The Memorial Society, Inc., 66 Marlboro Street, Boston, Mass. 617-859-7990

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Guide to funeral shopping in eastern Massachusetts
based on results of 2011 FCAEM Funeral Home Price Survey

In May 2011, Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts (FCAEM) conducted its bi-annual price survey of all funeral establishments in eastern Massachusetts, including Worcester, Middlesex, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties. Survey recipients were asked to complete a one-page survey form and to return it with a copy of their General Price List (GPL), a document that all funeral homes are required by law to maintain. FCAEM sent the survey to 544 funeral establishments in the ten-county region. Forty-seven responded. Of the 47 respondents, 44 completed the survey form and 35 submitted a GPL.

There are many legitimate reasons to choose one funeral home over another, or to choose not to use a funeral home – location, price, family history, personal connections, size, preference for a home funeral, etc.. It is beyond our means to say which funeral home has the best service or the best prices. The purpose of this guide is to provide consumers with guidelines for comparing one funeral home to the range of other options in Eastern Massachusetts.


In Massachusetts, the use of a funeral director is NOT required by law. Families can do all of the arrangements on their own or they can hire funeral directors to provide only limited services, such as filing the necessary legal paperwork and transporting the body. In such cases, the “basic services fee” (see below) should not apply. In the 2011 survey, we asked respondents if their funeral home is willing to do partial services, such as file paperwork and transport a body, and allow the family to do the rest? 79% said “yes”; 15% said “no”; 6% did not answer the question.


Direct or immediate cremation is a simple cremation package that does not include any viewing or ceremony. Funeral homes are required by law to list such a package in their GPL. It usually includes the price for transporting the body, holding the body until cremation, scheduling the cremation with the crematory, filing the necessary permits, etc.. A memorial service can be planned at another time without the involvement of the funeral director.  At some funeral homes, the listed price does not include the fee charged by the crematory, which will likely amount to an additional $300-$400.

Comparing Direct Cremation Prices (including crematory fee*) in Eastern MA

If customer makes or buys a cremation container** from another supplier.

If customer purchases minimum alternative container from funeral home:

$1500 or less = 9% of funeral homes

The cost of the “minimum alternative container” can vary by thousands of dollars, even though a simple, rigid cardboard casket box will suffice at most crematories.** Some funeral homes sell this for less than $100 while others will charge thousands unless you specifically say that you want the cheapest container possible. 

$1501-$2000 = 40% of funeral homes

$2001-$2500 = 34% of funeral homes

$2501-$3000 = 6% of funeral homes

$3000 – above = 11% of funeral homes

* FCAEM added $400 to the direct cremation price published in the GPL for any funeral home whose GPL did not explicitly state that the crematory fee is included in the published price.
** “A casket is never required for cremation. However, most crematories do require that the body be enclosed in a rigid, combustible container often referred to as an alternative container. Customers can make or furnish their own suitable container.” (from


Immediate burial is “an itemized 'package' which funeral homes are required to offer. The FTC assumes that Immediate Burial includes the basic services fee (for basic mortuary staff services and overhead); removal of remains from the local place of death; and transportation to a local cemetery. The cost of a minimum casket supplied by the funeral home may be included or listed separately. Consumers must be allowed to supply their own casket and may not be charged a handling fee if they do so. An Immediate Burial is without viewing, visitation, or ceremony with the body present -- except that a graveside service is permitted (though funeral homes differ in their policy regarding inclusion of a graveside service in the package cost of Immediate Burial, so be sure to check).” - from website of FCA of Maryland

Comparing Immediate Burial Prices in Eastern MA
(casket and grave liner are additional)

$1000 or less = 6% of funeral homes

$1400-$1700 = 16% of funeral homes

$1701-$2000 = 38% of funeral homes

$2700 - $3000 = 28% of funeral homes

$3400 - $3695 = 9% of funeral homes

$4510 = 3% of funeral homes


Caskets can be purchased from a funeral home or other provider, or made at home. The funeral home may NOT charge a “handling fee” if you choose to bring in a casket from another supplier. According to law, there are no requirements regarding what kind of caskets can be used. A cardboard box or even a burial cloth should be sufficient, unless the cemetery has its own policies. There is no legal, environmental, or public health benefit to any kind of “protective” seal or other device on a casket.

