The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces law known as the Funeral Rule in an effort to protect consumers in their purchase of funeral goods and services. It ensures that there are clear guidelines for funeral homes to comply with when they are selling their services and products to the general public. Funeral homes who fail to comply with the funeral rule are fined, or have an option to participate in a five-year funeral-training program. The FTC conduct annual sweeps to check compliance, or of course consumers can report issues of non-compliance.
Why was the funeral rule established?
The funeral rule was established to regulate the funeral industry and protect consumers from unscrupulous selling practices. It was introduced in April 1984 and further amended in 1994. At the time there had been ‘issues’ with funeral homes leading people to believe that they had to purchase certain services that were not necessarily required e.g. embalming. There was also a kind of monopoly on caskets, as only funeral homes sold caskets and therefore they had hugely inflated the retail prices. The funeral rule changed all this.
How does the funeral rule protect consumer rights?
Listed below are the key ways that the funeral rule now protects your consumer rights.
- The funeral rule gives you the right to purchase ONLY the funeral arrangements YOU want. You can purchase services and goods ‘a la carte’ and do not have to purchase a funeral package unless you so choose.
- You have the right to obtain funeral price information over the phone, and a funeral home MUST disclose their prices to you if you ask. You do not have to provide any information, although most funeral homes will still try and get your contact details before disclosing prices. Some funeral homes will even put you onto a funeral director, even if you have just asked for a straightforward price. If you are looking online, you may notice that a significant number of funeral homes still do not disclose prices on their website, or they make them very difficult to find.
- The funeral rule’s requirement for full disclosure of prices has made it easier for consumers to compare funeral prices. Whether you choose to do this by phoning funeral homes, checking online or visiting in person. Comparing prices between funeral providers is very important as there is no ‘standardization’ of funeral services or products, and prices can vary tremendously, even within the same area.
- When you visit a funeral home to inquire about funeral services, the funeral home must provide you with a printed, itemized price list, listing all the services they offer. This is called a General Price List (GPL).
- The funeral rule also requires for a hard copy casket price list (CPL) to be provided to you before you are shown any actual caskets. Sometimes this may be included as part of the GPL. Similarly, if you inquire about outer burial containers (which are not required by state law anywhere in the US) and the funeral home sells them, then they must provide you with an outer burial container price list.
- The funeral rule stipulates that you can purchase a casket or cremation urn from elsewhere than your funeral home and they MUST accept it. Additionally they CANNOT charge a handling fee, nor insist you are present to receive the delivery. *Do note: there are a small number of states where there is a powerful local lobby and state law still supersedes federal law especially in relation to casket sales, and only a licensed funeral establishment can sell caskets. This applies in (but is not limited to) Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia.
- Embalming is not required by law in any state in the U.S. if the burial or cremation is to be carried out in a timely fashion. Refrigeration is an adequate means of storage and preservation. However, some funeral homes still have policies specifying embalming if an open-casket public viewing or ceremony are to take place. There are still some funeral homes that do not have refrigeration, however dry ice is a suitable short-term refrigeration alternative.
- The funeral rule also helped to protect consumer’s rights in using an ‘alternative container’ for a cremation. No state law requires that a casket be used for cremation purposes, instead a more inexpensive alternative container can be used.
- Finally, before you pay the funeral home you should receive a fully itemized statement listing all services and products you have purchased with the price for each. You should carefully check this contract with the funeral home before signing it.
What should you do if you feel you have a complaint about a licensed funeral home that has breached the funeral rule?
If you have a concern that a funeral home has breached the federal funeral rule you can make a formal complaint to the FTC. The FTC does not pursue a case for an individual, but providing the FTC with information about non-complying funeral establishments, helps them to build a picture of any funeral companies that may be violating the rule.
It is advisable to report your concerns to your local state licensing board that licenses funeral establishments and possibly the state funeral directors association. You may also find the Funeral Consumers Alliance can support you if you have a grievance against a funeral home that has violated the funeral rule. State specific guidance about making a complaint can be found on our individual state funeral planning guides.
Whenever possible, it is always advisable to try and settle your grievance directly with the funeral home concerned. In many cases, when you point out to them that they have violated a federal law, you may find that they will be willing to mediate on your grievance.