Funeral costs include basic services fee for the funeral director and staff, charges for other services and merchandise, and cash advances. Make copies of the checklist at the end of this article. Use it when you shop with several funeral homes to compare costs.
The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers have to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. These include funeral planning, securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates, preparing the notices, sheltering the remains, and coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties. The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise.
Charges for other services and merchandise, include costs for optional goods and services such as transporting the remains; embalming and other preparation; use of the funeral home for the viewing, ceremony or memorial service; use of equipment and staff for a graveside service; use of a hearse or limousine; a casket, outer burial container or alternate container; and cremation or interment.
Cash advances are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, officiating clergy, and organists and soloists. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to the cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn't require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts, or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.
Calculating the Actual Cost of a Funeral
The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements. If the funeral provider doesn't know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written "good faith estimate." This statement also must disclose any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase specific funeral goods or services.
The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.
Services and Products
Many funeral homes require embalming if you're planning a viewing or visitation. But embalming generally is not necessary or legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars. Under the Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:
- may not provide embalming services without permission.
- may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
- must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
- may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law.
- must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, like direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
- must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.
For a "traditional" full-service funeral:
A casket often is the single most expensive item you'll buy if you plan a "traditional" full-service funeral. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they're constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. Although an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets sell for as much as $10,000.
When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.
So it's in the seller's best interest to start out by showing you higher-end models. If you haven't seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them — but don't be surprised if they're not prominently displayed, or not on display at all.
Traditionally, caskets have been sold only by funeral homes. But more and more, showrooms and websites operated by "third-party" dealers are selling caskets. You can buy a casket from one of these dealers and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn't allow them to charge you a fee for using it.
No matter where or when you're buying a casket, it's important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as "gasketed," "protective" or "sealer" caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don't. They just add to the cost of the casket.
Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges — the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wooden caskets generally are not gasketed and don't have a warranty for longevity. They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or oak, or softwood like pine. Pine caskets are a less expensive option, but funeral homes rarely display them. Manufacturers of both wooden and metal caskets usually offer warranties for workmanship and materials.
Many families that choose to have their loved ones cremated rent a casket from the funeral home for the visitation and funeral, eliminating the cost of buying a casket. If you opt for visitation and cremation, ask about the rental option. For those who choose a direct cremation without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present, the funeral provider must offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative container, a non-metal enclosure — pressboard, cardboard or canvas — that is cremated with the body.
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:
- may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
- must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
- must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.
Burial Vaults or Grave Liners
Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in "traditional" full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.
State laws do not require a vault or liner, and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, keep in mind that many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future. Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that's not true.
Before showing you any outer burial containers, a funeral provider is required to give you a list of prices and descriptions. It may be less expensive to buy an outer burial container from a third-party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery. Compare prices from several sources before you select a model.
Preservation Processes and Products
As far back as the ancient Egyptians, people have used oils, herbs and special body preparations to help preserve the bodies of their dead. Yet, no process or products have been devised to preserve a body in the grave indefinitely. The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you that it can be done. For example, funeral providers may not claim that either embalming or a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.
Funeral Pricing Checklist
Make copies of this page and check with several funeral homes to compare costs.
“Simple” disposition of the remains:
Immediate burial __________
Immediate cremation __________
If the cremation process is extra, how much is it? __________
Donation of the body to a medical school or hospital __________
“Traditional,” full-service burial or cremation:
Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff __________
Pickup of body __________
Other preparation of body __________
Least expensive casket __________
Description, including model # __________
Outer Burial Container (vault) __________
Visitation/viewing — staff and facilities __________
Funeral or memorial service — staff and facilities __________
Graveside service, including staff and equipment __________
Other vehicles __________
Forwarding body to another funeral home __________
Receiving body from another funeral home __________
Cost of lot or crypt (if you don’t already own one) __________
Perpetual care __________
Opening and closing the grave or crypt __________
Grave liner, if required __________
Marker/monument (including setup) __________