A Guide to Buying a Casket














 
 

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A Guide to Buying a Casket

The purchase of a casket or coffin is an integral aspect of making funeral arrangements. It is also typically the single, largest purchase related to a funeral.  Unfortunately most people are thrust into making a decision about buying a casket when they are feeling extremely emotional, and this means their buying decisions are not necessarily the most rational.  A casket used to cost a minimum of around $2,500 - $3,000 to purchase but today you can buy a standard metal casket for around $995.

We should also point out that there is no state law (in any state) that stipulates that a casket must be used for a burial.  State law for cremation generally states that a “suitable, rigid, combustible” container must be used for cremation.

What is the difference between a ‘casket’ and a ‘coffin’?

Although the terms casket and coffin can be used interchangeably, generally the term casket is used more often in the U.S., whereas the term coffin is employed more commonly outside of the U.S.  The term coffin originates from around the 16th century and is more commonly associated with a wooden shaped box that has six or eight sides.  The term casket came into use some time mid-19th century and refers to a four-sided rectangular box that generally has a split lid for viewing purposes.

Do I have to buy a casket from a funeral home?

The simple answer is no in the majority of states.  Until a few years ago funeral caskets had only been sold through Funeral Homes, however, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ‘Funeral Rule’ and the rise of e-commerce changed this.  Funeral homes used to mark up caskets at a significant percentage, sometimes as much as 500%.  Over the last few years, many new companies have started up and are offering funeral caskets over the Internet and with showrooms in local areas.  The FTC’s ‘Funeral Rule’ states that funeral homes must use a funeral casket that you have bought from elsewhere and says that the funeral home cannot charge you extra money for this. 

So what are my options for buying a casket?

You now have several options available to you.  We have outlined below what these options are.
The Funeral Home

You can, of course, select a casket from your funeral home.  Do bear in mind that the funeral home MUST give you a Casket Price List (CPL) before showing you any caskets.  It is not uncommon for a funeral home to show you three caskets, a bottom, mid and top range, anticipating that you will opt for the mid-range.  This is a little bit of consumer psychology!  We should also advise you that it has been known for funeral sales personnel to use what are known as “up selling” tactics.  This can be where they will use psychological tactics to kind of influence you to purchase a more expensive casket or ancillary extras.  Not all funeral homes do this, but forewarned IS forearmed!

I should also mention here that due to the competition on casket sales now, and declining profits for funeral homes, more funeral homes are ‘price-matching’ high street or online casket prices.  If you can find a cheaper price for the casket your funeral home is offering elsewhere, it may well be worth approaching them to see if they will offer you a better price.

A High Street Casket Retailer

Remarkably, there are now a number of independent high street casket retailers.  These offer a casket showroom, similar to a funeral home, but of course they are only retailing caskets.  Most of these companies offer caskets at a significant saving.  In some states there is a powerful local lobby that overrides the FTC’s funeral rule, and only licensed funeral establishments can sell caskets.

Of course, you can only use a high street casket retailer if there is one near enough to you, and they either have stock of the casket you require, or can order the casket required in time for the funeral.

Online Casket Retailers

The Internet has changed many consumer markets, and the casket marketplace is no different.  There are several online casket retailers, many of which deliver next day across the United States.  As with any online purchase, you should ensure that you are dealing with a trustworthy and reputable company, and that you have some assurances about after-sales service.  The last thing you want is to order a casket online and have problems with delivery.  However, many people are ordering caskets online every day because the amount of money they can save on the overall cost of a funeral is significant. 

For a full selection of casket available online "click here"

It did create some controversy within the industry when retail giants Costco and Walmart started to sell caskets online.  Costco Wholesale offer a limited selection of caskets supplied through Universal Casket Company, and offer standard 3-day delivery or expedited shipping, with prices starting at $1,148.99.  Similarly, Walmart offer an online range of caskets starting at $995.00.

What types of caskets are there?

The two main types of caskets sold for traditional funeral purposes are metal or wood.  There are ‘green’ caskets or coffins made from a number of other natural products, and you can visit our article on Green Caskets to find out more.


