When a person you love passes away, it’s such an emotional time. Whether it’s something you anticipated or it’s sudden, you quickly become overwhelmed with feelings of grief. At that same time, you’re expected to be able to think lucidly, plan a funeral, and often organize a burial.
The median cost of a funeral has risen 6.6% over the past 5 years. The average funeral cost in Massachusetts is $10,216. Since this is a substantial amount of money, families often want to treat it like other big expenditures and compare prices. However, quite often funeral homes instruct families to come in to get pricing, which makes comparing the prices too time consuming at a time when the family is grieving. And once you’re in the room at the funeral parlor for a good amount of time, you just don’t have the energy to do it again and again.
In an effort to make sure funeral and burial service providers don’t take advantage of survivors, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created the Funeral Rule. Enacted in 1982, the Funeral Rule’s purpose is to protect people who are planning a funeral from unfair funeral practices.
If you’re planning a funeral and burial or cremation, under the Funeral Rule you have the right to:
Buy only the funeral arrangements you want.
Many funeral homes combine their services to offer you packages, but there may be services in there you don’t want. You can buy your own goods from another vendor like a casket or urn, and services from other providers (e.g., embalming). You don’t have to just accept their entire package if it includes things you don’t even want.
Get price information over the telephone.
Staff at a funeral home may ask you to come in to talk to them to get pricing. What if you want to compare costs between a couple of funeral parlors? Meeting in person takes up a lot of time and makes comparing pricing when planning a funeral quite a struggle. Also, when you call a funeral home, you don’t have to give them your personal information (name, address, phone #, email address) to get the pricing information.
Get a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home.
The funeral home needs to give you a General Price List that provide everything they offer along with the cost for each item and service. This list is yours to keep.
See a written casket price list before you see the actual caskets.
The casket price list will either be in the General Price List or it may be on a separate piece of paper. Some funeral homes don’t have all available caskets on display. You can use this list to make sure you see lower-priced caskets that possibly aren’t on display.
See a written outer burial container price list.
A casket is often put inside a burial container (also called a “burial vault”). Although burial containers aren’t mandated by law, many cemeteries do require them to help protect the casket from the weight of the earth and heavy maintenance equipment that will pass over the grave. It also helps resist water and prevent the ground from settling.
Receive a written statement after you decide what you want and before you pay.
This statement should show you every good and service you have chosen, the price of each, and the total cost.
Get a written explanation of the requirements.
If the funeral home tells you to buy certain goods and services from them because they are legal requirements of the cemetery or crematory, you have a right to a written explanation describing those regulations.
Use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation.
There’s no law, either local or state, that requires the use of a casket when there’s a cremation. If a funeral home offers cremation, it must tell you what other containers are available for use. Options may include lower-priced choices like pressed wood, fiberboard, unfinished wood, or cardboard.
Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere.
You have the right to purchase a casket or urn online or anywhere else. The funeral home can’t charge you a fee for it or refuse to use the casket or urn you provide. You don’t have to be at the funeral home when the item is delivered.
Make funeral arrangements without embalming.
Funeral homes may have a policy that requires embalming if the body will be viewed publicly, but there is no state law that requires embalming. If a body isn’t cremated or buried within a certain time period, some states do require embalming or refrigeration of the body.
You can decide to do direct cremation and immediate burial, which wouldn’t require any preservation of the body. The funeral home may also allow for a private family viewing without embalming. If preservation is a practical necessity based on your chosen funeral/burial arrangements, you can ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.
The Funeral Rule was enacted in 1982 and was last updated in 1994. While it does require transparent pricing in person or over the phone, it doesn’t yet mandate providing detailed pricing on the Internet. Online pricing would make it much easier for grieving families to be able to compare costs. Hopefully, the Funeral Rule will be updated to include this in the near future.
For more information about planning a funeral, this article provides a glossary of terms used when planning a funeral, and a list of resources for more information.