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In every industry you can think of – funeral care, telemarketing, advertising, healthcare – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set certain protections in place. In other words, every industry must follow specific rules and regulations to protect you – the consumer – from unjust business practices. The question is – what is the FTC Funeral Rule, and what does it mean for you?

What is the Federal Trade Commission?

Photo of Federal Trade Commission Building in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1914 during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the FTC was tasked with ensuring businesses acted in the public’s best interest. The FTC investigates fraud, false advertising, unlawful activities, and unfair business practices, to name a few of its functions.

In the early 1980s, the FTC created the Funeral Rule to better regulate pricing and practices in the funeral industry. However, the Funeral Rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers or standalone cemeteries.

Each year, the FTC conducts undercover inspections to ensure that funeral homes comply with the Funeral Rule. Since 2012, there have only been 8 cases where the FTC prosecuted a funeral home for non-compliance.

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What Are Your Rights According to the Funeral Rule?

The Funeral Rule gives you certain benefits when you do business with a funeral home. Let’s review each one.

You have the right to purchase only the funeral arrangements you want.

In other words, you do not have to purchase a package deal. You can pick and choose the merchandise or services you want. The only things you MUST pay for are the non-declinable basic services fee and any items required by your specific state.

You have the right to get price information over the phone.

While it’s best to stop by the funeral home to pick up a General Price List (GPL), you can ask for price information over the phone. You don’t have to give your name or contact details to receive this information.

Person in white shirt, sitting at desk, with pen in hand as they review paperwork

You have the right to request a General Price List.

By law, every funeral home must keep an updated GPL available. If you request a GPL, the funeral home must provide one that is updated and current, showing all the services and merchandise they offer.

You have the right to review a written casket list before seeing the physical caskets.

Though casket prices are sometimes included in the GPL, many funeral homes have a separate Casket Price List. If you wish, you can review the Casket Price List first (to get a sense of the available selection) before you look at any caskets in person.

Middle-aged woman in gray suit jacket touching and inspecting a casket

You have the right to see a written outer burial container list.

Similarly, you can review the Outer Burial Container Price List before seeing the containers in person. Outer burial containers are not required by state law, but many cemeteries require them to keep the ground from caving in on itself. If the funeral home sells outer burial containers, they will have a price list available.

You have the right to receive an itemized statement before you pay.

After talking with the funeral home and deciding which services and merchandise you’d like to purchase, you have the right to review an itemized list before you pay. The statement should specifically outline what you are buying, the cost of each item, and the total cost. Additionally, this written statement must also disclose any state or local requirements regarding cemeteries or crematories.

Couple sitting at table at home, reviewing an itemized statement

You have the right to use an “alternative container” for cremation.

When a body is cremated, it must be placed in a container, but it doesn’t have to be a casket. Instead, you can purchase an alternative container. Less expensive than a casket, the alternative container is often made of unfinished wood, fiberboard, or even cardboard. If you’d prefer to use a casket, you certainly can, but it’s not required.

You have the right to purchase a casket or urn elsewhere.

While purchasing a casket or urn from the funeral home is easiest and most convenient, you don’t have to. You can purchase a casket or urn yourself, but it is your responsibility to ensure that the funeral home has access to it before any services. The funeral home cannot refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket or urn bought elsewhere.

Blue urn surrounded by yellow flowers with three different people reaching out to the touch top gently in remembrance

You have the right to refuse embalming.

No state requires embalming for every death. However, in some states, embalming or refrigeration is required if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain timeframe. Many funeral homes strongly suggest embalming if you’re planning a public viewing, but you can ask for a private viewing without embalming. If you decide against embalming, discuss your options with the funeral director. To learn more about embalming, click here.

Does the Funeral Rule Apply to Funeral Preplanning?

Yes, your rights under the Funeral Rule still apply in a preplanning situation. Funeral preplanning is a practice that is gaining popularity. Basically, you choose a reputable funeral home, discuss your funeral wishes with them, record those wishes, and then set aside funds to pay for your funeral wishes. By doing so, you remove the financial and emotional burden from your family, so they can grieve when the time comes. There’s no age requirement for funeral preplanning, but it’s best done when you are still healthy.

Person in white jacket using a key to open a mailbox

Can You Request a GPL Over the Phone or Through the Mail?

It varies from state to state. For some states, funeral homes are not required to send a GPL to those submitting phone or mail inquiries. However, some funeral homes may mail you a copy of the GPL regardless of how you request the information. In general, your best bet is to request a GPL in person.

Did you learn anything new? Hopefully, you feel better informed and can confidently interact with your chosen funeral home when needed. If you have questions, visit the Federal Trade Commission website or speak with a local funeral director. All funeral directors are fully aware of the Funeral Rule and will happily answer any questions you may have.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

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