Customers informed of their rights when loved one dies

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SHIPROCK — The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission continued its effort to educate the public about laws and fair practices for funeral services with a series of presentations by representatives of federal and state agencies today at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Luis Gallegos, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission's Southwest Region in Dallas, said as families face many questions when their loved ones die, there are regulations in place to help them receive services within their budget.

To help consumers, the government agency established the funeral rule to provide guidance and protection for consumers, Gallegos said.

Under the funeral rule, which applies to burial and cremation, consumers have the right to buy only the goods and services they select, he said.

Other provisions under the funeral rule include the right to receive price information by telephone and the right to receive a general price list when visiting a funeral home.

The rule also allows customers to see written price listings for caskets before viewing the actual product, Gallegos added.

In addition, the funeral rule requires funeral homes to agree to use caskets bought elsewhere without charging an extra fee, and the customer does not need to be present when the item is delivered.

"Don't be afraid to use smart, savvy shopping techniques that we often use with other types of major purchases," Gallegos said.

Some of the questions fielded by the federal and state officials involved embalming services.

Gallegos said embalming services are regulated by states but under the funeral rule, a funeral provider may not provide the service without permission, and he or she may not falsely say that such service is required by state law.

Patrick Stewart, a policy adviser for the consumer and environmental protection division under the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, mentioned the importance of making sure a funeral home and its providers are licensed by the state.

As for embalming services, they are not necessary, but state law mandates that remains be embalmed or sheltered in a refrigerated unit — set to at least 40 degrees — within 24 hours of death, Stewart said.

If rites or ceremonies require the remains to be out of refrigeration for more than 30 minutes, the remains must be embalmed, he added.

The Federal Trade Commission does accept complaints about funeral homes, and in New Mexico, complaints are address by the state Board of Funeral Services.

This is the fourth seminar the commission has presented on the Navajo Nation. Commission Chair Jennifer Denetdale said the decision to conduct the seminars, which started last year in Crownpoint, was based on concerns raised by tribal members.

The commission will provide comments and concerns collected during the seminars to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, which is the oversight committee on the tribal council for the commission, she said.

She added arranging a public discussion about funeral practices and services, including those that adhere to Navajo tradition, has been a long time coming.

"It's good to have these conversations. It's good to hear us speak openly about what is natural to life," she said.

Steven Darden, the commission vice chair, said information from today's meeting will help individuals make balanced decisions for their loved ones.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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