Comparing Casket Prices in Eastern MA

Prices for lowest-cost casket

Prices for funeral home's highest-cost casket

$100 or less* = 9% of funeral homes

The range between low and high can be thousands of dollars. In the 2011 survey, the high price ranged from $3180 to $40,000!!! Additionally, many funeral homes don't put their cheapest casket in the showroom. A simple cardboard casket or pine box is sufficient but funeral homes may keep these options hidden from view. When shopping, be assertive about how much or how little you want to spend. They should have a cardboard casket option for around $100. If not, you can purchase one cheaply from another supplier. Cardboard caskets can also be decorated by family and friends.

$101-$150 = 11% of funeral homes

$275-$400 = 17% of funeral homes

$425-$600 = 17% of funeral homes

$650-$700 = 23% of funeral homes

$1195 = 6% of funeral homes


Many cemeteries require that caskets be buried inside of another box, known as a grave liner or burial vault, usually made of concrete or lightweight fiberglass materials. While no state law requires grave liners, many cemeteries require them because grave liners prevent the ground from sinking as the casket deteriorates over time. And, because many cemeteries use industrial equipment to dig graves, the graveliner also prevents the machines from disturbing the remains of one grave while uncovering another. Grave liners can be purchased from the funeral home or the cemetery. Funeral homes are required to publish the price range for the grave liners they sell, identifying the lowest and highest priced options. Among our survey respondents, the lowest listed price is $150; the highest is $13995.


Embalming is NOT required by law in the state of Massachusetts. Many funeral homes recommend embalming or assume that customers will want embalming. Some have a policy of requiring embalming if there is to be an open casket at the viewing. Such a requirement is a business policy and not a legal requirement. Refrigeration or ice packs are another alternative to preserving the body for several days before final disposition. If you are caring for the body at home or outside a funeral home, there are simple ways to keep the body cool and delay decomposition. To learn about funeral homes' attitudes toward embalming and refrigeration, we asked the following questions on the 2011 survey.

1. Does your funeral home allow for a viewing without embalming?

  • 63% said YES
  • 22% said YES, FOR FAMILY ONLY
  • 13% said NO

2. Do you provide refrigeration facilities?

  • 33% said YES
  • 67% said NO

For more information about what happens when a body is embalmed, what embalming does, and why alternative methods also provide temporary preservation of the body, visit the Caring for Your Own Dead page of our website – or go to the national FCA website,


The basic services fee should appear as the first item on a GPL. The fee is a baseline fee for overhead and general services, charged in addition to specific goods and services. The fee does not apply to  immediate burial, direct cremation, or using a funeral home for limited services such as filing paperwork and transporting a body. Because these packages and services do not require as much use of staff and facilities, only a small portion of the basic services fee applies to these services, and it should be included in the listed price for immediate burial, direct cremation, filing of paperwork, and transporting the body. The basic services fee usually covers the following services: conducting the arrangements conference; planning the funeral; consulting with family and clergy; sheltering the body; preparing and filing necessary notices; obtaining necesasry authorizations and permits; coordinating with the cemetery/crematory, or other third parties; staff assistance and supervision prior to and after the funeral. The fee may also include overhead costs such as building maintenance. Each funeral home will vary, however, on what is and is not included in this fee.

Basic Services Fee

$1250-$1700 = 22% of funeral homes

$1701-$2000 = 35% of funeral homes

$2001=$2500 = 24% of funeral homes

$2750-$3100 = 16% of funeral homes

$3500 – above = 3% of funeral homes


[last updated 2011-09-25]


Protecting a consumer's right to choose a dignified, meaningful, affordable funeral