What should I know about caskets?
Why do Americans tend to spend so much on a casket? Well, some people truly want a grand display. But it’s more likely that the low-cost caskets simply aren’t on display, as one reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times found out. The reporter was accompanying a funeral shopper, who asked if there was something less expensive than the 2,000-plus-dollar casket on display. “They led us to a hall on the way to the boiler room,”the reporter wrote. Another woman was taken to a basement full of cobwebs. Another was subjected to the icy sneer: “Oh, you want the welfare casket?”
Misleading product claims can prod people to spend more, too. So-called “protective” caskets (caskets with a rubber gasket) are supposed to seal, thereby protecting the body from “outside elements.” This costs. The rubber gasket used to construct a “sealer” casket costs the industry $8. But that $8 gasket is likely to raise the cost of the casket by $800 or more. And what happens to a body in a “sealed” casket? Instead of the natural dehydration that occurs in most climates, anaerobic bacteria take over and the body putrifies—as any grave-digger can attest after an exhumation.
Industry-friendly laws and regulations can also force consumers to shell out more than they might want to on a casket. For many years, the industry practice was to wrap the cost of the funeral service into the sale price of caskets—with a mark-up of up to 700 percent or more. Caskets are still marked up many times the wholesale cost, but funeral services are now billed separately.
What are the alternatives to an expensive casket?
Be prepared for some resentment from the mortician at losing a big slice of the funeral profit if you obtain a casket elsewhere—but your right to do so is protected by federal law. There may be snide remarks about the “poor quality” of what you’ve purchased, although some of the hand-made or small-production caskets available may be far superior in quality to something from an assembly line. Note: The funeral home may not add a “handling fee” if you order the casket on your own.
We recommend that you not prepay for a casket unless you are taking it home to store it (a guest bed or coffee table, perhaps?) A number of casket stores have gone out of business. Would you be asked to pick up your casket, or will you get a refund if that happens? Who knows?
You might consider searching the Internet for ideas on building your own simple coffin, and for vendors of handmade coffins.