Funeral Director

What is a Funeral Home or Funeral Director?

A funeral home, also called a funeral parlor, is a place where friends and family go to pay their respects to those who have died. Of the approximately 21,000 funeral homes across the United States, 85% are family-owned businesses and 15% are owned by large corporations. Some neighborhood funeral homes, thought to be family owned, could be owned by a national corporation. If this issue is important to you, you may want to ask if the funeral home is locally owned.

A funeral director, also called mortician or undertaker, is a professional licensed by the state in which they practice, except in Colorado. In Colorado, they can work for (or own) a funeral home and must have a degree from an accredited mortuary science school or program.

In order to become a Licensed Funeral Director, they must fulfill the requirement of the state they want to practice in, have attended a two- or four-year program in mortuary science and pass the state board's written and oral examination. For each state a funeral director would like to practice in, they must pass the exam for that state (unless the state has reciprocity). To find out more, contact your state licensing board.

Mortuary science courses include anatomy, physiology, pathology, embalming techniques, restorative art, business management, accounting, use of computers in funeral home management, and client services. They also include courses in the social sciences, legal, ethical, and regulatory subjects such as psychology, grief counseling, funeral service law, business law, ethics, oral communication and written communication.

How to choose a Funeral Home or Funeral Director

Consumers often select a funeral home or cemetery because it's close to home, has served the family in the past, or has been recommended by someone they trust. People who limit their search to just one funeral home may risk paying more than necessary for the funeral, or narrowing their choice of goods and services.

There is no legal requirement to use a funeral home to plan and conduct a funeral. Many people find the services of a professional funeral home to be a comfort since they have little experience with the details and legal requirements. For more information on how to plan and conduct your own funeral, visit our page on Home Funeral Guides.

To understand your rights as a consumer, please visit our page on Funeral Consumers Alliance.

What to expect from a Funeral Director

A funeral director is expected to keep their composure, be tactful, and have the ability to communicate easily and compassionately with their clients. Funeral directors should have the desire and ability to comfort people in a time of sorrow.

The profession usually expects appropriate dress (suits and ties for men and comparable business attire for women) as a way to show respect for the families. Neat hair and trim beards, if any, are customary.

Funeral directors arrange the details and handle the logistics of a funeral, taking into account the wishes of the person who died and the family members. They help establish the location, dates, and times of wakes, memorial services, and burials. They can arrange to have the body transported locally, or from a distance.

They also handle the paperwork involved with a person's death, including submitting papers to state authorities so a formal death certificate may be issued and copies distributed to the heirs. They may help family members apply for veterans' burial benefits or notify the Social Security Administration of the death. Also, funeral directors may apply for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of survivors and often assist in writing the obituary and submitting it to the appropriate newspaper(s).

What does it cost to hire a funeral home?

Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. The median price of a full-service funeral with a funeral home, including a casket and vault, is about $7,755, although "extras" like flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards or limousines can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Many funerals run well over $10,000.

Unlike any other major purchase we make in our lives, we spend this money with little or no research. We encourage you to research, have a budget and try and stick to it. If you don't feel up to making phone calls to check pricing, ask a friend to do it for you. For more detailed information on funeral costs, please visit our page on this topic.

Compare prices

Comparison shopping need not be difficult, especially if it's done before the need for a funeral arises. If you visit a funeral home in person, the funeral provider is required by law to give you a General Price List (GPL) itemizing the cost of the items and services the home offers. If the GPL does not include specific prices of caskets or outer burial containers, the law requires the funeral director to show you the price lists for those items before showing you the items.

Sometimes it's more convenient and less stressful to price shop funeral homes by telephone. The FTC's The Funeral Rule requires a funeral director to provide price information over the phone to any caller who asks for it. In addition, many funeral homes are happy to mail you their price lists or provide them online. Only funeral homes in California are required by law to list their specific services and merchandise (or GPL) on their websites, if they have one.

When comparing prices, be sure to consider the total cost of the items together, in addition to the costs of single items. Every funeral home should have price lists that include all the items essential for the different types of arrangements it offers. Many funeral homes offer package funerals that may cost less than purchasing individual items or services. Offering package funerals is permitted by law, as long as an itemized price list also is provided. But only by using the price lists can you accurately compare total costs.

Price lists are available from third-party resources.

Price lists should be used as a guide to help narrow down your options and see what works within your budget. Once you have made your selections, we encourage you to confirm pricing, ask for references and interview any funeral professional you are considering hiring. A price report does not communicate the personality, personal service or appearance of the funeral home - it's a starting point to help you make educated choices during a difficult time.

Most local Funeral Consumers Alliance representatives have compiled a price comparison list of affordable funeral homes in the chapter area. Funeral Consumers Alliance is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Most FCA price lists are available free, though some chapters require membership to access them. FCA membership contributions range from $25-50.

You can also purchase Everest's PriceFinder Report. For $29 the PriceFinder Report creates a 7-page customized report comparing itemized prices for up to 8 funeral homes within a specified mile radius of the zip code you select. Click here to see an example of an Everest PriceFinder report.

Understanding fees

Below is additional information about fees you may see on your bill and what they mean from the Federal Trade Commission: Funerals: A Consumer Guide:

Basic services fee for the funeral director and staff

The Funeral Rule allows funeral providers to charge a basic services fee that customers cannot decline to pay. The basic services fee includes services that are common to all funerals, regardless of the specific arrangement. These include:

  • funeral planning
  • securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates
  • preparing the notices
  • sheltering the remains
  • coordinating the arrangements with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties

The fee does not include charges for optional services or merchandise.

Charges for other services and merchandise

These are costs for optional goods and services such as:

  • transporting the remains
  • embalming and other preparation
  • use of the funeral home for the viewing, ceremony or memorial service
  • use of equipment and staff for a graveside service
  • use of a hearse or limousine
  • a casket, outer burial container or alternate container
  • cremation or interment

Cash advances

These are fees charged by the funeral home for goods and services it buys from outside vendors on your behalf, including:

  • flowers
  • obituary notices
  • pallbearers
  • officiating clergy
  • organists and soloists

Some funeral providers charge you their cost for the items they buy on your behalf. Others add a service fee to their cost. The Funeral Rule requires those who charge an extra fee to disclose that fact in writing, although it doesn't require them to specify the amount of their markup. The Rule also requires funeral providers to tell you if there are refunds, discounts or rebates from the supplier on any cash advance item.

Calculating the actual cost

The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements. If the funeral provider doesn't know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written "good faith estimate." This statement also must disclose any legal, cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase any specific funeral goods or services.

The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.

Sources: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Trade Commission: Funerals: A Consumer Guide, Funeral Consumers Alliance website, National Funeral Directors Association website 5.9.2012

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Joshua Slocum