Making funeral arrangements is often one of the most emotional experiences and expensive purchases a consumer will ever make. With a little preparation, consumers can make sure they are making the choices that will meet their needs and budget. Both state and federal laws regulate funeral homes, funeral directors and other staff. This is a summary of some of the consumer rights that are protected by law.

Before making any funeral arrangements, check to make sure you are dealing with a licensed funeral director in good standing at www.mass.gov/dpl. You can also find helpful information compiled by the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/adv/bus05.shtm.

Pre- Need Planning

Increasingly consumers are planning ahead and making their own funeral arrangements. This decision can provide consumers with the time to shop around and the ability to designate their own preferences. Sometimes consumers also make arrangements to pre-pay for their funeral. Some things to think about when pre-need planning:

  • Type of funeral: consider cultural preferences, religious or secular, public or private, simple or elaborate, open casket or closed, will there be a service?
  • Cost: what funds will be available, will insurance cover the cost?
  • Burial or cremation: where? Has a plot been purchased?
  • Family/friend involvement: do they know your wishes?

Pre-paying for Funeral Arrangements

If you wish to pre-pay for your funeral, the funeral director must provide you with the standardized contract approved by the Board of Registration in Embalming and Funeral Directing. This contract will have three parts:

  • Standardized Pre-need Funeral Contract
  • Itemized Statement of Funeral Goods and Services (FTC compliant)
  • Trust Document with a Bank or Insurance Policy

Funeral directors must provide you with a written pricing list of the goods and services they offer before showing you the caskets. They must itemize for you all costs associated with the funeral and burial specifying those items where the cost is guaranteed and those items where the price may change. They must explain what will happen if they go out of business or if their funeral home is sold. They must disclose if they will receive a commission on the sale of an insurance policy and they must provide you with written verification of where your funds are being held if a trust account is used. Contracts entered into after February 27, 2004 may not allow the funeral director to hold the client's pre-need funds.

Within 10-days of signing a consumer may cancel a pre-need funeral contract and receive a full refund.

Consumer Checklist for Making Funeral Arrangements:

  • Make a list of what you want: type of service, viewing, flowers, transportation, type of burial, etc.
  • Determine your budget: consider what funds will be available, and how much you want to spend.
  • Know your rights: ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/adv/bus05.shtm
  • Shop around: Funeral Directors must provide you with prices over the phone and must provide you with a written price list of the goods and services they offer before they show you any goods; they must allow you to use a casket purchased elsewhere and may not charge a fee for this; they must explain your option such as cremation, direct burial without embalming, etc.; if cremation is chosen they must allow you an alternative container to a casket (they may offer a rental casket for viewings); they must explain costs associated with burial and provide you with a price list.
  • If you select a funeral home, visit the funeral director and discuss your wishes:
    • Ask about options and packages or buying items separately.
    • Check the accessibility for disabled visitors to get to the rest rooms, viewing rooms, etc.
    • Is this an environment in which you feel comfortable?
  • Plan for the disposition of remains through burial or otherwise:
    • What costs will the cemetery charge?
    • If cremation is chosen, what do you plan for the ashes?
  • When paying for services, make sure everything is in writing and that you understand all costs.
  • When Pre-arranging and pre-paying for a funeral:
    • Use the standardized state contract.
    • Know which costs are guaranteed and which may change.
    • If funded through a trust account- know the name of the bank trustee.
    • If funded through an insurance policy, know whether the funeral director received a commission, know the insurance company and policy number.
    • Know what happens if the funeral home is sold or goes out of business.
    • Know whether and how the contract can be changed.
    • Know you have 10 days from signing to cancel the contract and get a refund.
    • Notify a family member or legal representative of this arrangement.