A Complete Guide To Funeral Homes

Everything You Need To Know To Make An Informed Decision

In the wake of an emotional event when a loved one dies, we are confronted with dozens of challenging decisions surrounding the funeral. Adding to this challenge is that the decisions must be made quickly and under significant emotional constraints. We are confronted with questions such as: How do I find a suitable funeral home? What should the funeral look like? How do I decide on the burial options (cremated or buried)? Can I afford everything I am required to purchase? What am I required to purchase? How soon do I need to start making arrangements?

Some people are unaware of the decisions and tasks that come with arranging a funeral and burial service. Even more, only 17% of Americans preplan for their funeral, meaning millions of families are left feeling stressed, confused, unprepared, and grief-stricken when it happens.

In some cases, family members choose not to have a funeral, which can be confusing if plans have not been made and they are unsure how to go about it. Please see this guide for further information on navigating the death of a loved one when you decide not to have a funeral.

To help with this navigating a funeral, we wrote this article that can be used as a comprehensive guide to help you choose the best funeral home for you and your loved ones during such hard times. Becoming aware of what to look for can ultimately save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Moreover, you want to ensure the service provided by the funeral home suites your needs and is within your budget, which is important. 

Brief History Of Funeral Homes In America

Since the dawn of time, funeral traditions and burials have been around, but when did funeral homes become the focal point in fulfilling the entire funeral service?  Prior to the 1860s, funeral services were held in the homes of the family, leaving them to care for the body, service, and burial.  To accommodate this, the front section of a house was designated to fulfilling a funeral service. In fact, this section of the house was referred to as the "parlor."

Traditionally, the homeowner would reserve their finest possessions, most desirable furniture and accents, and often, a piano for decor and display.  Some parlor rooms had a "coffin door" built directly off it to allow the family to carry the coffin from the parlor to the outdoor burial spot.

This was to prevent the family from carrying the casket through the house and down the main door stairs.  

It was custom for family and friends to care for the body to prepare it for the service and burial. They kept it laid out at home for as many days as it took to build the casket, dig the grave, and often, they would wait for signs of decomposition to know with certainty that their loved one was deceased.

This was widespread fear in the past. In contrast to modern-day practices, death care was a personally forged effort that symbolized compassion and enthusiasm from family, friends, and the community. 

Over time, the funeral industry changed as a direct result of the civil war.  Between 1861 and 1865, over 600 000 soldiers died on the battlefield, leaving behind many grieving families. The bodies were shipped home by train, an improper and sometimes offensive affair considering the decaying bodies.

It was urgent that they discover a way to hinder or slow the state of decomposition during transportation, which introduced the development of embalming, led by Dr. Renouard.

Due to the high number of caskets required, furniture builders and cabinetmakers started making coffins on mass. Families and communities could not keep up with the funerals, so it slowly became outsourced to these local business owners.

In 1883, Dr. Renouard opened the Rochester School of Embalming, which many cabinetmakers and coffin makers attended. This led to the advent of the funeral home industry as we know it; professionally run funeral homes, crematories, chapel centers, and more.

Why Is It Important To Research A Funeral Home Before You Use Them?

When you decide on a funeral home and move forward with a written contract for a funeral service, there is no turning back. Funerals allow us to say goodbye to our loved one in a calming and respectful environment. We want to make sure the funeral home we choose will promote such an environment.

Moreover, the grief of losing a loved one can impede our ability to reason for a period of time, so knowing we are dealing with a reputable funeral home is imperative, considering we are spending a significant amount of money with them. 

The most trustworthy funeral homes will always have a good reputation. The funeral home reputation will be presented in online reviews, social media pages, and their level of community engagement.  If you are narrowing your choice down to a few, ask friends, family, and co-workers who have used the funeral home what their experience was like and if they recommend it and why.

Funeral home ethics are generally to provide top quality service within a gloomy industry, and this is most commonly the case, but it is wise to be aware of unethical behavior. 

One of the most important things is to know their reputation. In doing this, you will inadvertently reduce your level of risk associated with the transaction. Using a reputable funeral home will generally garner you a more satisfying experience in all aspects of the funeral service, from; the preparation to the service, the cost, and how you were treated as a grieving customer. 

