The federal rule that requires funeral homes to list their prices didn’t envision the internet. Now, regulators are weighing an update that would require the homes to reveal their prices online.
“People are at their most vulnerable when they’re grieving,” Lina M. Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, remarked on the proposed change. The goal of the rule is “to prevent consumers from being taken advantage of,” she said, adding that “funeral providers are not required to list prices on their websites.”
The commission is considering the rule change as the Justice Department, on behalf of the F.T.C., reached a settlement this month with a company, Legacy Cremation Services, it accused of using “bait and switch” tactics to trick bereaved people into overpaying for cremation services offered online — and even, in some cases, threatening to withhold remains to force families to pay. As part of the legal action, the government is requiring the company to post accurate details about charges and services on its website.
Last year, the government sued Legacy Cremation Services and related companies and their owner, Anthony Joseph Damiano. The civil complaint contended that they misrepresented themselves as local cremation providers, rather than as brokers arranging services potentially hours away from buyers.
The settlement, filed in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., imposed a $257,000 penalty and required Mr. Damiano and his companies to disclose important details on their websites, including pricing and the location of their services.
“Lying to consumers about critical information including price and location of services when they are dealing with the loss of a loved one is outrageous and illegal,” said Samuel Levine, director of the commission’s bureau of consumer protection, in a statement. The F.T.C. enforces the Funeral Rule, which guarantees consumers the right to have access to prices and other information about funeral services.
Mr. Damiano, in a statement emailed by his lawyers, said Legacy “never intended to mislead” clients and intended to “rebuild its website to fully comply” with the terms of the settlement. “Legacy views the agreement with the Federal Trade Commission as a way to rebuild its relationship with clients in a way to better serve families in their time of grief,” he said.
The Funeral Rule, which took effect in 1984, requires funeral homes to provide written price lists to people who visit in person, and to share pricing over the phone on request. But the law is mum about listing prices on the web, as well as communicating by email or text. “Funeral homes are not required by law to post prices online,” said Lois C. Greisman, associate director of the F.T.C.’s division of marketing practices.
Consumer advocates, including the Funeral Consumers Alliance, see online pricing as increasingly important because people may find themselves shopping for services while mourning the loss of a family member who lives far away.
The F.T.C. reported last fall that just under a quarter of funeral home websites provided a full price list, while most offered “little to no” price information. (Commission staff viewed about 200 websites in 2021, when many people weren’t able to visit funeral homes because of the pandemic.) At least one state, California, requires funeral homes to post prices online, although a 2019 review by the Funeral Consumers Alliance found that a legal loophole allowed many to avoid doing so.
The commission decided in October to review the rule, with an eye toward updating it to reflect current technology, including whether funeral providers should be required to provide pricing online or by email. More than 700 people or institutions submitted comments. Many individuals favored requiring price disclosures online. The National Funeral Directors Association, which represents about 11,000 funeral homes, said it supported voluntary disclosure of prices.
If the commission does amend the rule, the association said, it recommends that an online price requirement should apply only to funeral homes that have existing websites. Homes should not be required to establish a website to comply, the association said.
It’s unclear when, or if, the commission will change the rule. Ms. Khan, the chair of the F.T.C., however, has indicated her support for “modernizing” the rule.
“In the internet era,” she said in October, “it’s hard to see why anyone should have to physically visit or call multiple funeral homes just to compare prices.” Electronic sharing of information, she said, could encourage competition and “lower the expensive burden of putting a loved one to rest.”
Here are some questions and answers about seeking funeral information:
How much does a funeral typically cost?
The median cost of a funeral, including a viewing and burial, is about $7,800, according to 2021 data from the National Funeral Directors Association. A vault — a coffin container often required by cemeteries — adds about $1,600. The median cost of cremation, including a viewing, is about $7,000. The association includes the cost of embalming in the total for both burials and cremations, though it is rarely required by law, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Can I still seek reimbursement for funeral costs for a family member who died from Covid-19?
Yes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue to provide assistance of up to $9,000 per funeral for families that lost members to Covid-19 until Sept. 30, 2025, an agency spokesman, Jeremy M. Edwards, said this week. As of April 4, FEMA said, it has provided more than $2.9 billion to cover funeral services and related expenses.
For information, call 844-684-6333.
What do I do if I believe a funeral home has violated the disclosure rule?
You can complain to the F.T.C. on its website.