Caskets are one of the most significant (and difficult) purchases you can make. They are big ticket items with prices and features that vary widely. Fortunately, there are many beautiful selections in every price range.
When buying a casket, it is not always easy to tell exactly what you are paying for. To make matters worse, you may be making this significant purchase at a time when you are extremely vulnerable, emotions are high, and you are under time constraints.
Your best defense against over spending is to shop in advance. Even when time is short, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that come with making such a major purchase during a difficult and emotional time by learning as much as you can before you start shopping. Following a few basic steps will help the selection process go smoothly and ensure that you get the casket that suits your needs without unnecessary burden on your finances.
How to Buy A Casket
Set a Budget
Caskets can cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. The best way to avoid over spending it is to have a price range in mind before you start shopping. If you are buying from a funeral home, the funeral director is required to show you a price list before showing you the actual caskets. This will help you look at just those selections that are in the range you have in mind. Funeral homes are also required to accept caskets purchased from other providers.
Think about your loved one’s wishes
If you are shopping for a loved one who has left instructions on the type of casket they would prefer then you will that information to guide you. Often this is not the case. Thinking about the personality and tastes of the person will help you narrow down your choices on casket material, linings, and trim. If you are buying for yourself, then think about what is important to you when it comes to how you would like to be memorialized.
Don’t Shop Alone
When you start to shop, take along a friend or family member with whom you are compatible. Keep in mind that it is the job of the funeral home to try to sell you their products. Chances are you are working with an experienced, well trained sales professional. That is not to say that they are trying to trick or deceive you. In fact, most funeral professionals are compassionate people who have your best interests at heart. However, they are also business people and their job is to make money. For example, most funeral homes will show you the more expensive models first. These are the models that will be on display. In fact, you may have to request to see the lower priced models. Having someone with you can help make it easier to request access to more information. Your companion may also think of things that you don’t. It is always helpful to be able to talk over the pros and cons of particular models and features.
Take Your Time
If you find yourself being overwhelmed, step back and take a deep breath. Leave the show room and clear your mind. Sometimes just taking a break can make all the difference.
Check Alternate Providers
Remember that you don’t have to buy the casket from the funeral home. There are many options these days. Independent retailers, big box stores such as Costco and Walmart, and online vendors all offer a wide selection of caskets and accessories. Funeral homes are required to accept these products without charging you an extra fee. You do need to be aware of delivery charges but many people find that even with the delivery fees the cost when buying from outside the funeral home can be cheaper.
Know Your Rights
As a buyer, you do have rights. Rules and regulations regarding sales of funeral products can vary by state but there are also Federal laws that are designed to prevent you from being pressured into buying items you don’t want. The Funeral Rule, enforced by the FTC, requires that you be provided with transparent pricing. To learn more about your rights visit our Consumer Protection page.
Reputable provider will not pressure you or make you feel uncomfortable when asking questions. If for any reason you feel that you are being taken advantage of, pressured into buying particular items, or not being provided with accurate information, leave and look for another provider.
Types of Caskets
The material used in constructing the casket is a critical component in the cost. Wood and metal are the most commonly used materials. Hardwoods, such as mahogany and walnut, while beautiful, are among the most expensive. More commonly found woods such as pine and poplar are generally less expensive. Among the metals, bronze is typically the most expensive, followed by copper. Stainless steel is usually the most economical choice. In addition to traditional wood and metal, alternative choices such as wood covered in cloth and wood veneers are available. New options such as fiberglass and plastic are starting to become more widely available.
Metal caskets are typically are more durable than those made of wood. The term “protective” is sometimes used in the merchandising of metal caskets.
Metal caskets typically use a rubber gasket to seal the casket to help prevent outside elements from entering. The gasket does not slow down the decomposition process. You may be able to reduce the cost of the casket by eliminating the gasket or choosing a casket that does not require a gasket. Wooden caskets do not use a gasket.
Bronze and copper are the most durable metals and are non-rusting. They will, over time, oxidize, but in general, are considered to be the most long lasing. Bronze and copper are measured by weight per square foot. Therefore, a 48 ounce copper casket is 50% heavier than a 32 ounce model. Bronze and copper caskets are generally the most expensive.
Stainless and carbon steel are less expensive and come in different gauges of thickness, usually 16- 18- and 20-gauge. The smaller number is thicker and heavier, therefore, 16-gauge steel is thicker than 20-gauge.
Hardwood caskets are made of solid wood, such as mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, oak, pecan, poplar and pine. Pricing is much like that of solid wood furniture. Harder woods, such as mahogany, walnut, and cherry are at the high end. Pine, poplar, and willow are at the low end. Mid-range materials include oak, birch, and maple.
A less expensive alternative to solid hardwood is wood veneer. Cloth-covered fiber board or pressed wood are the least expensive caskets.
