When you lose a loved one, planning what comes next can be incredibly hard. When arranging funeral services, companies have to follow what's known as the "funeral rule," but consumers should also know their rights.
"At the moment that you are selecting funeral services, you're already grieving, you're already going through a difficult time," said Rosario Mendez, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. "The last thing that you need or that you want is to have to pay for something that you didn't ask for, or that you didn't want."
Right now, the FTC is going after a company it accuses of taking advantage of people. Legacy Cremation Services, LLC, which also operated as Heritage Cremation Provider, is accused in a suit filed April 22 of using unfair and deceptive practices.
Legacy often added fees and charged people more than they were expecting, according to the FTC, thus violating the "funeral rule" which requires businesses to provide accurate price information.
The complaint details how the company's websites prominently display the name of the community consumers search for, leading people to believe they're a local company. NBC 7 counted more than 1,240 communities in California on Legacy's website where they claim to offer funeral services.
In reality, the companies operated as middlemen using third-party crematories. Because Legacy relied on third-party funeral homes, sometimes families would have to travel more than an hour away to pick up their loved one's remains.
The FTC said Legacy often added extra charges and, in some cases, even threatened to keep the remains when families said they wouldn't pay the extra fees.
"The federal funeral rule gives you the right to buy only the funeral arrangements that you want," said Mendez.
That means you have a right to get an itemized list in writing showing all offered services and their prices, and to choose which ones you want. You also have the right to bring your own container for the ashes of your loved one, or use a casket you purchased somewhere else.
"It's a hard conversation to have with the family, but we always recommend to start talking about what your wishes are," said Leslie Martinez with Dignity Memorial, which is not affiliated with Legacy.
Martinez said funeral services can be expensive, and being prepared for that can help families grieve because they're not worrying about the cost. You can also pre-purchase services to ease the burden on your family, and ensure that your exact wishes will be respected.
"Death is not something that we want to think about on a daily basis," said Martinez. "It is something that we have to talk to our families about, just for them to be aware and to get prepared."
As for Legacy Cremation Services, the company did not respond to NBC 7's multiple attempts to speak with them. The company has also not yet responded to the filing in federal court.
NBC 7 would also like to note there is a La Mesa funeral home called Legacy Funeral and Cremation Care. They are not connected to the Legacy in this case in any way.