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How to avoid COVID-19-related funeral charges that families in North Texas and elsewhere have received



DALLAS, TX – As countless Dallas-Fort Worth residents prepare funerals for loved ones who died of COVID-19, many are seeing extra charges related to COVID-19 sanitation and safety.

But few are aware that these fees are illegal, according to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

Sherry Tutt of Dallas, whose mother and sister died of COVID-19 within hours of each other last year, said she plans to file a complaint with the commission over the fee she was charged.

Here’s what you might see on your bill and what you should know when making funeral arrangements to avoid paying extraneous charges.

What fees can funeral homes legally charge?

Glenn Bower, executive director of the state commission, said funeral homes can’t charge customers extra for items they use to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Funeral home directors must take “universal precautions” for every deceased person despite their cause of death, he said.

“We’re supposed to … treat every deceased person as if they were contagious, which means we use the highest level of caution as possible,” Bower said. “And if we put it on a price list that says, ‘Well, we can go ahead and charge extra,’ that means … we’re not taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, our families [and] our employees.”

Bower said safety measures should be incorporated into a funeral home’s basic service fee. Funeral homes can raise a service or overhead fee to accommodate COVID-19 sanitation, but it’s suggested that consumers file a complaint if these spikes seem unusual, he said.

What services are they performing if they charge any of these fees?

Some examples of illegal charges include the use of plastic garments to contain contagious fluids or the hiring of outside services to curb community spread. It might appear as “COVID-19 fee” on an itemized bill.

Does anyone set the rates they’re allowed to charge, and how much are they?

Texas doesn’t set or restrict how much funeral homes can charge for services.

Consumers in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas spent an average of $8,319 for a funeral with a viewing, casket and vault in 2019, according to the most recent data from the National Funeral Directors Association. Basic services accounted for an average of $2,000.

At what point will funeral directors inform me about the fees?

The state requires funeral directors to provide a general price list before funeral arrangements are made. This list should include prices for body preparation, the moving of remains and other services. Funeral homes must include contact information for the business, the date the rates and fees went into effect and a notice explaining the consumer’s right to refuse any services.

Cecil Dalton, owner of Dalton & Son Funeral Home in Lewisville and Flower Mound, said funeral directors must go through the itemized list with consumers line-by-line.

“Depending on what type of services they choose, they can either say, ‘Yes, we want this item, or no, we don’t want this item,’” he said.

Under federal law, funeral homes are only required to disclose fees over the phone or when requested by a consumer.

What fees am I allowed to decline?

Families have the right to decline any services funeral homes perform except a “nondeclinable basic services fee.”

How do I report extraneous fees?

Consumers have up to two years from the date of the alleged incident to report extraneous fees to the commission, but Bower suggests that families file complaints as soon as possible.

“I would rather families file a complaint and us investigate it, as opposed to families thinking to themselves … ‘It’s really not a big deal.’” Bower said. “It is a big deal.”

To make a complaint, families can send a copy of the form from the commission’s official website and any supporting documents to the agency’s Austin mailing address. Funeral home directors found in violation of state law may face suspension or revocation of their license.

So far, Bower said the commission hasn’t received any complaints involving COVID-19 fees.

Can I file a complaint if I’m using life insurance and not paying out of pocket?

Dalton said funeral homes send insurance companies bills with the total price of services provided. Because insurers rarely ask for general price lists, except in the case of unusual deaths, he said it’s harder for consumers and agencies to catch wrongdoing.

If the commission rules in favor of a consumer who used insurance, the refund goes to the beneficiary listed on the plan.