For some people, the size of the casket can be a concern. The length is rarely an issue but width can be. A standard casket is generally 84 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 23 inches tall. These sizes can vary depending on the model so be sure to ask for specific dimensions. For the average sized person this is generally plenty of space. If the deceased is somewhat larger than average, you may need to look at an “oversized” casket. These larger caskets come in a variety of width with 31 inches being common.
CHOOSING CASKET FEATURES
Caskets come in two basic lid types, half couch and full couch. Half Couch refers to a two-piece lid of equal lengths. Typically only one lid piece is opened for viewings to reveal the deceased from the waist up. Half couch is the most commonly used lid style. Full Couch refers to a one-piece lid extending the length of the casket.
Casket Lining Materials
You have a variety of choices when it comes to the interior of the casket. The most popular choices are satin, velvet, and crepe but you may also choose from velour, or linen. Velvet is among the most expensive fabric choices, crepe among the most economical.
The interior fabric can be installed in a variety of ways. Among the most common choices are ruffled, tufted, or tailored. You can select almost any color. There are also specialty interiors available. If you are interested in having a casket that reflects the deceased’s love for a particular sports team, hobby, or rock group, you can do that. Of course, the greater the customization, the higher the cost.
Special Casket Features
Memory drawers are a “hidden” compartment in the lid of the casket. It usually looks like a small drawer that can be used to place small personal items to accompany the deceased. Items left in the drawer after funeral services will be buried with your loved one.
Other Casket Options
Caskets are available in a variety of shapes such as square or rounded corners and contoured sides. With certain models, you can choose “casket corners” that attach to the corners of the casket. Casket corners are a thoughtful way reflect the life of the person, whether it is a symbol of a favorite hobby like golfing or fishing, or a symbol of public service such as a firefighter.
There are a variety of embroidered head panels and other customization available. Be sure to keep your budget in mind since many options will add to the cost of your casket. Casket lid inserts or cap panels, are a way to make the casket unique to the person. Personalized designs, such as Military style, are readily available. Designs can be custom ordered and produced within a few days time.
Choosing a Casket Provider
There are three basic choices when it comes to purchasing a casket: a funeral home, a casket retailer, and an online provider. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Which one is right for you will depend on your personal preferences and the resources available in your area.
- FUNERAL HOMES: The most convenient way to buy a casket is through the funeral home that is handling your arrangements. When buying from a funeral home you are protected by something called The Funeral Rule. This law requires that you are provided with a price list prior to seeing sample caskets. This means that you are entitled to look at only those products that fit your budget. To learn more about how casket buyers are protected under The Funeral Rule click here.
- THIRD-PARTY RETAILERS: By law, funeral providers must accept caskets from third-party retailers. If you have a casket showroom in your area you are entitled to purchase your casket through this company. These sellers do not fall under The Funeral Rule.
- ONLINE: In recent years it has become easier than ever to purchase caskets from online retailers. Big box stores such as Costco and WalMart now sell caskets online and there are dozens of national online casket providers. You do need to be aware that you’ll be required to pay a delivery fee but many people find that buying online saves considerable cost and reduces stress. To learn more about buying a casket online click here.
Caskets for Cremation
If you are buying a casket for cremation, most of the above applies. However, the casket must be fully combustible, rigid, leak-proof, and covered. You also have the option of purchasing what is called an alternative container. Alternative containers are similar in shape to a casket but they are much simpler in design. They may be made of a variety of materials including unfinished wood, cardboard, fiberboard, or composition materials.
Crematories normally require that remains be enclosed in a fully combustible, rigid, leak-proof, covered container. The purpose of the container is to protect the dignity of the deceased and ensure the safety of the operator who will be working at the cremation chamber. This container does not have to be a casket but it will likely be the same one that is used to transport the body to the crematory.
Cremation caskets are similar in design to traditional caskets but they meet the criteria necessary for processing in the cremation chamber. That means fully combustible with no non-combusting metal. There are many beautiful and practical choices available at a reasonable cost. In addition to cremation caskets, you may also choose from a variety of alternative containers. Like caskets, alternative containers encase the body. These can be made from a variety of materials such as unfinished wood, cardboard, fiberboard, or composition materials. The alternative container may or may not have an outside covering. The key criterion is that the container be rigid enough to be safe for the operator.
Many people who choose indirect cremation (a cremation where a funeral service is held ahead of time) select a cremation casket that can be used for both the service and for the cremation. It is also possible to rent a ceremonial casket for use during services and purchase an alternative container for the actual cremation.
If you are purchasing through the funeral home, The Funeral Rule will apply. That means that you must be provided with a price list before you take a look at the options available. If you order online or through a casket retailer, The Funeral Rule is not a factor. You should also note that you are not required under any circumstances to purchase a casket for cremation. You have the right to select an unfinished wood box or alternate container.