Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maryland and Environs

Your Legal Rights

Your Rights … Simplified

The material on this page is not legal advice; it is meant only to be helpful guidance to consumers.

To know your rights, you must understand that in 1984, to rectify the abuses of the past when funeral prices were shrouded in secrecy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) implemented its Funeral Industry Practices Trade Regulation Rule—commonly known as the Funeral Rule—to ensure accurate, itemized price information for funeral goods and services. The keystone of the Rule is the General Price List (GPL), an itemized listing of goods and services offered by funeral homes. Among the rights afforded consumers by the Funeral Rule are:

1. The right to obtain a mortuary’s General Price List (GPL) if you ask in person about the establishment’s goods, services, or prices.

Comment : The Funeral Rule requires that a mortician give a GPL to consumers—to keep—if they appear in person and ask about funeral goods or services, or their prices. The Rule extends this right to anyone (not just potential customers) entering the funeral home: journalists, competitors, and representatives of businesses, religious societies, government agencies, and consumer groups.

2. The right to select only those goods and services which you desire.

Comment: The Funeral Rule mandates that six disclosures appear on a mortuary’s General Price List (GPL). The first is the Right of Selection: You have the right to select only those goods and services which you want. This means that you do not have to choose an expensive casket, for instance, but may opt for a simple wood box or a less costly cremation casket for earth burial.

3. The right to an explanation of the itemized prices on the GPL when you enter a funeral home and inquire about the goods and services which it offers, or their prices.

Comment : The General Price List (GPL) is an important document because it enables consumers to comparison shop and select, on an itemized basis, only the goods and services which they want. While packages may be offered, the Rule allows this only in addition to—not instead of—itemized pricing.

4. The right to decline embalming.

Comment: Embalming is a process by which bodily fluids are replaced with preservatives. It is rarely mandated by law, but funeral homes usually require it when a viewing will take place; consumers however have the right to select direct cremation or immediate burial instead, the simplest of funeral arrangements, which are without a viewing. (Please note that when disposition will be delayed beyond 48 hours after death, a funeral home without refrigeration facilities may insist on embalming even if there is no viewing.)

5. The right to a direct cremation or immediate burial, the simplest and least expensive funeral arrangements.

Comment: To guarantee consumers the right to pick and choose those goods and services which they want, the Funeral Rule requires that 16 items be separately priced on the General Price (GPL). Among these are immediate burial and direct cremation, the simplest funeral arrangements, without embalming. Both are without viewing, visitation, or other ceremony with the body present and are often followed by a memorial service, which family and friends typically plan and carry out on their own.

6. The right to place the body into an alternative container, or simple box, instead of a more costly casket for the cremation process.

Comment: A funeral home providing direct cremation must make available an alternative container, or simple box, into which the body is placed for the cremation process. The entry for direct cremation on the GPL must contain a disclosure that consumers have the right to use an alternative container; there must also be a price quote for a direct cremation, where you provide your own container, and one where the container is purchased from the funeral home.

7. The right to receive a Casket Price List (CPL),which should include descriptions and prices for all caskets, including cremation caskets and alternative containers, regularly offered for sale by a funeral home—before you are ushered into its casket showroom.

Comment : The Funeral Rule states that morticians must show a Casket Price List (CPL) to anyone inquiring in person about the caskets or alternative containers which they sell. The Rule mandates further that the CPL must be given at the beginning of a discussion—before showing the merchandise. But according to a survey conducted by the AARP a few years back, this requirement was commonly disregarded: one-third of those queried had not received a CPL before being led into the casket showroom. So remember this right and insist on a CPL at the beginning of a face-to-face inquiry about casket prices—before you are led to the casket display. You should be given an opportunity to look at the prices before discussing your options or seeing the caskets.

Moreover the Funeral Rule states that all caskets, including cremation caskets, should be listed on the CPL along with alternative containers. A funeral home may not use a separate list for alternative containers or cremation caskets. In other words, all customers—those wishing earth burial as well as those opting for cremation—should receive the same CPL.

8. The right to select a less expensive grave liner instead of a costlier coffin vault.

Comment: Most cemeteries require that a casket be placed into a reinforced concrete box, called an outer burial container, to keep the gravesite earth from sinking once decomposition sets in. There are two types—grave liners and coffin vaults—which serve this purpose and satisfy cemetery requirements. But coffin vaults cost at least twice as much. Therefore, remember the Right of Selection, and keep in mind that you have the right to select a less expensive grave liner.

9. The right not to be charged a handling fee if you purchase your casket outside the funeral home.

Comment: The Funeral Rule permits only one nondeclinable fee, the basic services fee, for services necessary in any funeral, such as obtaining permits and placing obituaries. This means that it is illegal for a funeral director to force consumers to pay a casket handling fee, for this would constitute a second nondeclinable fee, which is prohibited.

10. The right to be spared misrepresentations about funeral goods or services.

Comment : The Rule prohibits funeral directors from claiming that certain caskets or coffin vaults will delay the natural decomposition of human remains for a long or indefinite time or, unless substantiated, will protect the body from gravesite substances. Always remember the Right of Selection: You have the right to select the less costly items on a GPL if that is your wish—even if a funeral director would advise you otherwise.