Know your rights when purchasing funeral services
Shopping for funeral products and services is challenging because they are seldom purchased.
This is made all the more difficult because of confusing terms, bundled product packages, and a feeling of urgency during an emotionally challenging time.
All of this can sometimes lead to unwanted choices.
To "help consumers make informed decisions," and to protect them from predatory behavior, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the Funeral Rule, a federal law that outlines what funeral homes are required to provide to prospective customers.
Important Before shopping for end-of-life products and services, it's important to first understand your consumer rights. Know what to ask for when speaking with funeral homes by reading an outline of the rule below.
1) Only purchase the products and services you need
- You are not required to purchase a bundled package that includes unwanted items
- If what you'd like to purchase is part of a bundle, ask to purchase them individually
- You can purchase funeral products (e.g., caskets) and services (e.g. embalming or a memorial service) separately
- Not all products are required by law (e.g., embalming is only legally required when crossing state lines)
2) Get price information over the phone
- Funeral directors must provide price information over the telephone if asked
- You are not required to give your name, address, or telephone number to receive this information
- Funeral homes may mail price lists, or post them on a website, but they are not required to do so by law
- If the funeral provider doesn't know the cost at the time, they are required to give you a "good faith estimate"
- This estimate must also disclose any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase specific funeral goods or services
3) Ask for an itemized price list
- When purchasing multiple products, ask to see a price for each product
- Funeral homes must provide a general price list which itemizes all their products and services
- This allows you to search for lower-priced options before making a final decision
- This is especially helpful for products which may not be on display in a showroom
Additionally, funeral providers are allowed to charge a baseline fee that covers many of the basic services common to all funerals, no matter the arrangement.
- Funeral planning
- Securing permits and copies of death certificates
- Preparing required notices
- Sheltering the deceased's remains
- Coordinating arrangements with the cemetery, crematory, or other third parties
The fee does not include additional charges for optional services or products (e.g., caskets, urns, flowers, etc.).
4) Purchase funeral products anywhere, not just the funeral home
- You are allowed to purchase funeral products anywhere, not just from the funeral home you hire
- Funeral homes cannot refuse, or charge a fee, for the use of these products (e.g., casket or urn)
- Funeral homes that offer cremation services must provide alternative containers for remains
- You are not required to purchase a casket for cremation, or to only purchase what's offered by the funeral home or crematorium
- You may choose any container for cremated remains you wish, and purchase it from anywhere
5) Review a contract before paying
- The contract should list every item and its individual cost
- It should also state a total price, and payment terms
- If you ask, the funeral home is also required to identify which goods or services are required by state law
- This is important as it relates to the funeral service
- For example, some funeral homes may require embalming for a public viewing, but this is not required by law in most states
What products normally appear in a funeral home contract?
Funeral providers are allowed to charge a baseline fee that covers many of the basic services common to all funerals, no matter the arrangement.
- General funeral coordination and planning
- Obtaining required permits and copies of the Death Certificate
- Drafting and posting required notices
- Housing the deceased's remains
- Coordinating with the cemetery, crematory, or other third parties for final arrangements
The fee does not include additional charges for optional services or products such as:
- Embalming and other optional preparations
- Use of facilities and staff for a viewing, funeral, or memorial services
- Post-funeral memorial services
- Cemetery fees (plot, services, burial vault)
- A graveside service (equipment, staff, and products)
- Gravestone (also known as a headstone or monument)
- Cremation services
- Caskets, alternative burial container, or urns
- Transportation of the deceased's remains
- Use of hearse or limousine for the deceased and the surviving family
- Flowers or paper stationery
- Obituary notices
- An officiating clergy
Good to Know Sometimes a funeral home will ask for a cash advance for the products and services it purchases from outside vendors on your behalf.
The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to disclose if they are charging an extra fee, or markup, on the cost of these goods.
They are also required to tell you if there are refunds, discounts, or rebates from any supplier paid with this cash advance.
Are you required to use a funeral home?
You are not obligated to use a funeral home in all but nine states (Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York legally require you to hire a funeral home and funeral director to manage final disposition of a deceased person).
