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. Choosing the right funeral director is an important decision.

This information about funeral arrangements is to 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.

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 role and service of a funeral director

Funeral directors help console and guide the bereaved. They are often organising a funeral with distressed people who may have no expectations of a funeral and its arrangements. It’s important, as much as possible, for everyone to be informed about the nature and level of service they’ll receive when using a funeral director.

The completion of a will or funeral directive will help you and the funeral director.

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.

Price transparency and facilities

Funeral costs in Australia vary widely, depending on how simple or elaborate they are. 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 everyone’s individual financial circumstances.  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.

Remember that although the funeral director 'directs' the funeral, you make the final decisions.

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'. 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:

  • obtaining a standard death certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages if requested by the consumer
  • 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 8am and 5pm on a weekday
  • transporting the body to any of the following places as required where no individual journey is further than 30 kilometres:
    • the premises of a supplier of funeral goods and services
    • a mortuary
    • the place at which the body is to be buried or cremated;
  • storage of the body at a mortuary or holding room
  • preparation at a mortuary for burial or cremation of the body, not including preparation for the viewing or embalming of the body
  • supply of the least expensive coffin that the supplier of funeral goods or services has available
  • collection of certificates or permits provided by a medical practitioner in relation to the body
  • burial or cremation of the body.

The funeral director must give you the ‘basic funeral notice’ before they make funeral arrangements with you. You may be asked to sign the 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.

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 with the funeral director.

Money to pay for a funeral could 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.

Final statement and payment

All funeral directors must give you an itemised final invoice of the goods and services and their costs, before you make the final payment. It’s particularly important to be aware of any terms or conditions in the contract that relate to payment. Also, whoever orders the funeral becomes liable for the funeral costs, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.

Funeral insurance

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

Complaints received by Fair Trading about funeral insurance are mostly for 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

Go to the MoneySmart section of the ASIC website for a copy of the factsheet.

Donations at funerals

If you’re concerned with excessive spending on wreaths and floral tributes you could organise a collection for a named charity or other deserving cause by stating "family flowers only" or "no flowers by request – donation to. . .”

Ownership of firms

Some of the traditional 'family firm' funeral directors have been purchased by much larger companies. When this happens, they might continue to trade under the old name but offer a different range of services. They also do not need to disclose this information on shop signs or letterheads. Never be afraid to ask about ownership if it is an issue for you.

If things go wrong

The Australian Consumer Law protects you  and makes sure suppliers provide their best service. When this is not done, you have a right to a remedy like 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, contact the association to find out your options. 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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