How best to work with a funeral home

5 min read

Things to know when it comes to funeral homes

  • In most states you do not legally need a funeral home, but they can make many elements a lot easier.

  • Funeral homes are required to quote prices up front over the phone and to give an itemized price list in person.

  • You are under no obligation to use a casket or urn sold by the funeral home you work with.

  • Always ask for a complete itemized list of all costs including the basic services fee.

  • Starting with a budget will help all decisions go smoothly and reduce pressure.

In the immediate days following the loss of a loved one, making funeral arrangements and communicating all the logistics involved are important but challenging tasks. The dozens of large and small decisions required to plan and pay for a funeral can be stressful, let alone finding the right funeral home that can work within your budget. 

At a typical price of $10,000 or more, a traditional funeral and burial can is often one of the biggest expenses after someone passes away. But you can choose to spend what you and your family think best, and you are entitled to honor your loved one’s wishes at a price you can afford. By knowing what to expect from a funeral home you will be able to remain firm in your decisions, especially if you can bring someone with you to help you keep a clear head. 

Legal requirements for a funeral

In most states, you are not required to hire a funeral director. As long as you get the correct documentation and notify the proper authorities, you can prepare the body, obtain the death certificate, hold a service, and transport the body to the burial site or crematory. In the nine states that do require a funeral director’s involvement, their duties include signing the death certificate and overseeing burial or cremation

While embalming is almost never required by law, and some religions forbid it, funeral homes may insist on it for an open casket. In some states, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if final burial or cremation will not occur within a specified time, usually 24 or 48 hours. Embalming may be required if a body is to be transported out of state, such as by plane or train. 

Although no law requires a funeral service, you do have to choose burial or cremation. A casket is not legally needed for burial or cremation, only some kind of shroud or container made from an approved material. If you don’t want to use a funeral director, make sure the cemetery or crematory you are using can legally accept the body directly from the family.

Know your rights 

Leaving the arrangements in the expert hands of a funeral home may be comforting. If you choose to do so, the Funeral Rule, passed in 1984 and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, offers you certain protections.  

You have the right to buy the specific products and services you want. Funeral homes must provide cost information over the phone and an itemized price list in person.  

You also have the right to provide your own casket or container purchased elsewhere, with no handling fee, and the funeral home cannot require you to be there when it is delivered to them. 

Before you pay for the services you selected, the funeral home must give you a statement listing every product and service you selected, the price of each, and the total cost, as well as a description of any legal cemetery or crematory requirement.

Create a budget

Although in most cases funeral costs will be paid or reimbursed from your loved one’s estate, most families find it useful to set a budget before planning the funeral, as the cost will still reduce the size of any inheritance the family members receive. And if your loved one passed away with no assets, you and your family will have to cover the costs of whatever funeral you plan.

There is a wide range of funeral services both necessary and optional, and costs for similar services can vary a great deal from one funeral home to the next. Because the law requires funeral homes to provide pricing over the phone, you or someone helping you can compare costs fairly quickly. Checking prices from at least three funeral homes may help you begin to decide which services you need and set a budget. 

You are entitled to stick to your budget, to ask for more options, and to negotiate discounts.

Like many other retailers, funeral homes offer private-label merchandise with their own SKUs. It is likely that you will find the same or similar merchandise elsewhere, so it may save you money to price search using the general specifications.

Once you have a fixed or target budget, you do not need to disclose that amount, even if you are asked. You are not obliged to buy additional products and services beyond what the law requires just because you can afford it or feel pressured. 

You will generally be shown packages with three pricing options, usually the priciest option first. You are entitled to stick to your budget, to ask for more options, and to negotiate discounts. Choosing to do so does not reflect anything about you or your loved one. 

If your loved one was a member of a trade union or other association, you may be entitled to special pricing at partner funeral homes, but you can still comparison shop. 

Know what’s included in your package

Although the Funeral Rule requires an itemized statement of everything you selected, there may be other charges you weren’t aware of or services you need that weren’t included. That’s why it’s important to ask about both the mandatory basic services fee, which covers the time and overhead of the funeral director and staff, and itemized charges for any additional services you select. 

In fact, even if your loved one had prepaid for their funeral services, you still may need to pay for some services that were not disclosed or covered by the prepayment agreement, such as collecting the ashes after cremation or transporting the body. Make sure you know exactly what has already been paid for; if any charges were already covered, you should not be charged again. 

As you work with a funeral home to plan your loved one’s funeral, you may be concerned about how you or they will be perceived. But your loved one’s worth—or your love for them—is not measured in the difference between a 20-gauge steel coffin and an 18-gauge one. What matters is fulfilling your loved one’s wishes and honoring their life as well as you can, to the extent you and the estate can afford it.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.