The Funeral Rule was written to protect consumers at a time when they may be vulnerable. Talking about funerals before they become necessary is difficult for many in our society. Consequently, many of those same people are faced with making decisions that could be quite costly when emotions are high and time is short. Many funeral home directors are ethical; however, as in dealing with any for-profit vendor, the buyer needs to be aware.
The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral homes to provide itemized price lists for services and options that they offer. Funeral homes must disclose prices by telephone, but you have to specifically ask.
You have the right to purchase individual goods and services from the funeral home.
The Funeral Home:
- Must provide information about costs in response to telephone inquiries, if asked
- Must provide an itemized price list to prospective purchasers
- If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law
- Must explain to purchasers that caskets are not required for cremation, that "alternative containers" may be substituted, and make them available
- May not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere
- Must disclose whether charges will be imposed for "cash advance" items and must inform you of refunds, discounts, and/or rebates
- Must itemize all costs separately and not tie the cost of one item or service to the purchase of another
- Must provide all purchasers with an itemized list of funeral goods and services selected
- May not provide embalming services without permission
- May not falsely state that embalming is required by law
- Must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases when it is
- Must disclose, in writing, that you have the right to choose direct cremation or immediate burial, neither of which require embalming
- Must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing (especially if the viewing is delayed), may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase
- Must show you a list of caskets with prices before showing the actual items
Consumers are allowed to decline, and refuse to pay for, anything that they wish - with one exception. The "non-declinable basic services fee" is a service that a consumer must purchase if the funeral home is used. 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
- coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties
Optional goods and services are not included and may be charged separately. These include:
- 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
Under the federal Funeral Rule, a funeral home cannot charge extra if you provide your own casket from an outside source. No casket is required for a direct cremation (your state may require an alternative container), immediate burial (an alternative container may be used), or when donating one's body to science. Should cremation be chosen, the funeral home must inform you that caskets are not necessary and that an alternative container will satisfy crematory requirements. Alternative containers are typically constructed of heavy cardboard (with a reinforced bottom) or fiberboard, and prices usually start from $20. While crematories require only that the body be delivered in a combustible container, it is not uncommon to find funeral homes listing alternative containers for as much as $200 or more. Consumers need to be wary of confusing pricing practices. It is not unusual for the listed price for cremation to include only the services of the funeral home, with both the cost of the alternative container and the cremation itself being extra.
Since the Funeral Rule was written, clarifications have been made by the Federal Trade Commission. Here are some of them:
- If you select direct burial or cremation, the arrangements fee cannot be added since it is already figured into the prices for these services.
- Refrigeration of the body may be refused by the customer.
- Topical disinfection, the external cleansing of the body, is part of the embalming process. If embalming is chosen, there cannot be an additional charge for this service.
- Topical disinfection is the customer's choice if embalming is not chosen.
- An extra charge for preparing or handling the body of a person who has died of an infectious disease, such as AIDS, hepatitis B or tuberculosis may not be charged.
- A family may see the body briefly, no matter what funeral arrangements have been made. However, if this process is prolonged, the funeral director may consider it a viewing or visitation and a fee may be charged.
- A funeral home may not "bundle" services and include them in the basic services fee, which you have to pay.
- The Funeral Consumer's Alliance staff has issued an opinion that funeral homes cannot charge separately for "sheltering of remains" in the first three days, but this opinion is not a part of the regulations.
- A crematory may not charge a family for viewing the body prior to cremation to ensure identity. It is the funeral home and/or crematory's responsibility to ensure that the proper person is being cremated unless your state specifically requires this type of identification. They may charge for viewing if you specifically ask for a private viewing (versus briefly viewing the body).
If you have questions about what is acceptable and what is not, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) or the Funeral Consumer's Alliance.