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Caskets 101

"Things you always wanted to know but never asked"

Because the funeral industry can be a complicated, mysterious world for the uninitiated consumer, a good knowledge of Caskets 101 is important for anyone planning a funeral. An unfortunate fact about the funeral industry is that many sales people are not hesitant to take advantage of a customer’s innocent ignorance of rules designed specifically with his or her best interest in mind. Here are a few very important tips.

Probably the most important lesson to remember from Caskets 101 is to never naively ask a funeral home representative if you are “allowed” to purchase a casket from some other source. You are certainly allowed to do so – by a specially passed federal law called “The Funeral Rule” in fact.

While funeral homes are legally obligated to be forthcoming and honest about your rights under The Funeral Rule, many representatives are ignorant of the law themselves. And some are still downright defiant of it. (The law was passed in the 1980’s after decades of fighting between consumer advocates and lobbyists working for funeral home groups. And, since it’s passing, many in the funeral business continue to work for its reversal and seek out loop holes. Others in the industry simply disobey the rule and count on wide-spread ignorance among their customers to keep them out of trouble.)

There are many things that families do not ask about caskets, but shouldThe fact is, funeral home may not legally force – or even pressure – a customer into buying a casket from them (at often much higher prices than caskets are available elsewhere). And, by simply asking the question, a customer naively sends a message to the funeral home that underhanded sales tactics will likely work.

“Yes, of course, you may buy a casket from whatever supplier you would like,” the funeral home sales person might say. (In fact, he or she may even proudly mention that Federal Law requires that option.) “But we cannot be responsible for any damages or miss understood orders, so your family will need to be present when the casket arrives. Our staff cannot be asked to sign for the delivery.”

If the funeral home regularly signs for their own caskets, then, the Funeral Rule stipulates, staff members must also sign for those ordered by their clients. But, for many naïve clients, the objection to signing for a casket seems reasonable, and, rather than ask for family members to more or less camp at the funeral home until the casket arrives, the client will simply decide to pay sometimes twice the price for a casket ordered directly from the funeral home, for the sake of simplicity.

This is but one example of how funeral home representatives occasionally will take advantage of a customer’s ignorance to make a sale that might cost the customer thousands more than necessary. So, the bottom line to Caskets 101 is to make sure you understand your consumer rights as a consumer under The Funeral Rule. Armed with that knowledge, you are unlikely to make a naïve mistake that will cost you thousands during your vulnerable time of grief.

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