Consumer rights when planning funerals
Few of us know our rights when making funeral arrangements. According to an online survey of 2,009 Americans commissioned in November by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA), only one-quarter of respondents know that funeral homes must provide a quote on the phone and an itemized price list in person.
To better inform consumers about their funeral rights, FCA and CFA released a free pamphlet titled “Planning a Funeral: 5 Key Tips.”
Here are summaries of the points that will allow you to take control of your funeral choices:
Talk it out ahead of time
Making funeral arrangements at the last minute can be stressful, expensive and disappointing in terms of services received.
A frank conversation with family can make everyone’s wishes and needs clear — which services are important and meaningful, and which are not? Cremation or whole-body burial? Does your loved one want viewing/calling hours? A graveside service? Does he or she envision a funeral ceremony at the funeral home, house of worship, family home, or no ceremony?
Know your rights
The Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule” gives you specific rights when arranging a funeral. They include:
- The right to receive an itemized price list (called a “General Price List”) at the beginning of any discussion with a funeral home about funeral arrangements
- The right to price quotes over the phone
- The right to buy goods and services item by item, rather than as a package
- In most cases, the right to decline embalming
- The right to a written, itemized estimate before the funeral
- The right to supply your own casket without paying a “handling fee” at the funeral home.
In the same town or region, some funeral homes may charge twice as much as others for the same services.
Visit funerals.org to see if there’s a Funeral Consumers Alliance group in your area. These groups offer cost-comparison surveys, and may be able to tell you which local funeral homes are most affordable.
Pick several funeral homes and ask them for a “General Price List.” While the Funeral Rule doesn’t require funeral homes to mail or provide price lists electronically, some funeral homes will do so. If you visit in person, the funeral home must give you a price list to keep.
Consider doing business with a funeral home that posts its prices online or is willing to email their price list on request.
Keep it simple
All funeral homes have to offer two simple services: Direct Cremation and Immediate/Direct Burial. These services do not include embalming or any ceremonies, and they’re usually the most affordable choices.
For Direct Cremation, $800 to $1,300 is a reasonable price range.
For Immediate/Direct Burial, $1,000 to $1,500 is a reasonable price range. Remember that the casket is usually extra, and that cemetery fees always cost extra.
Body donation to a medical institution may be free. Check with the medical schools in your area.
Instead of paying a funeral home for a ceremony, survivors can arrange a memorial service later at home, a house of worship, or at a venue like a restaurant banquet room.
Avoid expensive extras
Some funeral homes will try to sell you or your survivors goods or services that may offer little benefit but do drive up costs.
Sealed or “protective” caskets cost more than the non-sealed but don’t “protect” the body from decay. (No caskets do.)
If the cemetery requires a rigid outer container to surround the casket, choose a simple concrete grave liner. More expensive sealing vaults, like sealing caskets, don’t do anything extra yet cost more.
Pay close attention to the items included in any package funeral. You have the right to choose goods and services item by item.