What Are Your Rights As A Consumer?

Many people are not aware that, as funeral consumers, they have rights that are set in place to protect them. The Funeral Trade Commission (FTC) is designed to guide and protect the funeral consumer in navigating the funeral process while knowing their rights.

These rules apply to pre-need and at-need funeral arrangements and every consumer should be aware of them before contracting any funeral services. Some of your rights under The Funeral Rule include:


Consumers have the right to choose and purchase any item they see fit. Funeral directors are not permitted to pressure the consumer into buying something of higher value if it is not necessary.


Consumers have the right to reject embalming; however, circumstances vary. The funeral director must communicate that the law usually does not enforce embalming as part of the preparation. If the consumer selects to have a viewing as part of the funeral, embalming may be necessary. If cremation or immediate burial is chosen, consumers can opt out without issue.


The consumer has the right to use a container of their choice for the cremation procedure. Alternative containers used to contain the body can be made of materials such as fiberboard or composition materials and can be designed with or without an outside covering. These can be purchased at other companies and online. 


If the consumer calls in and inquires on pricing, they right to receive a detailed price list over the phone from the funeral director.


The consumer has the right to receive full disclosure of all basic fees, including the fee for the professional funeral service of the funeral director and staff, which is in addition to the fee for the funeral arrangement.


The consumer has the right to receive a list of casket prices. Prices must be available for viewing on either the General Price List or a separate Casket Price List.


The consumer has the right to receive the Outer Burial Container Price List. Prices must be available on the General Price List or a separate price list.


The consumer has the right to receive a complete written statement from the funeral director that details goods and services required to be purchased.


The consumer has the right to receive a written statement that details the products and services being purchases, along with the price of each and the total cost. This must be done after arrangements are made but before the consumer pays.

What Should I Look For In A Funeral Home?

Deciding on a funeral home may appear relatively straightforward. However, it should not be determined without further inquiring on products, services and pricing to ensure they will match your needs and wishes. But these are not the only important things to consider when searching for a funeral home.

Many other factors come into play that tend to make the overall experience welcoming and comfortable. Below is a comprehensive list of questions to ask a funeral home.


This is among one of the most valuable actions you can take when deciding on a funeral home.  Gaining this knowledge can save you time and money by not choosing a funeral home that has previously or currently has litigation against them.

The Federal Trades Commission is responsible for ensuring funeral homes are operating within regulation. Reviewing their website will give you everything you need to know about funeral homes that had legal action against them. 


Another excellent way to learn about a funeral home is to learn about their history and understand their community involvement, awards, recognitions, affiliations, and so on. The company is more than consumer reviews; knowing how they have been connected in the local and broader community in the past can signify their value.


Funeral service payment is due before services are provided. They are, by and large, expensive, so looking into options that best suit you is beneficial. There are many choices for paying for a funeral, in advance or at the time of need. Respectively, all methods have their risks and benefits, so it is imperative that you choose the plan that suits your unique situation.  

Pre-Paid Funeral Plans

This option is one of the most practical and stress-free of them all. A pre-purchased funeral will alleviate a lot of the concerns left for your family. You can work with a trusted, local funeral home to build a funeral plan that is within your budget, locks in the cost, and covers everything necessary.

Cash Or Credit Card

Generally, this is the most common form of payment for funerals in America. Although the funeral industry promotes pre-pay as the best option, this is not the reality for most Americans.

A benefit to this payment method is that paying with cash can give you some leverage to negotiate prices, particularly if you are on a very tight budget. This is not always the case, but some instances may allow it.

The purchase of a funeral service is a consumer transaction, just like any other purchase you make, therefore treat it accordingly. Perhaps consider keeping your budget private during the shopping stage, and take some time to shop around for comparable prices.

Paying with cash often means you are digging into savings or investments, so do not settle on items that are upsold to you. Do not be coerced into purchasing ancillary products and services. Take your time comparing prices and work within your cash budget.

Life Insurance Policy

Another more common way funerals are paid for is via a life insurance policy.  The procedure can be quite simple; in fact, you generally need to provide the deceased's insurance companies details.