Different Caskets Types Available

Metal Caskets

Metal Caskets can be made of bronze, copper or stainless steel construction.  Bronze and copper constructed caskets are priced by weight per square foot.  Stainless steel Caskets are categorized by their thickness (gauge). 

Wooden Caskets

Caskets can also be constructed from such hardwoods as ash, maple, elm, poplar and cottonwood.  Many of these wooden Caskets are hand sculpted and meticulously polished to a high gloss or satin finish, which adds greatly to the visual appeal of the object. 

The terms “protected”, “gasketed” or “sealed” are often used to make the purchaser believe that adding these extras to the casket will keep the body preserved for a longer period of time.  All that can be expected from these additions is to keep water out of the casket to prevent rust.  An important factor of which you should be aware is the fact that no casket, no matter how expensive, will preserve the body forever.  The external fittings of a casket or coffin are also sometimes referred to as “coffin furniture’, and these can sometimes be quite ornate, with brass handles and plaques.  Both these fittings and additional ‘trimmings’ for the inside of the casket can often be offered as additional extras. All that these extra additions will do is drive up the price of the casket.  It is also important to remember that the expense of the casket does nothing to prove your love and respect for the deceased.

Fiberglass caskets

There are a number of fiberglass caskets on the market.  Fiberglass caskets are extremely light and are most commonly used for infant burials.  There is a misconception that fiberglass caskets are of an inferior quality but this is not necessarily so.  They can be exceptionally strong, and come in a variety of finishes, including faux wood and faux marble.

Caskets/coffins for Jewish funerals

In the Jewish faith a burial container or coffin should be as simple and natural as possible, with no metal.  For this reason basic pine coffins are generally used, and they should contain no ornate fittings or fancy handles.  Usually the handles are made so that they can be removed before burial, ensuring that the deceased can be buried in as simple a box as possible.

Oversize caskets

A standard casket width measures 24 – 27 inches.  As the obesity epidemic sweeps the U.S. there is an increasing demand for oversize caskets.  Oversize caskets are generally wider and can be between 28 and 31 inches wide. Goliath Caskets is a specialized oversize casket manufacturer, they make bespoke caskets up to 51 inches wide.  With the increasing demand, there are more oversize caskets now coming to the marketplace.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) caskets or coffins

Of course, you can also consider constructing your own burial container or coffin.  You do not necessarily have to be a master woodworker, there are even simple DIY kits available today.  Building your own coffin can save you considerably on the cost of purchasing one.  It can also make it very personal, not only the effort put into the construction, but you can hand decorate a coffin however you choose.  This is particularly common with home burials.

How much does a casket cost?

The prices of caskets vary greatly based upon their composition and hardware. What should you know before making a qualified decision?   The cost of a casket may vary from a minimal amount for a fiberboard item to many thousands of dollars for a more soundly constructed casket.  Wooden Caskets can be constructed from a variety of woods such as pine, walnut, cherry, mahogany or oak.  Pine is usually the least expensive but rarely on display in funeral homes for this reason.

A standard 18-gauge steel casket can be purchased retail for around $995.00.  A copper or bronze casket is likely to cost in the region of $3,000.  You can pay thousands of dollars for a casket if you so choose.  Batesville’s top of the range casket named ‘Promethean’ retails at around $30,000.

What about cremation caskets?

For those who opt for cremation, the cost of a casket need not be a consideration as the remains can be placed in a simple cardboard, canvas, pressboard or inexpensive, unfinished wooden box at a nominal cost.   By law all that is required for a cremation is a “rigid, combustible container”.  If you are holding a service prior to the cremation and wish to have the deceased present, you can often rent a casket for the purpose of the service.  You may also choose to purchase a more expensive cremation casket if you wish.

Can I rent a casket?

Yes, as I have just mentioned above, you can rent a casket for the purposes of a service.  The deceased can later be transferred to the burial or cremation container.  Rental caskets are simply a standard casket that the funeral home offers to accommodate viewings and services.  The funeral home will charge you a nominal fee for renting the casket.  This is to cover cleaning and maintenance of the rental casket.

