Each year, Americans arrange more than 2 million funerals, often costing $10,000 or more. What are your options? What is required by law? What information are you entitled to? This Guide provides the answers to these and other questions.
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Most decisions about purchasing funeral goods and services are made by people who are grieving and under time constraints. Thinking ahead may help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. Moreover, it will relieve some of the stress. If you plan ahead, you can carefully choose the specific items you want and need and can compare prices offered by one or more funeral providers.
There are federal regulations aimed at protecting purchase vs. funeral arrangements and services. This Financial Guide explains how to take advantage of these regulations to arrange for a funeral in the most cost-effective way.
When the time comes to make funeral arrangements, first decide how much you want to spend for the funeral. Funerals generally range from $4,000 to $6,000, and often much more, depending on location and style. Knowing how much you want to spend will help you to plan the funeral, and to keep costs within reason.
A cost-saving alternative for some people is a memorial society (click here for a list of memorial societies). Members of these non-profit groups, located in 40 states, have access to less expensive funeral alternatives, and may save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on funeral arrangements.
If you decide to make plans about funeral arrangements in advance, either for yourself or a loved one, you'll have choices of several types of dispositions and ceremonies. Unless a deceased person has indicated his or her desires, you will have to choose how the remains will be disposed of: burial, entombment, or cremation. You may wish to consult with your religious leader. The type of disposition you choose will affect the cost.
To help ensure that your own wishes are carried out, you may want to write down your preferences. It also may be helpful to tell relatives and other responsible persons what you have decided.
When pre-planning funeral arrangements, here are some of the services and options you should consider:
Bring a friend or relative with you, someone who is not emotionally involved, when making funeral arrangements, whether or not you are pre-planning them. This can help you keep the proper perspective on costs and elaborateness.
The Funeral Rule is the FTC's trade regulation rule concerning funeral industry practices and has been in effect since April 30, 1984. This rule, which is a trade regulation rule for the funeral industry, enables you to get cost and other information about funeral arrangements both over the telephone and in person. It makes it easier for you to select only those goods and services you want or need and to pay for only those you select.
The Funeral Rule requires that the funeral provider gives you a Statement of Funerals and Services Selected after you select the funeral goods and services you would like. The statement shows the prices of the individual items you are considering for purchase, as well as the total price. It also requires providers to give you the cost of individual items over the telephone or, if when you inquire in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral home will give you a written price list of the goods and services available.
When arranging a funeral, you can purchase individual items or buy an entire package of goods and services. If you want to purchase a casket and/or vault, the funeral provider will supply lists that describe all the available selections and their prices. As described in greater detail in the following section, the Funeral Rule helps you obtain information about the cost and availability of individual funeral goods and services.
When you call a funeral provider and ask them about terms, conditions, or prices of funeral goods and services, the funeral provider will:
By using the telephone, you can compare prices among funeral providers. Getting price information over the telephone may help you select a funeral home and the arrangements you want.
If you inquire in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral provider will give you a general price list. This list, which you can keep, contains the cost of each individual funeral item and service offered. It also discloses important legal rights and requirements regarding funeral arrangements. It must include information about embalming, caskets for cremation, and required purchases.
Use this information to help select the funeral provider and funeral items you want, need, and are able to afford.
The Funeral Rule requires funeral providers to give you information about embalming that may help you decide whether to purchase this service. Under the Rule, a funeral provider:
Cash Advance Sales
The Funeral Rule requires providers to disclose to you in writing if they charge a fee for buying cash advance items. Cash advance items are goods or services that are paid for by the funeral provider on your behalf. Some examples of cash advance items are flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, and clergy honoraria. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for these items. Others add a service fee to their cost.
The Funeral Rule requires the funeral provider to inform you when a service fee is added to the price of cash advance items or if the provider gets a refund, discount, or rebate from the supplier of any cash advance item.
Some people may want to select direct cremation, which is cremation of the deceased without a viewing or other ceremony at which the body is present. If you choose a direct cremation, the funeral provider will offer you either an inexpensive alternative container or an unfinished wood box. An alternative container is a non-metal enclosure used to hold the deceased. These containers may be of pressboard, cardboard, or canvas.
Because any container you buy will be destroyed during the cremation, you may wish to use an alternative container or an unfinished wood box for a direct cremation. These could lower your funeral costs since they are less expensive than traditional burial caskets.
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:
You do not have to purchase unwanted goods or services or pay any fees as a condition of obtaining those products and services you do want, other than one permitted fee for services of the funeral director and staff and fees for other goods and services selected by you or required by state law. Under the Funeral Rule:
Preservative and Protective Claims
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral providers are prohibited from telling you a particular funeral item or service can indefinitely preserve the body of the deceased in the grave. The information gathered during the FTC's investigation indicated these claims are not true. For example, funeral providers may not claim embalming or a particular type of casket will indefinitely preserve the deceased's body.
The Rule also prohibits funeral providers from making claims that funeral goods, such as caskets or vaults, will keep out water, dirt, or other gravesite substances when it is not true.
The funeral provider will give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you select.
This statement also will disclose any legal, cemetery, or crematory requirements that require you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services.
The funeral provider must give you this statement after you select the funeral goods and services that you would like. The statement combines in one place the prices of the individual items you are considering for purchase, as well as the total price. You can decide whether to add or subtract items to get what you want. If the cost of cash advance items is not known at this time, the funeral provider must write down a good faith estimate of their cost.
The Funeral Rule does not require any specific form for this information. Therefore, this information might be included in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.
If you have a problem concerning funeral matters, you should, of course, first attempt to resolve it with your funeral director. If you are dissatisfied, contact your federal, state, or local consumer protection agencies or one of the organizations in the "Useful Resources" section below.
While the Federal Trade Commission does not resolve individual consumer disputes, information about your experience may show a pattern of conduct or practices that the Commission may investigate to determine if any action is warranted.
Many people do not realize that widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) on the deceased spouse's account. If you are receiving widows/widowers (including divorced widows/widowers) benefits, you can switch to your retirement benefits (assuming you are eligible and your retirement rate is higher than your widow/widower's rate) as early as age 62.
In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate at age 65. Since the rules vary depending on the situation; talk to a Social Security representative about the options available to you.
The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards 1885 Shelby Lane
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Funeral Consumers Alliance
Cremation Association of North America
National Funeral Directors Association
National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association