This will be the funeral home's way of verifying that a valid policy is active and is sufficient to cover the cost or part of the funeral cost. You are not required to reveal the value of the life insurance policy as the funeral home as the value is not necessary.

They will determine whether the policy has sufficient funds to cover the decided-upon cost by calling the insurance company and verifying with a "yes" or a "no."

Funds From The Deceased's Estate

Estate funds can be a significant help to the surviving family members with the funeral planning. However, the process of receiving the funds can be complicated and timely.

Depending on the situation, a funeral home may be willing to negotiate payment if you do not have the funds upfront to pay. You will be required to prove that there are sufficient funds in the deceased's estate. This issue is, estates are subject to probate and will generally take time for the funds to be released.

In some cases, the estate will be set up as a Payable-on-Death (POD) account, therefore allocating funeral funds to be released immediately. To better prepare yourself and your family, consider setting up your estate as a POD.

Funeral Credit Financing

Although financing a funeral is not ideal and not recommended, some situations bear no other choice, and the consumers must know all their options. Keeping in mind, this should always be a last resort for a few reasons.

It can be difficult to maintain payments if you are not financially prepared, and it can be difficult because most lenders are somewhat reluctant. Several specialized companies will lend for funeral payments and offer their services through funeral homes.

Be sure to check the terms of any funeral financing agreement thoroughly. If you or someone you know is struggling to pay for a funeral, please see our comprehensive guide on how to pay for a funeral when you don't have any money.

Prepaying for a funeral is not always optional, but can be a great gift to your loved ones. For a more throughout understanding on the benefits of prepaying for funeral, please see our article.


Knowing the duration that a funeral home has been in business can provide you with some level of assuredness. It can be said that the longer they have been in business, the better off you are choosing them, granted you have analyzed their reviews and reputation.


Try to choose a funeral home part of the National Funeral Directors Association or other associations such as the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice.

These associations provide their participating members with up-to-date information and guide them with the appropriate tools to stay informed of trends and improvements to serve the consumer better. This is an excellent starting point in your search for a reputable funeral home.  


Family-owned funeral homes usually have been in business for generations, and often they have a more relationship-based, friendly approach.  This is not to say chain-owned companies are unfriendly; it simply implies that family-owned businesses often have a family-based approach.


You can generally get a sense of a business's customer service approach by analyzing reviews and commentary from previous consumers. If you don't have a family member or friend who has used their services in the past, you can get a sense of this while engaging with them while browsing their services and fees.

Make a few phone calls to them for a service and pricing list to get a feel of their customer service. This is important because you are not only paying for a service; you are paying to be treated with compassion and respect during a challenging time in your life.


Usually, a highly-revered community business will be connected with the local community. This could indicate they are passionate about their community and the people in it. You can have a look at their website for their community involvement.


No funerals are the same as expectations differ.  A funeral should meet the needs, personalities, and beliefs of the deceased and their surviving family members. Whether religious, spiritual, or neither, the funeral service can always be composed to represent your beliefs.

If you have a personal preference in how you would like the service to be designed, this should be accommodated. Ask how your loved one’s beliefs and ideas can be incorporated into the service before moving forward. The funeral should represent the deceased and all things they would want to include. Remember, this is their day. 


As part of the Funeral Rules, funeral directors are required by law to give you authority over choosing the products and services you need at the prices you feel comfortable paying. At no time should you tolerate constant pressure to buy an item that will cost you more money when you prefer the less expensive option.  This is why it is essential to ask for a written list of the prices you decided on before agreeing to move forward.


In some cases, a funeral home will not carry a specific item that you request. In this case, a funeral director should suggest an alternative that would not cost you more than that of the original. This would indicate that the funeral director cares about providing you a meaningful and unique funeral service without compromise.

If they show no regard and suggest, "You don't need it. It is not unnecessary," you might want to consider looking for another funeral home. 


The location should be one of the key indicators in which funeral home you decide on. Do not sacrifice the quality of care and service offered over location; however, you should consider commuting distance for you and your family. You will likely be expected to travel to and from the funeral home on many occasions before the official service, so keep that in mind. Burdening yourself even further during such a difficult time can add unnecessary stress.


