How do I choose a funeral service for a loved one?

At few times in life are people more vulnerable to sales pressure and blandishments than after the death of a loved one. Try not to let guilt or fear of what people will think guide your choices for a funeral service. Paying more than you can afford probably won't assuage pain, and it can certainly add to your worries. A simple, loving ceremony can dignify a person's memory as well as a lavish, costly one can.

Certain laws help protect people mourning a death. The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requires funeral homes to hand you written, itemized price lists of their services and detail them by phone, if asked. Such services might include consultation with the funeral director, a non-negotiable professional services and overhead fee, transportation and care of the body, use of the facilities for visitation and services, and other options. Casket prices must be detailed, too. Sometimes cremation costs are not completely spelled out if the crematory is off-premises, so ask about the full cost, including the cost of an urn or other container.

It's a good idea to contact several funeral homes. Differences in facilities, attitude, and cost may surprise you. The FTC offers a simple price checking sheet that can help you make comparisons, along with many helpful tips.

Under the federal Funeral Rule, funeral homes cannot charge extra if you choose to buy a casket from a different source. You can also choose individual services rather than buying a package. If you choose direct cremation or immediate burial, or if you donate the body to a medical school, you don't need to purchase a casket. (No embalming is done in these cases, and immediate burial requires only a simple container. There is no viewing or visitation, although you may elect to pay for a graveside service or memorial service.) Be aware that some cemeteries require burial containers ("liners" or far more costly "vaults") that cover the casket and keep the ground from sinking unevenly. However, no health concerns require this, and some religions reject it.

One less costly option, "green" burial, is offered in a few parts of the country. Usually, a green burial means the body is not embalmed and is buried either without a casket or in a simple, biodegradable wooden one. A flat memorial rather than a gravestone may mark the grave.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.