Red flags to look out for when planning a funeral

3 min read

Choosing a funeral home is one of the first tasks a grieving family will undertake together, and it can be one of the most difficult.

Most of us make funeral arrangements in a state of mind dominated by grief, shock, and the feeling that you're suddenly living in a strange new world, without the person you love so much.

From a consumer perspective, it is important to remember that you are inexperienced—unlike the professionals who are dedicated to serving bereaved families.

While there is immense relief in finding an expert guide to help you with the often bewildering challenges that follow the loss of a loved one, not all businesses deserve that trust. Unfortunately, some may exploit your naivete with practices that can add hundreds of dollars to the bill.

In order to feel confident in your funeral professionals, it is helpful to know more about the regulations around funerals, cremations, and burials. If you encounter any of the following red flags as you are making arrangements for your loved one's ceremony, it may be a reason to rethink your trust in that business or organization.

Lack of choice on caskets and extras

For your convenience, many funeral homes will take care of everything in-house—including the casket, floral arrangements, burial, and more.

But it is important to remember that in almost all cases, you have a choice on these purchases. Federal law guarantees that right. That's why it’s a good idea to read the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule before walking into any funeral home.

This law lays out your rights as a consumer. Knowing them ahead of time can save you from overspending on items you can get elsewhere for a lower price, or being convinced to take options you don’t need.

With caskets and urns in particular, the FTC Funeral Rule is clear on this: A funeral home or crematorium cannot refuse to use a casket or an urn you bought elsewhere. In addition, it is illegal for them to charge you a fee for this.

It is your right to comparison shop, and if a funeral home is telling you that you don't have a choice, they are operating outside the law.

Lack of transparency about pricing

According to the FTC Funeral Rule, "Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address, or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online."

In addition, federal law requires that funeral homes provide the following:

  • A written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home

  • A written casket price list before you see the actual caskets

  • A written outer burial container price list

  • A written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay

  • An explanation that describes any legal cemetery or crematory requirement

High-pressure sales tactics

The price of funerals, burials, and other memorial ceremonies can vary widely, but they are generally not cheap. In fact, the median cost of a funeral in 2021 was $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

And of course, you're making this significant purchase when you are grieving and exhausted. And the purchases themselves—such as the casket and the headstone—are intensely personal.

It's easy to feel that your spending should represent the sum total of your love for the person who has passed. Obviously, that is not the case. So, any intense pressure from a salesperson to upgrade and prove your love through spending should be viewed for what it is: exploitative.

Extra fees and add-ons

State by state, there are differences in laws when it comes to practices like embalming, burials, and cremations. So it may be confusing to understand what is required and what is a choice when it comes to making funeral and burial or cremation plans for your loved one.

And clearing up this kind of confusion may be the last thing you'll want to deal with—since fine print is likely the last thing on your mind in the wake of a loved one's passing.

If you are unsure, you can always refer to the FTC Funeral Rule for guidance on these issues.

For instance, no state law requires routine embalming for every death. So if your funeral home is requiring embalming before a cremation, that is a red flag. You can show them the federal mandate outlawing that practice. Or, if you choose, you can work with another funeral home.

Most funeral homes run on trust, and word-of-mouth is a substantial driver of their businesses. And of course, most professionals who are a part of this industry joined it because of a desire to work with and help families who are grieving. So if a red flag pops up, remember that there are caring professionals who are waiting for your business, and are eager to make these difficult days a bit easier.