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Estate Planning Information


One of the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make is the arrangement of a funeral. A traditional burial, including a casket and vault, costs about $7,000. Extras such as flowers, obituary notices, cards and limousines, can add thousands of dollars more. At such a highly emotional time, people are often convinced that their decisions reflect how they feel about the deceased and could spend more than necessary.

Most funeral providers are professionals who work to serve their clients' needs and best interests. Unfortunately, some do not. They could take advantage of clients by insisting on unnecessary services, marking up prices and overcharging. That's why there is a federal law, called the Funeral Rule, which regulates the actions of funeral directors, homes and services.

The Funeral Rule

A federal law makes it easier for you to choose only the goods and services you want or need when planning a funeral, and to pay only for those you select. The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to give you itemized prices in person and, if you ask, over the phone.

Many funeral providers offer a variety of package plans that include products and services that are most commonly sold. Keep in mind, you are not obligated to buy a package plan; you have the right to buy the individual products and services you prefer. As outlined by the Funeral Rule:

  • You have the right to choose the funeral goods and services you want (with some exceptions).
  • The funeral provider must state this in writing on the general price list.
  • If state or local law requires you to buy any particular item, the funeral provider must disclose it on the price list, with a reference to the specific law.
  • The funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket that you bought elsewhere.
  • A funeral provider that offers cremations must make alternative containers available.

Planning ahead is the best way to make informed decisions about funeral arrangements. An advanced plan also spares your family from having to make choices while grieving and under time constraints. Every family is different, and funeral arrangements are influenced by religious and cultural traditions, budgets and personal preferences.

You are not legally required to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. But most people find that the services of a professional funeral home make it easier. Many people often choose a funeral home or cemetery that's close, familiar, or recommended by someone they trust.

But comparison shopping can save you money and is much easier when it's done in advance. If you visit a funeral home in person, the funeral provider is required by law to give you a general price list with costs of the items and services offered. If the general price list does not include specific prices of caskets or outer burial containers, the funeral director is required by law to show you the price lists for these items before showing you the actual items.

Planning Wisely For A Funeral

  • Plan ahead.
  • Shop around and compare prices in advance.
  • Ask for a price list.
  • Resist pressure.
  • Avoid emotional overspending.
  • Recognize your rights.
  • Apply the smart shopping techniques you'd use for other major purchases.

Some people find it more comfortable to gather information and compare prices by telephone. The Funeral Rule requires funeral directors to provide price information over the phone to any caller who asks for it. Many funeral homes will also send you a price list by mail, but this is not required by law.

If you have a problem concerning funeral matters, it's best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are dissatisfied, the Funeral Consumer's Alliance may be able to advise you on how best to resolve your issue. You can also contact your state or local consumer protection agencies; or the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-662-7666 or www.funeralservicefoundation.org. Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You can contact the board in your state for information or help.

Veterans Cemeteries

All veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also applies to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel. Spouses and dependent children are also entitled to a lot and marker when buried in a national cemetery. There are no charges for opening or closing the grave, for a vault or liner, or for setting the marker in a national cemetery. For more information, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at www.cem.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000.