation price on pre-printed pages given to all customers and potential customers. If a cemetery you are visiting does not have such a page readily available that could be a sign that the cemetery plans to illegally charge you a high installation rate should you choose to purchase a grave marker elsewhere.

By the FTC Funeral Rule a cemetery is bound to charge the same installation price for all memorials

2.      Cemeteries that offer to install markers that they sell must also agree to install other markers. Staff members of one large cemetery in the Washington D.C. area recently told a customer that their company policy was to install only markers they sold. They said  outside markers were welcome in their cemetery, so long as the installation contractor met a number of minimum requirements involving union scale wages, bonding, and insurance coverage. The customer could find no installer who could meet the excessive requirements (and one wonders if the cemetery itself even met those requirements for its own installations). An outside vendor contacted the cemetery’s management on behalf of the customer with a reminder that anti-trust laws require cemeteries who install their own markers to also install those sold elsewhere. The management reluctantly allowed the installation but made no acknowledgement that its staff had attempted to enforce a blatantly illegal policy. It can be presumed that the staff of this cemetery – and others – will continue to quote the policy to customers and that grave markers purchased by outside vendors will be installed only for those customers who vigorously pursue the question with management.  

3.      New Jersey has a law that, at first glance, appears to be consumer friendly. That state simply does not allow cemeteries to sell grave markers, and, while the law does not explicitly prohibit cemeteries from installing grave markers, the common interpretation seems to be that installation is prohibited as well. This law appears to be designed to keep cemeteries from pressuring customers into buying their own grave markers, but, in fact, the law has had the opposite effect: many New Jersey cemeteries have set up separate companies – often directly across the street from the cemetery – that sell grave markers. These companies can then legally refuse to install markers that they did not sell and, because they are not officially part of the cemetery, the policies would not violate anti-trust laws. Independent companies can, of course, be hired to do the installation, but, as with the case above, the cemeteries will sometimes create unreasonable requirements for installation contractors – ones they know that only their company can meet – and effectively make installing an outside marker impossible. Fortunately, not all New Jersey cemeteries assume that installation is prohibited under state law (because, again, installation is not explicitly mentioned in the law), and are happy to install all markers for a reasonable, competitive price (which varies from less than $100 – to more than $600). Still others a glad to recommend one or more installation companies who will gladly install a marker that they did not sell. So, for best results, customers choosing a cemetery in New Jersey would do well to ask about policies for installation before signing a contract for a plot.

Being well informed will help one to avoid having to play cemetery installation games

The bottom line is that, although the funeral rule does not apply to cemeteries, many are willing to follow the spirit of that law. But, at the same time, some are not. The ones that are not often realize that questions about such matters as installation may not be on a customers’s mind as he or she signs up for a cemetery plot. Accordingly, the customer would then only discover the abusive practices after it is perhaps too late to change cemeteries practically. This is why we strongly recommend that, when deciding to do business with a cemetery, you ask thorough questions about how the company handles the installation of markers – both the ones it sells and those ordered from other dealers. contacts every cemetery prior to manufacturing for a cemetery approval for the headstone or grave marker.