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Funeral Home Laws

A quick guide to what families should expect from their funeral home

In 1984, the United States Federal Trade Commission adopted the Funeral Rule, which was updated in 1994 and remains in effect today. Every part of a customer's relationship with a funeral home is overseen by this rule, so it is important that anyone who is planning a funeral of a loved one be familiar with the basic requirements of the rule. Most funeral homes in the United States today are in full and willing compliance with the rule – which was enacted in order to end decades of abusive funeral home practices that had been documented by journalists such as Jessica Mitford in her famous book The American Way of Death – but families are best advised to exercise caution if a funeral home operator is reluctant to follow any part of the Funeral Rule.

Here are the basic requirements that all funeral homes must meet:

General Price List

A funeral home must present a family a GOP before discussing sales of any sort.All funeral home visitors who are inquiring about services must be given, more or less immediately, a copy of the home's General Price List. (GPL) The Funeral Rule requires that this list be made available for free even to telephone callers who request one be mailed.

A Funeral Home's GPL must clearly list the exact rates for all goods and services the funeral home provides. It must clearly list what is offered for the home's “basic service” fee and provide an itemized list of additional services that are available – such as obituary announcements, photo displays, floral arrangements, etc. The GPL must also provide a clear explanation of any pre-paid services and it must show the full price range of caskets and other accessories the funeral home offers.

One significant requirement of the GPL is that it must be presented to a new client before any sales discussions can begin – and this rule applies no matter the location of the discussion. It is important to remember, then, that if a funeral director begins sales discussions with a potential client in, say, a grocery store parking lot or some private function, he or she must quickly present a copy of the GPL or he may be in violation of the law. For this reason, many Funeral Directors now keep plenty of extra copies of their home's GPL in their car's glove box or in a briefcase. One man even admits to keeping a few copies in his gym locker.

Disclosure of Applicable State and Local Laws

Under the Funeral Rule, funeral homes are required to give all customers specific reference to any state or local laws that require the purchase of funeral accessories or services such as embalming or cremation caskets. It is important for consumers to remember that no federal law requires such services, and, if a funeral home employee says that a service is required by state or local he or she must immediately provide the customer (even if it is not requested) with a written reference to the applicable law.

Acceptance of Third-Party Accessories

A funeral home must allow customers to obtain memorial needs from outside vendors.The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to allow customers to purchase accessories such as caskets and cremation urns from third-party vendors. The home may not charge an “surcharge” or a “handling fee” for accepting these items for use in a funeral. The law does allow the funeral home to establish specific rules for the accessories (such as size and color requirements), but, so long as the third-party product can meet those rules, it must be allowed by the funeral rule. Any attempt by a funeral home to by-pass this part of the Funeral Rule should be greeted with great suspicion by a customer.

Avoidance of Misrepresentations

The Funeral Home allows for stiff penalties and sanctions against any funeral home that purposely misrepresents state, local or federal law regarding funerals. If, for example, a funeral home employee tells a customer that embalming is a required service in the local area – but in fact the service is not legally required – the home is subject to punishment. These sorts of violations are rare today, now that most funeral homes are in eager compliance with The Funeral Rule. But consumers should not hesitate to contact the Federal Trade Commission should they suspect this rule has been violated.

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