Do I need to hire a Funeral Director?
In the simpler times of early America, families were accustomed to handling funeral arrangements themselves or with the help of friends. It was a rural society and a "do-it-yourself" approach was a necessity. Even then, it was a difficult undertaking resulting in the emergence of the job of undertaker to help families bury their dead. In today’s urban society, funerals are a much more complicated process subject to local laws, requiring technical expertise in caring for human remains, and involving specialized vehicles, facilities and equipment.
As a practical matter, most people turn to Funeral Directors for assistance in arranging funerals. Also referred to as "morticians" or "undertakers," they are licensed professionals who provide guidance in making funeral arrangements and then direct the funeral proceedings. Funeral directors have the requisite technical expertise regarding the care, preparation, presentation, and final disposition of the deceased. They are familiar with local regulations regarding funerals and are well versed in handling all legal and administrative matters. And perhaps most importantly, Funeral Directors are experienced in helping families arrange meaningful funeral ceremonies.
The services of a Funeral Director are not legally required in most states, but laws vary. The local department of health is a source to consult for the laws in your area.
How do I locate a Funeral Director?
Funeral Directors may be hired through a funeral home or mortuary, memorial societies, and specialty funeral service organizations. Like many other professional services, funeral service providers are often selected by word-of-mouth. In addition to friends and associates, recommendations may come from clergy, hospital personnel or nursing home staff. And Funeral Directors promote themselves by getting involved in community organizations.
Use our Find A Funeral Home / Cemetery to locate a funeral home or other service provider.
See Funeral Homes / Cemeteries for additional information on funeral directors and other service providers.
Is a funeral home needed to handle funeral proceedings?
Funeral homes provide the services of Funeral Directors and have the facilites, vehicles and equipment to handle all aspects of the funeral. Funeral homes offer comprehensive resources but there are other options. Funeral services can be conducted at churches and other places of worship. A cemetery chapel can be used or services can be conducted at graveside.
If you do not require full facilities of a funeral home, you may consider using a specialty service provider such as a cremation service. Some funeral service operations position themselves as a lower cost provider because they do not own a funeral home.
Can all funeral arrangements be made through a funeral home?
Funeral homes have the staff, equipment and facilities necessary to handle all aspects of a traditional funeral. In addition, they will arrange for services they do not directly provide, such as cremation or burial at sea. The funeral home will also coordinate funeral arrangements with the cemetery and it’s Funeral Directors will direct all ceremonies on cemetery grounds.
Unless the funeral home and cemetery are commonly owned, the interment property should be purchased through the cemetery. The cemetery is responsible for opening and closing the gravesite or crypt and for perpetual care of the cemetery grounds and facilities.
How do I select a funeral home?
Funeral homes can be located through a variety of sources. Some advertise locally in newspapers, church newsletters and other publications. The local yellow pages is a good source of the funeral homes in a particular area. However, most people rely on recommendations of friends, associates, and care-givers such as hospital personnel and nursing home staff.
Use our Find A Funeral Home / Cemetery to locate a funeral home or other service provider.
When you have narrowed your choices, the best approach is to visit the funeral homes under consideration and meet with their Funeral Directors. This is most practical when you are preplanning because your time is more limited when arranging an immediate funeral. Another source of information is the local Better Business Bureau where you can learn about any complaints that have been filed against a funeral home.
How do I compare the services and prices of funeral homes?
You have every right to shop and compare funeral homes just as you would any other product or service. When preplanning, you have more time to make educated choices. You can meet with Funeral Directors, tour funeral home facilities and compare prices.
Federal Trade Commission regulations mandate that all funeral-related charges be itemized on price lists that conform to specific guidelines. Funeral homes are required to make price lists available to consumers upon request. To simplify matters, many funeral homes offer packaged funeral plans at fixed prices.
Beware of advertised prices, they may not be all-inclusive. The only way to effectively compare prices is to put together or request a complete cost of all services and merchandise that are included in your funeral plan.
Is it safe to select a discount funeral service?
Like other businesses, the funeral service industry is very competitive. Some operators position themselves as low cost providers. They may be full-service funeral homes but many are specialty providers offering packaged plans, simplified services or "no frills" approaches. Some claim to be a low-cost alternative because they operate without the overhead of a traditional funeral home.
