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How to choose a burial casket or coffin

Many factors contribute to the cost of a funeral, including use of the funeral home's facilities, equipment and staff, as well as "extras" such as funeral flowers, memorial cards, and obituary notices. The most expensive item on a list of traditional funeral costs, however, is easily a casket or coffin. While the average casket costs around $2,000, the price can go as high as $10,000.

For most people, the most important factor in choosing a casket is the cost, followed by personal values or religious considerations. Perhaps you believe, for example, that a luxurious burial with no cost spared is the only fitting tribute to a deceased loved one. On the other hand, you may be among those who believe that the body is a mere shell, which once contained the soul or spirit that has now departed, and thus the manner of burial is unimportant. In either case, your beliefs will influence your choice of a casket.

Types of caskets

In general, "coffin" is a traditional term that refers to any type of a box used to bury the dead. The term "casket," on the other hand, is a euphemism introduced by North American undertakers, borrowed from the name given to a box for jewelry. Today, casket is the more common term, although a coffin is sometimes distinguished from a casket by the shape of the box: a coffin is a burial box with a tapered end, while a casket is a rectangular box with a split lid for viewing the remains of the deceased.

The following are some of the most common types of burial caskets:

  • Cloth-covered caskets are the least expensive, usually constructed from a base material – typically corrugated fiberboard and pressed wood – with a cloth exterior. Cloth-covered caskets, like more expensive styles, include finished interiors with bedding.
  • Veneer caskets are covered by a wood veneer that many consider more pleasant to look at than a cloth-covered casket. Veneer caskets are more expensive than cloth-covered styles, but only a fraction of the cost of a hardwood casket.
  • Eco-friendly caskets are made of natural materials, like bamboo, and are more easily bio-degradable than traditional caskets. An eco-friendly casket is relatively inexpensive.
  • Steel caskets come in a number of gauges (thicknesses) and may be gasketed or ungasketed, a term that refers to the type of welding used during construction, which affects durability.
  • Hardwood caskets have a dignified, stately look, reflective of the workmanship that goes into them. This is the most expensive type of casket.

When cost is not a concern, caskets can also be customized to virtually any specification. Custom features include everything from an insignia on the outside of the coffin, such as a university logo, to a personally selected lining, to unique construction. Caskets have been built to resemble a gym bag, a guitar, a Rolls Royce, or an airplane.

Shopping for a casket

When you're buying a casket, remember that its main purpose is to provide a way to move the body to a church, cemetery, or crematory before burial or cremation. Although a casket may be described in terms that suggest endurance, no casket, regardless of the cost, will preserve a body forever. Terms like "protective" and "sealed" refer to the durability of the casket itself and its ability to keep water out. The Funeral Rule specifically prohibits claims that a casket's features will help preserve the body indefinitely.

Should you decide to purchase a casket from a funeral home, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to give you a list of the types available and their prices before showing you the caskets. You may then ask to see only the caskets that are within your budget.

You are not required to buy a casket from the funeral director, however. Instead, you may purchase a casket or coffin directly from the manufacturer, which can result in considerable savings. Under the Funeral Rule, the funeral director must accept delivery on a casket you purchased directly and may not charge an extra fee for doing so.

If you choose cremation, you may not be required to purchase a casket. Funeral directors who offer cremation must also offer alternative containers for the body. And if you choose to have a viewing of the body prior to cremation, your funeral director may offer a rental casket for the viewing.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Funerals: everything you need to know section helpful too.

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