A funeral provider must give an itemized statement of the total cost of funeral goods and services at the time the arrangements are made. If the actual costs aren’t known, the funeral director must provide a written “good faith estimate.” The funeral provider must also disclose any legal, cemetery, or crematory requirements that oblige you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services. The Funeral Rule does not specify the format of the statement. The funeral director may include it in any document they provide at the end of the discussion about arrangements. In other words, it could be hidden, intentionally or not, within other funeral-related papers.
When comparing prices consider the total cost of all items together in addition to the costs of single items. Every funeral provider should have price lists for all the items needed for the arrangements it offers. The only way to accurately compare total costs is by comparing prices for all the items, which is what websites like Funeral Decisions can help you do.
Funeral homes may offer funeral packages that are less expensive than purchasing individual items of services. The Funeral Rule permits packages as long as the funeral home also provides a list of itemized services.
As noted above, under the Funeral Rule consumers have the right to choose to purchase only the funeral goods and services they want (with some exceptions).
Many funeral providers require embalming if viewing or visitation is to be included in the funeral service. Embalming is usually neither necessary nor legally required if the body is to be buried or cremated shortly after death. Foregoing embalming can save hundreds of dollars.
The casket is often the single most expensive item for a traditional full-service funeral. Sold for their visual appeal, caskets vary widely in price. Metal, wood, fiberglass, and plastic caskets average $2000. Caskets made of mahogany, copper, or bronze can cost up to $10,000. Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges; the lower the gauge the thicker the steel. Wooden caskets may be constructed from hardwoods like mahogany, walnut, cherry, or oak. Caskets made from softwood like pine are less expensive, but funeral homes rarely show them unless asked. Caskets of different materials have varying warrantees for longevity and workmanship.
A casket provides a dignified way to move a body before burial or cremation. It is not intended, nor will it, preserve a body forever. Metal caskets may be described as “gasketed,” “protective,” or “sealer” caskets. This means they have rubber gaskets or other features designed to delay water penetration into the casket and prevent rust. The gaskets, which are an added cost, do not help preserve remains. The Funeral Rule prohibits claims that these devices help preserve remains indefinitely.
As noted earlier, the Funeral Rules specifies that when a consumer visits a funeral home to look at caskets, the funeral provider must show a list of caskets the company sells, along with descriptions and prices, before showing the caskets.
The majority of consumers purchase one of the first three caskets they see, so it’s to the funeral director’s advantage to show the most expensive ones first. A cost-conscious consumer will ask to see the lower price ones from the list.
Websites and showrooms operated by third party dealers also sell caskets, sometimes at lower prices. The Funeral Rules requires funeral providers to agree to use caskets purchased elsewhere, and doesn’t allow them to charge extra for using them.
For cremation the common practice is to rent a casket for visitation and the funeral. In the case of direct cremation without a viewing or service where the body is present, the funeral home must offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative non-metal container (typically pressboard, canvas, or cardboard) that is cremated with the body.
Under the Funeral Rule funeral directors who offer direct cremations:
Also known as burial containers, burial vaults or grave liners are typically used in traditional full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates. Made of reinforced concrete, they will satisfy a cemetery’s requirement (if there is such a requirement). Grave liners cover only the top and sides of casket. Burial vaults are more substantial and expensive; they surround the casket in concrete or other material and are more substantial and expensive than grave liners. Grave liners may carry warrantees of their protective strength.
State laws do not require a burial vault or grave liner and funeral providers are prohibited from telling you otherwise. But many cemeteries do require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking over time. Neither vaults nor liners prevent the decomposition of remains. In fact, the Funeral Rule prohibits funeral homes from claiming that liners or vaults will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if it’s not true.
As with caskets, the funeral provider must give a list of prices and descriptions of burial vaults and grave liners before showing them to the consumer. Again, third party prices may be lower.
The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from claiming that any process or product can preserve remains in the grave indefinitely. They may not state that embalming or a particular casket or liner will preserve a body forever.