Caskets: Everything the Mortician Won’t Tell You, Really?

December 23, 2009
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imageI understand why there is a consumer funeral alliance and a need for one but, I think sometimes they can make something out of nothing. No, the cheapest caskets are not always the ones that are displayed the most prominent. When you go to Sears does the salesman direct you to the cheapest freezer first? Of course not. I really don’t think that funeral directors are “hiding” deep dark secrets about caskets to consumers. I think we learned from the article I posted yesterday (Funeral Director Reacts to Handling First Walmart Casket, You Might Be Surprised)that funeral professionals are open to and willing to accept third-party caskets. We, as an industry, are learning how to adopt to this change, the industry is learning how to shift profits from merchandise over to profits from services offered.

It really gets me angered when there are groups, and other, professionals, just like this group (Funeral Consumer Alliance), who are pounding into the minds of the public, that funeral professionals are just trying to rip them off. I honestly believe this is way off base. Funeral homes are just like any other business, they have to be profitable to survive, being profitable doesn’t mean they are ripping people off. It would be nice for some of these groups to possibly partner with funeral homes to help educate the public about the funeral service and not just that anything you buy firm the funeral home is marked up 100%, which is not much different from most retail businesses and no one is giving them a hard time.

Maybe I am venting to much, but I just don’t understand why funeral directors have to be the bad guys for being profitable. Below is the article that kicked off my emotions. I would love to know what you guys think, why are funeral professionals always the ones who are doing it wrong?

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Caskets: Everything the Mortician Won’t Tell You

Why do Americans tend to spend so much on a casket? Well, you might want a grand display for a day or so. Some are even “more comfortable”?with an innerspring mattress and adjustable head-rest. More likely, however, low-cost caskets simply aren’t on display. As one reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times found out when the funeral shopper she accompanied asked if there wasn’t something less expensive than the $2,000+ casket on display: “They led us to a hall on the way to the boiler room.” Another woman was taken to a basement full of cobwebs. And another was subjected to the icy sneer: “Oh . . . you want the welfare casket?” Click “read more” below for a state-by-state listing of local casket and urn artisans and retail casket discount stores.

Misleading product claims can prod you 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. (You might want to read “Bones, Bugs, & Batesville” and one woman’s fight against consumer fraud.)

Industry-friendly laws and regulations can also force consumers to shell out more than they might want to on a casket. While consumers are free to purchase a casket anywhere they like, some states are still trying to keep out competition by outlawing retail casket sales.

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 300-500-700% or more. Caskets are still marked up many times the wholesale cost, but funeral services are now billed separately.

The average cost of a funeral in the U.S. ($6,500) is almost three times that in Great Britain ($1,650) and more than twice what it is in France ($2,200) or Australia ($2,100). Some of that difference can be attributed to the cost of the casket.

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?your right to do so is protected by federal law. There may be snide remarks about the “poor quality” of what you’ve purchased. If the bottom doesn’t fall out, the “quality” of what you are about to bury in the ground or deliver to a crematory may be irrelevant. On the other hand, some of the hand-made or small-production caskets available may be far superior in quality to something from an automated souped-up assembly line.

Note: The funeral home may NOT add a “handling fee” if you order the casket on your own.

A few states ? Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Virginia?with strong funeral industry lobbies (and corrupt legislators?)?do not permit anyone other than a mortician to sell a casket or coffin. A few brave souls are trying to buck the funeral boards in those states. Or you could look for folks selling or building “hope chests”?a far better name anyway, if you ask me. There is no law in any state to keep you from using a “hope chest” to move a body!

Funeral Consumers Alliance recommends that you NOT prepay for a casket unless you are taking it home to store (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?

Source: Funeral Consumers Alliance

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