Each year in the United States, family members and friends spend approximately $5 billion to arrange more than two million funerals. Today the cost of a funeral averages more than $5000, making it the largest consumer purchase after a home and car. The funeral industry includes cemeteries and more than 22,000 funeral providers encompassing funeral homes, mortuaries, and memorial societies.
People are usually grieving and under time constraints when making funeral arrangements. Individuals responsible for the arrangements are not in the best frame of mind to make rational decisions. In addition to the stress, most people in the US lack experience in making funeral arrangements and do not know what services are available, how much they cost, and which services, if any, they are required to purchase. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Funeral Rule requires all funeral providers to give information to consumers to help them choose the services and products they want for their deceased relatives or friends.
The primary intention of the FTC Funeral Rule is to provide information on the cost of funerals to consumers to enable them to make informed decisions. Funeral providers are required to furnish:
Funeral providers must give you a general price of products and services when you ask in person about funeral arrangements, and you have the right to keep this list. Furthermore, funeral providers must make price information available over the phone upon request. The funeral provider must give you any other information that is reasonably needed to select the funeral provider and funeral items you want, need, and are able to afford.
Example: Biff and Stella Lowman go to Angels Funeral Home and talk to Mr. Gabriel about arrangements for the funeral of Biff's father. The Lowman's tell Mr. Gabriel that Biff's father wanted a simple funeral. Mr. Gabriel shows them several elegant caskets and quotes them a price for a "package" funeral. When Mrs. Lowman inquires about the availability of a less elegant casket, Mr. Gabriel expresses dismay that she would be willing to expose her "dear father-in-law, loved by all" to public viewing in anything less than the finest. Mr. Lowman replies that his father wanted "something simple" and wants to know what is included in the package deal. "Everything we can possibly do for your dear departed loved one," is Mr. Gabriel's response. The Lowman's ask to see a price list for caskets and services and are told "Angels Funeral Home doesn't do business that
If the funeral provider charges a fee for buying "cash advance items," this must disclosed to you in writing. Cash advance items are those goods and services paid for by the funeral provider on your behalf, such as flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers' and clergy honoraria. You must also be notified if a service fee is added to the price of cash advance items, and if the funeral provider gets a refund, discount or rebate from the supplier of any cash advance item.
The FTC rule prohibits funeral providers from requiring you to buy certain products or services that you may not want in order to buy the products or services you do want. When state law requires a particular product or service (such as embalming under specified circumstances), the itemized price list goods and services must identify the law requiring the purchase of that particular item or service.
Funeral providers are also required to give information about embalming that can help you decide whether to purchase the service. Funeral providers must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by New Hampshire law unless the body is exposed for public viewing more than 24 hours. Embalming may be required if the body is being transported to another state either by the shipping company or by the state to which the body is being sent. Certain arrangements may make embalming a practical necessity and, consequently, a necessary purchase. The written information about embalming obtained from the funeral provider must explain these circumstances. Funeral providers cannot claim that embalming prevents or delays decomposition nor can they charge a fee for any unauthorized embalming. You always have the right to choose direct cremation or immediate burial which do not require embalming.
Direct cremation is cremation of the deceased without a viewing or other ceremony at which the body is present. The funeral provider cannot imply that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremation and must inform you of your right to buy an alternative container for a direct cremation. An alternative container is usually an unfinished box or plain wood coffin. Funeral providers must make at least one type of alternative container available. In New Hampshire, bodies cannot be cremated until at least 48 hours after death.
Additionally, funeral providers are prohibited from claiming that a particular item, such as a casket or vault, will prevent or retard decomposition, that embalming will indefinitely preserve the deceased's body, or that caskets or vaults will keep out water, dirt and other substances. The FTC has found all these claims to be untrue.
Finally, the funeral provider is required to give you an itemized statement with the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected. Disclosed in this statement will be any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that oblige you to buy specific funeral goods or services. Violation of any part of the Funeral Rule carries a fine of $10,000.
Memorial Societies and Preplanning
Memorial societies are nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to help their members plan simple, dignified memorial services. When you join, the society will inform you of all funeral services locally available and their cost. Religious practices and family traditions, as well as legal questions and requirements, are taken into consideration.
Many people are now trying to spare their survivors some of the burden and cost of funeral arrangements by preplanning. Planning ahead can include expressing your wishes in a letter of last instruction for funeral services, burial, cremation, and so forth. Or it may involve discussing your wishes with the executor or executrix of your estate and prearranging the details with a funeral provider.
Some funeral providers offer the opportunity to pay funeral and burial costs in advance allowing you to decide what you want for your funeral and pay for it, relieving your survivors of this burden.
Example: Mrs. Kim purchases a prepaid funeral plan for her husband Bill, who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, from Happy Rest, a local funeral home. She signs a written agreement with Happy Rest that describes what services will be provided when Bill dies. Happy Rest deposits the money she pays in a New Hampshire bank under the name "Happy Rest, as mortuary trustee for Bill Kim." Happy Rest also gives the bank a copy of the agreement with Mrs. Kim. The money can be taken out only with Mrs. Kim's written consent or at Bill Kim's death when Happy Rest will provide the services requested.
New Hampshire law (RSA 325:46) requires the funeral provider to:
The money may only be withdrawn either with written instructions from the person signing the contract or at the death of the person for whom the funeral or other services was arranged.
Points To Remember
Where To Go If You Have A Problem
If you have any problems or questions concerning funeral practices, contact the New Hampshire State Board of Registration of Funeral Directors:
NH State Board of Registration of Funeral Directors
29 Hazen Drive
Concord, NH 03301
The FTC has a free "Consumer Guide to the FTC Funeral Rule." Write to:
Washington, DC 20013
The NH Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau can also assist you with any problem you have with a funeral provider:
NH Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau
33 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301-6397
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New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301