Besides dealing with your grief when a loved one passes away, you may also need to make funeral arrangements. Some people choose to make their own arrangements for the inevitable, so that their loved ones do not have to do so later. As funeral and burial costs combined can easily reach $10,000 or higher, some information and advice may help guide your decisions.
The laws of both the State of Georgia and the federal government cover embalming, cremation and fee disclosure by funeral service providers. The Funeral Rule, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires funeral homes to give consumers an itemized General Price List (GPL) at the start of a visit to the home to make funeral arrangements. Funeral homes also must show consumers separate casket and outer burial container price lists if those prices are not included in the GPL. By requiring itemized prices, consumers gain the ability to compare prices among funeral homes and buy only the goods and services they want.
The Georgia Cemetery and Funeral Services Act of 2000 (O.C.G.A. Sections 10-14-1 through 10-14-30) requires that most cemeteries and funeral service providers register with the Secretary of State, pay an annual renewal fee and file certain reports. Any individual who sells funeral services on a pre-need basis must be licensed by the Secretary of State. It is a misdemeanor to violate this Act, although family burial plots, fraternal and government-owned cemeteries, and those belonging to churches and synagogues are excluded from the law.
Registered perpetual care cemeteries must ensure proper maintenance of their grounds. A full and complete schedule of charges for all services should be posted for the public to see. The cost of opening and closing the grave must be listed, as well as any variation in fees on weekends and holidays or at certain times of the day. All complaints regarding the care and maintenance of the grounds or about merchandise should be directed to the Secretary of State’s office, using the public complaint form on their website. They do not, however, handle disputes over contract compliance, which are a private legal matter.
Checklist When You Are Making Funeral Arrangements
- Be sure to sign a contract, with any oral agreements confirmed in writing.
- Funerals rank among the most expensive purchases many consumers will ever make. Under the Funeral Rule, you have a right to buy only the funeral arrangements you want. The funeral provider must provide you a price list of goods and services, called a General Price List, and if state or local law requires you to buy any particular good or service, it must be disclosed on the list with a reference to the specific law. Contact the Federal Trade Commission for more information about the Funeral Rule.
- The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought elsewhere, or charge you a fee for using it.
- Neither state nor federal law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral provider who offers cremations must make "alternative containers" available and inform you of this option.
- You can’t be charged for embalming that your family didn’t authorize, unless it’s required by state law.
- Compare the posted prices to those in the contract.
- Make certain the contract itemizes all prices and specifies any future costs.
- Be aware of any restrictions that are contained in the contract.
- Make sure the burial plot is fully identified in the contract and is in the desired location.
- If planning ahead, verify that the order for the items and the space is transferable if you move or change your mind.
- Ask about the cancellation and refund policy.
- Check the quality of the property’s maintenance.
- Review the rules of the cemetery and know your rights concerning damaged merchandise, operating hours and flower placement.
- All veterans, and their spouses and dependent children, are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000 or through their web site for more information.
- For more information on funeral planning, contact the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Funeral Compliance Alliance.
Avoiding funeral scams
- Don’t feel pressured by sales tactics and refrain from emotional overspending.
- Check whether the funeral services director or embalmer is licensed with the Secretary of State as Georgia law requires. Please note that this does not imply an endorsement by the state.
- Be an informed consumer. Shop around and talk with friends and family. Product mark-ups can be as high as 3,000 percent.
- Since funeral home providers cannot determine how long a casket will preserve a body, you can save money by avoiding expensive “sealed” or “protective” caskets.
- Burial vaults or grave liners, which prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time, are not required by state law and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise.
- For a direct cremation, embalming and a casket are not legally required.
- Carefully read all agreements before signing the contract to ascertain that everything is included that was promised.
- Preplanning does not have to mean prepayment.
- Be well-informed before prepaying. Ascertain what happens to money you prepay and whether you will be entitled later to a refund of the amount you originally paid. Determine if you are protected if the company goes out of business.
- Avoid “package deals,” because they usually have services you do not need, such as “access to a grief library.”
Funeral services are a product for sale, and occasionally you may encounter an aggressive salesperson or one aiming to commit fraud. Be sure the person or company has the proper license to be doing business in Georgia and that you get all the services for which you paid. If making arrangements for yourself, take someone with you to make sure you are not scammed. Whether you plan ahead or must make quick arrangements, take precautions to help avoid becoming a victim of fraud or paying more than necessary.
If you wish to register a complaint alleging an unfair or deceptive business practice by a funeral services provider, you may file it with the Georgia Department of Law's Consumer Protection Unit. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also accepts complaints from consumers involving deceptive or unfair acts or violations of the Funeral Rule by such providers. The FTC cannot investigate each individual complaint but will use this information as part of an investigation if they see a developing pattern of violations.