It can be one of the biggest expenditures a consumer makes. It’s a uniquely sensitive transaction. And it’s covered by an FTC Rule.
We’re talking about funerals and the FTC has just announced that as part of its ongoing regulatory review process, it’s taking another look at the Funeral Industry Practices Rule. In effect since 1984 and last amended in 1994, the Funeral Rule is designed to protect consumers from deception and unfairness. In promulgating the Rule, the FTC observed that shopping for funeral goods and services is different from other purchases. Consumers may lack familiarity with the transaction. They often have to make major financial commitments under tight time constraints. And they’re making these decisions under the emotional strain of bereavement.
The Rule requires funeral providers to give consumers itemized price information up front and to provide additional details about the cost of caskets and burial vaults when discussing or showing those items. It also gives consumers the right to buy just the goods and services they want. In addition, the Rule establishes some legally-enforceable dos and don’ts for funeral providers:
- They can’t require consumers to buy a casket for direct cremation;
- They can’t condition the furnishing of goods or funeral services on the purchase of other things – for example, they can’t charge a “casket handling” fee to consumers who provide their own casket;
- They can’t embalm the deceased for a fee without authorization when embalming isn’t required by law; and
- They can’t misrepresent legal or local cemetery requirements about things like embalming, outer burial containers, or other funeral goods or services.
As part of our review of the Funeral Rule, we’re asking for your feedback. The Federal Register Notice includes a list of specific questions about the costs and benefits of the Rule. For example, to what extent have changes in technology and consumer preferences impacted the marketplace? Should the Rule require funeral providers to post their itemized price lists online? Would a standard format for pricing information make it easier for consumers to comparison shop and streamline industry compliance? Are there new industry practices the Rule should address?
Once the notice appears in the Federal Register, you’ll have 60 days to file your public comment. In the meantime, the FTC has compliance information for funeral providers and advice for consumers about shopping for funeral services.