The Funeral Rule, developed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1984, requires funeral establishments to provide a General Price List (GPL) to consumers that contains current prices for 16 specified funeral-related goods and services. This information must be provded in printed form to anyone who asks for it in person and they must be allowed to take it home with them. In addition, you have the right to obtain specific price information over the phone without disclosing your name, address, or phone number. As of 2023, the FTC is considering updating this rule to require funeral establishments with a website to publish their GPL online, or to make it available electronically. Currently, only a minority of funeral homes do this.
In addition to prices, the GPL must disclose these six facts:
- You have the right to choose and pay for only those services you want. The funeral director cannot tell you that you must purchase a package that includes items you do not want or need. Packages may be offered, but only in addition to, not instead of, itemized pricing. The only item a funeral home may require you to pay is their basic services (or non-declinable) fee, which is included in the prices quoted for immediate burial, direct cremation, and forwarding or receiving remains, but must be paid in addition to any other services purchased.
- Embalming is not required by law, though a funeral home may require under certain circumstances such as prolonged public viewing. Refrigeration can be used instead of embalming for delaying decomposition under most circumstances. Embalming is never required for direct cremation or immediate burial. In the District of Columbia, embalming may not take place without specific written authorization from the next of kin.
- You do not need to buy a casket for a direct cremation. The funeral home must provide and describe at least one “alternative container” option such as a fiberboard or composition container, and it must provide price quotes for providing your own container or purchasing one from the funeral home.
- The funeral home must clearly disclose its basic services fee, the non-declinable fee you must pay if you purchase anything other than immediate burial, direct cremation, or forwarding or receiving remains. This fee includes services common to all arrangements (such as required paperwork) and the home’s overhead. The services included in this basic services fee may vary from one funeral home to another – for instance, it may or may not include the cost of obtaining a death certificate. It may either be added to the cost of the services purchased or be included in the cost of caskets. If the latter, a disclosure must be stated in the GPL that it will be added to the costs of other items purchased if the casket is purchased elsewhere by the consumer.
- You have the right to see a Casket Price List. If this list is not included in the GPL, the GPL should state the range of prices for the caskets and containers the funeral home sells and you should be provided with a copy of the actual casket price list as soon as you begin talking about caskets, prior to being taken into the casket showroom, although the funeral home is not required to give you a copy to take home. This list must include all burial or cremation containers the funeral home sells, including alternative containers for cremation.
- You have the right to see an Outer Burial Container Price List. If this list is not included in the GPL, the GPL should state the range of prices for the vaults and grave liners the funeral home sells. Basic grave liners are much less expensive than vaults but they serve the same purpose. These are commonly required by the cemetery to prevent gravesites from sinking over time. (Note that since cemeteries are not regulated by the FTC, they are not required to show you such a price list if you decide to purchase an outer container from one of them.)
The Funeral Rule also forbids funeral homes from charging a fee to handle caskets purchased elsewhere.
Funeral establishments may not make claims that a particular casket or outer container will delay natural decomposition.
Funeral homes are allowed by the FTC to mark up (charge you more than) the prices they pay to outside vendors for what are called cash advance items, but if they do so they must clearly state it on their GPL. In the District of Columbia, they are not allowed to mark up these prices. Cash advance items may include death certificates, cremation approval, flowers, clergy, or cemetery charges.
At the end of your discussion in person or over the phone, the funeral home must give you a written itemized statement of the goods and services you have selected, not just a total price.