Funeral Home Laws
Buying Caskets Online
"Only The Best" means high profits in the Funeral Industry
Casket prices are an important consideration today when planning a memorial service, and people of the 17th and 18th centuries would probably be amazed by that. See, in times when “caskets” were known as “coffins,” the price was hardly a consideration at all. Bodies were simply buried in wooden containers that were often hastily built (often for no charge) and definitely were not finely constructed by highly skilled craftsmen as today’s caskets. So, casket prices were simply not an issue.
But that began to change in the late 19th century when memorial industry salesmen discovered a market for the much more elaborate caskets. Families wanting to send their loved-ones to the grave in elaborate style were willing to pay large prices for these finely crafted pieces that were reminiscent of the very best in home furnishings. In fact, the word “casket” comes from an English businessman’s idea that a burial container should resemble the small-but-elaborate jewelry box (or jewelry casket) that many 18th century families use to store their precious jewels. The man was very successful selling his idea that, of course, that a loved-one’s body is the most precious jewel of all and, therefore, deserves the largest, most luxurious casket available. He was so successful at this that, today, the word casket is all-but forgotten as a term for a jewelry container. Today caskets are simply for burial.
With this change in memorial traditions, casket prices became a concern.
Businessmen in the funeral business quickly realized that they had, more or less, struck gold. They understood that grieving family members would want “only the best” for their lost loved ones, and that high priced sales would be common – even for families that might not necessarily be able to comfortably afford the charge. Funeral directors discovered throughout the 19th and 20th centuries that, although caskets were expensive to produce, they could easily double or even triple their wholesale costs for the pieces with little complaints from families. From then, the tradition of an expensive funeral was born.
As the 20th century wore on, casket prices increased at rates higher than inflation until, in the waning years of the century, consumer advocates took notice of the situation. Funeral homes, by then, had become comfortable in charging excessive amounts for caskets and fought hard for the right to keep the tradition entrenched in American culture. Although it has long been against the law for groups of companies to agree to keep prices at a certain level, funeral homes across the country lobbied – and in many cases won – legal exception to this. So, when upstart companies sought to offer caskets for substantially reduced rates, many state and federal law was against them.
Eventually, consumer advocates won some important legal battles and, no longer, can funeral homes keep casket prices artificially high by simply agreeing to not under sell each other. Casket prices are now still much more significant than they were in the days of simple coffins, but, today, it is possible to purchase caskets from retailers who offer them for just a small percentage above the wholesale price.
Interestingly, the war over casket prices is still not complete: funeral homes still typically sell their caskets for five to six times their wholesale price, and, apparently business is still booming – even though a family can often find the same casket elsewhere for thousands of dollars less.
So, the bottom line about casket prices is that consumers need to be wary. Buying a casket directly from a funeral home is, still, a financially risky endeavor.