The loss of a loved one, even if anticipated, is never easy to handle. The hours and days that follow are typically marked by heightened emotions, lack of sleep, and general confusion. In short, not the best conditions for making critical decisions; yet that is precisely what surviving loved ones must often do. To prevent funeral and burial service providers from taking advantage of survivors during this time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted the “Funeral Rule.” To ensure that you understand the rights and protections you have, the estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices explain the FTC Funeral Rule and the rights you have under the rule.
Why Was the Funeral Rule Established?
Historically, the National Funeral Directors Association prohibited its members from advertising their prices in newspapers and other media. As a result, it was very easy for providers to include last-minute costs and unexpected fees when loved ones of a decedent were planning a funeral. Given the circumstances, they had little choice but to pay the extra cost. After a lawsuit by the Department of Justice, and to put an end to these unfair practices, the Federal Trade Commission established the Funeral Rule in 1984. The rule requires compliance by all funeral providers.
Your Rights under the Funeral Rule
If you find yourself planning a funeral and burial or cremation, you should remember that you have rights under the Funeral Rule. Specifically, you have the right to:
- Buy only the funeral arrangements you want. You have the right to buy separate goods (such as caskets) and services (such as embalming or a memorial service). You do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.
- Get price information on the telephone. Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address, or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.
- Get a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home. The funeral home must give you a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one.
- See a written casket price list before you see the actual caskets. Sometimes, detailed casket price information is included on the funeral home’s GPL. More often, though, it’s provided on a separate casket price list. Get the price information before you see the caskets, so that you can ask about lower-priced products that may not be on display.
- See a written outer burial container price list. Outer burial containers are not required by state law anywhere in the U.S., but many cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from caving in. If the funeral home sells containers, but doesn’t list their prices on the GPL, you have the right to look at a separate container price list before you see the containers. If you don’t see the lower-priced containers listed, ask about them.
- Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay. It should show exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item. The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements.
- Get a written explanation of the requirements. If there are any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that require you to buy any funeral goods or services, you have a right to a written explanation describing those requirements.
- Use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremation must tell you that alternative containers are available and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
- Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them.
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming. No state law requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain time; some states don’t require it at all. In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative. In addition, you may choose services like direct cremation and immediate burial, which don’t require any form of preservation. Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. Ask if the funeral home offers private family viewing without embalming. If some form of preservation is a practical necessity, ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available.
If you believe that a funeral home violated your rights under the Funeral Rule because you were not given a general price list or because a funeral and burial cost was substantially more than you were told, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Contact Beverly Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about estate planning, contact our estate planning attorneys in our North Andover, Woburn, and Beverly offices at (978) 969-0331. Our Londonderry and Nashua, New Hampshire office can be reached at (603) 894-4141.
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