When a loved one dies, grieving family members are left with countless decisions to make about the funeral – all of which need to be made quickly.
- What kind of funeral should it be?
- Which funeral home should we use?
- How much should we spend?
- Is there anything we need to buy besides a casket?
Every year, thousands of Americans struggle with these decisions and need help with funeral costs. It’s common for people to wonder where to start.
A good first step is understanding what your rights are when it comes to funeral expenses and other burial costs.
Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state and understanding them can be daunting. Knowing and understanding all of your options will help reduce the stress of funeral planning and protect your rights when interacting with funeral homes.
Below is a quick list of rights and funeral planning tips that can help you with funeral expenses.
“The Funeral Rule”
The Funeral Rule was introduced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prevent funeral homes from pressuring people into buying goods and services they didn’t want or need, and from charging inflated prices for the items they did want.
The goal of this rule is to help consumers know their rights when it comes to funeral home costs. The Funeral Rule gives consumers the right to:
- Buy only the goods and services you want. Some funeral home providers offer package deals that may include goods and services you don’t want or need. You are not obligated to purchase any funeral package that contains items you don’t want.
- Receive pricing information by telephone. By law, funeral homes must provide pricing information for their products and services if you request it. You are not obligated to give any personal information to obtain funeral home costs.
- Receive an itemized statement of goods and services. The funeral provider must give what’s called a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists the individual costs of all the items and services they offer.
- See a casket price list. Funeral homes are required to show a dated, printed list that includes containers not displayed. Often, only certain caskets are put on display in funeral showrooms (usually the best they have to offer). The printed list is intended to show you selections that may not be on display.
- See a written price list for outer burial containers. Outer burial containers (also called grave liners) surround a casket once it’s been placed in the ground. There are no state laws requiring burial containers, but many cemeteries require them to prevent a grave from caving in. Your funeral home may or may not sell such containers. If they do, it may be listed on their GPL. If it is not listed, you have the right to request a separate price list for the container.
- Receive a written statement after you’ve decided what you want and before you pay. The statement should provide a detailed overview of what is being purchased and the exact cost of each service. It should itemize each cost and provide a total. It must also inform you of any cemetery or crematory requirements that may cost additional money.
- Use an alternative container for cremation. No law requires you to use a casket for cremation. If a funeral home offers cremation services, they are required to inform you that alternative containers are available.
- Provide your own casket or urn. By law, a funeral provider can’t refuse a casket or urn bought from an outside source. They also can’t charge a handling fee. You are not required to be present when the casket or urn is delivered to the funeral home.
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming. No state law requires embalming for every death. Some states may require embalming or refrigeration of the body if it is not buried or cremated within a certain period of time. Refrigeration is often an acceptable alternative to embalming. Services such as direct cremation and immediate burial don’t require embalming. A funeral home can’t embalm a body without your consent.
Veterans’ rights when it comes to funeral costs
To help with funeral costs, all military veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. Spouses and dependent children of veterans are also entitled to a plot and marker in a national cemetery.
For veterans, there are typically no costs for opening and closing the grave, for a vault liner, or for setting the grave marker. The family is usually responsible for other funeral costs such as transportation.
Many states have established veteran cemeteries, but some commercial cemeteries offer discounts for veterans. These cemeteries sometimes offer a free plot for the veteran, but sometimes charge high fees to open and close the grave. It’s important to evaluate all of your options before choosing a commercial cemetery.
For more information, you can visit the National Cemetery Administration or call the regional VA office in your area by dialing 1-800-827-1000.
Funerals are like any big purchase – they require a lot of careful planning and there are lots of questions to be answered. The problem is most family members are unprepared when it comes to making many of these decisions and need help with funeral and burial costs. Families often don’t know they have protected rights when working with funeral homes.
Who will be there to guide them through this process?
That’s why there are organizations like the Funeral Consumer Guardian Society (FCGS) who can help surviving family members make smarter purchase decisions.
To find out more about the kind of services the FCGS provides, click the link below.< Back to Consumer Resources