Your Rights

The Federal Trade Commission’s"Funeral Rule" and California state laws and regulations administered by the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau in Sacramento safeguard your consumer rights.

1. Customers at a funeral home must be handed a General Price List before talking about funeral arrangement prices. If asked, mortuaries must also give prices by phone. If a mortuary has a web site, it must publish a General Price List or at least a list of services and products they offer, per state law.

2. Funeral home and cemetery shoppers must also be given a copy of  the “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases,” produced by the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs, Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, before they discuss prices. Available in English or Spanish.

3. The consumer can write out his or her funeral wishes prior to death and the funeral home is obligated to carry them out, if finances in the estate are sufficient.

4. You can choose NOT to have the body embalmed—there is no state law requiring it unless the body is being shipped by public carrier across state lines. Refrigeration and dry ice will keep a body preserved until it is buried or cremated.

5.  You choose only what you need from the General Price List. You do not have to choose a package plan, which may include items you do not want. The funeral home cannot charge a handling fee if the family decides to buy a casket or urn somewhere else (or have a family member make one).

6.  There is no state law requiring casket liners or vaults in cemeteries, yet most of the cemeteries in California require liners or vaults to keep the ground from sinking.

7.  Only one body at a time is allowed in the crematory to ensure the remains are not mixed with another person’s. Mortuaries and crematories must have body tracking systems.

8.  The family can witness the cremation if space permits. Additional charges may apply.

9.  Ashes may be scattered on private land with permission from the landowner, or in a public park with permission.  Or they may be scattered on the ocean or a navigable inland waterway at least 500 yards from shore by boat or airplane. Ashes can also be kept in a private home, interred in a cemetery plot, or scattered in a garden, placed in a columbarium, or put in a house of worship.

10.  A family may have a home funeral and transport the body themselves to a cemetery or crematory, but must obtain a proper death certificate and permits from their county.

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A definitive guide on how to navigate the funeral industry. This book explains how the modern funeral industry tricks people into spending more than they need to, so you can avoid being one of their victims. The book also provides state by state requirements for doing a funeral without a funeral home.

The following links provide price comparisons for services offered at funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries and other helpful information.


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Some funeral homes suggest in various ways that the amount of money you spend on a funeral is directly related to how much you loved the deceased. If your loved one was alive, he or she would be chasing them out of the room. There is no love in giving money to someone who is trying to make you feel guilty for not buying everything he wants to sell.

Is Embalming Necessary?

The short answer is “no”. The Federal Trade Commission and many state regulators require that funeral directors inform consumers that embalming is not required except in rare and special cases.
Under the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:
  1. may not provide embalming services without permission
  2. may not falsely state that embalming is required by law
  3. must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law except in certain special cases.
  4. may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming
  5. must disclose in writing that you have the right to direct cremation or direct burial, which do not require embalming, if you do not want embalming
  6. must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing,  may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.  However, some  funeral homes will refrigerate instead of embalming in the case of a viewing. 
Embalming provides no public health benefit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Canadian health authorities. In fact, Hawaii and Ontario forbid embalming if the person died of certain contagious diseases. Many morticians have been taught, however, that embalming protects the public health, and they continue to perpetrate this myth.
Embalming gives funeral homes a sales opportunity to increase consumer spending (by as much as $3,000 or more) for additional body preparation, a more expensive casket with "protective" features perhaps, a more expensive outer burial container, and a more elaborate series of ceremonies.  
Refrigeration is an alternative to maintaining a body while awaiting a funeral service or when there is a delay in making arrangements. Not all funeral homes have refrigeration facilities, so check ahead.  Most hospitals have refrigeration.
Private or home viewing by family members and close friends can occur without embalming and is far more "traditional" than some of the services promoted by the industry under that name.
Embalming does not preserve the human body forever; it merely delays the inevitable.
Ambient temperature has more effect on the decomposition process than the time elapsed after death, whether or not a body has been embalmed. In a sealed casket in above-ground entombment in a warm climate, a body will decompose very rapidly.
Embalming is a physically invasive process in which special devices are implanted, and chemicals and techniques are used to give an appearance of restful repose. The normal waxy-white color of a dead body is replaced with a more life-like tone by the use of dyes in the embalming fluid.
Embalming uses formaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical. Embalmers are required by OSHA to wear a respirator and full-body covering while embalming. Funeral home effluent, however, is not regulated, and waste is flushed into the common sewer system or septic tank.
Formaldehyde is known to be a carcinogen. Several studies have found that people who are exposed to formaldehyde in their professions are at an increased risk of leukemia, and some studies have suggested an increased risk of brain cancer as well.
Embalming has no roots in Christian religion and is common only in the U.S. and Canada. Embalming is considered a desecration of the body by orthodox Jewish and Muslim religions. Hindus and Buddhists choosing cremation have no need for embalming.
Eliminating embalming can save you lots of money that can be better spent elsewhere. For example, a donation to the deceased person’s favorite charity.


Alternative Container: An unfinished wood box or other non-metal receptacle without ornamentation, often made of fiberboard, pressed wood or composition materials, and generally lower in cost than caskets.
Casket/Coffin: A box or chest for burying remains.
Cemetery Property: A grave, crypt or niche.
Cemetery Services: Opening and closing graves, crypts or niches; setting grave liners and vaults; setting markers; and long-term maintenance of cemetery grounds and facilities.
Columbarium: A structure with niches (small spaces) for placing cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. It may be outdoors or part of a mausoleum.
Cremation: Exposing remains and the container encasing them to extreme heat and flame and processing the resulting bone fragments to a uniform size and consistency.
Crypt: A space in a mausoleum or other building to hold cremated or whole remains.
Disposition: The placement of cremated or whole remains in their final resting place.
Endowment Care Fund: Money collected from cemetery property purchasers and placed in trust for the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery.
Entombment: Burial in a mausoleum. 
Funeral Ceremony: A service commemorating the deceased, with the body present.
Funeral Services: Services provided by a funeral director and staff, which may include consulting with the family on funeral planning; transportation, shelter, refrigeration and embalming of remains; preparing and filing notices; obtaining authorizations and permits; and coordinating with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.
Funeral Planning Society: See Memorial Society.
Grave: A space in the ground in a cemetery for the burial of remains.
Grave Liner: cover that fits over a casket in a grave. Some liners cover tops and sides of the casket. Others, referred to as vaults, completely enclose the casket. Grave liners minimize ground settling.
Graveside Service: A service to commemorate the deceased held at the cemetery before burial.
Interment: Burial in the ground, inurnment or entombment.
Inurnment: The placing of cremated remains in an urn.
Mausoleum: A building in which remains are buried or entombed.
Memorial Service: A ceremony commemorating the deceased, without the body present.
Memorial Society: An organization that provides information about funerals and disposition, but is not part of the state-regulated funeral industry. Most belong to Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc., a non-profit organization based in South Burlington, VT.
Niche: A space in a columbarium, mausoleum or niche wall to hold an urn.
Urn: A container to hold cremated remains. It can be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum, or buried in the ground.
Vault: A grave liner that completely encloses a casket.
Courtesy of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Cemetery and Funeral Bureau