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.
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 $2,400, 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. It is called the Funeral Rule, and its purpose is to enable consumers to obtain information about funeral arrangements.
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.
Telephone Price Disclosures
When you call a funeral provider and ask about terms, conditions, or prices of funeral goods or services, the funeral provider will:
- tell you that price information is available over the telephone.
- give you prices and other information from the price lists to reasonably answer your questions.
- give you any other information about prices or offerings that is readily available and reasonably answer your questions.
By using the telephone, you can compare prices among funeral providers. Getting price information over the telephone may thus help you select a funeral home and the arrangements you want.
General Price List
If you inquire in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral provider will give you a general price list. This list, which you can keep, contains the cost of each individual funeral item and services offered. As with telephone inquiries, you can use this information to help select the funeral provider and funeral items you want, need, and are able to afford.
The price list also discloses important legal rights and requirements regarding funeral arrangements. It must include information on embalming, cash advance sales (such as newspaper notices or flowers), caskets for cremation, and required purchases.
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.
Cash Advance Sales
The Funeral Rule requires funeral providers to disclose to you in writing if they charge a fee for buying cash advance items. Cash advance items are goods or services that are paid for by the funeral provider on your behalf. Some examples of cash advance items are flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, and clergy honoraria. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for these items. Others add a service fee to their cost.
The Federal Rule requires the funeral provider to inform you when a service fee is added to the price of cash advance items, or it the provider gets a refund, discount, or rebate from the supplier of any cash advance item.
Caskets for Cremation
Some consumers may want to select direct cremation, which is cremation of the deceased without a viewing or other ceremony at which the body is present. If you choose a direct cremation, the funeral provider will offer you either an inexpensive alternative container or an unfinished wood box. An alternative container is a non-metal enclosure used to hold the deceased. These containers may be made of pressboard, cardboard, or canvas.
Because any container you buy will be destroyed during the cremation, you may wish to use an alternative container or an unfinished wood box for a direct cremation. These could lower your funeral cost since they are less expensive than traditional burial caskets.
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:
- may not tell you that state or local laws require a casket.
- must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box (a type of casket) or an alternative container.
- must make an unfinished wood box or alternative container available.
You do not have to purchase unwanted goods or services as a condition of obtaining those you do want unless you are required to do so by state law. Under the Funeral Rule:
- You have the right to choose only the funeral goods and services you want, with some disclosed exceptions.
- The funeral provider must disclose this right in writing on the general price list.
- The funeral provider must disclose on the statement of goods and services selected the specific law that requires you to purchase any particular item.
Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected
The funeral provider will give you an itemized statement with the total cost of the funeral goods and services you select. This statement also will disclose any legal, cemetery, or crematory requirements that compel you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services.
The funeral provider must give you this statement after you select the funeral goods and services that you would like. The statement combines in one place the prices of the individual items you are considering for purchase, as well as the total price. Thus, you can decide whether to add or to subtract items to get what you want. If the cost of cash advance items is not known at the time, the funeral provider must write down a "good faith estimate" of their costs. The Rule does not require any specific form for this information. Therefore, funeral providers may include this information in any documentation they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.
Preservative and Protective Claims
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral providers are prohibited from telling you a particular funeral item or service can indefinitely preserve the body of the deceased in the grave. The information gathered during the FTC's investigation indicated these claims are not true. For example, funeral providers may not claim embalming or a particular type of casket will indefinitely preserve the deceased's body.
The Rule also prohibits funeral providers from making claims that funeral goods, such as caskets or vaults, will keep out water, dirt, and other grave site substances when that is not true.
If you decide to make advance plans about funeral arrangements either for yourself or a loved one, you can choose among several types of dispositions and ceremonies. The type of disposition you choose may affect the cost. Some people prefer a ceremonial service, religious or secular, with the body present. Another service is cremation, which may be performed either directly or after a ceremony. In addition, the deceased body may be donated (either directly or after a ceremony) to a medical or educational institution. To help ensure that your wishes are carried out, you may want to tell relatives and other responsible persons what you have decided.
For More Information
Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the licensing board in your state for information or help. You may also contact the Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards, 520 E. Van Trees Street, P.O. Box 497, Washington, IN 47501; (812) 254-7887. This association, which represents the licensing boards of 47 states, will provide information on the laws of the various states and will accept and respond to consumer inquiries of complaints about funeral providers.
For Further Help
If you have problems concerning funeral matters, first attempt to resolve them with your funeral director. If you are dissatisfied, contact your federal, state, or local consumer protection agencies or the Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards.