What is the Funeral Rule?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Funeral Rule is a law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States. It is designed to protect consumers while they arrange funerals and consider options for disposition of a body. Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors have certain obligations to consumers, and consumers are entitled to certain rights. Despite the Funeral Rule, some unscrupulous members of the profession do take advantage of consumers, and the FTC encourages consumers to report such incidents so that they can be investigated.

According to the Funeral Rule, mourners are allowed to choose whatever services they want.
According to the Funeral Rule, mourners are allowed to choose whatever services they want.

Under the Funeral Rule, consumers are allowed to pick and choose the services they want at a funeral home, although they may also opt for basic packages of commonly-requested services. If they appear in person to request information, the funeral home must provide a general price list which includes pricing information about all of their services, along with legal information related to the Funeral Rule, and consumers may keep this price list. Consumers who request pricing information over the phone are also entitled to hear relevant pricing information.

Before the funeral rule, many funeral homes were accused of taking advantage of people during a needy time.
Before the funeral rule, many funeral homes were accused of taking advantage of people during a needy time.

Consumers are also entitled to bring in coffins from outside sources, and funeral homes cannot refuse to use such coffins. The funeral home must also disclose any legal requirements related to the funeral, and they cannot falsely claim that something is required by law when it is not. The Funeral Rule also specifies that funeral directors must provide information about embalming, including the fact that it is not usually required by law, and they must provide prices and descriptions of caskets and urns before showing clients samples.

Prior to the passage of the Funeral Rule, many funeral homes were accused to taking advantage of consumers during a needy time. Funeral shoppers don't really have a great deal of time to research their options, and they may feel pressured into making certain choices. Many complained in retrospect that they had been pushed into costly funerals or decisions they later regretted. Many funeral homes were also specifically accused of misstating legal requirements for funerals, and of obfuscating their pricing and policies to mislead consumers.

The Funeral Rule was passed in 1984, in response to significant agitation on the part of individuals and organizations who were concerned about the growing costs of funerals. Many of the advocates who fought for the Funeral Rule were inspired by Jessica Mitford's groundbreaking The American Way of Death, a searing expose of the American funeral industry. While the American funeral industry was able to weaken some of the clauses in the original Funeral Rule, it was unable to defeat the Rule entirely, which meant that consumers enjoyed many more protections during a difficult time than they had before.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces the funeral rule.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the funeral rule.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This is not a common practice of any funeral home. It would be investigated and funeral providers are punished. And the fines are large. Every funeral home I've worked for is huge on following the FTC Funeral Rule.

Before we are able to discuss services, we are required to give a GPL to the consumer in a face to face meeting for their retention. The vault (second casket) is a requirement of the cemetery, not the state or funeral home. Caskets and vaults do not prevent water from seeping in. Yes, there is a seal but they too break down over time.

Embalming does not stop decomposition; it slows down the rate of decomposition and makes it possible for a public viewing. We are all going to return to a natural state over time.


I went to pre-arrange my 87 year. old Mother's funeral. She has a "burial policy" with Liberty National Insurance Co. (Birmingham, Al) that will pay for most of her funeral only if a certain casket is used, an unadorned plain gray with straw bedding and no seal.

I asked if I could pay extra for a better casket and the answer was: "If a different casket is used, the insurance will only pay the $600 cash value on the policy, you will have to pay the remainder" (approx. $7,000).

I said, "you mean if I wanted to pay $2500 and upgrade to this coffin (pointing to a nicer one), I would have to pay for the entire funeral except for the $600?" She said that was correct, they were not allowed to do that.

I know the insurance company is doing this to discourage anyone from using the full burial policy, and I am sure it works when someone is grieving and emotional, goes to the funeral home to make arrangements, sees the plain coffin and wants something nicer and ends up only getting the $600 credit toward the funeral.

The lady we talked to said this happens more often than not! She also said when someone comes in like we did, they are not under the emotional strain and agree to use the "policy coffin".

I cannot see how this is legal! My Grandmother took this policy out on my Mom when Mom was 18. Later she bought a "supplement" that paid for a metal casket instead of cloth covered wood. Personally, I will use the "policy coffin" as we already have a sealed vault paid for with the grave company. I am purchasing an embroidered "panel" to put inside the lid for viewing and the casket will be mostly hidden with the flower blanket. I know my Mom would make the same decision - and I am not letting the Insurance Company win!


I just finished a funeral directing course and this is all textbook stuff. Diwiyana seems to have been abused by a poorly run place, but the only complaint that isn't really true is the secondary "coffin". It isn't a coffin, but a housing or box to protect the coffin from rot. It *will* rot eventually, but this adds many years and prevents the ground sinking in as they said. It isn't something that was added on, the cemetery gets very upset otherwise, and the mortuary can't do anything about that. Under The Rule this whole page is about, mortuaries and cemeteries must legally be separated so they actually have to have a positive relationship for everything to go smoothly.


This may be a rule but it seems to be honored more in the breach than in the spirit. I've been involved in a couple of funerals in the past year, at which I was misinformed that embalming was strictly required by law everywhere in the nation, urged to buy the best coffin in honor of the deceased, urged to buy a second coffin to protect the first coffin because otherwise the grave is going to sink down in an unsightly way, you see. And so on. There were no printed brochures or price lists, either. That was against policy and for shame that someone should ask at a time like this! Not much point in reporting to an agency what's common practice and won't be investigated, won't be punished, and won't be changed.

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