Since 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has enforced the provisions of the "Funeral Industry Practices" law -- usually referred to as the "Funeral Rule" -- which governs the sale of funeral goods or services in the United States. The rule specifies the type of information and disclosures that funeral service providers must provide to consumers in order to protect the latter from unscrupulous business practices.
While the Funeral Rule contains a wide array of provisions concerning the sale of funeral goods or services, consumers should be aware of the following five key points whenever they purchase funeral goods or services:
1. You have the right to select only the goods and/or services you want.
Like many businesses, funeral homes and other funeral providers can "bundle" or "package" goods and/or services that are typically selected by customers and sell them for a single overall price. Often, such packages provide consumers with convenience and/or a lower overall cost than if purchased individually. You are not required to purchase a bundle or package, however, if it contains funeral goods or services you don't want.
2. You cannot be charged for embalming unless you authorize it.
Per the FTC: "Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law." In other words, there is no federal law requiring the embalming of a body in every case, and a funeral provider may not represent that a deceased person is required to be embalmed for direct cremation, immediate burial, or a closed-casket funeral without viewing or visitation when refrigeration is available and when state or local law does not require embalming.
3. You do not have to buy a casket if you decide to cremate a loved one.
No state or local law requires you to purchase a casket if you choose "direct cremation," which the Funeral Rule defines as the "disposition of human remains by cremation, without formal viewing, visitation, or ceremony with the body present." Moreover, even if you select cremation for a loved one and want to hold a funeral or memorial service with his or her body present beforehand, a funeral provider that offers cremation must tell you that "alternative containers" are available, and make them available, under the FTC Funeral Rule.
4. You have the right to buy a casket or urn somewhere else.
When the Funeral Rule was first written, caskets and urns were only available from funeral homes. Today, consumers can easily purchase these items from a local casket store, from one of numerous online sites, or even from Costco. If you choose to purchase a product elsewhere and ship it to a funeral provider, the business cannot refuse to use it, charge you a fee to use it, or require you to be present when the item is delivered.
5. A funeral provider must give you a written, itemized price list when you visit.
Known as a "General Price List" (GPL), this document contains the goods and services the funeral provider offers, as well as the price for each, and several disclosures required by the Funeral Rule. The GPL should be handed to you as soon as you ask about a specific funeral product or service, or how much something costs. You also have the right to keep the GPL, which you might find useful to compare costs among different providers, or to do some financial planning for your final expenses.
Funerals: A Consumer Guide. www.ftc.gov. 2000. Retrieved October 28, 2012. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm
"Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services." www.ftc.gov. 2007. Retrieved October 28, 2012. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro26.shtm
"Complying With the Funeral Rule." www.ftc.gov. 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2012. http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus05-complying-funeral-rule