While mourning the passing of a loved one, it is difficult to be a savvy shopper. With the average cost of a funeral being between $4,200 and $6,400, funeral arrangements are the third largest purchase a family will make after buying a home and a car. For these reasons, federal, state and local governments have enacted laws and regulations concerning funeral homes to protect consumers during this unsettling time. However, each year consumers complain that funeral homes pressure them to purchase elaborate funeral arrangements by promoting expensive coffins when the body is to be cremated, overcharging for items, and refusing to openly list prices or provide them over the telephone. To avoid being misled or misinformed by disreputable funeral directors, consumers need to be aware of their rights and the laws designed to protect them.

Federal Requirements 
The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes to provide certain disclosures and information to assist consumers.

Telephone Price Disclosures
- Over the phone, a funeral provider must:
A. Tell you price information is available over the telephone.
B. Give you prices and any other information from the price lists to reasonably answer your questions.
C. Give you any other information about prices or offerings that is readily available to answer your questions.

Embalming Information -
A funeral provider:
A. Must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law except in certain cases.
B. May not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless required by law.
C. Must disclose in writing that you have the right to choose a disposition (direct cremation or immediate burial) if you do not want embalming.
D. Must disclose in writing that certain funeral arrangements such as viewing may make embalming a necessity and therefore a required purchase.

Cash Advance Sales - Funeral providers must disclose in writing if there is a surcharge for items that are paid for in advance by the funeral provider on your behalf.

Caskets For Cremation - Funeral providers which offer direct cremation without viewing or other ceremony at which the body is present must:
A. Disclose your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container the cremation. B. Not mislead you to believe that state or local laws require a casket for direct cremation.

Required Purchases -
Under the FTC Funeral Rule:
A. You have the right to choose only the funeral goods and services you want with some disclosed exceptions.
B. The funeral provider must disclose the above right in writing on the general price list.
C. The funeral provider must disclose on the statement of goods and services selected the specific law that requires you to purchase any particular item.

Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected -
The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement with the total cost of the goods and services selected. This statement must also disclose any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that compel you to purchase any specific funeral goods or service.

Preservative Claims -
Under the Funeral Rule, funeral providers are prohibited from telling you a particular funeral item or service can indefinitely preserve the body of the deceased.

New York State Licensing Requirements
All funeral directors and establishments must be licensed by the New York State Department of Health. 

New York City Requirements
According to a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs investigation conducted in 1997, the most frequently occurring violations regard failure to give out price information. Therefore, consumers should be aware that funeral providers are required by law to provide consumers with price information over the telephone. When a telephone caller makes a specific inquiry as to an item or service, the funeral provider must give the price of the most expensive and least expensive item in that category. The funeral provider must give the price of all the items that need to be purchased as a part of the funeral arrangements and the average price of a funeral. In addition, the funeral provider must inform callers that they can obtain a complete price list at the funeral home. 

The law also specifically provides that anyone displaying caskets or other internment containers for sale in a selection room must display their actual retail price in at least half-inch numbers as well as the composition or model number. Also, anyone selling caskets or other internment containers by means other than the selection room must show the customer pictures of the merchandise with the price, composition and model number prominently displayed. And, if 12 or more caskets are displayed, the three least expensive caskets must be displayed in the same general manner as the other caskets. When fewer than twelve caskets are on display, only the least expensive one must be included in the display.

Funeral providers must make available to consumers a "presentation sheet" which contains:

  • an itemized list of all available funeral merchandise and services.
  • a statement that prices vary widely and are available upon request. Designation of all items that must be purchased as part of all burial arrangements and items that are required by all cremation arrangements.
  • the presentation sheet must also contain the following:

New York City Legal Requirements Regarding Funerals

  1. Embalming is not required by law and may not take place without your authorization. However, a funeral home may refuse to provide certain types of services such as viewing if the embalming is not authorized.
  2. A casket is not required by law for cremation. A funeral home must offer you an "alternative container" for this purpose.
  3. Representations that deterioration of remains can be prevented indefinitely by embalming, caskets, vaults or outer interment receptacles are prohibited.
  4. Your authorization is required for a funeral home to obtain custody of a body and a body must be released promptly upon request.
  5. In providing "cash advances" to third persons for services or merchandise, the funeral home may not charge more than the amount paid to those persons.
  6. The funeral home is required to give price information in person and over the telephone.