How To Read A General Price List
The funeral home's General Price List (GPL) is one of the most important tools you have for understanding funeral costs. The GPL lists all the goods and services the funeral home offers, along with the price of each. Like a menu in a restaurant, the GPL allows you to select only those items you want, and it tells how much each will cost. While funeral homes are allowed to offer packages of services at a discount over the itemized total, they must also offer services priced individually.
The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule compels funeral homes to give customers a GPL at the beginning of any discussion of arrangements. The funeral director must give you a copy to keep. Better yet, take it home and discuss it with your family, if time permits, so you can make an informed decision.
Required items on the GPL
GPLs must print certain disclosures, which must follow the wording approved by the FTC. The disclosures must state that:
The Funeral Rule requires that GPLs list the prices of 16 items - if they are services the funeral home offers - including the basic services fee, embalming charge, cost of picking up the body, the price of a viewing, the price of a funeral or memorial service, the cost of funeral vehicles, and other commonly offered goods and services.
How to Interpret the GPL
These choices can seem daunting to people who are making funeral arrangements at any time, but this is especially true if they have just experienced a death in the family.
The simplest options - direct cremation and immediate burial - include pickup of the body, the basic services fee, the filing of death certificates, and transportation to the crematory or cemetery. For cremation, remember to ask if the price includes the crematory fee - some funeral homes don't include that fee in their price and the family is surprised when it appears on the final statement. For immediate burial, costs for interment (usually charged by the cemetery) and a graveside service are extra. The cost of the casket for immediate burial is also extra unless the funeral home offers an immediate burial option that includes a particular casket.
Anyone who wants more elaborate services will have to start with the basic services fee. This is the only fee on a funeral home's price list that the customer cannot decline to pay. It is intended to cover services that are common to most arrangements - filing death certificates and obtaining copies for the family; coordinating plans with the cemetery and crematory; and filing for Social Security, veterans, and insurance benefits. This fee may also include overhead costs and charges for the arrangements conference, securing permits, preparing notices, and coordinating arrangements with third parties (such as the cemetery).
Aside from the basic services fee, you can choose freely. For example, you might want to schedule a funeral ceremony, but skip the viewing and embalming. If you want a service that is not listed on the GPL, be sure to ask. Many funeral directors are glad to accommodate your wishes. For example, you might choose to have a private family viewing without embalming. Or there may be a lesser charge if a brief family viewing is held on the same day and immediately before the funeral.
A note on embalming - Embalming is one of the most misunderstood aspects of funerals. The FTC requires the following embalming disclosure on all GPLs: "Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing ..." The phrase "may be necessary" allows funeral homes to require embalming for public viewing. Most funeral directors do require it for public viewing because they believe many people would be offended or shocked if confronted with an unembalmed body on public display.