Funeral homes selling memorial jewelry should not be a key indicator in choosing them. However, it can make for a more leisurely experience to purchase everything from one company, rather than shopping around.

Suppose they do sell memorial jewelry, be aware of their prices. Make a comparison with other companies and online stores as well. Everlasting Memories has an exclusive collection of Cremation Urns for Ashes that are designed for all consumers with differing preferences. Please visit the product section for more details.


During your visit to inquire on pricing, have a look around the funeral home and examine the cleanliness of the facility. This will be the last moment you share with your loved one before being put to rest. You will want to ensure it is kept clean and tidy.


A personalized funeral service should include everything that is requested from the family. It is crucial that you have a list of services you will need before you begin speaking with different funeral homes.

This can include; chapel, viewing room, the technology required for presentations, and ample reception space to accommodate the guest list. If they fall short on something you need, inquire to see if they have a sufficient substitute.


Most reputable funeral homes will be equipped to accommodate all standard services. But it would be best to always inquire before deciding to ensure they have the services available that meet your standards and with pricing within your budget.


During the initial stages of finding the most suitable funeral home, review and compare prices. As per the Funeral Rules, funeral homes are required by law to display Basic Service Fees and a General Price List for all customers to view.

If these prices are shown, and you are quoted conflicting prices, you may want to consider choosing a different funeral home. Generally, this will not be the case, but it is important that you are cognizant of the displayed prices. 


Most funeral homes provide many educational grief resources for their customers.  You will often notice shelves or brochure stands filled with books, info guides, and resources for reputable external help. Moreover, most funeral homes employ grief care coordinators or administrators responsible for contacting their customers via email with newsletters and follow-ups if extra resources are needed.

They may also guide families to local resources such as support groups, events, and websites. These added resources can make a significant impact on how you cope in the aftermath. Always inquire about this added service before making your final decision.

Tips For Funeral Home Pre-Planning

As illustrated above, choosing a funeral home can prove to be stressful and time-consuming. If you are in a place where you have the resources and time to preplan your funeral, it would be wise to do so as it alleviates a lot of the stress imposed on your surviving family members.  Below are a few ways to get yourself started. 


Will you be in a position to leave an estate to your family, and if not, do you have a life insurance policy? This would be a great place to begin as it gives you an idea of your budget and how soon you can prepay. 


If you are not in a financial situation where you can prepay for your service, you can always shop around and inquire about the services offered. This way, you can add your wishes into your Will, giving your family direction when preparing your funeral. 


For many, this is a topic that rarely gets discussed, as it is considered taboo. In this case, if you have not shared your wishes with your family, you can make your decisions and add it to your Will or a Last Wishes letter. This is one aspect of preparing a funeral that can cause further grief for loved ones when trying to make the right choice. 


Take the time to visit local funeral homes to get a feel of how they present to you. Have a look at their website for history information, local recognition, and pricing. Go in and meet the funeral director personally. Although you may not be ready to prepay, you can preplan by making your family aware of your preferred funeral home.

Funeral Home Scams & Red Flags

It is unlikely that you will be a victim of a funeral scam, but it is always wise to be prepared with what to look for when it comes to scams and red flags.


In this case, be aware of what products are being sold or upsold to you. For example, if your budget for a casket is predetermined, but you are being persuaded to upgrade to a more expensive option when it is not needed, this is most likely a dishonest sales tactic used on vulnerable shoppers. Stay within your budget, and don't be swayed if it will cause you hardship.


Most funeral directors are honest and take genuine satisfaction in making sure your experience is respectful and sound. So, when you are asked if you have an insurance policy, it is used to guide them on your budget.

However, be cognizant of situations where a funeral director asks this question to max out your policy by upselling you a funeral service you would not otherwise need or desire. How can you tell? They recommend more expensive options that could be covered under your insurance policy, rather than accepting the less expensive choice you express interest in.


If you decide to have your loved one cremated, it will be your responsibility to purchase or provide a container for the body as a resting place. These containers do not need to be bought from the funeral home or crematory you are dealing with. In fact, you can purchase one from any other company or online store.

If a funeral director is telling you to buy a container from them that is out of your budget, this should be an indicator that they may not have your best interest in mind.


