Don't Allow an Emotional Loss to Turn into a Financial Loss
Each year, Americans arrange more than 2 million funerals for family or friends. When arranging a funeral, consumers may not be initially concerned about costs. Still, many customers may spend more for a funeral than for almost anything else they buy. In fact, at an average cost of $7,181, a funeral may be the third most expensive consumer purchase after a home and a car.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) developed a trade regulation rule concerning funeral industry practices, which went into effect on April 30, 1984 and was revised in 1994. It is called the Funeral Rule, and its purpose is to enable consumers to obtain information about funeral arrangements.
The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The Rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes, and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use. (The Rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers, or to cemeteries that lack an on-site funeral home.)
Your Rights Under the Funeral Rule
The Funeral Rule gives you the right to:
- Buy only the funeral arrangements you want. You have the right to buy separate goods (such as caskets) and services (such as embalming or a memorial service). You do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.
- Get price information on the telephone. Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address, or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.
- Get a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home. The funeral home must give you a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one.
- See a written casket price list before you see the actual caskets. Sometimes, detailed casket price information is included on the funeral home’s GPL. More often, though, it’s provided on a separate casket price list. Get the price information before you see the caskets, so that you can ask about lower-priced products that may not be on display.
- See a written outer burial container price list. Outer burial containers are not required by state law anywhere in the U.S., but many cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from caving in. If the funeral home sells containers, but doesn’t list their prices on the GPL, you have the right to look at a separate container price list before you see the containers. If you don’t see the lower-priced containers listed, ask about them.
- Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay. It should show exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item. The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements.
- Get an explanation in the written statement from the funeral home that describes any legal cemetery or crematory requirement that requires you to buy any funeral goods or services.
- Use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremations must tell you that alternative containers are available, and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
- Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them.
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming. No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.
The Federal Rule requires funeral providers to give consumers information about embalming that can help them decide whether to purchase this service. Under the Rule, a funeral provider:
- may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
- must disclose in writing that, except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law.
- may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless it is required by state law.
- will disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition such as direct cremation or immediate burial if you do not want embalming.
- will disclose to you in writing that certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with a viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, thus, a required purchase.
In Missouri, if you are using a funeral director, the body must be embalmed, refrigerated, or placed in a hermetically sealed casket if disposition will not occur within 24 hours. (20 Missouri Code of State Regulations 2120-2.070
However, if you choose not to involve a funeral director, embalming is required in only a few circumstances, including the following:
- The person died of an infectious disease and burial or cremation will not occur within 24 hours. (19 Missouri Code of State Regulations 20-24.010
- The body will be transported by common carrier (such as an airplane or train), unless it is placed in a hermetically sealed container. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 194.100
- The person died of a “dangerous or communicable disease” and will be transported by common carrier, unless the body is wrapped in a disinfectant-saturated sheet and placed in a hermetically sealed casket. (See Missouri Revised Statutes §§ 194.070, 194.080 and 194.090
Basic Services Fee
The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers have to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. These include:
- funeral planning,
- securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates,
- preparing the notices,
- sheltering the remains, and
- coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.
The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise. All "funeral providers" must comply with the funeral rule. The Funeral Rule does not prevent funeral providers from offering a discount when there are special circumstances, such as arrangements for a friend or relative or a family that otherwise could not afford their services. However, you should not inflate the prices on any of your price lists in order to offer all or most of your customers a discount. In that case, the "discounted" prices would be the accurate prices and should be reflected on the price lists.
Charges for other services and merchandise, include costs for optional goods and services such as transporting the remains; embalming and other preparation; use of the funeral home for the viewing, ceremony or memorial service; use of equipment and staff for a graveside service; use of a hearse or limousine; a casket, outer burial container or alternate container; and cremation or interment.
Cash advances are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including:
- cemetery or crematory charges,
- obituary notices,
- officiating clergy, and
- musicians including pianist, organists and soloists.
Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to the cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn't require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts, or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.
Most decisions about purchasing funeral goods and services are made by people when they are grieving and under time constraints. Thinking ahead may help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. In this way, you can carefully choose the specific items you want and need and can compare prices offered by one or more funeral providers.In general, the rule makes it easier for you to select only those goods and services you want or need and to pay for only those you select. Now, for example, you can find out the cost of individual items over the telephone. Also, when you inquire in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral home will give you a written price list of the goods and services available. When arranging a funeral, you can purchase individual items or buy an entire package of goods and services. If you want to purchase a casket, the funeral provider will supply a list that describes all the available selections and their prices. Thus, as described in greater detail in the following sections, the FTC's Funeral Rule helps you obtain information about the cost and availability of individual funeral goods and services.
You can read the industry guidelines intended for funeral provides titled, "Complying with the Funeral Rule" for yourself.
Part of a series: Shopping for Funeral Services