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Standard fact sheet.
Large print fact sheet.

Using a funeral director 

If you are the executor of a deceased person’s will, you generally have the legal authority to make their funeral arrangements. If there is no will, the next of kin or other family members or friends usually arrange the funeral as it may take some time before a court appoints an administrator of the estate.

Choosing the right funeral director is an important decision. NSW Fair Trading is able to give you general information about funeral arrangements but cannot directly recommend a particular funeral director. However, the information in this fact sheet will help you make an informed choice and answer some of your questions.

Researching services 

Recommendations from friends and family are often a good place to start but this should not replace your own research into what services each company offers and how much these services will cost.

Funeral directors can set up business without any specific training or qualifications and no licence is necessary. Some funeral directors are members of professional associations which may operate a Code of Conduct and a complaints handling procedure. The Funeral Directors’ Association of NSW, the Australian Funeral Directors’ Association NSW/ACT Division and the National Funeral Directors’ Association are examples. You should be able to obtain a copy of the Code of Conduct from the association if they operate under one.

You can obtain details of your local funeral directors from professional associations, telephone business directories and on-line.

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Obligations under the law 

Funeral directors are subject to:

  • public health, local government and occupational health and safety legislation
  • general fair trading law in the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 1987
  • the Funeral Information Standard in the Fair Trading Regulation 2012
  • the Funeral Funds Act 1979.

The Funeral Information Standard, part of the Fair Trading Regulation 2012, requires funeral directors to provide consumers with information about costs before entering into a funeral contract and before accepting final payment. Funeral directors must also provide information about low cost ‘basic’ funeral options if the funeral director ordinarily offers a basic funeral to consumers.

The Funeral Funds Act sets out standards for the conduct of funeral funds in NSW.  These standards ensure that money paid by consumers in advance for a funeral service is protected and that consumers are provided with up-front information about pre-paid funeral contracts.

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The role and service of a funeral director 

The role of the funeral director is not always well understood. Funeral directors help console and guide the bereaved.  However, they are often organising a funeral with distressed people who may have no expectations of a funeral and its arrangements.  Customer satisfaction, of the friends and family of the deceased, relies upon the meeting of philosophical and other complex needs. Therefore, it is important, as much as possible, for everyone to be informed about the nature and level of service they can expect to receive when using a funeral director. The completion of a will or funeral directive empowers the bereaved and can assist them in consulting with a funeral director at the critical time of a death.

After the executor or person arranging the funeral has contacted a funeral director, a decision needs to be made on the services required. Funeral directors usually provide the following services:

  • collects the body and makes preparations for it to be viewed if required
  • offers a choice of coffins, caskets and arranges for the deceased to be viewed, by appointment, at the funeral home
  • contacts the cemetery or crematorium and arranges the date and time of the funeral
  • ensures all forms are correctly completed and any necessary forms/certificates delivered to the cemetery/crematorium office.  Details will also be given about the form of service, music and audio-visual if required
  • pays the various fees involved, called disbursements, which include cemetery/ crematorium fees, minister's or celebrant’s fees etc
  • arranges floral tributes, newspaper notices and other matters if required;
  • provides a hearse and if required other vehicles (sedan, limousines) for family and friends
  • completes registration of death with Births Deaths and Marriages. May order certified copy of Death Certificate if required by client.

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Price transparency and facilities 

Funeral costs in Australia vary widely, depending on how simple or elaborate are the funeral arrangements. By law, all NSW funeral directors must provide you with the following information before entering into an agreement:

  • a basic funeral notice if they ordinarily offer a basic funeral
  • funeral goods and services to be supplied and the cost of each
  • disbursements for the burial or cremation and a reasonable estimate of the amount of each.

You need to make sure that GST is included so you know the full price.

Coffins and caskets can vary significantly in cost. Funeral directors usually offer a range to meet individual financial circumstances. Remember that although the funeral director 'directs' the funeral, you should have a complete choice of all materials. You may also be able to source coffins, caskets, floral tributes and memorials independently of your funeral director. Some funeral directors own or have arrangements with particular firms that supply floral tributes and memorials. Although this may be convenient, it may prevent you using independent suppliers. Make sure you discuss these issues with the firm concerned before completing any agreement.

The range of facilities available to you may influence your choice of funeral director, such as the availability of a Chapel. Funeral directors differ in the services they provide and their ability to meet your specific requirements.

