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 $6965 for the same set of services.  (No merchandise is included in these figures.)  In the 2017 price survey, the ratio of high to low scores for the full-service index was approximately the same for Tompkins County and the parts of our survey area that lie outside Tompkins County. 

For full-service funerals, the most expensive service 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 funeral homes surveyed, this charge varied from $1395 to $2850.

As mentioned earlier, 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 $20 to $195. An alternative container may be as simple as an unlined corrugated cardboard box.  A common deficiency found in GPLs is the failure to state what kind of “alternative container” would be used if a customer exercises the option to use an alternative container. The FTC defines an alternative container as “an unfinished wood box or other non-metal receptacle or enclosure, without ornamentation or a fixed interior lining, which is designed for the encasement of human remains and which is made of fiberboard, pressed-wood, composition materials (with or without an outside covering) or like materials.”

Where the type of alternative container and its cost are an issue, you should ask the funeral director for a description and the price of the one that will be used, and if caskets are of interest, ask for a list of casket prices.

Two prices for direct cremation and two for immediate burial are listed in Table 1 for each funeral home. In each case, 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.  Costs can sometimes be lowered if the burial container is purchased from a third-party vendor by the customer.

Be warned that 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. Charges, ranging (approximately) from $300 to $450, 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.

Three funeral homes in our survey listed a price for donating a body to a medical institution (footnote (i) in Table 1). When a price is not listed for this service the price can have multiple components.  As a result, the cost to a donor’s family can be as great as that for a funeral.  Be sure to confirm the details of the transaction with the funeral home before contracting for the service.

When calculating the costs of burial services, be sure to include the price of the burial container and the price of the vault or grave liner (if required by the cemetery). 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. 

The full-service funeral price index in our survey tables serves as a representative comparison of prices among funeral homes.  But it cannot take into consideration all the variables in the cost of a burial.  Remember that it does NOT include the cost of a burial container or vault/grave liner. Nor does it include cemetery costs (purchase of plot, opening and closing the grave, cost of monument, etc.), or incidental costs such as those for flowers, a guest book at the funeral home, or an obituary.  But all such expenses add to the final tally of the cost of a burial.

“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 of other services charged by funeral homes for “green” burial are similar to those for a 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, transporting the body, and documenting the "final disposition" of the body, whether by burial or cremation.