When a loved one dies, it can be daunting to take on the planning of a memorial service or the purchase of a disposition service. Learn about your rights as a consumer by getting acquainted with the Funeral Rule.

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The Funeral Rule

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Like all businesses, the funeral home or cremation retailer business has both honest and dishonest providers. However, in the funeral industry, dishonest practices can be especially effective as they can take advantage of the vulnerability of grieving family members. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission has a law to protect consumers of funeral goods and services, informally called The Funeral Rule. Understanding your rights can ensure that your loved one’s funeral or memorial service is a special commemorative event, one that doesn’t place unnecessary financial burden on you and your family.

What is the Funeral Rule? Who is required to follow the Funeral Rule? What is the General Price List, and what must be included on it? What should you keep in mind when purchasing a memorial or disposition service for your loved one? This SevenPonds section will answer all of these questions.

Things to Know:

  • The Funeral Rule is a Federal Trade Commission regulation that protects the rights of consumers purchasing funeral goods and services.
  • Funeral providers are defined as any person or business that sells both funeral goods and funeral services. All funeral providers are required to comply with the Funeral Rule.
  • Funeral providers must hand you a General Price List at the beginning of any discussion of funeral arrangements.
  • General Price Lists, Casket Price Lists, and Outer Burial Container Price Lists contain itemized prices for all goods and services offered by the provider; you can select as many or as few of these items as you desire.

What is the Funeral Rule?

The “Funeral Rule” is a Trade Regulation Rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, officially entitled Funeral Industry Practices. In the early 1980s, after years of consumer complaints and investigations, the FTC set out to put an end to dishonest, opportunistic funeral home practices by enacting a set of regulations for all funeral providers to follow. The Rule was adopted in 1982 and became fully effective in 1984.

The Funeral Rule applies to ALL funeral providers in the United States who offer both funeral goods and services. However many businesses have found ways to circumvent these laws and take advantage of their customers. State funeral boards and consumer groups like the Funeral Consumers Alliance field consumer complaints; the FCA reports that as many as half of funeral providers do not comply with some part of the Funeral Rule. That’s why it is important that you understand what you are entitled to before shopping for funeral goods and services. Knowing your rights under the Funeral Rule will help make the experience smoother and less stressful for you and your family.

Who is required to follow the Funeral Rule?

According to the Funeral Rule, a funeral provider is anyone who sells or offers both funeral goods and funeral services. The FTC defines “funeral goods” primarily as caskets and urns, while “funeral services” includes everything from care of the body and disposition services to public viewing and memorial ceremonies.

As long as a business provides both funeral goods and funeral services, it must comply with the Funeral Rule. It does not matter what you choose to purchase from them; even if you already have a casket and simply want the funeral home to conduct the burial service, they are still beholden to the Rule.

What is the General Price List?

The General Price List, or GPL, is one of the central aspects of the Funeral Rule. Funeral providers are required by the FTC to hand you a hard copy of the GPL, listing all goods and services individually, when meeting with you in person.

Before the Funeral Rule was enacted in 1984, funeral providers would sometimes obscure the prices of specific items or bundle items into “packages,” which inevitably contained items that the consumer did not want. The Funeral Rule thus sought to counteract dishonest pricing practices by compelling funeral providers to itemize, allowing consumers to buy only the items they want.

All funeral providers are required to physically hand a General Price List to anyone who inquires about their goods or services. This includes not only consumers, but also journalists, competitors, and representatives of organizations. The physical copy of the GPL should be in your hand as soon as discussions of arrangements begin, and before you view display items like caskets. The Rule also requires funeral providers to give you prices over the phone upon request. However, it does not require businesses to email, fax, or mail you a price list.

This list must give itemized prices of each individual item offered by the funeral provider. All of these items are available for individual sale—no “package” should ever be necessary. Some providers may bury their itemized prices behind pages of package deals, while some may offer savings on individual items when they are bought in a package. Remember—unless you want every item in the package, it will almost always be better to select individual items as you see fit.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends that you review the GPL in private: either ask the funeral provider to leave the room, or, if you have time, take it home to discuss with family members. This will allow you to contemplate your options without pressure.

