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Funerals: What To Do At This Stressful Time

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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.

Arranging a Funeral

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.

  • Filing of the death certificate and provision of copies
  • Moving the deceased’s remains to the funeral home
  • Embalming
  • Preparing the body
  • Whether the service is to be indoors, at graveside, or both
  • Location of the service-at funeral home or at church or temple
  • Content of the service, who will conduct it, and other speakers
  • Music
  • Flowers
  • Pallbearers
  • The hearse to be used and limousines for family members
  • Transportation of the body to the cemetery
  • Whether casket will be open or closed
  • Viewing the body
  • Chairs and tents for guests at the cemetery
  • Guest book to be signed
  • Headstone
  • Obituaries

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How the Funeral Rule Protects You

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.

Telephone Inquiries

When you call a funeral provider and ask them about terms, conditions, or prices of funeral goods and services, the funeral provider will:

  • Give you prices and any other information from the price lists to reasonably answer your questions.
  • Give you any other information about prices or offerings that are readily available and reasonably answers your questions.

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.

In-Person Inquiries

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.

Embalming Information

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:

  • May not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
  • Must disclose in writing that, except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law.
  • May not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless it is required by state law.
  • Will disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition such as a direct cremation or immediate burial if you do not want embalming.
  • Will disclose to you in writing that certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, there would be a required purchase.

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.

Direct Cremations

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:

  • May not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations.
  • Must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box (a type of casket) or an alternative container for a direct cremation
  • Must make an unfinished wood box or alternative container available for direct cremation.

Required Purchases

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:

  • You have the right to choose only the funeral goods and services you want, with some exceptions.
  • The funeral provider must disclose this right in writing on the general price list.
  • The funeral provider must disclose on your itemized statement of goods and services selected the specific state law that requires you to purchase any particular item.
  • The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you purchased elsewhere.

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.

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Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected

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.

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How to Make a Complaint

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.

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Benefits for Widows/Widowers

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.

Related Guide: Please see the Financial Guide: SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS: How To Get The Maximum Amount

Related Guide: Please see the Financial Guide: SURVIVOR’S BENEFITS: A Guide To This Often Overlooked Insurance Add On

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Useful Resources

  • Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the licensing board in your state for information or help.
  • The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards is a not-for-profit voluntary association providing examination services, information, and regulatory support to funeral service licensing boards and educators, governmental bodies and other regulatory agencies.

The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards1885 Shelby Lane
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72704

  • AARP publishes Funeral Goods and Services and Pre-Paying for Your Funeral, as well as other helpful pamphlets and free guides.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
AARP Fulfillment
601 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20049

Funeral Consumers Alliance
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
Tel. 802-865-8300

  • The Cremation Association of North America (CANA)is an association of crematories, cemeteries, and funeral homes that offer cremation. More than 750 members own and operate crematories and encourage advance planning.

Cremation Association of North America
499 Northgate Parkway
Wheeling, Illinois 60090

  • The International Order of the Golden Rule is an international association of independent funeral homes in which membership is by invitation only. Approximately 1,500 funeral homes are members of OGR.

International Order of the Golden Rule
3520 Executive Center Drive, Suite 300
Austin, TX 78731

  • The National Funeral Directors Association is the largest educational and professional association of funeral directors. Established in 1882, it has 14,000 members throughout the United States.

National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop’s Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005

  • The National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association is a national association of funeral firms in which membership is by invitation only and is conditioned upon the commitment of each firm to comply with the association’s Code of Good Funeral Practice. Consumers may request a variety of publications through NSM’s affiliate, the Consumer Information Bureau, Inc.

National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association
6290 Shannon Parkway
Union City, GA 30291

  • If you have a complaint or question about funeral arrangements or funeral home practices:

Selected Independent Funeral Homes
500 Lake Cook Road, Suite 205
Deerfield, IL 60015

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