Important Without a funeral director's supervision, you will be solely responsible for abiding by your state's laws for a do-it-yourself (DIY) funeral. This can be challenging because each state has their own laws about final disposition.
These laws include, but are not limited to:
- Body transportation
- Official paperwork submissions and requests
- Burial location zoning restrictions
- Permit requirements
For example, while most states allow for burial on private property outside large cities, each county has their own laws for where the burial may be allowed.
Good to Know Home burial is not lawfully allowed in California, Indiana, and Washington state, and no state allows for a DIY cremation; this always needs to be done by a licensed professional.
Furthermore, some states forbid anyone but a funeral director from requesting official paperwork like a death certificate from local government agencies.
Providers If you are interested in managing the deceased's final disposition yourself without professional support, it's best to speak with an attorney and/or state and local government to ensure that no laws are broken. See the links below for attorneys near you.
Common myths about funerals
Death and funerals are such esoteric subjects that not knowing much about them makes sense.
As a result, it's easy to believe common myths that have developed over time. However, they can be harmful for a person navigating the process.
Here a few of the more common ones to be on the lookout for:
You must hire a funeral home
- Not true
- In most states you can legally care for the deceased's body at home for several days, and call a funeral home or crematory when ready
- And in 41 states you can manage the full end-of-life process yourself, including final disposition
- In this case, you will need to familiarize yourself with your state's laws
Embalming is required by law
- Not true
- In most states, it’s not required at all, under any circumstances
- If there's a delay before final disposition, then refrigeration can be used instead
- A funeral director must inform you when embalming is not required
- Funeral directors will insist on embalming if an open-casket viewing is requested, but only for aesthetic reasons
- The only other circumstance where it's legally required is if the body is going to be crossing certain state lines (though this can be contested due to religious reasons)
Embalming helps to protects your health
- Not true
- In fact, the chemicals used for embalming are often toxic and can create a health hazard themselves
Embalming helps prevent decomposition
- Not true
- The embalming used by funeral homes will only be effective for a week
- No matter what, a deceased person's body will decompose
Reinforced caskets protect body decomposition
- Not true
- More expensive, "protective" caskets may help keep the elements out for some time, but they do not last for very long
- Decomposition of the body is a certainty
Burial vaults are required by law
- Not true
- But most cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from sinking in after decomposition of the body and casket
- Burial vaults are also not required for cremated remains
Cremated remains must be placed in an urn or buried in a cemetery
- Not true
- You can use whatever container you want to hold cremated remains
Is embalming required?
Whether or not embalming is required depends on the location of the deceased and other specific factors. Avoiding this service can save you hundreds of dollars.
Important No state requires embalming for all deaths, but some states have specific circumstances for when embalming is required. Check your state and local laws to determine whether embalming is required.
Embalming is required when a body will be transported out of Alabama.
Embalming is required if the body is shipped by common carrier out of Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Jersey.
Several other states require either embalming or a sealed casket if the body is shipped by common carrier. However, this is rarely enforced and funeral homes in those states will routinely ship unembalmed bodies (for Jewish clients, for example).
If the body is being transported by a common carrier, they will likely require embalming. Transportation of non-cremated remains across state lines generally requires embalming as well.
Though it is never a legal requirement for viewing a body, most funeral homes will insist on embalming if an open-casket viewing or funeral is planned.
Direct cremation and immediate burial do not require any preservation whatsoever, and in other cases, refrigeration may be a viable alternative.
Good to Know The FTC Funeral Rule prohibits funeral homes from telling consumers that state or local law requires embalming unless that is true. The funeral director must inform you that embalming is not required except in certain special cases.
How to file a complaint to the FTC
To report a violation of your rights or other unfair business practices, you can file a complaint with your state's Funeral Board or your state's Attorney General.
You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through their online Complaint Assistant or by calling the FTC's helpline.
Providers to Contact
Estate Attorneys Near You
Estate attorneys can help you understand your rights under the Funeral Rule. They help with every step of the estate administration process and advise you of any relevant laws.