Coffin covers

In the U.K. a funeral director came up with an ingenious idea to create a ‘coffin cover’.  An internal biodegradable cardboard box is concealed within the ‘coffin cover’, which is a standard-looking ornate wooden coffin that opens at one end to slide the inner container in.  This means that the outer coffin cover can be re-used by the funeral home, whilst the family only has to purchase the biodegradable container.

Who are the main casket manufacturers?

Batesville Services Inc – the brand name in caskets that many will recognize.  Batesville are the market leaders in terms of a reputation for quality caskets, and currently hold a 50% share of the U.S. casket market.  The company has been in operation for over a century and is based out of Batesville in Indiana.

Aurora Casket Company Inc – Aurora is another leading casket company, also based in Indiana, and they currently hold a 10% share of the U.S. casket market.

Universal Casket Co. – Universal Caskets is based in Michigan and is also the supplier for Costco.

Imported caskets - Today there is a growing market of imported caskets from China.  Yes, sadly, a casket, which looks just the same as an American-produced casket, can be imported all the way from China and retailed for less.  At the end of the day, price is the bottom-line that dictates most people’s shopping decisions today, and this has driven a market for imported caskets.

Understanding the ‘Funeral Rule’ & how this affects purchasing a casket

Before making a trip to a funeral home or casket showroom, you should be aware of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Funeral Rule.  Central to the Funeral Rule is the General Price List (GPL).  According to the Funeral Rule funeral directors are required to provide a copy of the GPL to anyone who makes a request in person for information about goods and/or services of the establishment.   This information is not merely shown to the individual in a bound folder in the office of the funeral home but a GPL copy must be given to the consumer to take home. 

Although the FTC Funeral Rule is federal law, there are a few states where the state licensing board for funeral directors has managed to still impose state law that dictates that third-party casket sellers cannot operate unless they are a licensed funeral home.  In Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia only a licensed funeral director can sell a casket.

A funeral home should not refuse to use a casket purchased elsewhere.  Nor are they allowed to add a “handling fee” if you order a casket on your own.  By Federal Law, you have the right to purchase your casket anywhere you choose.  However, it is possible that you will meet with resentment at the funeral home since they will be losing a large percentage of profit on this transaction.  .

Wherever you decide to purchase a funeral casket, try and think about what the funeral casket is for, it is to give the deceased a dignified means of being transported before a funeral service, be it a burial or a funeral cremation.  It is also important to note that no funeral casket can preserve the deceased body forever.  The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule forbids any claims that special extras with descriptions like "seals", "protective" and "gasketed" caskets can help to preserve the body, and they only tend to make the funeral casket cost more.

When members of a deceased person's family shop for funeral caskets, it is obviously a time of great emotion.  Someone near and dear to them has just passed away and there are many arrangements to be made.  They do not want to spend a great deal of money but they do want to bury their loved one in a funeral casket that they feel is appropriate and dignified.

Expert Author: Sara J. Marsden

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 5 years.

Related Articles:

Resources:

Casket
National Casket Retailer’s Association (NCRA), Ohio, (440) 942-8769

Casket Trivia

The word coffin comes from the Greek word ‘kophinos’, which means ‘basket’.

African culture is rich with a tradition of hand-carving elaborate caskets that they call “fantasy coffins”.  These coffins are made into shapes to represent something symbolic about the deceased.

Michael Jackson was buried in Batesville’s Promethean solid-bronze casket, which was plated with 14-karat gold and lined with blue velvet.  This casket cost $30,000.

Each year in the United States, so many steel caskets are buried that we could build the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lenin is laid out in state in a mausoleum in the Red Square in a glass casket.  His body is available for viewing from 10am to 10 pm but no photography is allowed.

The Bo people of Southern China do not bury their coffins but instead hang them vertically off the side of cliffs.

Last Revised:  01/03/2014
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