How the Funeral Rule Protects Grieving Families

Funeral Home Musts – What a Funeral Home Should Do!

Funeral Homes Musts are a list of rules established by the United States Congress and enforced by the United States Federal Trade Commission. These rules apply to all funeral homes in the United States, and they are very important for families to know because they were designed with the funeral consumer in mind. The rules are intended to help people who are mourning the loss of a loved one to get the best price available on the memorial service they are planning – without having to sacrifice the products and services they want and desire in honor of their loved one.

The rules that we will be discussing in this article are known collectively as The Funeral Rule, established in 1984 and updated in 1994. The rule was intended to correct some outrages that had come to public attention mostly as the result of the work of journalist Jessica Mittford in her book The American Way of Death which detailed the way the funeral service and products industry had manipulated their industry over the years to build a virtual cartel that could set prices artificially high. The Funeral Rule’s goal was to stop those abusive practices by funeral homes.

At the core of the Funeral Rule is probably the most important of Funeral Home Musts: the General Price List. Federal law requires that all customers who inquire about services and products a funeral home provides must be given, very early in their relationship with the funeral home, a General Price List – also known as a GPL. The General Price List is best thought of as something like a restaurant’s menu (which is customarily presented to all patrons immediately upon their entrance), which lists all of the products and services available from the establishment and, most importantly, their price.

The Funeral Home’s General Price List must contain a few key elements in order to be considered legal. (And Federal Trade Commission agents have been known to conduct spot checks on funeral homes, looking to see how compliant they are. The Funeral Rule allows for fines adding up to thousands of dollars for establishments that are found to be negligent in their obligations regarding this list.) Here is a brief overview of these funeral home musts.

The most important element that funeral homes must provide on the General Price List is, as the name of the list implies, list of general prices the establishment charges for the services and products it sells. This includes several products and services mentioned specifically in the Funeral Rule itself: embalming, caskets, alternative containers besides caskets, cremation, outer burial container and the funeral’s basic service fee. Other items the funeral home provides should be listed on the general price list, but those must certainly be included (assuming the funeral home provides them. It should be noted that there is no requirement that a funeral home make these, or any, service available to customers).

The funeral home must also provide information besides prices in the General Price list. A lot of legal and policy information is always required by The Funeral Rule. In the General Price List, a funeral home must include information that relays to the customer that cremation may be done using an inexpensive wood (or even cardboard) box rather than an expensive hard wood casket that funeral homes usually have displayed on their showrooms. The General Price List must also include a clear description of what a funeral home’s basic service entail and which optional services – such as obituary notices and online announcements of a funeral – require an extra fee. The funeral home must also include in the General Price List a notice that informs all customers or potential customers that they may use products purchased from other establishments as part of a memorial service the funeral home hosts. (This is a very significant part of The Funeral Rule. Before the rule was approved by Congress, funeral homes were allowed to require that customers use accessories such as caskets, cremation jewelry, and even cremation urns that were purchased at the funeral home. Congress and numerous rulings of the United States Supreme Court have determined that such requirements violate federal anti-trust law because they unfairly eliminate competition in the market place and allow funeral homes to artificially inflate their prices.) And, finally, the funeral home must include in the General Price List a statement that says that embalming is an optional service that is not required by law except in very rare instances.

In general, funeral homes must be fair, accurate and ethical in their relationships with the families they serve. And it should be noted that the vast majority of funeral homes do certainly follow The Golden Rule in their business dealings with clients. But, unfortunately, that has not always been the case, and the Funeral Rule was passed because Congress heard one too many stories of funeral homes who took advantage of the vulnerability of grieving family members to sell products that were either unnecessary or outrageously overpriced. United States Government officials recognize that funeral homes serve customers who are vulnerable to questionable business practices and sales tactics, simply by the very nature of their industry. And an extra layer of regulatory protection for grieving customers was deemed necessary.

The most important thing that a family member of a person who has recently died can do is to be certain that he or she receives a Funeral Home’s General Price List more or less immediately upon entry to the funeral home during regular business hours. The General Price List is to a funeral home what a menu is to a restaurant. The only difference is that funeral homes can find themselves in huge amounts of serious legal trouble if their staff members neglect to present each customer with a General Price List. (GPL) Since the United States Federal Government has gone to great lengths to assure that the General Price List is distributed to each customer or potential customer of a funeral home in the country, consumers would be well advised to make sure that the price list is, indeed, distributed to them. Funeral homes and their staff members are well aware of their legal obligation to provide this information, so there is no excuse for a customer to not receive one. If a customer has to ask for the general price list or if, worse, the general price list is not available immediately, families would do well to, in other words they must, strongly reconsider any decisions they may have had regarding doing business with that particular funeral home. It is, of course, entirely a family’s decision as to whether a particular establishment is deserving of a contract to arrange a funeral and accompanying memorial service, but if a company does not take seriously its obligations under the Funeral Rule to make a General Price List, then that must come into play in a family’s decision about whether to hire a particular establishment.

Another funeral home must for families is to insist upon only what that family wants and needs – and to be picky about price. In today’s competitive memorial industry, there are a myriad of products available that open all sorts of opportunities for memorializing a loved one. Families must therefore be open to exploring all that is available and not relying entirely upon a funeral home staff’s ideas. Exploring the internet, or even a phone book, is always a great way for making sure that a family has the most opportunity for a memorial service that is fitting for its needs.

And, perhaps the most important funeral home must for families who are contracting the services of a funeral home is to make sure that the family has an unemotional assistant empowered to negotiate with the funeral home and all over companies involved with the funeral service. This is a recommended must passed down to consumer advocate groups who give families as much information as they can to help get the most of out the funeral home they hire for their service. The unemotional assistant can be anyone who is not so emotionally involved with the death that he or she would be hindered in making good business decisions. This can be a member of the family, a trusted friend or even a paid professional such as an attorney. Many consumer groups specifically involved with funeral planning issues can also be of service in helping to arrange for such an assistant. Having someone dependable as such an assistant is considered a funeral home must because this person, unlike a funeral home representative, has no hidden interests (such as making a sale or earning a commission) in advising a family into decisions that might be more costly than in really needed. To get the most out of a funeral home visit, a family would do well to have such a third party looking out for its interest. Many families who end up with “buyer’s remorse” after a funeral home has arranged a funeral and sent the final bill will testify that this funeral home must would have likely saved them a lot of money and even a lot of hassle – which, when coupled with grief that comes naturally as part of a funeral, can be devastating.