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.
- Know your options. You may choose to have a “traditional” funeral using a funeral home for everything; or have family and friends take responsibility for all of the arrangements; or anything in between.
- 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, 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 locate your plans when the time comes.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Your body can be donated to a medical school to be used for teaching and research. The study of the human body is a key component of medical and dental education. As an added benefit, by donating your body to science you will receive free cremation.
Any person of sound mind who is over 18 years of age can register to donate their body (M.G.L. Ch.113 §7-14). There is no upper age limit for those who wish to donate.
You will need to make arrangements before your death. Your family cannot set up a donation of your body.
Whole-body donation is not compatible with organ donation.
In Massachusetts, donors must fill out an Instrument of Anatomical Gift (links are available on each school’s website — see below). This legal form explains your rights and what happens to your body after donation. The form must be signed by two witnesses, and then you can send it to the facility where you want to donate your body.
Once the form is completed, your loved ones and legal assignees cannot revoke that decision after your death, but you have the right to revoke the decision anytime before your death.
At the time of the donor’s death, the person responsible for making final arrangements should call the designated facility as soon as possible to determine if it will accept the donation. If accepted, the facility will provide free transportation. If the death occurs in a hospital, the hospital can assist with this process. The remains must usually be received within 24 hours of death unless there is a specific exemption provided by the facility. The facility will embalm the body.
Bodies may be turned down for reasons such as: the facility already has enough bodies; cases where the body suffered excessive trauma, had an infectious disease, or been autopsied. It would be wise to make alternative arrangements for cremation or burial, just in case.
Policies for dealing with the body differ; check with each institution regarding their procedures.
Medical schools in eastern Massachusetts accepting whole-body donations:
When studies are complete — within a period of two years — the body will be cremated. If you donate your body to Harvard, Tufts, or UMass, you can opt to have your ashes interred at Pine Hill Cemetery in Tewksbury at the facility’s expense. The ashes could also be returned to your loved ones.
Some for-profit institutions also accept body donations. The remains can be used anywhere in the world and the ashes may not be returned.
No. Many funeral directors encourage families to choose embalming if there is going to be a viewing of the body, but embalming is very rarely mandated by law. If you do not want embalming and you do want a viewing, ask the funeral home if they provide refrigeration. Alternatively you can spend time with the newly deceased and invite others to join you before calling the funeral home to take the body away or you can choose Caring for Your Own Dead.
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.
The funeral services profession provides services for the deceased and their families. Members of this profession prepare the bodies of the deceased through embalming, arrange for crematory services and provide services of assistance for family members of the deceased. The Massachusetts State Board of Registration of Embalming and Funeral Directing oversees the registration of these professionals and their apprentices and assistants. The Board also inspects the facilities of registered embalmers and funeral directors.
The Federal Trade Commission has a Funeral Rule requiring that all funeral homes provide a general price list (GPL) if you come in person. They must give you individual prices by phone. The national Funeral Consumers Alliance is working now to expand the Funeral Rule to require funeral homes to put their prices online, as well.
If you have serious difficulties with a funeral home, you may file a complaint with the Massachusetts Board of Embalming and Funeral Directing. Consumer concerns regarding board licensees and registrants are handled by the Office of Investigations. You may submit your complaint online or by US mail.
Please also let us know, as we provide information to others in your area. We may be able to connect you with a volunteer to assist you with mediating your complaint.