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"Body Donation to Science"
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Paying final respects - your rights when buying funeral goods & services (FTC)

Caring for your own dead

How to file a funeral or cemetery complaint 

Was the funeral home ethical?


The material on this page is not legal advice; it is meant only to be helpful guidance to consumers.

To know your rights, you must understand that in 1984, to rectify the abuses of the past when funeral prices were shrouded in secrecy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) implemented its Funeral Industry Practices Trade Regulation Rule—commonly known as the Funeral Rule—to ensure accurate, itemized price information for funeral goods and services. The keystone of the Rule is the General Price List (GPL), an itemized listing of goods and services offered by funeral homes. Among the rights afforded consumers by the Funeral Rule are:

1. The right to obtain a mortuary’s General Price List (GPL) if you ask in person about the establishment’s goods, services, or prices.

Comment : The Funeral Rule requires that a mortician give a GPL to consumers—to keep—if they appear in person and ask about funeral goods or services, or their prices. The Rule extends this right to anyone (not just potential customers) entering the funeral home: journalists, competitors, and representatives of businesses, religious societies, government agencies, and consumer groups.

2. The right to select only those goods and services which you desire.

Comment: The Funeral Rule mandates that six disclosures appear on a mortuary’s General Price List (GPL). The first is the Right of Selection: You have the right to select only those goods and services which you want. This means that you do not have to choose an expensive casket, for instance, but may opt for a simple wood box or a less costly cremation casket for earth burial.

3. The right to an explanation of the itemized prices on the GPL when you enter a funeral home and inquire about the goods and services which it offers, or their prices.

Comment : The General Price List (GPL) is an important document because it enables consumers to comparison shop and select, on an itemized basis, only the goods and services which they want. While packages may be offered, the Rule allows this only in addition to—not instead of—itemized pricing.

4. The right to decline embalming.

Comment: Embalming is a process by which bodily fluids are replaced with preservatives. It is rarely mandated by law, but funeral homes usually require it when a viewing will take place; consumers however have the right to select direct cremation or immediate burial instead, the simplest of funeral arrangements, which are without a viewing. (Please note that when disposition will be delayed beyond 48 hours after death, a funeral home without refrigeration facilities may insist on embalming even if there is no viewing.)

5. The right to a direct cremation or immediate burial, the simplest and least expensive funeral arrangements.

Comment: To guarantee consumers the right to pick and choose those goods and services which they want, the Funeral Rule requires that 16 items be separately priced on the General Price (GPL). Among these are immediate burial and direct cremation, the simplest funeral arrangements, without embalming. Both are without viewing, visitation, or other ceremony with the body present and are often followed by a memorial service, which family and friends typically plan and carry out on their own.

6. The right to place the body into an alternative container, or simple box, instead of a more costly casket for the cremation process.

Comment: A funeral home providing direct cremation must make available an alternative container, or simple box, into which the body is placed for the cremation process. The entry for direct cremation on the GPL must contain a disclosure that consumers have the right to use an alternative container; there must also be a price quote for a direct cremation, where you provide your own container, and one where the container is purchased from the funeral home.

7. The right to receive a Casket Price List (CPL),which should include descriptions and prices for all caskets, including cremation caskets and alternative containers, regularly offered for sale by a funeral home—before you are ushered into its casket showroom.

Comment : The Funeral Rule states that morticians must show a Casket Price List (CPL) to anyone inquiring in person about the caskets or alternative containers which they sell. The Rule mandates further that the CPL must be given at the beginning of a discussion—before showing the merchandise. But according to a survey conducted by the AARP a few years back, this requirement was commonly disregarded: one-third of those queried had not received a CPL before being led into the casket showroom. So remember this right and insist on a CPL at the beginning of a face-to-face inquiry about casket prices—before you are led to the casket display. You should be given an opportunity to look at the prices before discussing your options or seeing the caskets.

Moreover the Funeral Rule states that all caskets, including cremation caskets, should be listed on the CPL along with alternative containers. A funeral home may not use a separate list for alternative containers or cremation caskets. In other words, all customers—those wishing earth burial as well as those opting for cremation—should receive the same CPL.

8. The right to select a less expensive grave liner instead of a costlier coffin vault.

Comment: Most cemeteries require that a casket be placed into a reinforced concrete box, called an outer burial container, to keep the gravesite earth from sinking once decomposition sets in. There are two types—grave liners and coffin vaults—which serve this purpose and satisfy cemetery requirements. But coffin vaults cost at least twice as much. Therefore, remember  that you have the right to select a less expensive grave liner.

9. The right not to be charged a handling fee if you purchase your casket outside the funeral home.

Comment: The Funeral Rule permits only one nondeclinable fee, the basic services fee, for services necessary in any funeral, such as obtaining permits and placing obituaries. This means that it is illegal for a funeral director to force consumers to pay a casket handling fee, for this would constitute a second nondeclinable fee, which is prohibited.

