FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
En español | It’s hard to think about death, whether your own or that of a loved one. But in planning and paying for a final farewell, it’s important to think clearly and be wary: Some unscrupulous operators take advantage of families’ most trying times for their own monetary gain.
Even when everything is on the up-and-up, funerals and burials tend to be expensive. According to a 2019 price survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation is $5,150; for a traditional adult funeral with viewing, burial and vault, it's $9,130. Unethical funeral directors seek to collect many thousands more by overcharging for items, or tricking you into buying packages with extra features you don’t want or need.
The Funeral Rule, a regulation enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requires funeral homes to disclose the cost of every item and service they provide, but pricing information can be hard to come by. A 2018 study by the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America looked at the websites of nearly 200 funeral homes in 25 cities and found that only 16 percent posted their complete price list online and only 27 percent posted any rates at all.
A lack of price transparency isn't the only problem. Dishonest funeral directors might insist you need to purchase a casket even if your loved one is being cremated (you don’t) or try upselling you to a pricy “protective” casket they claim will preserve the body longer (it won’t).
Millions of Americans seek to ease the burden on their families by arranging their funerals in advance and prepaying some or all of the costs. That might seem like a prudent choice, but prepaid plans have their own pitfalls.
Regulations for prepaid funerals vary widely from state to state, and you might not be protected if, for example, the funeral home you dealt with goes out of business or you move out of the state where you bought the plan. Find out about cancellation policies, and what regulations your state has in place to ensure the money you paid will be there for the funeral when the time comes.
- A funeral home does not show you an itemized price list before you discuss arrangements, as required by the Funeral Rule.
- A funeral director tries to make you feel guilty for not purchasing the most expensive products and services.
- Do shop around and ask questions. Funeral homes are required to provide price information over the phone if asked, and some post their price lists online.
- Do be wary of package deals that promise a discount on the casket; they often more than make up the difference in fees and unnecessary services. A funeral home cannot force you to buy a package that includes items you don’t want.
- Do consider buying a casket or urn from a local store or online. You might pay less, and a funeral home can’t legally refuse your choice or require you to be present when it's delivered.
- Do get a written statement, before you pay, that shows exactly what you’re buying.
- Do understand what you’re getting in a prepaid funeral contract. Does the plan cover only merchandise (like the casket and vault), or does it include services as well?
- Do check your state’s regulations for prepaid funerals. Know what will happen to the money you paid and whether you are protected if the funeral home folds.
- Don’t be rushed into decisions. According to Consumer Reports, if the body is at a hospital morgue or with a coroner, you should have at least two days to make arrangements, and possibly a week or more.
- Don’t be pressured into paying more than you want to spend.
- Don’t tell a funeral director how much you’re prepared to spend.
- Don’t buy a casket if your loved one is being cremated. The FTC says there’s no state or local law that requires one. Go for a less expensive alternative container.
- Don’t be pressured into paying for embalming. No state mandates embalming, although the FTC notes that some do require it if a body isn’t buried or cremated within a certain period.
Updated June 30, 2020
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Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.
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