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Frequently Asked Questions

How did funeral directors come to be?

There was a time when family members handled the funerals of loved ones on their own. They constructed the caskets, placed their loved one in the casket, said goodbye and buried them. Years later, families began buying caskets from the local furniture store rather than constructing them. Eventually, that furniture/casket salesman began doing more and more for the families.

Why a funeral director?

Funeral directors are caregivers and administrators. They make the arrangements for transportation of the body, complete all necessary paperwork, and implement the choices made by the family regarding the funeral and final disposition of the body. Funeral directors are listeners, advisors and supporters. They have experience assisting the bereaved in coping with death. Funeral directors are trained to answer questions about grief, recognize when a person is having difficulty coping, and recommend sources of professional help.

Do you have to have a funeral director?

Most states require a licensed funeral director to oversee the disposition (burial) of remains. In fact, many people find it very trying to be solely responsible for arranging the details and legal matters surrounding a death.

Why do people view their loved ones?

Viewing is part of many cultural and ethnic traditions. Many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is encouraged for children, as long as the process is explained and the activity voluntary.

Is embalming necessary?

Embalming sanitizes, disinfects and preserves the body, retards the decomposition process, and may enhance the appearance of a body disfigured by traumatic death or illness. Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, thus allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.

Does my loved one have to be embalmed, according to law?

Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. However, it is required for contagious disease or when remains are to be transported from one state to another by common carrier or if final disposition is not to be made within a prescribed number of hours.

Are we running out of land for cemeteries?

While it is true some metropolitan areas have limited available cemetery space, in most areas of the country, there is enough space set aside for the next 50 years without creating new cemeteries. In addition, land available for new cemeteries is more than adequate, especially with the increase in entombment and multi-level grave burial.

What is cremation?

Cremation is not a funeral service. It is the process of reducing one's remains to bone fragments using high heat and flame. The remaining bone fragments are then reduced to a fine powder.

If we cremate, can we still have a funeral?

Cremation is an alternative to earth burial or entombment for the body's final disposition and often follows a traditional funeral service. Very few people cremate without some type of service.

How much does a funeral cost?

In 1940 the charge for an adult, full-service funeral, was around $255.00. This included a professional service charge, transfer-of remains, embalming, other preparation, use of viewing facilities, use of facilities for ceremony, hearse, casket and vault. The casket included in this price was an 18-gauge steel casket with velvet interior which may or may not be the most common casket chosen. Any cemetery and monument charges were additional. Today that same funeral would cost between $6,000.00 and $8000.00.

Has this cost increased significantly?

Funeral costs have increased no faster than the consumer price index for other consumer items.

Why are funerals so expensive?

When compared to other major life cycle events, like births and weddings, funerals are not expensive. A wedding costs at least three times as much; but because it is a happy event, wedding costs are rarely criticized. A funeral home is a 24-hour, labor-intensive business, with extensive facilities (viewing rooms, chapels, limousines, hearses, etc.), these expenses must be factored into the cost of a funeral. Moreover, the cost of a funeral includes not only merchandise, like caskets, but the services of a funeral director in making arrangements; filing appropriate forms; dealing with doctors, ministers, florists, newspapers and others; and seeing to all the necessary details. Contrary to popular belief, funeral homes are largely family-owned with a modest profit margin. The statistics below may be helpful in assessing the true economic picture of a funeral home:

Family-owned - 85%
Firm in business for - 63 years
Average calls/year - 167
BEFORE tax profit - 11.3%
(Source: 1995 NFDA Survey of Funeral Home Operations)

What recourse does a consumer have for poor service or overcharging?

Funeral service is regulated by the FTC and state licensing boards. In most cases, the consumer should discuss problems with the funeral director first. If the dispute cannot be resolved by talking with the funeral director, the consumer may wish to contact the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program. FSCAP provides information, mediates disputes, provides arbitration, and maintains a consumer guarantee fund for reimbursement of services rendered. (To contact FSCAP, call 708-827-6337 or 800-662-7666).

Do funeral directors take advantage of the bereaved?

Funeral directors are caring individuals who help people deal with a very stressful time. They serve the same families 80% of the time and many have spent most of their lives in the same community. If they took advantage of the bereaved families, they could not stay in business. The fact that the average funeral home has been in business over 59 years show that most funeral directors respect the wishes of the bereaved families

Is it right to make a profit from death?

Funeral directors consider their profession a service, as do physicians and many others. But it is also a business, one in which many bills have to be paid. As long as the profit is reasonable for the necessary service, then it is also legitimate.

Don't funeral directors mark caskets up tremendously, at least 400%?

No. Talking about the mark up on caskets is really not the point. Most items--clothing, furniture, jewelry--are marked up as much or more than caskets. The real question is whether the funeral director is making an excessive profit, And that answer is "No." Profits run around 12.5% before taxes -- not excessive by any standard.

Who pays for funerals for the indigent?

Other than the family, there are veteran, union, and other organizational benefits to pay for funerals, including, in certain instances, a lump sum death payment from Social Security. In most states, some form of public aid allowance is available from either the state, county, or city government. The respective county coroners may also provide some funds to assist, provided the deceased is truly indigent. However, funeral directors often absorb costs above and beyond what is provided by agencies to insure the deceased a respectable burial.

What government agencies help defray final expenses?

Usually, Funeral Directors will help gather the necessary information to apply for financial assistance from Social Security, or the Veterans Administration if applicable. The local coroner may have funds available also.

What should I do if the death occurs in the middle of the night or on the weekend?

Most Funeral Directors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Today, most funeral homes use answering services. Once the first call is made to the funeral home, a funeral director will be in contact to assist the family from that point.

Will someone come right away?

If you request immediate assistance, yes. If the family wishes to spend a short time with the deceased to say good bye, it's acceptable. They will come when your time is right.

If a loved one dies out of state, can the local funeral home still help?

Yes, they can assist you with out-of-state arrangements, either to transfer the remains to another state or from another state.

Can I build my own casket or buy one at a casket store?

Yes you can. But, be sure of the measurements of the casket. Will it fit in the burial vault or a mausoleum crypt? Is it built to withstand the weight and width of the deceased inside? Is the casket chemical and liquid proof on the inside and out? Is their a warranty and is there insurance in case the lid, handles or bottom malfunction? Be sure you have somewhere to store the casket prior to use.