Understandably, the cost of funerals is relatively high when we consider everything that goes into the overall service. However, with the spectrum of prices for products and services, there should always be a package to suit your unique financial needs without a strenuous burden.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most important things you can do is work with a reputable funeral home. This way, you will be less likely to be sold a funeral memorial package that you do not need. Always be aware of financial scams, particularly when you are in a vulnerable state.

You can usually spot this scam if a funeral director suggests you bundle the cost of your casket and funeral service, which will, in turn, save you money. But, if they refuse to show you a breakdown of the individual prices separate from the bundle price to prove the cost savings, this could be a red flag that you are being overcharged.

It would be wise to note the prices separately and then ask for bundle packages. This way, you have the autonomy to calculate what works best for you.


Choosing to move forward with or without embalming is, in most cases, entirely up to you. Embalming is not legally required, and the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Law prohibits funeral home employees from promoting the opposite.

In some states, Codes state that human remains are to be embalmed within 24 hours of death if the family would like a funeral viewing. Alternatively, the remains may be preserved under refrigeration, but the funeral service must occur no longer than 5 hours post removal.

Furthermore, if the unblamed remains are kept under refrigeration for over 36 hours, it is discouraged that the public view the body. If a funeral director encourages you to have your loved one embalmed if you do not select a viewing or your loved one is being cremated, this may be another indicator that they do not have your best interest at heart.

Choosing A Funeral Home Frequently Asked Questions

Who regulates the funeral industry?

The body regulating the funeral services industry is the Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule" and state occupational licensing statutes. There are specific statutes related to the licensing of crematories. There are also statutes regulating the sale of pre-need funeral goods and services.

What makes a good funeral home?

A good funeral home consists of many different factors. More notably, they abide by the FTC funeral rules, treat the funeral consumer with empathy and respect, and work within your budget and preferences. Funeral home preferences are relative to each customer, so ensuring your needs are met and respected is a good starting point in knowing whether a funeral home is good or not.

What questions should I ask a funeral home?

You should always call and visit a funeral home before committing to a package. First, inquire about pricing for products and services, which you should always receive in writing. Ask if they offer special amenities if you have religious or other personal requests, and ask if embalming will be required if you decide you don’t want that procedure done. These cover the necessities, but any additional pertinent information should be asked during the first meeting.

Where do I go to find out if the funeral home has any legal actions against them?

The Federal Trades Commission is responsible for ensuring funeral homes are operating within regulation. Reviewing their website will give you everything you need to know about funeral homes that had legal action against them. 

What does a funeral home director do?

A funeral director's role is to organize and perform the entire process and operations for each funeral. They work very closely with the deceased's family for all arrangements. Duties include managing the funeral performance, the officiant, and how and where the remains will ultimately be laid to rest.

Additionally, they may have many other duties, including preparing obituary notices and issuing them to media outlets.  They manage the preparation and transportation of the remains for out-of-state burials and organize the procession and burial ceremony.

Why are funeral homes important?

Funeral homes are important for a few good reasons. First, they are vessels for mourning loved ones to say good-bye and process grief. Funeral homes are designed to promote a calming and respectful experience, therefore creating a moment to pause and reflect on the life our loved one had. They are equipped with all the necessary amenities to fulfill a special and respectful funeral service that could not be done anywhere else.

What is the FTC?

The Federal Trade Commission enforces and regulates the Funeral Rule (FTC). The Rule allows consumers to make independent choices on the goods and services they want or need within their budget. Whether this is for prepayment of a future funeral or a recent death, the Rule applies. Furthermore, it allows consumers to compare prices among funeral homes and will allow them to choose the service they want at their preferred funeral home.

Make The Choice That's Right For You

Searching for the most suitable funeral home is never easy, especially when we are under time constraints, financial stress, all while dealing with grief. Leaving this up to our loved ones is sometimes the only choice we have, but if we can, we should consider taking the time to preplan and prepay, if at all possible.

A lot goes into choosing the right funeral home, and these decisions become much more difficult when funeral planning is for a family member's funeral. Taking care of your loved ones in their last moments with us on earth should never cause added grief; instead, we should spend it cherishing those last moments.

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November 30, 2021 by Frances Kay