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Frequently Asked Questions
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What purpose does a funeral serve?

What do funeral directors do?

Are you required to have a funeral director bury the deceased?

How do you select a funeral director?

How can you personalize a funeral?

Why have a public viewing?

What is the purpose of embalming?

According to law, does a dead body have to be embalmed?

Isn't burial space becoming scarce?

Is it possible to have a traditional funeral if someone dies of AIDS?

Is cremation a substitution for a funeral?

What is the percentage of cremation in Iowa?

Is there an Iowa law that requires caskets to be placed in a vault for burial?

What is the average cost of a funeral in Iowa?

Has this cost increased significantly?

Why are funerals so expensive?

How are prices itemized for consumers who are selecting services and merchandise?

When do I find out how much the funeral will cost?

Is it right to make a profit from death?

Don't funeral directors mark caskets up tremendously, at least 400%?

What government agencies help defray final expenses?

Who pays for funerals for the indigent?

What should I do if the death occurs in the middle of the night or on the weekend?

When I call, will someone come right away?

What should I do if a death has occurred away from home?

If I have a complaint about the way I am served, whom should I contact?

 


 

What purpose does a funeral serve?

It is the customary way to recognize death and its finality. A funeral brings families and friends to a common place to express their grief for the death of a loved one, to offer support to others who are grieving, to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the deceased, and to prepare for life without a loved one.

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What do funeral directors do?

Funeral directors are caregivers and administrators. They make the arrangements for transportation of the body, complete all necessary paperwork, and implement the choices made by the family regarding the funeral and final disposition of the body.Funeral directors are listeners, advisers, and supporters. They have experience assisting the bereaved in coping with death. Funeral directors are trained to answer questions about grief, recognize when a person is having difficulty coping, and recommend sources of professional help. Funeral directors also link survivors with support groups at the funeral home or in the community.

For more information about the role of a funeral director, order a free brochure, "Do You Know What A Funeral Director Does For You?” from the Iowa Funeral Directors Association.

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Are you required to have a funeral director bury the deceased?

In most states, family members may bury their own dead, although regulations vary. However, most people find it very trying to be solely responsible for arranging the details and legal matters surrounding a death.

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How do you select a funeral director?

The best way is to know in advance who you would select and then visit the funeral home, talk with the funeral director, examine the facilities and selection room, ask about prices, and understand the way in which he or she will serve you. If the funeral director is a member of his or her professional association – the Iowa Funeral Directors Association – he or she has accepted an obligation to adhere to a fundamental code of ethics, a point in which you may weigh in his or her favor.

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How can you personalize a funeral?

A funeral celebrates a unique life. One way to personalize your own funeral service is by prearranging your funeral. Prearranging will allow you to choose a funeral service that has great personal meaning and will let your loved ones take comfort in celebrating your life in the same manner you do.

If you are making at-need arrangements for a loved one, discuss with your local funeral director how you would like your loved one remembered.

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Why have a public viewing?

Viewing is a part of many cultural and ethnic traditions. Many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is encouraged for children, as long as the process is explained and the activity is voluntary.

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What is the purpose of embalming?

Embalming sanitizes and preserves the body, retards the decomposition process, and enhances the appearance of a body disfigured by traumatic death or illness. Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, thus allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.

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According to law, does a dead body have to be embalmed?

No. Most states, however, require embalming when death was caused by reportable contagious disease, when remains are to be transported from one state to another by a common carrier, or if final disposition is not to be made within a prescribed number of hours. In Iowa, a body must be buried within 48 hours of the time of death if the body is not to be embalmed.

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Isn't burial space becoming scarce?

While it is true some metropolitan areas have limited available cemetery space, there is enough space set aside for the next 50 years without creating new cemeteries in most areas of the country. In addition, land available for new cemeteries is more than adequate, especially with the increase in entombment and multi-level grave burial.

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Is it possible to have a traditional funeral if someone dies of AIDS?

Yes. A person who dies of an AIDS-related illness is entitled to the same service options afforded to anyone else. If public viewing is consistent with local or personal customs, that option is encouraged. Touching the deceased’s face or hands is perfectly safe.

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Is cremation a substitution for a funeral?

Cremation is the second most common form of disposition in the United States, and the percentage of cremations to deaths has increased steadily during the last two decades. Cremation is selected for many reasons, including religious beliefs, ethnic customs, and cost. Many people are surprised to learn that cremation does not preclude a funeral with all of the traditional aspects of the ceremony. Visitation or viewing with a funeral ceremony and church or memorial service are options to be considered.

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What is the percentage of cremation in Iowa?

There were 27,696 deaths in Iowa in 2010, of which 8,555 were cremations, or 30.9%.

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Is there an Iowa law that requires caskets to be placed in a vault for burial?

No, however, most cemeteries require a burial vault.

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What is the average cost of a funeral in Iowa?

