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What Does a Funeral Director Do

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Funeral Home Director?

Funeral directors, also known as morticians and undertakers (though those terms are quickly becoming obsolete in our modern age) have an intriguing profession. Technically speaking, their duties are relatively easy to accomplish for anyone who has a sense of organization and communication. But the difficult emotional circumstances surrounding the services they provide require a level of compassion and psychological skill that are very unique to the professional world. The people, accordingly, are often maligned and resented by those who do not understand what it is, exactly, that they do.

While it is true that, just as in any profession, there are a few “bad apples” among funeral directors, people for whom compassion is just a facade and greed, aka salesmanship, is their true motivation. But not all funeral directors have such a spiritual handicap. Many - possibly most - are quite sincere in their efforts to offer their clients peace and comfort in their time of grief and emotional need.

The rest of this article is, basically, a clinical listing of what funeral directors are expected and required to do on the job. But readers should keep in mind that, in the midst of this discussion of a funeral director's job description, is something that remains, technically, unsaid: funeral directors are also counselors. They must practice the gifts of compassion and friendship perhaps more carefully than even those who are trained, officially, to be counselors. They even become advisers during a difficult time in life on what is needed for a funeral service and guidance on what to purchase.

Main Duties of a Funeral Director

Funeral directors oversee much more than many people might assume. First, they are responsible for knowing and following strict laws that related to a customer’s very decision to hire them. Because of past abuses by those in the “death care” industry, funeral directors are required by federal law to be very up front – from their very first encounter with a potential client – about what services they provide and what their charges will be. They are required to present all who inquire about their services with a “General Price List” that discloses what they are set up to do for a client and the prices they will ask. Creating, presenting, and adhering to this price list is a big part of a funeral director's job. This requires much knowledge of the death care industry and, specifically, current knowledge of laws and other issues that are always changing. Much of a funeral director's job, then, entails simply keeping up with the news of his profession and applying any changes to how he or she does the job.

Aside from that, funeral directors must make sure they carry out the duties describe on the price list to the customer's complete satisfaction. This include arranging transportation for a body and coordinating plans with crematories, embalmers, pastors, cemetery staff, family members and the various others who will be involved with preparing a body or conducting the funeral ceremony.

Funeral directors must also assure that all legal paperwork is completed in an organized and timely fashion. He must be sure laws regarding, say, coroner notification of a death, are followed precisely, and – in the case of deaths involving suspicious circumstances – he may even be required to cooperate a great deal with detectives and prosecutors. (And, of course, sometimes this may create conflict for a family, so, again, a funeral director must always pay close attention to his or her legal duties on the job.)

And, of course, funeral directors must arrange for publicity about a funeral. In today's age of modern technology - when not everyone in a city can be counted upon to read the obituaries daily - this means much more than a call to the local cub reporter manning the “obit” desk. Funeral directors today must be well acquainted with all forms of social media and even smart phone technology. And, along with that, comes keeping up with the various rules of communication etiquette that seem to be constantly changing in today's world. Is it wise to stay in touch with clients via text message, for example. Some might find that an insensitive habit, but others may find it quite helpful. Funeral directors must know enough to be able to make such judgments, flexibly, depending upon a client's own comfort and desires.

And that's just the start. Entire books have been written about what a funeral director does on the job. We hope this section has been helpful, as a summary.

Funeral Director Training

In most of the United States, funeral directors are not formally required to have a college degree or certificate, though some universities do offer relevant degrees in “mortuary science” or some similar topic. Funeral directors are, however, required to be licensed in the state where they will practice. Licensing will, in some cases, require a certain number of classroom training hours, but, again, a full degree is not typically required. And the licenses will almost always require that a funeral director pass a test. To assure compliance with all state requirements, those interested in becoming a funeral director can usually find a program available through a “vocational” school that will be of great assistance (even if it is not a requirement). Many of these programs can be completed mostly (or entirely) via the internet, and funeral homes will sometimes pay for their employees to take the courses.

Who Oversees Funeral Directors

Each state in the United States has a special agency devoted to regulating funeral homes and funeral directors. In many cases this is a standalone agency with a leader who reports directly, say, to the governor. But in other cases the agency is a branch of some other. No matter the case, funeral directors and their clients alike can expect this government office to be a source of intervention when disputes arise, and clients can expect that the office will help keep corruption and incompetence at bay in their time of need. Generally speaking, funeral directors are subject to at least some level of public scrutiny by the state agency, and consumers would do well to check for public documents related to their funeral director before making a decision to hire him or her.

At the federal level, no one officially regulates or licenses funeral directors, but the Federal Funeral Rule - which is the legal source of the General Price List requirement mentioned above - is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Complaints about a funeral director's adherence to that policy should be directed to the FTC.

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