Buying a Casket or Urn

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Buying a casket when a friend or relative dies

Most mortuaries and funeral homes offer caskets to contain bodies and urns or other containers for cremated remains, also known as cremains. However, a growing number of people choose to make or supply their own as a fitting tribute to the deceased person.

Information the funeral home must provide. As part of a crackdown on price gouging and other practices that preyed upon vulnerable consumers, the Federal Trade Commission passed a comprehensive Funeral Rule in 1984. The law requires funeral directors to present complete, itemized price lists for everything from preparing a body to caskets and other containers. It also prohibits some practices that used to be common, including:

  • Telling consumers they must purchase a casket or other container when the body will be directly cremated.
  • Requiring that certain goods or services be purchased as a condition for other goods and services.
  • Charging an additional fee or surcharge to consumers who purchase a casket or urn elsewhere.

Purchasing a casket. Caskets or coffins that contain a body for burial have been the subject of great consumer controversy, because they traditionally carry the biggest markup in cost of all funeral goods and services.

Those purchasing a casket for a deceased friend or relative know the complicated feelings it can evoke: a mix of pride and guilt tempered by the reality of affordability. Some salespeople, well aware of the guilt potential, will do their best to steer shoppers toward the most expensive models -- hiding the lower-priced ones or displaying them unattractively.

Most funeral establishments also carry caskets that may be rented and lined with inexpensive liners during viewing of the body instead of being purchased. These are often relegated to a far corner in the display room. Or a funeral director may fail to mention the rental option to grieving survivors.

Cost. Even with legal controls regulating the most predatory practices, caskets range widely in price, from $500 or less for simple wooden ones to $40,000 or more for elaborate carved or gold-leafed models. Most cost several thousand dollars.

Most state laws require that caskets displayed in a showroom be tagged with prices, a description of their composition, and identifying model numbers. Catalog entries must also contain this information.

  • Caution: Shoppers should be skeptical of sales representatives who insist that the law requires any special device on a casket, such as a sealer or liner. Ask for the citation of the law, and check it yourself.

There are also independent casket makers and artisans who specialize in making low-cost or unique caskets. Locate them online by searching for casket and purchase or go through a local branch of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Buying an urn for the cremated remains of a friend or relative

There's no legal or other technical requirement that cremains must be stored or transported in an urn. Crematories can ship them to survivors in simple cardboard boxes. However, if cremains are to be interred in a mausoleum, the establishment might specify allowed sizes and materials of urns there.

Many people choose to supply or buy an urn to contain cremains and then display them:

  • Inside their home, on a mantel or bookshelf or as an architectural detail.
  • As pendants or keepsakes that contain only a small portion of the cremains.
  • Outside, as a garden ornament or sculpture.

Cost. Commercially manufactured urns -- typically made of wood, glass, ceramic, stone, marble, or metal -- can vary in price from several dollars to many thousands of dollars, but most range from $250 to $1,000.

You can purchase an urn at the funeral home or crematorium, or you can buy one locally or use any container that seems appropriate, but you can also browse online galleries to get an idea of price ranges and styles and kinds of cremation urns available. To find examples, do an online search for cremation and urn.

Barbara Kate Repa

Barbara Kate Repa, a lawyer and journalist, has devoted her career to editing and writing about legal issues for consumers. See full bio