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Funeral Preparations

Funeral Preparations: Services and Products

Funerals and Flowers

Funeral Preparations: Embalming

Many funeral homes require embalming if you are planning a viewing or visitation. But embalming generally is not necessary or legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars. Under the FTC Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:

  • may not provide embalming services without permission.
  • may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
  • must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
  • may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law.
  • must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition such as direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
  • must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.

Funeral Preparations: Caskets

For a traditional funeral service, the casket is often the single most expensive item you will purchase. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they are constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. Although an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets sell for as much as $10,000. When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the FTC Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.

Note: It is generally in the seller's best interest to begin the process of casket showing by showing the higher-end models. If you haven't seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them - but don't be surprised if they're not prominently displayed, or not on display at all.

Historically, funeral caskets were sold only by funeral homes. But with increasing frequency, showrooms and "third-party" dealers are selling caskets. You can buy a casket from one of these dealers and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn't allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

No matter where or when you're buying a casket, it's important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as "gasketed," "protective" or "sealer" caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don't. They just add to the cost of the casket.

Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges - the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wooden caskets generally are not gasketed and don't have a warranty for longevity. They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or oak, or softwood like pine. Pine caskets are a less expensive option, but funeral homes rarely display them. Manufacturers of both wooden and metal caskets usually warrant workmanship and materials.

Funeral Preparations: Casket Rentals for Funeral Cremations

Many families that choose to have their loved ones cremated rent a casket from the funeral home for the visitation and funeral, eliminating the cost of buying a casket. If you opt for visitation and cremation, ask about the rental option. For those who choose a direct cremation without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present, the funeral provider must offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative container, a non-metal enclosure - pressboard, cardboard or canvas - that is cremated with the body. Under the FTC Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer Direct Cremations:

  • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;

  • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation;
  • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

Funeral Preparations: Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in traditional funeral services. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. This is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault, on the other hand, is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner, and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, keep in mind that many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future. Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that's not true.

Before presenting you with any outer burial containers, a funeral service providers are required to provide a list of prices and descriptions. It may be less expensive to buy an outer burial container from a third-party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery. Compare prices from several sources before you select a model.

Funeral Preparations: Burial Plots

When looking to purchase a burial plot, consider the location of the cemetery and whether it meets the requirements of your family's customs or religion. Other things to look at may be any restrictions the cemetery places on burial vaults not purchased directly through them, the type of monuments or memorials it allows, and whether flowers or other remembrances may be placed on the site.

Cost is another consideration when reviewing burial plots. Plots can be expensive, especially in metropolitan areas. Many cemeteries may also require you to purchase a grave liner, resulting in an additional expense of several hundred dollars. There are also charges associated with opening the grave for interment as well as charges to fill it in. While perpetual care on a cemetery plot is sometimes included in the purchase price, it is important to find out this information before purchasing the site or service. If it is not included, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and grounds keeping.

Note: All veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also extends to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel. Get more information about funeral preparations for military personnel here.

If you plan to bury your loved one's cremated remains in a mausoleum or columbarium, you can expect to purchase a crypt and pay opening and closing fees, as well as charges for endowment care and other services. The FTC Funeral Rule does not cover cemeteries and mausoleums unless they sell both funeral goods and funeral services, so be cautious in making your purchase to ensure that you receive all pertinent price and other information, and that you're being dealt with fairly. The Funeral Planner Checklist, (Step 7) is designed for you with this in mind.

Use the Funeral Planner Checklist as a guide to help you help you in the funeral preparations process. Learn how to resist the pressure to buy goods and services you don't really want or need and to avoid emotional overspending during your time of need.

Note: If, at any time during the funeral preparation process, you feel you need additional assistance, there are several business, professional and consumer groups available to you. Review some of the larger groups and organizations here. Should any problems arise during the funeral preparation process, remember that there are also federal, state and local agencies ready to help you resolve such matters.

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This Website uses a variety of resources and is not intended to substitute or replace the professional advice or services that you receive from a funeral specialist. The content provided here is for informational purposes only.