Understanding the Funeral Rule

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 What Is the Funeral Rule?

The Funeral Rule was authored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1984 and revised in 1994. It is a law that requires funeral service providers to give consumers accurate, itemized information about the prices of the goods and services they sell. It also requires them to make certain disclosures about funeral expenses.

In addition, funeral providers are specifically prohibited from the following:

  • Making false representations regarding the legal requirements for final disposition of the deceased, cremation or cemetery burial;
  • Requiring consumers to buy a casket for cremation, which is unnecessary;
  • Requiring consumers to buy certain specific funeral goods or services as a condition for providing other funeral goods or services;
  • Deceiving the consumer or engaging in unfair practices; and
  • Providing embalming a body for a fee without first getting the permission of the consumer.

The purpose of the Funeral Rule is to ensure consumers are not surprised or price gouged by funeral expenses.It also allows consumers to compare funeral home prices.

The Funeral Rule also requires funeral homes to give a consumer other information about their goods and services. For example, if a consumer asks about memorial services or funeral planning arrangements in person, the funeral home must give them a written price list to keep.
Funeral homes are also required to give a consumer the same price information over the phone, if the consumer asks for it.

The price list must show the goods and services the home offers. If a person wants to buy a casket, the funeral home must show the person descriptions of the available selections and the prices before showing the consumer the actual caskets themselves although they are not required to email, fax or mail consumers the price list.

Many funeral providers offer various “packages” of commonly chosen goods and services that make up a funeral plan. But if a consumer chooses to do their own funeral planning, they have the right to buy individual products and services rather than a package. So, the consumer does not have to accept a package that may include items they do not want in order to get the items they do.

If state or local law requires purchase of any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list and provide a reference to the specific law. The funeral provider may not refuse to handle a casket bought elsewhere, or charge a fee to handle it. A funeral home that offers cremations must make containers other than caskets available.

No state in the U.S. requires routine embalming for every death. Some states require either embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a certain specified period of time. Other states do not require this at all.

In most cases, refrigeration is an acceptable alternative to embalming. Also, a consumer may choose such services as direct cremation and immediate burial; these do not require any form of preservation.

Many funeral homes have a policy requiring embalming if the body is to be publicly viewed, but this is not required by law in most states. If a consumer wishes to avoid embalming, they should ask the funeral home if it offers private family viewing without embalming. They should ask the funeral home if refrigeration is available, if preservation is a practical necessity.

Who Must Comply with the Funeral Rule?

The Funeral Rule applies to all funeral providers in the US., defined to include anyone who sells funeral goods and services to the public. “Funeral goods” are defined by the FTC primarily as caskets and urns.

The term “funeral services” is defined to include services used to care for and prepare bodies for burial, cremation, or other final disposition, and those used to arrange, supervise, or conduct the funeral ceremony. Funeral providers who fail to comply with the Funeral Rule can face a $10,000 penalty per violation.

How Does the FTC Enforce the Funeral Rule?

The FTC enforces the Funeral Rule by conducting undercover inspections every year to make sure that funeral homes are complying with it. Then, when an undercover enforcement agent has shopped at a funeral home twice and found violations on each occasion, the FTC sends the funeral home a letter stating the nature of the violations that were found.

The funeral home is charged in the letter with the violations. The letter informs the funeral home of their options for dealing with the violations. The main option is waiting for the FTC to file a lawsuit in federal court. Or, the funeral home director can enroll in a Funeral Rule Offender Program. The program lasts for three years and is designed to educate the funeral home director about correct practices under the Funeral Rule.

In 2018, the enforcement procedures were changed so that if the funeral home asks for the information, the FTC will reveal the name(s) of the employee(s) who dealt with the undercover FTC agent who shopped in the home and found violations. Previously, the FTC would not reveal this information.

In addition, a consumer who believes that a funeral home has violated the Funeral Rule can report it to the FTC.

What Must the General Price List Include?

Information that must be disclosed in the general price list is as follows:

  • Identifying information for the funeral home, such as its name, address, and telephone number of its place of business;
  • A statement to the effect that consumers have the right to choose only the items they want to purchase;
  • Notice that embalming is not required by law;
  • Notice that a consumer can opt for an alternative container if they chose direct cremation;
  • Notice that a basic service fee is included in the overall cost;
  • A casket price list; and
  • Outer burial container price list.

It is important to note that no state or local law in the U.S. requires a funeral home to use a casket for cremation under any circumstances. A funeral home that offers cremations must inform a consumer of the availability of alternative containers and must make them available. These alternative containers are often made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard. They are consumed in the cremation process,which is why their appearance is considered to be unimportant.

What Are the Items for Which Consumers Are Required to Pay?

The only things that consumers are required to pay a funeral provider are:

  • The basic service fee;
  • The price for whatever other specific goods and services the consumer selects to purchase; and
  • The goods and services required by the law of the state in which the funeral home operates, which may vary from state to state.

In addition, after a consumer decides what they want and before they pay, the consumer should be given a written statement stating exactly what the consumer has purchased and what they must pay for it. The statement must list every good and service they have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after they have made the arrangements.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

It may be helpful to consult an attorney when dealing with funeral issues. A knowledgeable family lawyer can help a grieving family when they are likely more vulnerable to unfair and unlawful funeral practices. An estate planning lawyer can also help an elderly person plan their own funeral.

If you think you have experienced a violation of the Funeral Rule, you can contact a consumer lawyer or report the violation to the FTC. If you are the owner or operator of a funeral home and have questions about the Funeral Rule, again, a consumer lawyer would be able to answer questions about compliance.

If you have been sued in federal court by the FTC for violations of the Funeral Rule, you definitely want to consult an experienced trial attorney about how you can defend against the lawsuit.

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