Dozens of funeral homes fail to properly disclose prices, undercover phone probe finds

The Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to 39 funeral homes after an undercover phone investigation found the funeral homes failed to provide accurate pricing information or give out pricing information at all, the agency announced Thursday.

Violations of the FTC’s funeral rule, which requires that funeral homes tell people who call or visit in person about their service offerings and prices, can carry a penalty of up to $51,744 per violation. 

The funeral homes in this investigation, however, just received warning letters. In the letters, the FTC reiterated the funeral rule and asked the funeral homes to take prompt remedial action to make sure they are no longer in violation.

“We think it’s important that funeral homes comply with the funeral rule and provide accurate information over the phone,” said Rebecca Plett, an attorney in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and one of the co-coordinators for the funeral rule.

During the investigation, which was the first undercover phone probe of the industry, FTC investigators and staff placed calls in 2023 to more than 250 funeral homes around the country to try to obtain price information, finding that 39 funeral homes violated the funeral rule.

From the archives (December 2022): Opinion: Funeral homes should post prices online

The FTC declined to comment on what prompted the investigation.

On 38 of the calls, funeral homes either refused to answer questions about pricing at all or provided inconsistent pricing for identical services, the FTC said. 

On one of those calls, a funeral home also misrepresented that the local health code required remains to be embalmed if more than a certain number of people wanted to view them, when the local health code didn’t actually require this, the FTC said. 

Embalming is a process of preserving a body after death. Direct cremation does not involve embalming. Most states do not require a body to be embalmed, and the few states that do require embalming only do so in limited circumstances, such as if refrigeration is not available. 

On another call, a funeral home promised to send a general price list, which is required to include important disclosures and itemized services, but instead provided prices for packages of services that did not meet the funeral-rule requirements, the FTC said.

The list of funeral homes to which the agency sent letters can be found in the FTC’s press release.

“It’s an important safeguard, especially if people can’t go in person for whatever reason or are calling from out of state. It’s important for people to be able to comparison shop, because funerals can be a huge expense for a lot of people,” Plett said. “We’re hoping to make difficult times easier. People are having to make emotional decisions when they are grieving, and they’re often under time pressure.”

The National Funeral Directors Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Related: Death is not a life event you can skip — and the cost is rising

Finding prices for funeral services can be difficult because funeral homes aren’t required to post their services and rates online. 

That may change in the future. The FTC has collected public comments and is reviewing whether to require funeral homes to post their prices online. The original funeral rule, which went into effect in 1984 and was amended in 1994, predates broad consumer use of the internet.

From the archives (November 2022): Do you want your funeral to be a Porsche or a Hyundai? Funeral homes may have to post prices online for the first time.

The FTC also offered tips for consumers working with funeral homes:

  • Consumers should be aware that funeral homes must answer questions over the phone or in person about what services they offer and disclose all of their prices.

  • When you ask a funeral home about a service, such as direct cremation, inquire about what is and isn’t included in the price. Ask if there will be other costs, such as for transportation, death certificates or obituaries.

  • Ask a funeral home to send you an email or text with information about prices, services and merchandise. Funeral homes aren’t required to send the information in that format, but many will, the FTC said.

  • If you don’t want to go in person, tell a funeral home you want to make plans without visiting. If a funeral home won’t send you information about prices, services and merchandise, find a different business, the FTC said.

  • You can buy a casket, cremation container or urn online from an outside manufacturer or retailer to use at a funeral home. The funeral home can’t charge a fee for using your item.

  • You may have to pay additional fees because of state or local laws. A funeral home must list items required by law and their cost on the written statement provided.

  • Some funeral homes offer discounted-package funerals, but you don’t have to buy a package that includes items you don’t want. Ask about itemized prices. The funeral home must let you buy only the services you want and need.

  • Ask for a written statement before you accept the arrangements.

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