Funeral Service Shopping: Planning Tips Part 4 of 7

In the previous blog, we discussed the two largest costs in a funeral service – embalming and caskets.  This segment will provide a little insight into caskets so you will be better informed.

Part 4 – Burial Vessels

Caskets

When visiting a funeral home or showroom to shop 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.

While it may not be in your best interest, unless otherwise requested, you may be shown the higher-end models first.  Request to see the lower-priced models first, not being surprised if they are not on display with the majority of caskets or on display at all.

It used to be that caskets were only purchased through a funeral home, but now there are other options available – the internet being the biggest source or a casket showroom. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere and doesn’t allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

The purpose of a casket is to provide a manner to move the body before burial or cremation.  The casket will not preserve the body forever, regardless of its cost.  If a metal casket is selected, it may have a gasket or a seal which is designed to delay moisture from seeping into the casket and to prevent rust.  The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely as such claims are false.

Metal caskets are made from rolled steel of different gauges of thickness.  Some come with a warranty.  Wooden caskets – made of mahogany, cherry, oak or pine — do not have gaskets and do not have a longevity warranty.  Both wooden and metal caskets usually offer warranties for workmanship and materials. 

Cremation

If cremation has been chosen and there will be visitation, it is possible to rent a casket from the funeral home.  If direct cremation is chosen without a viewing or ceremony where the body is present, a casket is not necessary and an alternative container can be used.  Containers to hold the cremains are available for purchase on the internet and do not have to be of a traditional nature.

Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations cannot tell you that a casket is required by law and they must provide in writing your right to buy an unfinished wooden box or alternative container making the same available for direct cremations.

Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

A burial vault or grave liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. A grave liner only covers the top and sides of the casket while a burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, it may be a requirement of the cemetery.  Please remember that neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that’s not true.

The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you either embalming or a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.

The next article – Part 5 – will discuss funeral pricing.

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Kay Sowa

About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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