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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 2021 price survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial is $7,848, while a traditional adult funeral with cremation and burial is $6,971. 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.

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The Funeral Rule, a regulation first issued in 1984 and 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 2022 study by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) surveyed 1,046 funeral homes in 35 state capitals and found that only 18 percent posted their complete price list online (hardly up from 16 percent in 2017). 

The FTC is now considering updating the rule to require that the prices be posted online. The FCA has noted that having to visit funeral homes in person to pick up their pricing lists is impractical and makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions.  

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But those listed prices need to be accurate. The FTC is pursuing legal action, through the Department of Justice, against a trio of related cremations services companies, including Legacy Cremation Services, for, among other alleged wrongdoing, posting prices that were lower than what consumers actually paid.

A lack of price transparency isn't the only problem. Dishonest funeral directors might insist that you purchase a casket even if your loved one is being cremated (you don’t) or try upselling you to a pricey “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.

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Warning signs

  • 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.

How to protect yourself from these scams

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Get a written statement, before you pay, that shows exactly what you’re buying.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • Take some time to make 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.
  • Keep your budget to yourself; avoid telling 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.
  • Know that you can say no if a funeral home employee suggests you pay 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.

More resources

Protect Yourself From a Funeral Scam