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Basic funeral quotes 

If a funeral director offers the option of a `basic funeral´ they must give you a written quote called a `basic funeral notice´. This quote should itemise each of the basic funeral goods and services and their costs as well as the estimated costs of necessary disbursements. The funeral director must give it to you before they make funeral arrangements with you. You may be asked to sign the `basic funeral notice´ slip to show you have received it, even if you choose a different funeral.

Signing this slip does not mean you are committing to a funeral with this funeral director.

A basic funeral consists of a single service, conducted at the funeral director´s premises or the burial or cremation site and includes the following goods and services:

(a) obtaining a standard death certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages if requested by the consumer

(b) arranging and conducting  a funeral service, at either the premises of the supplier or at the place of burial or cremation of a body, between 8 am and 5 pm on a weekday

(c) transporting the body to any of the following places as required where no individual journey is further than 30 kilometres:

(i) the premises of a supplier of funeral goods and services

(ii) a mortuary

(iii) the place at which the body is to be buried or cremated;

(d) storage of the body at a mortuary or holding room

(e) preparation at a mortuary for burial or cremation of the body, not including preparation for the viewing or embalming of the body

(f) supply of the least expensive coffin that the supplier of funeral goods or services has available

(g) collection of certificates or permits provided by a medical practitioner in relation to the body

(h) burial or cremation of the body.

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Paying for the funeral 

Before you sign an agreement for a funeral, find out what money is available to help you pay the costs. You should discuss payment options and sources of funds with the funeral director.

Money to pay for a funeral may come from:

  • a funeral fund the deceased person may have paid into
  • the estate (assets of the deceased person, including any money) - check with the bank if they will allow money in the deceased person´s bank account to be used to pay for funeral expenses before probate is granted, when the rest of the estate can be accessed
  • a pre‑paid benefit or investment scheme, superannuation fund or life insurance
  • the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs for some returned service people (who may also be eligible for an official war grave), call 13 32 54
  • a health fund, trade union, pensioner association or other type of club that they belonged to
  • Centrelink - contact them on 13 23 00 to check your eligibility for bereavement assistance.

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Final statement and payment 

All funeral directors must give you an itemised final statement or invoice of the goods and services provided and their costs, before you make the final payment.

As with other marketplace transactions, when you arrange for a funeral director to supply funeral services, you are entering into a legally enforceable contract. It is particularly important to be aware of any terms or conditions in the contract that relate to payment.

Whoever orders the funeral becomes liable for the funeral costs, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.

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Funeral insurance 

Funeral insurance is regulated by the Commonwealth through the Life Insurance Act 1995 and Australian Securities and Investment Commission Act 2001. Funeral insurance policies fall under the jurisdiction of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

Complaints received by Fair Trading about funeral insurance mostly concern excessive premiums, inadequate disclosure of total costs and a loss of coverage resulting from missed payments. Regular payments are required for insurance so that if something goes wrong you can make a claim.

ASIC has produced a factsheet on insurance which points out that it is not a savings so:

  • you don’t get your money back;
  • if you stop paying, the policy ends and you don’t get a refund of the money you have paid so far;
  • over time, you may end up paying more that you will receive from any claim

For a copy of the factsheet, go to the MoneySmart section of the ASIC website

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Donations at funerals 

Some people are concerned with excessive expenditure on wreaths and floral tributes. An alternative to this is to organise a collection for a named charity or other deserving cause by stating "family flowers only" or "no flowers by request – donation to. . .”

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Ownership of firms 

Some of the traditional 'family firm' funeral directors have been purchased by much larger companies which will then continue to trade under the old name but may offer a different range of services. The new owners may not be disclosed on shop signs or letterheads. Never be afraid to ask about ownership if it is an issue for you.

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If things go wrong 

Under the Australian Consumer Law, suppliers automatically provide guarantees about the services they supply to consumers. This includes providing services with due care and skill and ensuring such services are fit for any specified purpose. Where consumer guarantees are not met, consumers have a right to a remedy which may include a refund or compensation.

If you have a problem with a funeral director, firstly try to resolve it directly with them.  If this is unsuccessful and the funeral director is a member of an association, the association may have a complaints resolution procedure which can assist. If this is also unsuccessful, contact Fair Trading on 13 32 20 or lodge a complaint online. Remember to keep all your paperwork and notes of everyone you speak to.

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