Funerals: A Consumer Guide

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 duress.

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 other arrangements should you plan?
And, as callous as it may sound; how much is it all going to cost?

Each year, Americans grapple with these and many other questions as they spend billions of dollars arranging more than 2 million funerals for family members and friends.

Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $8,000, although “extras” like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards or limousines can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Many funerals run well over $10,000.

Steps to Preparing for a Funeral

Click a topic below to read more about it.

Thinking ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. It allows you to choose the specific items you want and need and compare the prices offered by several funeral providers. It also spares your survivors the stress of making these decisions under the pressure of time and strong emotions.

“It’s a good idea to review and revise your decision every few years.”

Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members and your attorney, and keep a copy in a handy place. Don’t designate your preferences in your will, because a will often is not found or read until after the funeral.

If you’re thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it’s important to consider these issues before putting down any money:

Things to consider if Prepaying

  1. What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?
  2. What happens to the money you’ve prepaid?
  3. What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
  4. Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
  5. Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  6. What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home?
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Did You Know?

Millions of Americans have entered into contracts to prearrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved.

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Don’t Forget…

Be sure to tell your family about the plans you’ve made; let them know where the documents are filed.

  1. According to the Funeral Rule
  2. You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
  3. The funeral provider must state this right in writing on the general price list.
  4. 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.
  5. The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
  6. A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.

Most funeral providers are professionals who strive to serve their clients’ needs and best interests.

But some aren’t. They may take advantage of their clients through inflated prices, overcharges, double charges or unnecessary services.

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Many funeral providers offer various “Packages” of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral.

But when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy individual goods and services. That is, you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.

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What Kind of Funeral Do You Want?

Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. Funeral practices are influenced by religious and cultural traditions, costs and personal preferences. These factors help determine whether the funeral will be elaborate or simple, public or private, religious or secular, and where it will be held. They also influence whether the body will be present at the funeral, if there will be a viewing or visitation, and if so, whether the casket will be open or closed, and whether the remains will be buried or cremated.

Among the choices you’ll need to make is whether you want one of these basic types of funerals, or something in between.

Many people don’t realize that they are not legally required to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. However, because they have little experience with the many details and legal requirements involved and may be emotionally distraught when it’s time to make the plans; many people find the services of a professional funeral home to be a comfort.

Comparison shopping need not be difficult, especially if it’s done before the need for a funeral arises. If you visit a funeral home in person, the funeral provider is required by law to give you a general price list itemizing the cost of the items and services the home offers. If the general price list does not include specific prices of caskets or outer burial containers, the law requires the funeral director to show you the price lists for those items before showing you the items.

Sometimes it’s more convenient and less stressful to “price shop” funeral homes by telephone. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide price information over the phone to any caller who asks for it. In addition, many funeral homes are happy to mail you their price lists, although that is not required by law.

When comparing prices, be sure to consider the total cost of all the items together, in addition to the costs of single items. Every funeral home should have price lists that include all the items essential for the different types of arrangements it offers. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than purchasing individual items or services. Offering package funerals is permitted by law, as long as an itemized price list also is provided. But only by using the price lists can you accurately compare total costs.

  1.    Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff
    • The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers cannot decline to pay. 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, and coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties. The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise.
  2.    Charges for other services and merchandise
    • These are costs for optional goods and services such as 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; and cremation or interment.
  3.    Cash Advances
    • These are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, officiating clergy, and organists and soloists. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to their cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn’t require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.
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