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Funeral Planning Checklist

  • 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.

Planning a Funeral

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, many people are easily swayed to believe that their decisions reflect how they feel about the deceased and wind up spending more than necessary.

Most funeral providers are professionals who work to serve their clients' needs and best interests. Unfortunately, some do not. They may 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.

Comparison shopping, either in person or by phone, can save you money and is much easier when done in advance. 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. Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You can contact the board in your state for information or help.

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 "Rule" 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.

Prepaying for a Funeral

Millions of Americans have entered into contracts to prearrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. Various states have laws to help ensure that these advance payments are available to pay for the funeral products and services when they're needed; however, protections vary widely from state to state. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery.