When a loved one dies, the last thing you’ll want to do is take on the task of comparing the costs for products and services offered by funeral homes. And you certainly don’t want to be talked into buying more than you need.

That’s why the Federal Trade Commission created the so-called funeral rule, which requires funeral homes to provide their price lists to prospective customers over the phone or when they visit the home to inquire about funeral arrangements. The rule also requires that they sell their products and service on an à la carte basis. 

But because that rule took effect in 1984, it doesn’t required funeral homes to post their prices online. And many don't. In October, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and Consumer Federation of America announced the results of a joint study that found that of 150 funeral homes surveyed in 10 regions of the country, only 38 disclosed their full price list online.

“I know of no other industry that refuses to say online what they sell and what it costs,” says Joshua Slocum, the executive director of the alliance, which helped draft the original rule.

Now, that may change. To make it simpler for consumers to manage the costs associated with funerals, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America petitioned the FTC last week to require funeral homes nationwide to post the prices for their products and services on their websites. 

Slocum says that funeral homes don’t display their price list online because “they don’t want to have to compete on price.”

John Carmon, president of the Connecticut-based Carmon Community Funeral Homes, says it’s not about competition. He says that many funeral homes believe that people should be selecting funeral products and services based on more than just price. For example, many funeral homes will adjust their prices to a family’s economic situation—an option that funeral shoppers won’t learn about by reviewing a general price list alone.

Even so, by requiring price lists to be available online, people would be able to compare funeral home products, services, and costs and not have to worry about being subjected to sales pressure.

Making Funeral Arrangements

If you’re suddenly faced with the need to handle a funeral, there are steps you can take to make wise decisions, even during a difficult time:

Don’t panic. You’ll typically have at least several days to make arrangements.
Set up a budget. “There’s nothing vulgar or uncaring about being price conscious,” says Slocum. You shouldn’t need to finance a funeral using credit cards, depleting your savings, or taking out a loan, he says. Slocum also warns not to let a funeral director, family member, or anyone else talk you into buying more than you can afford.
Learn your rights. Visit the FTC website for links to funeral-related information and advice. You’ll also find advice by visiting the websites of the Funeral Consumer Alliance and the Funeral Ethics Organization
Contact at least five funeral homes. If you’ll be dealing with funeral homes in California, you should find their general price lists online. For those that don’t, try calling and asking them to email or fax a general price list. 
Don’t be pushed into buying more. If you do visit a funeral home, don’t fall for a sales pitch designed to get you to buy more than you want. By law, funeral homes cannot require you to buy a package or add products or services you don’t want, such as memorial services or, in many states, embalming. You could, for example, use your own casket—perhaps one you purchased online.
Negotiate. Try asking the funeral home for a lower price, especially if you’re economically disadvantaged.