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The Facts about Caskets

 

A casket often is the single most expensive item you'll buy if you plan a "traditional," full-service funeral. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they're constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass, or plastic.

Average casket costs can vary $2,500-$4,500 with some mahogany, bronze, or copper caskets selling for as much as $10,000. Casket material type (copper vs 18 gauge or mahogany vs pine), interior fabric (velvet vs crepe), and intricacy of design (handles vs no handles or plain hardware vs ornate hardware) can all factor into the total cost of the casket.

When you visit a funeral home or showroom to look for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three.

In the selection room, you can expect to see a funeral home's most popular caskets. If you don't see a casket on the floor in your price range or style, don't be afraid to ask the funeral director about other selections. They are there to help you find a casket that best meets your family's needs—both emotional and financial.

You should know that some funeral homes are giving consumers a new tool to view and consider caskets—Aurora Casket Company's Family Advisor software. Family Advisor, a preneed and at-need funeral arrangement software for funeral homes, allows clients to make funeral arrangements at a keyboard instead of a funeral home—it's a virtual selection room.

Many families find this more acceptable than going through a roomful of caskets to make a selection. They can view closeups of the casket interior panel, hardware and corner detail. A first in the funeral industry, the Advisor utilizes a keyboard and a 36-inch color computer monitor, where caskets and other related products are viewed and then casket selection and arrangements made. Observes one consumer, "Why haven't funeral homes done this sooner so we don't have to go and look at caskets?"

It's important to remember that the casket's purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever.

Metal caskets frequently are described as "gasketed," "protective," or "sealer" caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don't.

Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges—the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wood caskets generally are not gasketed and don't have a warranty for longevity.

They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry, or oak, or softwood like pine. Like fine furniture, higher end woods such as mahogany will be more expensive than a softwood such as pine. Manufacturers of both wood and metal caskets usually warrant workmanship and materials.

Caskets for Cremation

Families that opt to have their loved ones cremated sometimes rent a casket from the funeral home for the visitation and funeral, eliminating the cost of buying a casket. If you opt for visitation and cremation, ask about the rental option. Be aware that your casket options may be very limited with a rental casket. Discuss financial concerns with your funeral director. It's possible that you can purchase a simple but new casket for the same or less price than a rental casket.

For those who choose a direct cremation without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present, the funeral provider can offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative container, a non-metal enclosure—pressboard, cardboard, or canvas—that is cremated with the body.

Under the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations: may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do; must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

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