Don’t be mislead by promotional advertising. An attractive price of a funeral may not include the casket or outer burial container. Or it may include a low quality casket that you will not find acceptable. Also, make sure that their facilities meet your needs and are suitably located.
Do I have to use all the services a funeral home has to offer?
The Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rule gives you the right to choose only the services and merchandise you desire. The Funeral Rule makes it unlawful for a funeral provider to furnish a funeral good or service only on the condition that the customer purchase any other funeral good or service.
For example, a funeral home cannot offer funeral services only if the family agrees to purchase a casket from that funeral home. Therefore, you can choose to purchase a casket, burial vault and other merchandise from a third party retailer while relying on a funeral home to furnish only service-related aspects of the funeral.
See Funeral Homes / Cemeteries for additional information on funeral homes and other service providers.
What are the main differences between cemeteries?
There are two types of cemeteries; traditional cemeteries and memorial parks. A traditional cemetery has upright monuments (i.e., tombstones) and private mausoleums for above ground interment. Memorial parks, also known as memorial gardens, are cemeteries without tombstones. Here, grave markers are placed level to the ground to blend with the landscape. Memorial parks often have spacious lawns and gardens, fountains, sculpture or memorial architecture.
Many cemeteries have a combination of both landscapes. Both types may offer aboveground interment in community mausoleums, chapels, crematories and columbariums.
In terms of business organization, cemeteries may be owned by individuals, corporations, counties, religious groups or other organizations. They may operate on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis.
How do I select a cemetery?
There are various factors to consider in selecting a cemetery. Do you prefer a memorial park or a traditional cemetery? If you want an upright monument, you’ll need a traditional cemetery. Your choices may be somewhat limited if you want to be entombed because not all cemeteries have mausoleums. How much are you willing to spend?
The visual appeal of a cemetery is a matter of personal preference and there are vast differences in the look of cemeteries. Also consider cemetery restrictions. In addition to the type of grave markers allowed, some cemeteries prohibit placement of flowers and other remembrances on the grave.
Do you want cemetery property where other family members are interred? Are you purchasing multiple gravesites to accomodate your family? Space availability may be an issue.
The location of the cemetery is an important consideration. The cemetery is a place where survivors will return to remember their loved ones. Is it conveniently located? However, some may prefer a more distant location because they do not want to frequently pass-by the cemetery where their loved ones are buried.
If you are pre-planning, you have time to visit several cemeteries and compare prices. You can drive through most cemeteries without requiring the assistance of cemetery personnel. Since many cemeteries have active sales programs, you may be contacted about purchasing cemetery property even if you have not solicited them.
Use our Find A Funeral Home / Cemetery to locate a cemetery in your area.
What rights do I receive when I purchase a grave space?
The purchase of a grave gives you the right to use the space for burial and to place a grave marker in accordance with cemetery rules. You do not actually receive ownership of the property.
Should additional cemetery space be purchased in advance for other family members?
If you want two or more family members interred in adjoining spaces, you should purchase the required number of spaces at the same time. When a spouse dies, it is very common for the surviving husband or wife to purchase two adjoining grave spaces. In is not practical for cemeteries to "reserve" additional cemetery property for existing property owners.
I have already purchased cemetery property but now I want to change to another cemetery. What do I do?
Whether or not you can resell your cemetery property depends on the rules and regulations of the cemetery and local laws. Some organizations own cemeteries in various cities and may permit transfers of property between their cemeteries. Others may be willing to repurchase grave spaces. Even if you are allowed to resell your cemetery property to a third party, it can be difficult to locate a buyer. Obviously, the best approach is to find out what
provisions the cemetery has for resale or exchange prior to purchasing the property.
How can I be sure that the cemetery will be maintained forever?
Endowment care funds are established by cemeteries to provide money for perpetual maintenance. When a cemetery space is sold, a portion of the purchase price is deposited in an endowment care fund. The money is invested, the principal remains intact, and the income is used for maintenance of the cemetery, including mowing, watering and landscaping the grounds, maintenance of roads and water supply, etc.
