Home Funerals and the Funeral Rule

Families and groups involved in home funerals are responsible for knowing and abiding by all laws and regulations related to funerals that apply to family-directed arrangements.

Most of these laws are promulgated at the state level, although a few, particularly related to municipal cemeteries and private graveyards, are established at the county or township level.

Lisa Carlson’s book Caring for the Dead  can assist you with this research.

Though it has fewer applications for home funerals than for funerals arranged by professional providers, the Funeral Rule of the Federal Trade Commission also is a body of regulations that affects your rights and options. In force since 1984, the Funeral Rule essentially brings greater transparency to the general price lists of funeral homes and crematories, making it possible for the consumer to choose only those goods and services wanted. It requires the provider to make certain disclosures about the customer’s rights and disallows falsehoods.

If you’re planning to handle a funeral without any involvement of a commercial provider, then the Funeral Rule won’t matter much to you. But if you intend to use limited services of a funeral home or crematory, you should know that the Funeral Rule:

  • Allows you to purchase only the arrangements you want, with a few exceptions. Unfortunately, one of those exceptions is the basic services fee, which a funeral home is entitled to charge all customers, to recover overhead and other expenses involved in serving almost all customers such as ordinary storage of remains and arrangements for a death certificate. The problem is that families serving as their own funeral directors differ from most funeral home customers in that they assume many of these common tasks. By planning ahead, you may be able to find a funeral home willing to forego its basic services fee, or at a minimum, greatly discount it.
  • Allows you to get price information by the phone. If you only want to obtain, say, the use of a hearse from your home to the cemetery (though you can do that yourself), you have the right to obtain the cost for that service by telephone.
  • Requires the funeral provider to accept a casket purchased elsewhere – and makes it illegal for the provider to charge you a handling fee to do so. You may also build your own casket. So if you intend to keep your loved one’s body at home for one day in a simple casket you constructed, and then hire a funeral home to arrange for the burial, the funeral home is required to use the casket you provide.
  • Requires a provider that offers burials to include an immediate option that does not include embalming or ceremony. You should know to ask for an “immediate burial.”
  • Requires a provider that offers cremations to include a direct option that does not include embalming or ceremony. You should know to ask for a “direct cremation.” And you do not have to purchase an urn from the provider; you would simply ask for the cremated remains to be returned in the “temporary container.”Requires a provider that offers cremations to make available an alternative container that is made of cardboard or another highly combustible material that you can use without purchasing a cremation casket. While you may obtain an alternative container elsewhere – as long as it meets the equipment needs of the crematory – in practice, these containers are often priced well under $100 anyway. You can call to inquire about prices and requirements for alternative containers purchased elsewhere.
  • Allows the funeral provider to require embalming as a business policy if there will be a public viewing. Few providers allow a public viewing without embalming, although some might allow a brief family-only viewing. For families caring for their own dead but hiring a provider to arrange the final disposition, this may mean that you will consider the home vigil portion of the funeral to be the extent of the “viewing.”

For more information about the Funeral Rule, visit “Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services” at the website of the Federal Trade Commission.