Choosing a Funeral Home

Here are a few “starter” tips and questions to ask when choosing a funeral home.

The Funeral Rule

According to the Federal Trade Commission, funerals rank "among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. A traditional funeral, including a casket and vault, costs about $6,000, although ‘extras' like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards or limousines can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Many funerals run well over $10,000.”

The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, is a federal law that makes it easier for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements pre-need or at need. It requires funeral directors to give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone. The Rule also requires funeral directors to give you additional information about their goods and services.

For example, if you ask about funeral arrangements in person, the funeral home must give you a written price list to keep that shows the goods and services the home offers. If you want to buy a casket or outer burial container, the funeral provider must show you descriptions of the available selections and the prices before actually showing you the caskets.

Many funeral providers offer various "packages" of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral. But when you arrange for a funeral, you have the right to buy individual goods and services. That is, you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.

According to the Funeral Rule:

  • You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
  • The funeral provider must state this in writing on the general price list.
  • If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
  • The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket you bought elsewhere.
  • A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.

    Questions to Ask When Meeting With a Funeral Director

    What is the basic fee? (this fee should include the funeral director and staff)

    The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers cannot decline to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise, but does include:

    • Funeral planning
    • Securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates
    • Preparing the notices
    • Sheltering the remains, and
    • Coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.

    What type of services will you provide?

    • According to the International Cemetery and Funeral Association (ICFA), typically, the funeral director safeguards the deceased until final disposition, which includes embalming and restorative work.
    • A growing number of funeral directors are trained as grief counselors.
    • Funeral directors arrange and provide an orderly series of events that finalize the funeral - the final disposition, and legal paperwork so the family can proceed forward. They provide the physical establishment for the above services.

    What are the fees associated with any charges for other services and merchandise?

    These are costs for optional goods and services such as:

    • Transporting the remains
    • Embalming and other preparation
    • Use of the funeral home for the viewing
    • Ceremony or memorial service; use of equipment and staff for a graveside service; use of a hearse or limousine; a casket, outer burial container or alternate container; and cremation or interment.

    How much are any needed cash advances and what do they include?

    These are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, officiating clergy, and organists and soloists.

    The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn't require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.

    What is the total cost of the funeral (include required and additional fees and services)?

    • The funeral provider must give an itemized statement with the total cost of funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements.
    • If the funeral provider doesn't know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written "good faith estimate."
    • This statement also must disclose any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase any specific funeral goods or services.

    What are your costs for the casket and do I need to use one purchased through your funeral home?

    • No funeral home can charge a fee for the customer using a casket bought elsewhere through an alternate source, ask a family member to be present for its delivery, or make funeral services contingent on purchasing a casket or outer container.
    • If there were no wishes for a certain type of casket, have a friend compare casket pricing from sources outside the funeral home. Prices for caskets can vary widely (from $500 up to $10,000 and more) depending on the material (metal, hardwood, semi-precious metals, fiberglass, plastics, steel, copper, bronze or wood), but all should come with a written warranty.
    • Casket costs vary by accessories and features.

    Is embalming required before burial?

    According to the International Cemetery and Funeral Association (ICFA), embalming is not required for burial but may depend on factors such as

    • whether the family has selected a public viewing with an open casket to enhance the deceased's appearance for a private family viewing
    • if the body is going to be transported by air or rail or
    • because of the length of time prior to the burial.

    Who will transport deceased from the funeral home to house of worship to the cemetery, and family members to the house of worship and the cemetery?

    The funeral home provides at a fee both hearse and limousine transportation and can manage this for you if needed.

    • You may choose your own company:
    • Transportation company
      Contact Name

    The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice. These tips are from experts and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with appropriate professionals you trust in making your purchasing or life-related decisions.

    Updated: 5/2009