Educational Consumer Tips


Author: Better Business Bureau

No one likes to think about funerals, but they are an important part of our lives. With the average cost being several thousand dollars or more, a funeral will be a major expenditure for most of us. Arming yourself with some basic knowledge about your options and your rights can help when you are faced with these choices.

All funeral directors, undertakers, and embalmers operating in New York State must be licensed by the New York State Department of Health. In addition, all funeral providers are directed by the Federal Trade Commission to provide complete information concerning funeral arrangements, services, and prices to consumers. The FUNERAL RULE, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral directors to provide consumers with various pieces of information whether it is in person or by a telephone inquiry. 


It is suggested that consumers compare prices among funeral providers by calling to request information regarding the price of their services. Every funeral provider must set forth an updated list of prices and other information to answer any funeral cost inquiries that a consumer may have. If a consumer inquires in person about funeral arrangements, the funeral provider must give you a General Price List. The General Price List contains the current cost of each funeral item and the services offered. A General Price List also requires funeral providers to disclose key topics to help the consumer in the decision-making process. The consumer has a right to select only the goods and services desired in making funeral arrangements. This gives the right to consumers to select and buy only the items they want to buy. However, certain arrangements may lead to a variety of expenses that will be charged by the funeral provider. 


Funeral providers are required to give consumers information about embalming in the General Price List. In addition to setting forth the actual price of embalming, funeral providers are prohibited from misleading a consumer with regard to the laws governing funeral practices. For example, funeral providers cannot falsely state that embalming is required by law. In New York State 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. Funeral providers cannot charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law. In addition, it must be disclosed in writing that you have the right to choose any type of burial method you want. To this end, funeral providers must also disclose to you in writing that certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with a viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and a required purchase. The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you a particular funeral item or service can preserve the body of the deceased indefinitely in the grave. The rule also prohibits funeral providers from making claims that funeral goods, such as caskets or vaults, will keep out water, dirt, or other gravesite substances if that is not true. 


Some families choose to select a direct cremation for their loved one. A direct cremation is a cremation of the deceased without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present. If you choose a direct cremation, the funeral provider will offer an inexpensive alternative container or unfinished wood box. Alternative containers include any non-metal enclosures, including pressed board, inexpensive wood or canvas. Because any container you buy will be destroyed during the cremation, you may decide to use an alternative container or unfinished box. This will lower funeral costs because alternative containers are less expensive than traditional caskets. Funeral directors that offer direct cremations may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations. In addition, a funeral provider must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation. 


When a consumer has decided upon which funeral services he/she would like to have for their loved one, it is required that all licensed funeral providers produce a written statement showing the price of the funeral. This itemized statement should include an itemized list of the services and merchandise to be finished, the actual price of the services, and an accounting of all cash advances and expenditures made in providing funeral services. Some funeral providers charge you their cost for these items while others will add on a service fee to their cost. The Funeral Rule requires funeral providers to tell you when a service fee is added to the price of cash advance items, or if there are refunds, discounts, or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item. In order to properly comply with both the Funeral Rule and New York State laws, the funeral provider should give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services that you select. This statement also will disclose any legal, cemetery, or crematory requirements that require you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services. Upon reviewing this statement, you still have the right to add or subtract items from the list. If the price of cash advance item is not known, the funeral provider must write down a "good faith estimate." 


When monies are paid to a funeral provider for a prearranged funeral or an agreement for funeral merchandise or services is made, the funds for these services must be placed aside in a trust account in a banking institution until they are to be used or upon repayment to the consumer. Even if a funeral director dies, money in trust and its interest must be paid back to the prearranged funeral consumer even if the money is to come out of the funeral director's estate. 


New York State Law will not let insurance companies and policies make burial and funeral arrangements for their insured customers. Furthermore, insurance companies cannot contract with funeral homes to provide services for their customers. Insured consumers hold the choice regarding which funeral arrangement prices they would like to pay. 


Workers Compensation Law Sec 311.1 provides a funeral expenses fee schedule reimbursement for funeral expenses under workers' compensation. For those that live in New York City, Rockland County, Suffolk County, and Westchester County the reimbursement is $6,000. For those that live outside these areas in the state, the reimbursement is $5,000. 


The sale or any attempt to re-sell a cemetery plot or plots, or of crypts or niches in a community mausoleum up on a premises, and any representation or inducement or re-sale at a financial profit is prohibited. Persons found to be engaged in this practice will be charged with a misdemeanor. 

For more information, contact: 


Better Business Bureau
100 Bryant Woods South, Amherst, NY 14228 
(800) 828-5000 


This information is general in nature and is not to be interpreted as a Business Review on any company, product, or service.