How the Funeral Rule Helps Consumers
February 22, 2017 | by Valerie Buck
In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established the Funeral Rule to give consumers of funeral services certain protections. The rule’s main objective was to ensure consumers receive adequate information concerning all of the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider. All funeral providers are required to comply.
Prior to the 1970s, the National Funeral Directors Association prohibited its members from advertising their prices in newspapers and other media. These practices made it easy for the association and funeral providers to take advantage of families seeking services. For example, this prohibition allowed providers to include unexpected fees as part of a funeral bill. Survivors paying these bills were often unaware of these fees and had no choice but to pay them. In 1968, the US Department of Justice sued the association over this issue. The suits and other encounters led to the FTC create the Funeral Rule.
The Funeral Rule offset many unfair practices and gave transparency to families who were dealing with the loss of a loved one and who were in a particular moment of weakness and vulnerability. As you know, after death, survivors do not have a lot of time to survey the market for the most affordable and honest funeral service.
How the Funeral Rule Helps Consumers
Regarding General Laws
- Disclosure of state and/or local laws which require a consumer to purchase particular items must be provided
- Written acknowledgment stating consumers do not have to purchase a packaged funeral arrangement
Regarding the Funeral
- Itemized details of a formal funeral service, included all associated expenses
- A General Price List must be given to all persons who inquire in person about funeral arrangements. A fee cannot be charged for providing this list. This General Price List must be offered when any discussion begins regarding funeral arrangements, goods or services or the prices of such, regardless of the location of the discussion.
- Written description and price list of all caskets must be provided before viewing any caskets for sale must be provided
- A funeral home may not claim any state or local law requires a casket for direct cremation
- A funeral home may not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket purchased outside of that funeral home
- Funeral homes who offer cremation must also offer an inexpensive, unfinished wood box or alternative container that is cremated with the body and written disclosure of the consumer’s rights to purchase this unfinished wood box or alternative container
Regarding the Deceased
- Written details regarding viewing or visitation of the deceased, included any associated expenses must be provided
- Regarding Transportation
- Written details regarding transportation to the cemetery, included any associated expenses must be provided Regarding General Billing
- Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay must be provided
To get an idea of common pricing for many of the goods and services above, consider reading our article, What Should I Expect to Pay for Funeral and Burial Expenses?
The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral homes from telling consumers state or local law require embalming. If state law does require embalming, the funeral home may tell the family embalming is required under specific circumstances. Funeral homes must disclose this in writing on the General Price List. Funerals with a viewing, however, may be one of the specific circumstances. If a family member wants to briefly view the deceased by lifting the lid of the casket prior to burial, the Funeral Rule prohibits the funeral home from charging the family for preparation of the body if embalming is declined since the request to see the deceased does not constitute a formal viewing.
Casket for Direct Cremation
The rule prohibits funeral homes from telling consumers state or local law requires the purchase of a casket for direct cremation. This must be disclosed in writing on the General Price List. If cremation is not offered, this disclosure may be omitted.
Outer Burial Container
The rule prohibits funeral homes from telling consumers state or local law requires them to buy an outer burial container, if that is not true. Funeral homes must disclose that state law does not require them to purchase an outer burial container. Funeral home must disclose this in writing on the General Price List.
However, some cemeteries require a container so the grave will not sink in. A grave liner or burial vault can often satisfy these requirements. If an outer burial container is needed, the General Price List must state the range of prices for the outer burial containers sold by the funeral home.
Per the Funeral Rule, funeral homes cannot tell consumers any federal, state or local law or any cemetery or crematory can require them to buy a particular good or service, if that is not true.
Preservative and Protective Value Claims
The rule prohibits any representations to consumers that funeral goods or services will delay the natural decomposition of human remains for a long term or an indefinite time. This also includes the use of certain caskets or burial containers. All warranty information must be provided to the family and clarified by the funeral home.
Cash Advance Items
The rule prohibits a funeral home from claiming the price of cash advanced items are the same as actual costs if the funeral home charges a mark-up, receives a commission, discount or rebate on cash advanced items that is not passed along to the consumer.
The rule does not prevent charging a mark-up nor does it require the funeral home to disclose the amount of the charge, rebate, commission or discount.
National Cemetery Administration - Veterans
Within the United States, all veterans (with a discharge other than dishonorable) are entitled to a grave marker and free burial in a national cemetery. This benefit is also extended the veteran’s spouse, dependent children and to some civilians who provided certain military related services or public health services. You may visit cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits/index.asp or veteransaidbenefit.org/va_burial_benefits.htm for more information.
Special deals for veterans are often available at funeral homes and cemeteries which can offer huge savings for veterans. Beware, inflated fees for services or adjoining spouses can make up for the cost savings.
The Funeral Rule requires all guidelines and rules set forth must be complied with at the time pre-need funeral arrangements are discussed, at the time of contract purchase and at the time of the actual funeral. The rule does not cover the language and parameters of the actual pre-need contract, nor the guidelines on items such as payment options, costs or ability to modify, transfer or cancel the contract, or any administrative fees. If the contract holders inquire about funeral goods or services, alter the pre-need funeral arrangements or are required to pay additional sums of money, all price lists and disclosures must be provided in writing by the funeral home.
Any party who sells these contacts must comply with the Funeral Rule.
Any pre-need funeral arrangement or pre-need contracts purchased prior to April 30, 1984, when the Funeral Rule went into effect does not apply. Any modifications made after April 30, 1984 are governed by the Funeral Rule.
The Funeral Rule and Online Advertising
Currently, under the Funeral Rule, there is no language requiring funeral homes to post their pricing online. However, in California, funeral homes must either post their price list online or post a list of their products and tell consumers that a price list is available on request.
If you were not given a general price list or if a funeral and burial cost was substantially more than you were told, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission here: ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1
References and more information: