Frequently Asked Questions
What should I consider in planning for a funeral?
The Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends that you first talk with your family and friends about your wishes, expectations and resources in paying for a funeral. Second, know your options. You have the right to a “traditional” funeral using a funeral home for everything, having family and friends responsible for all of the arrangements and everything and anything in between. The third step is to shop around and plan well. A funeral can be as elaborate and costly or as simple and inexpensive as you want. Most people do not compare prices for goods and services on a funeral and yet it may be one of the most expensive purchases your family makes. The Federal Trade Commission requires all funeral homes to provide price quotes over the phone and/or provide you with a written General Price List (GPL) when you show up in person to discuss funeral arrangements with a funeral director. The GPL lists all of the goods and services that the funeral home offers and the price of each. It allows you to select only the items that you want. It is a good idea to visit more than one funeral home and ask for their General Price List in order to get an idea about what they offer and how much it costs. Finally, once you have decided on what you want, put it in writing and make sure that your family and friends can easily located your plans when the time comes.
What is direct cremation?
Direct cremation occurs without a formal viewing of the body, visitation or ceremony with the body present. Typically, funeral homes offer a direct cremation package which often includes the ‘basic services fee’ (non-declinable fee charged by funeral homes for staff services and overhead), removal of the body from the place of death, and transportation to the crematory. The price of the actual cremation and securing permits and other paperwork may be listed separately, depending on the funeral home. Direct cremation is often the least expensive means of disposition.
What is the difference between a funeral service and a memorial service?
The body is present at a funeral service (either open or closed casket.) A memorial service is held without the body present. Typically, a memorial service follows a direct cremation or a direct burial and can be held within days or months of when the person died.
Do I have to use a funeral director to take care of someone who has died?
No. In Massachusetts, as in most states, it is legal to care for your own dead without using a funeral home. You can keep the deceased at your home, take care of all of the necessary paperwork yourself, transport the body to the crematory and conduct a service without a funeral director. There are funeral directors who will work with you to provide only those services that you would like to purchase (see the most recent FCAEM funeral home survey for a list of those funeral directors who will work with families on customized arrangements and Caring for Your Own Dead – both located on the FCAEM website.)
Is it a good idea to pre-pay my funeral?
The Funeral Consumers Alliance strongly advises people never to pre-pay for a funeral unless they are about to go on Medicaid and assets need to be spent down. Setting aside the funds for a funeral is a good idea, but invest in an interest bearing account yourself. Choose an investment that is safe and one that can be changed or cashed in if your needs change. The interest on your own money in a pay-on-death account at your bank should keep up with inflation and will let you stay in control.
Pre-paid funeral money is not well protected against embezzlement by a funeral home. In addition, if you move, die while traveling or change your mind (from body burial to cremation, for example) you may not get all of your money back or it may not all be transferred to the new funeral home.
For more on paying for a funeral, see FCA's How to Pay for a Funeral, or Other Arrangements.
People talk about donating their body to science – what does that mean?
This means that a person would like his/her body donated to a medical school to be used for teaching gross anatomy to medical students. Policies and procedures for dealing with the body differ significantly at each school, so check with each institution regarding their procedures. The four schools in our area are University of Massachusetts Medical School, Harvard Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine, and Boston University School of Medicine.
Is embalming required?
No. Many funeral directors encourage families to choose embalming if there is going to be a viewing of the body, but embalming is not mandated by law in most cases.
Is it legal to scatter the ashes of cremated remains?
What is green burial?
Green burial is interment without embalming, metal caskets, casket vaults or liners and often without permanent markers. An un-embalmed body may be wrapped in a shroud or in every day clothes and placed right into the ground or laid into a soft wood, wicker or biodegradable casket. Currently, there are no “green cemeteries” in Massachusetts. The closest green cemetery to Massachusetts is GreenSprings, and is located just outside of Ithaca, NY.