7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Funeral Home

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 — the funeral home — for the above services, and a growing number of funeral directors are trained as grief counselors.

Here’s what to know and ask when you’re choosing a funeral home.

The Funeral Rule

The cost for a typical funeral can range from $7,100 to $8,500, not counting the cemetery and burial costs — and that’s before you add in ‘extras’ like flowers, obituary notices and after-service meals.

The FTC Funeral Rule, a federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, 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.

According to the FTC Funeral Rule:

  • The funeral provider must give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone.
  • The funeral provider must provide a written price list of 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.
  • While the funeral director may offer various “packages” of commonly selected goods and services that make up a funeral, you have the right to buy individual goods and services. You do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want (with some exceptions). This must be stated in writing on the General Price List (GPL).
  • 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 the Funeral Director

1. What is the basic services fee and what does it include?

The FTC Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee (sometimes called a “nondeclinable basic services fee”) that customers cannot decline to pay. It 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
  • Coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.

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

The funeral provider should provide a written price for each optional service or merchandise such as:

  • The transport of the remains
  • The embalming and other preparation and/or restorative work
  • The use of the funeral home for the viewing
  • The ceremony or memorial service
  • The use of equipment and staff for a graveside service
  • The use of a hearse or limousine
  • The casket and/or outer burial container or alternate container
  • Cremation or interment

3. 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 FTC 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.

4. 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 require you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services.

5. Do I have to purchase the casket, urn or vault through your funeral home?

A funeral home can not

  • Charge you a fee for using a casket, urn and/or vault bought elsewhere through an alternate source
  • Refuse to handle a casket, urn and/or vault you bought elsewhere
  • Require that you or your representative be present for the delivery of the casket, urn and/or vault
  • Make funeral services contingent on purchasing a casket, urn and/or vault.

WHN TIP – Compare Prices: 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) and the accessories and features. All should come with a written warranty. Compare pricing from outside sources with those of the funeral provider.

6. Is embalming required before burial?

According to the International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association (ICCFA), 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
  • The length of time prior to the burial

7. Who will transport deceased and/or family members from the funeral home to the house of worship and/or to the cemetery?

The funeral provider can provide both the hearse (for the deceased) and limousines (for family members).

You can:

  • Use the funeral home-provided hearse and limousine transportation  for both transporting the deceased and family members
  • Use the hearse provided by the funeral home but have family members use their own vehicles
  • Hire an outside company to provide transport for the deceased and/or family members

Compare both costs and convenience when making your decision.


Remember…

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.