FTC to Funeral Homes: No You May Not. . .

4/20/2010— Twenty-six years after the Funeral Rule became effective, and 16 years after the Federal Trade Commission barred funeral homes from slapping a “handling fee” on caskets consumers who buy from third-party retailers, those retailers are still running into problems. Because some funeral homes never learn, FTC staff have to continually churn out advisory opinion letters laying down the law.

The latest request for an opinion comes from Universal Casket Company, the manufacturer that supplies Costco with discount caskets for members. Though we haven’t seen Universal Casket’s original letter, it’s easy to see what kind of pushback from funeral homes Universal and Costco are up against, once you read the FTC’s advisory opinion. The FTC says funeral homes may not:*

  • Refuse to accept a third-party casket if it’s delivered in more than or fewer than any certain number of days before the funeral
  • Require third-party caskets to be delivered by appointment only during normal business hours
  • Refuse to accept a third-party casket at a specified time, during normal business hours, unless funeral home staff are occupied with a funeral at that time
  • Refuse to allow a third-party casket retailer to use the funeral home’s ordinary, standard equipment (such as rolling carts) to bring the casket into the funeral home

* The FTC opinion letter says, basically, that funeral homes have to treat third-party casket deliveries the same way they treat deliveries from the casket companies funeral homes ordinarily order from. Some funeral homes want to make it hard for third-party retailers to deliver, since the funeral home isn’t making any profit from a casket that the family buys outside the funeral home. So, for example, if a funeral home allows Batesville Casket to show up with a delivery any time during normal business hours, the funeral home has to allow a third-party casket seller (selected by the customer) the same latitude.

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