The average cost of a funeral service in Iowa is $11,566. This cost is comprised of:

  • $6,525 for professional services, which includes embalming, cosmetizing, visitation/viewing, having the funeral at the funeral home, transfer of remains to funeral home, hearse, service car/van, and casket
  • $718 for embalming
  • $1,500 for a vault, which is a requirement for burial in most Iowa cemeteries
  • $2,823 for cash advance items, which the funeral director assists the family in securing but is not a product or service obtainable at the funeral home. Examples:
    • Grave opening and closing ($500)
    • Minister fees ($131)
    • Flowers ($248)
    • Copies of death certificates ($40)
    • Obituary ($166)
    • Musicians ($79)
    • Sales tax collected for remittance to the Iowa Department of Revenue ($299)

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Has this cost increased significantly?

Funeral costs have increased no faster than the Consumer Price Index for other consumer items.

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Why are funerals so expensive?

When compared to other major life cycle events, like births and weddings, funerals are not expensive. On average, a wedding costs at least three times as much; but, because it is a happy event, wedding costs are rarely criticized. A funeral home is a 24-hour, labor-intensive business, with extensive facilities (viewing rooms, chapels, limousines, hearses, etc.); these expenses must be factored into the cost of a funeral. Moreover, the cost of a funeral includes not only merchandise, like caskets, but the services of a funeral director in making arrangements, filing appropriate forms, dealing with doctors, ministers, florists, newspapers and others, and seeing to all the necessary details.

Contrary to popular belief, funeral homes are largely family-owned with a modest profit margin. The average statistics below may be helpful in assessing the true economic picture of a funeral home:

  • 85% Family-owned
  • Firms in business average of 63 years
  • 167 average calls per year
  • Before tax profit 11.3%

(Source: 1995 National Funeral Directors Association's Survey of Funeral Home Operations)

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How are prices itemized for consumers who are selecting services and merchandise?

As a funeral service consumer, you are entitled to certain service and pricing information BEFORE funeral arrangements are made and goods or services are purchased. The Funeral Rule is the federal regulation enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)that entitles consumers to price disclosures before arrangements are completed.

Before you begin discussing funeral arrangements with your funeral director, you will receive a General Price List (GPL), which describes the funeral home’s services and prices. You will receive a Casket Price List (CPL), which describes the funeral home’s casket inventory and prices. You also will receive at Outer Container Price List (OPL), which describes the funeral home’s vault inventory and prices.

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When do I find out how much the funeral will cost?

After making arrangements, you should receive a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services, which describes the goods and services the funeral home is providing you and the cost of those goods and services, before you leave the funeral home. The funeral director must sign this statement. Where transportation charges are not known in cases of transfers between cities, an estimate should be provided. If a summary statement of your selection is not offered, request it at the time of arrangements.

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Is it right to make a profit from death?

Funeral directors look upon their profession as a service, but it is also a business. Like any business, funeral homes must make a profit to exist. As long as the profit is reasonable and the services rendered are necessary, complete, and satisfactory to the family, profit is legitimate.

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Don't funeral directors mark caskets up tremendously, at least 400%?

No. Talking about the mark up on caskets is really not the point. Most items – clothing, furniture, and jewelry – are marked up as much or more than caskets. The real question is whether the funeral director is making an excessive profit, and that answer is "no.” Profits run around 11.3% before taxes – not excessive by any standard.

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What government agencies help defray final expenses?

Usually, funeral directors will help gather the necessary information to apply for financial assistant from Social Security, Veterans Affairs, retirement funds, and others.

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Who pays for funerals for the indigent?

Other than the family, there are veteran, union, and other organizational benefits to pay for funerals, including, in certain instances, a lump sum death payment from Social Security. In most states, some form of public aid allowances is available from the state, county, or city or a combination. Most funeral directors are aware of the various benefits and know how to obtain them for the indigent. However, funeral directors often absorb costs above and beyond what is provided by agencies to ensure the deceased a respectable burial.

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What should I do if the death occurs in the middle of the night or on the weekend?

Call your funeral director of choice. Funeral directors are available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

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When I call, will someone come right away?

If you request immediate assistance, yes. If the family wishes to spend a short time with the deceased to say good-bye, that’s acceptable as well. The funeral director will come when your time is right.

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What should I do if a death has occurred away from home?

Call your hometown funeral director of choice. He or she will be willing to make the arrangements with a funeral director in the town where death has occurred and handle the many details which can arise when a death happens away from home. Let your local funeral director accomplish what you want, whether it means a funeral at the place of death or back home, or both.

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If I have a complaint about the way I am served, whom should I contact?

Funeral service is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the state licensing boards. First, you should discuss the problem with your funeral director. If you feel you were treated unfairly, he or she should be given the opportunity to rectify the problem.

If you feel you are still unsatisfied, you should contact Iowa’s state licensing board – the Board of Mortuary Science Examiners. This is the regulatory board that monitors funeral service in Iowa. You may contact:

Bureau of Professional Licensure
Lucas State Office Building, 5th Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0075
p 515.281.4287 / f 515.281.3121 / susan.reynolds@idph.iowa.gov

Another option is to contact the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program. FSCAP provides information, mediates disputes, provides arbitration, and maintains a consumer guarantee fund for reimbursement of services rendered. You may call: 800.662.7666.

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