The Federal Trade Commission
Your funeral may be one of the most expensive consumer purchases you or your family ever makes. Most people, however, do not handle a funeral purchase the same way they approach other major purchases. For example, many feel uncomfortable shopping around or negotiating funeral expenses. Others spend more than they can afford either as a way to show their feelings for a loved one or due to deceptive sales tactics from funeral home staff. To avoid overspending, it helps to understand your rights under the "Funeral Rule" enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (the "FTC"). The Funeral Rule covers the following important areas:
•Packages. You don't have to buy a "package" funeral. You generally have the right to pick and choose the funeral goods and services you want. The funeral provider must tell you this in writing on their general price list.
•Price List. If you shop in person, the funeral provider must give you an itemized price list. If you call on the phone, the funeral provider must give you itemized price information if you ask. This makes it much easier to comparison shop.
•Caskets. A funeral provider can't prevent you from buying a casket from a third party and can't charge you extra if you do. You can also choose to make your own casket. If you decide to look at a funeral provider's caskets, he or she must give you descriptions and prices of all available selections before showing the caskets. Note that "sealed" or "gasketed" caskets typically add several hundred dollars in cost. To save money, buy an unsealed casket. The difference between sealed and unsealed relates primarily to the manner and length of body decomposition. For more information on buying a casket from a third party, see www.funerals.org or www.directcasket.com.
•Itemized Statement/Good Faith Estimate. When you are making funeral arrangements, the provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost. If they don't know the cost of items that will be paid for in cash, the provider must give you a written "good faith estimate".
•Embalming. Embalming is usually required if you plan to have a viewing or visitation. It is not required if the body will be buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you money. The FTC Funeral Rule prevents the funeral provider from misrepresenting the need for embalming and requires written disclosures of your alternatives.
•Cremation. If you choose cremation, caskets are not required and a funeral provider can't tell you otherwise. If you plan cremation and want to have a viewing, look into renting a casket. Also, a funeral provider cannot require you to purchase a cremation urn from them. Urns, like caskets, may be purchased from a third party.
•Burial Vaults or Grave Liners. Whether you need to purchase a vault or liner depends on requirements of the cemetery you have selected. The Funeral Rule prevents funeral providers from telling you that state law requires a burial vault or grave liner. If you need a liner or vault because of cemetery requirements, the funeral provider must show you descriptions and prices of all available selections before showing them. You can also buy a vault or liner from a third party dealer.
•Preservative Products and Processes. Funeral providers cannot claim that a process (for example, a particular type of embalming) or a product (for example, a casket) will preserve a body indefinitely.
•General Planning Advice. The FTC gives consumers the following sound advice when planning for a funeral:
1. Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Remember that you can supply your own casket, urn or vault/liner.
2. Ask for a price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services.
3. Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don't really want or need.
4. Avoid emotional overspending. It's not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one.
5. Recognize your rights. Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It's a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires you to purchase and which are optional.
6. Apply the same smart shopping techniques you use for other major purchases. You can cut costs by limiting the viewing to one day or one hour before the funeral, and by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of costly burial clothing.
7. Plan ahead. It allows you to comparison shop without time constraints, creates an opportunity for family discussion, and lifts some of the burden from your family.
Note this is a brief summary of some of the more important FTC Funeral Rule protections. To obtain additional information on the FTC Funeral Rule or to file a complaint, see the FTC website at www.ftc.gov or send a letter to The Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Call 800-532-1275.
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer.” A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.