Your Funeral Consumer Rights in New York State
- You may name an agent for body disposition if you want someone other than your next-of kin to be in charge.
- It is not legal for a family or designated agent to handle a funeral without a funeral director.
- The funeral home must give prices over the telephone if you call. You must be given a General Price List (GPL) if you visit in person and before discussing any services.
- You must be shown a Casket and Out Burial Container Price List before selecting either.
- You must be given a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected with the total cost before any services are provided.
- If you're in the Finger Lakes region, look at our Price Survey. You may be able to find other price surveys on the websites of other Funeral Consumers Alliance groups in New York at the FCA website.
- Do not sign any contract for more than you can afford to pay. For indigents, New York City will pay $900 toward a total cost of no more than $1700. Elsewhere there may be county funds, but services will be limited. There is no other organization that assists with costs.
- If the death was unexpected or the cause of death uncertain, the state will probably require an autopsy.
- If you have questions about the death, you may request and pay for a private autopsy.
- If a viewing is planned, there will likely be extra charges to repair the body for embalming.
Organ, Body, and Tissue Donation
- If death occurs in the hospital, you are likely to be asked about organ donation. Only about 1% of the deaths are eligible for major organ donation. The organ procurement organization will pay for any extra body preparation needed if you plan a viewing. Decline any such charge you might find on the GPL.
- After-death donation of eyes, skin, and bones may be considered. Ask the hospital social worker or the funeral director about this.
- Whole body donation to a medical school is one way to cut costs although the family may have to pay for some or all of the transportation. After study, the school will usually cremate the body and return the cremated remains to the family if requested. You should have back-up funeral plans if your body cannot be accepted for any reason.
- There also are non-academic companies that accept whole bodies for research and education. Various body parts will likely be shipped around the country and possibly internationally. New York has some excellent laws regulating these companies but they are not being enforced for lack of money and staff.
- To find the nearest body donation option, the cost if any, and the reasons for body rejection, see the Anatomical Gifts page.
Embalming and Other Requirements
- New York State has no embalming requirements.
- Airlines prefer that a body be embalmed, but an airtight container may make that optional.
- Many funeral homes have a policy that requires embalming for a public viewing. Embalming does not protect the public health. It merely delays decomposition.
Caskets and Vaults
- Neither is required by state law for burial. A rigid combustible container is required for cremation.
- A casket will not prevent natural decomposition.
- You may build your own or purchase from a casket retailer. Vault dealers rarely sell to the public.
- The purpose of a vault is to keep the ground from caving in. It facilitates maintenance for the cemetery. It has no preservative qualities.
- Any person may dedicate land to be used as a family cemetery provided it is less than three acres and not closer than 50 rods (1650 feet) to a dwelling, but check local zoning first. Such land must be registered with the county clerk. A good practice is 150 feet from a water supply and 25 feet from a power line or boundary with two or three feet of earth on top. You should draw a map of the land showing where the family cemetery is and have it recorded with the deed.
- For burial in a commercial, town, or religious cemetery, you will incur costs of opening and closing the grave in addition to costs of the plot and any marker or monument.
- Some cemeteries have restrictions on the kind of monuments or plantings and adornment allowed.
- For disinterment a permit must be obtained from the local registrar.
- Cemeteries regulated under New York State’s Not For Profit Corporation Law are required to post all prices and to give a copy of the price list to anyone who requests it. A small fee may be charged.
- If you wish to sell your plot in a state-regulated cemetery, it must be offered to the cemetery first at the original price plus 4% per year.
- A pacemaker or radioactive implant must be removed.
- Some crematories will let the family witness the cremation.
- The cremation process takes about two and a half hours for an average adult. The staff will remove any metal and pulverize the bone fragments to small particles, similar to white or gray coarse sand, about 5–10 pounds.
