Trap 5: Embalming at all costs
Some people choose embalming -- the process of preparing a body to slow its disintegration -- because of custom, religion, or personal preference. As stated above, many others opt for the process because of a mistaken belief that it will preserve a body. And still others agree to embalming -- at an added cost of $100 to $700, depending on locale and facility -- because of real or perceived pressure from the provider.
Some funeral establishments will suggest or insist that embalming is necessary if there will be a public viewing of the deceased's body. In reality, however, it's rarely required by law.
While state laws differ, embalming is generally required in only a few circumstances, such as when:
A body will be transported by plane or train from one state or country to another.
There's a long gap in time -- a week or more -- between the death and a burial or cremation.
The rare situation in which the death occurred because of a communicable disease and embalming may protect the public from it.
As with other funeral practices that are frequently misunderstood by consumers, there are strong and specific legal controls that protect consumers. The federal Funeral Rule specifically requires that a funeral provider:
Must give a written, itemized breakdown of all embalming costs to those asking about funeral arrangements in person, or fully explain them if asked over the telephone.
May not embalm a body without permission.
Must disclose in writing that there is a right to choose a method of disposing of a body, such as direct cremation or burial, that doesn't require embalming.
How to avoid the trap
The first and best defense against being coerced into purchasing embalming that's unwanted or unneeded is to know the particulars of the law in your state. To find out about them, do an Internet search for law on embalming plus the name of your state. An added caveat is to then choose a site sponsored by an agency such as the state's department of consumer affairs or board of funeral directors or embalmers, rather than a site operated by a particular funeral provider or embalmer.
If a funeral provider fails to provide a price for embalming as required or violates other legal requirements, consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that enforces the rules about fair practices in the funeral industry.