Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying
Funeral Goods & Services
When a loved one dies, grieving family members and
friends often are confronted with dozens of
decisions about the funeral — all of which must be
made quickly and often under great emotional stress.
What kind of funeral should it be? What funeral
provider should you use? Should you bury or cremate
the body, or donate it to science? What are you
legally required to buy? What about the availability
of environmentally friendly or “green” burials? What
other arrangements should you plan? And,
practically, how much is it all going to cost?
Each year, people grapple with these and many other
questions as they spend billions of dollars
arranging funerals for family members and friends.
Many funeral providers offer various “packages” of
goods and services that make up different kinds of
funerals. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s
consumer protection agency, wants you to know that
when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right
to buy goods and services separately. That is, you
do not have to accept a package that may include
items you do not want.
The Funeral Rule
The Funeral Rule, enforced by the 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.)
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
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
Get an explanation in the written statement you
receive from the funeral home that identifies and
describes any legal, cemetery or crematory
requirement that compels the purchase of any funeral
goods or services for which you are being charged.
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
purchase 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
The casket and the funeral home’s fee for the basic
services of the funeral director and staff are
typically the most expensive items in a full-service
funeral. Comparison shop before you decide on a
casket and funeral home; you may find a wide
variation in pricing. If cost is a consideration,
look at lower-price caskets and outer burial
containers offered by the funeral home, local casket
providers, or online retailers. Caskets and outer
burial containers with warranties may not be worth
the extra cost because no casket or container can
delay the decomposition of human remains
indefinitely, and the Funeral Rule prohibits
statements to the contrary.
If you don’t want to hold a viewing, you can avoid
charges for embalming and “other preparation of the
body,” and the charges for a viewing. Most states do
not require embalming except in special cases. The
Funeral Rule requires that an explanation of any
charge for embalming be included in the written
statement you receive immediately after making the
Immediate burial and direct cremation usually are
the least expensive options. The cost of permits,
preparing death notices, and coordinating cemetery
or crematory arrangements must be included in the
price for direct cremation and immediate burial. If
you choose cremation, ask if the direct cremation
price includes any crematory fee. If you want
additional services, including the use of staff and
facilities for a memorial service, the funeral home
may charge an additional fee.
In most states, you are not
legally required to use a funeral home to conduct a
funeral. These functions may be handled by a
religious or other organization, or by your family.
In addition, veterans, their immediate family
members, public health workers, and some civilians
who provide military-related service are entitled to
burial in a national cemetery with a grave marker.
Burial for the veteran is free, but the family is
responsible for all funeral home expenses, such as
the funeral ceremony or memorial service, and
transportation to the cemetery. Many states have
low-cost cemeteries for veterans.
The Funeral Rule in
You have the right to choose the funeral goods and
services you want (with some exceptions).
The funeral provider must give you a General Price
List (GPL) that states your right to choose what you
want in writing.
If state or local law requires you to buy any
particular good or service, the funeral provider
must disclose it on the price list, with a reference
to the specific law.
The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a
casket or urn you bought elsewhere — or charge you a
fee to do that.
A funeral provider who offers cremations must make
alternative containers available.
You can’t be charged for embalming that your family
didn’t authorize, unless it’s required by state law.
Planning Your Own
Planning your own funeral arrangements can be a
thoughtful and considerate way to ease the burden on
your family. Planning lets you shop and compare
goods and services without time constraints. You can
find the best prices, make sensible decisions, and
discourage emotional overspending on elaborate
arrangements that family members might be tempted to
purchase in their bereavement. Share your plans with
family members so they understand your desires and
have the information they need.
Many people say that
discussions with a lawyer about preparing or
updating their will, living will or powers of
attorney (including a durable power of attorney for
health care) — or conversations with a financial
advisor about investment strategies for retirement —
prompt them to think about making arrangements for
their own funerals. Attorneys and financial
consultants can be good sources of information about