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.
The Funeral Home
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
You now have several options
available to you. We have outlined below what these options are.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
National Casket Retailer’s
Association (NCRA), Ohio, (440) 942-8769
The word coffin
comes from the Greek word ‘kophinos’, which means ‘basket’.
Last Revised: 04/02/2013
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
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.