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Pittsburgh Rabbi Wasserman favorably settles ‘funeral director’ interpretation case

Rabbi Daniel E. Wasserman announced Monday a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Commonwealth’s Board of Funeral Directors, Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation of the Department of State and Board of Professional and Occupational Affairs today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He was represented in the matter by Stephen M. Pincus, a partner in Stember Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, Pittsburgh; the complaint was filed by previous counsel Efrem M. Grail, Patrick Yingling and Jeremy Feinstein of Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh.

“This is an important victory for religious freedom in Pennsylvania,” said Rabbi Wasserman in a prepared statement. “This memorandum explicitly clarifies Pennsylvania law, and guarantees that individuals engaged in performing the ceremonies, customs, religious rites or practices of any denomination or sect are excluded from the definition of ‘funeral director’ in Pennsylvania law, as has always been the case. This includes churches, meetings, mosques, synagogues, temples or other congregations of religious believers engaged in handling, transporting, preparing and disposing of deceased human bodies. No longer will the filing of scurrilous complaints and other attempts of the “death industry” to control and co-opt non-profit, religious funeral practices and rites be allowed to stress and curtail our religious expression. Today, in the Commonwealth that bears his name, William Penn would be proud. ”


Christmas: Buy Buy Bye-Bye $$$

Retailers love Christmas and for good reason. All of us buy, buy and buy some more. It’s the one time of year when deals, sales and getting the most bang for the buck is on everyone’s mind. And yet, when it comes to making deals and negotiating the best price, most Americans stop short of applying these same tactics when shopping for funerals.

“There are so many ways to save money when purchasing funeral goods and services,” says Josh Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. “Unfortunately, most people simply don’t know how. Lack of planning and comparison shopping before death means having to make tough decisions for deceased loved ones at a time of intense grief without a frame of reference. This often leaves families shelling out far more for a funeral than they can comfortably afford.”

Slocum is co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, the most comprehensive book available today on funeral and burial purchases. He advises people to learn the ins and outs of the funeral industry so that when the time comes to purchase goods and services, they’ll know how to negotiate the best deal. “Funerals are right up there with houses and cars as on of the biggest purchases most Americans will make,” says Slocum. “No one would think about offering full price for either the house or car. Why the funeral?”

A couple of money-saving ideas for funeral and burial purchases:

  • Choose the Immediate Burial option from the least expensive funeral home you can find. Buy your casket from a retailer such as Costco. It’s completely legal and no one is going to see the casket anyway. Then spend your savings on a nice memorial service held at home, church, or a social hall.
  • Join your local Funeral Consumers Alliance. These nonprofit groups can help you compare costs and may be able to recommend reasonably priced businesses.
  • If you’re looking for a full-service funeral, shop around for the best deal you can find and then ask the funeral home you prefer to match the price.  Don’t be intimidated—they want your business!

So this Christmas, enjoy the hustle bustle of retail spending. Hone your negotiating skills and then turn around and use them to a ‘final’ advantage; plan the funeral you want at a price you can afford. Think of it as the ultimate gift to those you love!

Josh Slocum is available for interviews and welcomes any chance to help consumers learn how to shop before they drop. Slocum has appeared on 60 Minutes, NPR, and CNNThe New York Times and magazines such as Forbes and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance have sought his advice. Funeral Consumers Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting the rights of funeral consumers. For more information on this or other funeral issues, visit  funerals.org

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