Price Survey: Comments
Every funeral home must maintain a General Price List (GPL) and provide a copy of it to anyone who asks for one and to every customer. The GPL must describe in specific ways the services and merchandise offered for sale and be constructed so that a customer can order only what he or she wants. These practices are prescribed by the State of New York and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in its “Funeral Rule.” This dual set of regulations leads to repetitious disclosure statements and a few redundant price items on GPLs. A typical GPL in New York State has several statements that begin with “FTC,” which indicates federally mandated wording. We believe that New York ought to use the FTC wording in state regulations that duplicate the intent of federal regulations.
Wide variations were found in the listed prices of particular services and in our calculated full-service funeral price index. Index values ranged from $3840 to $6565 for the same set of services (no merchandise). For full-service funerals, the most expensive item is usually the non-declinable overhead fee ("Basic Arrangements") that a funeral home is allowed to add to all other costs of service and merchandise ordered by a customer. Among the 36 funeral homes surveyed, this charge varied from $995 to $2795.
As mentioned, the Basic Arrangements charge is included in the prices of the four “Alternative Services”: direct cremation, direct burial, forwarding a body to another funeral home, and receiving a body from another funeral home (see Table 1).
Prices of the least expensive alternative containers ranged from $45 to $175. An alternative container may be as simple as an unlined corrugated cardboard box. For more information about alternative containers, see Compliance of General Price Lists with Federal and New York State Regulations.
Two prices for direct cremation and two for immediate burial are listed in Table 1 for each funeral home. The higher price applies if the funeral home furnishes the container for cremation or burial. This item is usually an “alternative container” composed of cardboard or other wood fiber. The lower price (in parentheses) applies when the client supplies the container.
Curious as it may seem, the cremation service offered by a funeral home usually does NOT include the cost of the actual cremation of the body! This is because the crematory (place where the body is burned) is a separate business from the funeral home. In this year's survey of 35 funeral homes, we found one that included the charge for the crematory process in its price for direct cremation. In most cases crematory charges, ranging from $245 to near $400, are added to the price of the cremation service provided by a funeral home. Similarly, cemetery charges are added to the price of a funeral home’s burial service. Crematory charges and cemetery costs are two items that appear in the "Cash Advances" section of the bill a customer receives for funeral services.
Only three funeral homes in our survey list the price of donating a body to a medical institution [see Table 1, footnote (i)]. The cost of this service can have up to three price elements: Basic Arrangements, transfer of the remains from the place of death to the funeral home, and a mileage charge for transporting the body to the medical institution. As a result, the cost to a donor’s family can be as great as that for a funeral.
A person planning ahead for the inevitable or arranging for an actual funeral should compare prices at different funeral homes. Costs can sometimes be lowered if the burial container is purchases from a third-party vendor. To determine the cost of burial services and merchandise at a funeral home, add the prices of desired items on the GPL and also add the price of the burial container and the vault (that is, a grave liner or outer burial container). A funeral home’s price lists for caskets and vaults, if separate from its GPL, must be made available to a customer in the same manner as the GPL. Remember that the full-service funeral price index in our survey tables does NOT include the cost of a burial container or vault (that is, a grave liner or outer burial container). Nor does it include cemetery costs (purchase of plot, opening and closing the grave, cost of monument, for instance) or incidental costs such as those for flowers, a guest book, or an obituary.
“Green burial,” also known as natural burial, is available within the service region of the FCA of the Finger Lakes. Costs of this option can be lower than those of a conventional burial because no embalming or cosmetics are involved, burial containers are simple, and neither grave liners nor elaborate monuments are used. The prices charged by funeral homes for “green” burial service are otherwise the same as for conventional service. Consumers should know that NYS law requires that even if the body of the deceased is cared for at home and a home funeral is planned, a funeral director must be involved in preparing and submitting the death certificate, obtaining necessary permits, and documenting the "final disposition" of the body, whether by burial or cremation.