State laws govern how much of each sale must be deposited into endowment care. However, calculating how much is needed in the endowment care fund to provide perpetual care of the cemetery is not an exact science. Therefore, there is no way to absolutely guarantee the longevity of any cemetery.
Can a cemetery ever be used for other purposes?
Strict laws govern the use of cemetery lands. These laws are intended to protect gravesites in perpetuity. Some cemeteries do decide to sell a portion of the grounds that have not be used for burial. This is typically property along the periphery that is redeveloped for residential housing or commercial uses such as strip malls.
What options do cemeteries offer for earth burial?
For earth burial, cemeteries offer single grave plots, double-depth plots, and lawn crypts. Single graves require a casket and most cemeteries also require some type of outer burial container. Double-depth burial spaces involve placing one casket on top of another in a grave space. Lawn crypts are underground tombs similar to double-depth graves. However, lawn crypts are pre-constructed structures, usually made of reinforced concrete and steel, that house the caskets.
Grave plots are typically marked with some type of headstone — either an upright monument or flush-to-the-ground marker.
What options are available for entombment?
Entombment involves placing the casketed remains in a concrete enclosure known as a crypt. Mausoleums are buildings that are contructed for purposes of housing crypts. Mausoleums may be enclosed buildings or open-air structures and may serve private families or entire communities.
Mausoleum crypts are sealed and marked with a face panel, usually made of granite or marble. When visiting the crypt, all you see is the face panel with the name of the person and other information typically found on grave markers.
Lawn crypts are a form of underground entombment. When visiting them, they’ll look like regular grave spaces with headstones to memorialize the deceased.
What are the interment options for cremated remains?
Cremated remains ("ashes") are generally placed in an urn or some other type of container. Cemeteries provide grave spaces for earth burial as well as entombment in a columbarium. Columbariums are structures containing many small compartments ("niches") for enclosure of urns. Columbariums are oftentimes located within mausoleums.
Survivors often keep ashes at home in urns. Many decorative styles of urns are available. Scattering of ashes is another common option. Local regulations govern the scattering of ashes on public property. Cemeteries offer scattering gardens for this purpose.
What are the considerations in choosing between earth burial and entombment?
Earth burial vs. entombment is essentially a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer the idea of being entombed above ground in a more protected environment. Others are opposed to extensive land use for purposes of burial and view entombment as a more environmentally-friendly option. Perpetual care and maintenance of a grave space may be a concern. Costs are always an issue, however, costs can vary widely for either earth burial or entombment.
Besides the cemetery property, what charges can I expect from the cemetery?
Cemeteries charge a service fee for opening and closing the gravesite or crypt for interment. For ground burial, this involves excavating the site, installing and removing the lowering device, filling the space, re-grading the site and sodding. There is also various record-keeping required when an interment takes place, such as title search and obtaining necessary authorizations.
Cemeteries may have additional charges for weekend or holiday interments. They also have service charges for installation of grave markers and some assess ongoing maintenance fees.
See Funeral Homes / Cemeteries for additional information about cemeteries.
Specialty Funeral Providers
What choices of service providers do I have besides a funeral home?
A growing number of specialty funeral service providers have diversified the funeral industry, resulting in even more choices for the consumer. These organizations offer the services of funeral directors but they may specialize or sell packaged plans. These plans are often simplified, or "no frills" approaches. For example, providers may specialize in cremation or offer only graveside services. Some claim to be a low-cost alternative because they operate without the overhead of a traditional funeral home.
Funeral Laws and Regulations
As a consumer, what do I need to know about funeral laws?
The funeral home industry is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Rules can vary widely by state and are subject to frequent changes making state regulations one of the greatest complexities of the funeral business. The vast majority of the jurisdictions require individuals to be licensed to provide funeral related services.
At the Federal level, funeral operations are also subject to substantial regulations by the Federal Trade Commission (the "FTC"). The FTC’s Funeral Rule was designed to protect consumers by requiring that they receive adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider. Specifically, the rule requires extensive price and other affirmative disclosures to the customer at the time of sale and imposes mandatory itemization requirements for the sale of funeral products and services. These requirements are reflected in the funeral provider’s price lists and sales contracts.
See Funeral Regulations in our Learn About Funerals section for additional information.