63 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2020 Last revised: 22 Sep 2020
Date Written: July 16, 2020
Death is an expensive proposition. The economics of life do not end with death, and putting the deceased to rest carries (often-unexpected) funerary expenses for cremations, funerals, burials, and/or memorials. In 2019, the median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and burial exceeded $9,000. This number is particularly stark given that four out of ten Americans would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense, and 12% would be unable to pay the unexpected $400 by any means. For the average consumer, funerary expenses will be the third largest category of expense incurred over a lifetime — and notably, this category of expenditure comes during an emotionally fraught time when the consumer may be cognitively impaired. A grief-stricken consumer is not a rational actor. This Article makes a unique contribution to the literature by drawing attention to the financial burden of death service being shouldered by those who are “relatively poor,” or those for whom everyday life may be a financial struggle. The thesis is equal parts positive, normative, descriptive, and prescriptive: it is imperative that options be made available to transition human remains in a way that does not exacerbate cycles of poverty and allows for the living to preserve dignity. This need calls for important changes to existing legal structures, including modernization of consumer protection regulation, change to laws regulating the death service industry, and re-characterization of expenses for tax purposes. The Article concludes with a cohesive framework of solutions responsive to the unique structural features of the death services marketplace (which includes information asymmetry, vulnerability of the consumer, and in-elasticity of the marketplace), by which funeral poverty issues may be comprehensively addressed in the United States.
Keywords: funeral, funeral poverty, burial planning, estate planning, regulatory capture, poverty, green burial, death services, consumer protection
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