10. The right to be spared misrepresentations about funeral goods or services.

Comment : The Rule prohibits funeral directors from claiming that certain caskets or coffin vaults will delay the natural decomposition of human remains for a long or indefinite time or, unless substantiated, will protect the body from gravesite substances. You have the right to select the less costly items on a GPL if that is your wish—even if a funeral director would advise you otherwise.

 Advance Health Care Directive and a Living Will:

A Living Will may not sufficient to meet each person's needs as it cannot truly anticipate what all the circumstances might be when it is needed. A safer approach is naming a health care power of attorney in an advance health care directive, and communicating your values and priorities to that person as well as your family and friends. A statement about an individual's wishes for after-death care (including a desire to have or not to have organ, tissues or body donation) may be added to any advance health care directive document that does not already have a space on the form for that. Select from the following forms, none that you do not have to buy. Sentara Advance Directives

If the family wishes an autopsy but the medical examiner determines there is no reason to suspect foul play, they will have to make arrangements themselves privately. If the patient died in a hospital, an autopsy can be arranged through the hospital and is usually done there. Alternatively, an autopsy may be arranged directly with a private autopsy service. Autopsies usually cost between $2,000 and $4,000. Preliminary results may be available within three days but final results may take longer.

Basic Services Fee (The non-declinable fee):

The Funeral Rule permits morticians to charge a BASIC SERVICES FEE—for basic mortuary staff services and overhead—which is non-declinable. The consumer must pay this fee in addition to the cost of all funeral goods and services selected unless opting for a Direct Cremation or Immediate Burial, in which case this fee is already included. Here are other facts about the basic services fee, which is usually (but not always) the first item on the GPL:

  • It accounts for approximately 40% of all service charges
  • It is capricious and easily manipulated: a funeral director can lower casket prices to compete with a casket retailer, then recoup by hiking the basic services fee.
  • It is inequitable: families selecting minimal funerals must nonetheless pay for overhead expenses related to parking lots or reception rooms.
  • It is not consumer-friendly: the FCA has petitioned the FTC to abolish it though to date this has not occurred.

NOTE: Because the basic services fee is the only allowable non-declinable fee, a mortuary may not levy a "casket handling fee". A fee charged when a casket is purchased outside the funeral home is illegal.

Body donation:

Karen-can you add any relevant info here—most of what’s here is for MD and I deleted it all so there’s not much left!

 In Virginia,  bodies may be donated to the  Virginai State Anatomical Program which is the only agency in Virginia authorized to receive donations of human bodies for scientific study. Its purpose is to provide human remains for teaching anatomy and surgery and for medical research in the State's medical schools, colleges, universities and research facilities.

For answers to specific questions, please visit this webpage

For a general overview of the program and to obtain appropriate forms, please visit this webpage

State Anatomical Program:
Virginia Department of Health
400 East Jackson Street
Richmond , Virginia 23219
(804) 786-2479
(800) 447-1706

Funeral costs:

Did you know that funeral and memorial services, cremation, and burials vary widely in cost for identical services? That’s why it’s important to compare prices among funeral homes. Click here for the results of our latest Southside Hampton Roads Funeral Home Survey or Peninsula Funeral Home Survey where  we compare prices.

Living Will:

A Living Will may not sufficient to meet each person's needs as it cannot truly anticipate what all the circumstances might be when it is needed. A safer approach is naming a health care power of attorney in an advance health care directive, and communicating your values and priorities to that person as well as your family and friends.
See Sentara Advance Directives

Organ and tissue donation:

Donated organs must be taken immediately after a person has died, usually after severe neurological injury or “brain death” has occurred. This is possible only in a hospital setting.

Tissues such as bone, skin, eyes, cartilage, veins and heart valves can be taken for up to 24 hours after the heart has stopped beating.

A more complete explanation regarding organ, tissue and body donation can be found on the website of Life Net at

The official U.S. government web site for organ and tissue donation

Donate Life America

If you are considering donating your body to science ( a very good thing to do) you should know that the whole body parts industry is not well regulated and body "chop shops" abound.  For more about this practice, follow the link to Lisa Carlson's Funeral Ethics Organization Fall 2004 newsletter.

 Prepaying for funeral services:

Although planning for after-death care is strongly recommended, prepaying for a funeral may not be a good idea. There are a number of disadvantages.

You may move or die in another state, and it could be expensive to have your body transported back to the funeral home with whom you made your contract.

The money paid today may not cover the cost of what you want when the services or merchandise are needed in the future. This would necessitate substitution of cheaper merchandise or require additional money from your survivors or your estate.

The funeral home you contracted with may close or change ownership.

In many states, part of all of the interest earned on the money you prepaid may be withdrawn by the seller as part of their administrative fees.

You might change your mind about the kind of arrangements you want.

If you want to set aside money in advance to cover the cost of funeral merchandise or services, there are safer approaches. Life insurance may be purchased that will cover the cost of your funeral, or a special trust may be created.

When specific arrangements are made in advance, be sure to tell your family about them including where the documents are filed. If your family isn't aware that you've made plans in advance, your wishes may not be carried out and your family may end up paying for arrangements a second time.