Most funeral providers have separate Casket Price Lists and Outer Burial Container Price Lists. This is allowed by the Funeral Rule, as long as there is a statement on the GPL making note of it. The provider must hand you these separate lists before you view caskets or outer burial containers (also known as vaults)—there is often only a limited range of options on display, and the cheaper items may not be viewable. The lists will show you all of the casket and outer burial container options the provider has to offer.

The ONLY ITEM that you are required to purchase from any funeral provider is the basic services fee, also known as the non-declinable fee. This serves as a cover charge for the funeral provider’s overhead, taxes, and other items. It is a good idea to ask what this cost will be at the beginning of the discussion of arrangements; that way, if you feel the fee is too high, you can look into other funeral provider options.

What must be included on the General Price List?

The General Price List must contain an itemized list of all goods and services offered by the funeral provider, with the price of each. There are six things that must be disclosed on the GPL by the funeral provider. It must tell you that:

  1. You have the right to choose only the items you want to buy, aside from the basic services fee (see #4).
  2. Except in certain cases, embalming is not required by law, so you have the option to not embalm. However, some funeral providers may require it if you opt for a viewing at the funeral.
  3. You may opt for an alternative container, such as one made of cardboard, if you have chosen direct cremation.
  4. A basic services fee will be included in the overall cost; this is the only non-declinable charge.
  5. A Casket Price List is available, either separately or with the GPL.
  6. An Outer Burial Container Price List is available, either separately or with the GPL.

If a local law requires the purchase of a particular good or service, that law must be stated in writing. In most cases, however, there are no state or local laws that require you to buy any particular service or merchandise. If you are unsure, contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance to discuss concerns, or purchase the chapter covering your state’s laws from Final Rights by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson.

What should you keep in mind when planning a memorial service or purchasing a disposition service for your loved one?

Make sure that you have a copy of the General Price List and have examined it thoroughly before making any decisions. Some funeral providers may “bury” itemized prices behind pages of package deals, which may cost more than you want to pay. Others might offer savings by bundling items into packages; remember, unless you truly want all of the items in a package, you are likely better off selecting goods and services individually.

It is an absolute must that you have a copy of the General Price List and, if they are separate, a Casket Price List and Outer Burial Container Price List before viewing goods on display. Often times, a funeral home may not show its cheaper options, making it seem as if the caskets or containers on display are the best deal. Having the list in hand will allow you to make an informed decision on what your best option is.

If you do not see a casket or urn that you find affordable or appealing, ask what other models can be ordered. Funeral homes often have a wide selection of containers that can be shipped in from manufacturers within 24 hours. The products on display are typically a very small sampling of what is actually available.

One of the most common complaints levied against funeral providers is the charging of a fee for using a casket purchased elsewhere. This is prohibited under the Funeral Rule. As a consumer, you have the right to purchase goods at different businesses without being subjected to a “handling fee” of any kind.

The only things you are required to pay your funeral provider for are:

  1. A basic services fee.
  2. The goods and services you have selected from them.
  3. Any goods and services required by law; the provider must show you the relevant law in writing.

If you feel your funeral provider did not comply with the Funeral Rule, you are entitled to make a complaint, though we at SevenPonds recommend trying to work out differences directly with the provider first. To file a complaint contact the Funeral Consumer Alliance.

As long as you are aware of the basics of the Funeral Rule, you will be free to plan the memorial service and/or disposition service that best fits the desires of you and your family, and the memory of your loved one.

For Further Information:

Funeral Consumers Alliance

Complying with the Funeral Rule: The FTC’s Full Text of the Rule for Funeral Providers

Consumer Rights under the Funeral Rule: The FTC’s Guide for Consumers