Retail caskets—what’s legal for a funeral home to do?

This article is from the Spring, 2022 FCA Newsletter.

Want to know your rights when buying a casket from outside a funeral home? Are you curious to know what funeral homes are allowed to do, and what they’re not allowed to do, when it comes to third-party caskets?

This article is for you. Dealing with third-party caskets is one of the common questions we get. Consumers, FCA volunteers, and retail casket-sellers frequently ask for advice about it.

The Basics

Under the Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule”, consumers have a right to buy a casket from outside the funeral home. In turn, funeral homes are not allowed to charge a “handling fee” for accepting outside merchandise.

The Rule, bolstered by the FTC staff advisory opinions linked below, also says:

It’s also illegal for funeral homes to simply refuse an outside casket (example below).

How to Know if a Funeral Home’s Actions are Legal

Pay close attention to this section. It will show you how to use one principle to find out whether a funeral home’s treatment of third-party caskets is legal. Once you understand this principle, you won’t need to ask for special advice on a case-by-case basis.

The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to accept third-party caskets, and to treat them in the same manner they treat caskets that the funeral home buys wholesale and sells itself. That is, a funeral home can’t apply a rule that creates an obstacle for third-party buyers unless the funeral home applies that same rule to the wholesale suppliers that the funeral home buys caskets from.

Here’s an example.

Johnson Funeral Home has a rule for customers that says the funeral home will only accept delivery of third-party caskets between the hours of 10 am  and 3 pm.

Is this legal or not? Here’s how to know.

  • If the funeral home applies the same rule and hours to its own wholesale casket suppliers (such as Batesville or Matthews), then it is perfectly legal.
  • But, if the funeral home applies this rule only to third-party caskets, but it will accept a casket from a wholesaler at any time, then the funeral home’s rule is illegal.

This applies to almost every situation you can imagine with regard to caskets. Delivery times, signatures on forms, etc.

The difficulty is that it’s hard or impossible to prove whether the funeral home applies this rule equally. There are many instances when we strongly suspect they do not, but proving this isn’t usually possible.

The Workarounds

As you’d expect, some funeral homes try to find ways to bend the rules. Unfortunately, these examples below are legal. There is no regulation you can appeal to under the FTC that will stop a funeral home from performing these:

  • Inflating the itemized price of services, then low-balling the price on those services when they’re in a package that includes a casket. This defeats the Funeral Rule’s aim to stop mortuaries from charging “handling fees.” For example, say you want services that total $3,000 when bought item by item. Say you also buy a third-party casket. The funeral home shows you a package of all the services you want for only $2,000. But the catch is you have to buy the funeral home’s casket.
  • Refusing to allow use of the funeral home’s trash facility/Dumpster to dispose of the packaging surrounding the third-party casket.
  • Refusing to help unload a third-party casket from a delivery truck. We’ve seen many examples of this. The FTC has advised that the Commission will not force funeral homes to “pay the labor cost associated with unloading a third-party casket and removing its packaging”

Scott Ginsberg is with Titan Casket, a growing discount retailer that ships anywhere in the US. Ginsberg and his colleagues have come to FCA many times for help with funeral homes that make it difficult for customers to use Titan’s caskets.

He says he’s frustrated with the minority of funeral homes that make the process harder for his customers.

“The bottom line is this: The funeral home should just be there,” said Ginsberg. “They should just bend over backwards to help someone on the worst day of their lives.”

Ginsberg said the great majority of funeral homes treat his customers well; it’s about “two percent” who don’t. But that minority can frustrate a family on a very bad day.

Informed consumers will have a better experience, he says, and they’ll save money.

“The key to savings is education,” Ginsberg said. “Don’t make an emotional loss into a financial loss.

Real-World Examples

Here’s a picture of an Arizona funeral home website.

“Funeral home does not uncrate third-party caskets and reserves the right to view and refuse said caskets.”

They do have the right not to help unload the casket, but they do not have the legal right to “refuse” the casket. That’s a direct violation of the Funeral Rule.

A casket seller sent us another casket-acceptance policy from a funeral home in Wisconsin. It’s an entire page, so we’ll summarize it.

  • Caskets are only accepted 8 am to 4 pm on weekdays, 9 am to 2 pm on Sundays.
    Legal? Yes, if they apply the same policy to their own casket wholesale companies they buy from.
  • Casket must arrive at least 24 hours before the viewing.
    Legal? Yes, and also reasonable.
  • The customer (the family) will have to help the shipper unload the casket; funeral home staff won’t help.
    Legal? Yes, but unkind.
  • “Our building is not available to people who are waiting for their shipper to arrive.”
    Legal? That’s unclear. The FTC might rule that refusing to let customers come in out of the rain puts an unreasonable burden on a consumer’s choice to buy a third-party casket. It’s certainly consumer-hostile.
  • The customer family will have to uncrate the casket. The funeral home won’t provide any tools or assistance.
    Legal? Probably illegal, based on the FTC’s stated view that refusing the use of equipment is an unreasonable burden on consumers.
  • “While uncrating a casket, the purchaser will need to do so in our parking lot preferably out of the public’s view. The purchaser will not be allowed to uncrate the casket in our building.”
    Legal? Unclear. But the funeral home is making it obvious to consumers that they are hostile to outside caskets, they don’t think well of their customers who buy them, and they’re not going to make it easy.

It would be interesting to see how the FTC would rule on the totality of this page-long list of rules.

We hope you found this article informative.

Related Links:

6 Things Funeral Homes May Not Tell You

The FTC Funeral Rule and Funeral Costs