Q: I am experiencing an increase in families requesting direct cremations. It is starting to take more and more time for my staff to meet with these families and prepare the deceased for identification. Can I charge a fee for preparing the remains for identification so that I can recover some of these costs?
A: No. And I will follow that with another “no” just to make sure we all understand. There are two reasons for this response: the Federal Trade Commission and potential liability.
Federal Trade Commission. As for the first reason, the FTC published an opinion letter in October 1997 which briefly stated that charging a fee for “required identification viewing” probably violates the Funeral Rule. This is because the Funeral Rule states that the only permissible non-declinable fees are your basic services fee and in some cases funeral goods and services required (such as a cremation container by a crematory or a grave liner by a cemetery). Therefore, since no laws require identification, the FTC would consider any fee for identification as a forced fee.
Liability. The second reason, potential liability, is even more important. For example, let’s imagine that a family comes to your establishment and says they want a direct cremation. If you were to say, "Well, direct cremation costs $xxx, but in addition you will have to pay $xxx for the preparation of the deceased to identify them," the family might then say, "No that’s OK. We don’t want to pay the extra fee, so we will just skip the identification."
You, the provider, do not want that to be an option. Every family must identify the deceased, and you must take the steps necessary to ensure that happens. If you do not have consistent and uniform identification procedures, your liability will escalate.
I will suggest that you explain to families who choose cremation the difference between identification and other options such as a private final viewing.
The identification is just that: identification. It is for one person, or a limited number of people, and lasts just a few minutes. If the family wants something more extensive, offer them other options such as a private viewing, a brief farewell option or perhaps limited chapel time for immediate family. You can offer each of these options for a fee, but they are to be offered in addition to the non-fee identification.
By understanding the identification process and explaining it to your families, you can stay within FTC and liability guidelines and offer great services to families who choose cremation.