- New York State has no laws regarding disposal of cremated remains. They may be kept at home, scattered or buried on private land with the landowner’s permission, interred in a cemetery or memorial garden, or placed in a mausoleum niche. If scattering on public land or water, don’t ask, don’t tell. Park service people are concerned that some may want to create a little shrine at the site and would prefer not to know your plans. Be discreet. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says cremated remains may be scattered at least three miles out to sea. That’s because the federal agency has no jurisdiction over the first three miles; the bordering state does.
- If flying with cremated remains, be sure they are in a non-metal container to pass through the scanner.
- Cremated remains may be sent only by US Postal Service. Use certified mail. FedEx and UPS will not knowingly accept cremated remains.
- Most crematories in New York State are on cemetery grounds.
Veterans and Their Dependents
- You will need a copy of the DD214 discharge papers to obtain benefits.
- The VA cemetery in Brooklyn/Cypress Hills is closed to new interments. The ones in Elmira and Farmingdale are open for new interments of cremated remains only. The ones in Bath, Calverton, Romulus, and Schulyerville all have space for both casketed and cremated remains. Interment and marker are free of charge for the veteran, spouse, and certain dependents.
- The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides markers for veterans no matter where they are interred. Markers can be upright or flat, and they come in bronze, marble, and granite: (800) 697-6947.
- A free flag can be ordered through the US Postal Service.
- Review Veterans' Funeral and Burial Benefits (pdf) for a comprehensive list of benefits.
Prepaying for a Funeral
- If the contract guarantees the price, the interest is supposed to cover funeral inflation. But many investments do not appreciate as fast as prices rise. You have a right to insist on no extra charges if the goods and services in the contract are clearly identified as "price guaranteed." Any substitutions should be of quality equal to that described in the contract.
- Third-party items such as the crematory fee or obituary cannot be guaranteed.
- You have the right to a full refund plus interest.
- The funeral home may not be the beneficiary of a life/burial insurance policy or receive a commission from the sale of one.
- Reserving money for a funeral before you qualify for Medicaid eligibility is the one circumstance in which it makes sense to prepay for a funeral and the only time the contract can be made irrevocable. There is no limit on the amount you can have in an irrevocable trust. Ask if you will receive an annual report of your prepaid funds. Let those who will handle your affairs know that you have prepaid and where.
Social Security Death Benefit
- There is a $255 death benefit for a surviving spouse. There is no similar benefit when that spouse dies.
- Dependent children are entitled to survivor benefits when a parent dies.
- Valid grounds for complaints include dishonesty, misrepresentation, unprofessional conduct, negligence, breach of contract, and violation of state or federal laws. How to File a Funeral or Cemetery Complaint (pdf)
- Funeral Home/Funeral Director Complaint Form
Prepaying the Funeral Home
Pay on Death Savings Account or Bank CD
- You have total control of the funds.
- Can change plans or use the funds for emergencies
- Can make time payments easily.
- Asset for Medicaid purposes.
- You must declare any interest on your tax return.
- Penalty for cashing CD prior to death.
Qualified Funeral Trust
- If irrevocable, it won't be an asset for Medicaid.
- The trust pays taxes on the interest.
- There is no guarantee fund to protect against embezzlement.
- Taxes may be paid on interest that otherwise wouldn't be taxed.
Master or Simple Trust
- If irrevocable, it won't be an asset for Medicaid.
- You are supposed to receive an annual report of the interest earned, which will serve as reassurance your funeral funds are safe.
- No guarantee fund to protect against embezzlement.
- You will have to declare the interest on your tax return.
- Can be converted to insurance without your permission (see below).
Funeral or Life Insurance
- Easily portable.
- The insurance company pays the taxes.
- Life insurance not an asset for Medicaid if someone else is designated as owner.
- If you need to cancel, you may not get back more than half you paid.
- If paying over time, you may twice the face value.
- There may be a 30-day delay in receiving funds for which the funeral home may charge an extra fee.
- Authority for Disposition of Remains
- Death Away From Home (pdf)
- How to File a Funeral or Cemetery Complaint (pdf)
- Veterans Funeral and Burial Benefits (pdf)