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I'm James Maxey, the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, the Dragon Apocalypse series of Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker, as well as the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Experience Buying a Casket Online

In a perfect world, everyone would be prepared for death. You'd have the funeral arrangements made in advance, the headstone selected and paid for, and the coffin purchased and stored, waiting for the right moment of use. In the real world, even when people have been in declining health for months or years, death still comes as a moment for which the survivors are usually ill prepared. A lot of life's big decisions you can take your time on; I spent a couple of months on my last search for a house, and the last time I bought a car I made my choice after several weeks of research, reading reviews and visiting lots to look at models. But, when someone dies, the family is is often forced to make a lot of financial decisions in a span of days, and sometimes even hours.

You'd be an idiot to buy a car without at least looking at two or three competitors, but it seems unrealistic and perhaps a bit crass to "shop" for a funeral home, going to two or three and getting quotes while the deceased is left in limbo. However, having twice been closely involved with planning a funeral, there is definitely one area of the burial that you can have a lot of control and choice over: the casket. It may seem a bit shallow to worry about cost when you are getting ready to bury your loved ones. But, unless you are financially well off, the funeral often comes just as you are hit with eye-popping bills for medical care, not to mention lord knows how many financial loose ends that are left at the end of a person's life. If you can save significant sums of money and get exactly the same quality product, I don't think anyone should think ill of you.

My father's funeral was the second time I've purchased a casket online. Both times, I've been very pleased with the price and the product. This time, I looked online before I went to the funeral home, with my siblings and my mother at the laptop looking at different designs and options. One nice thing about the Internet is that you have plenty of choice. I was leaning toward a steel casket, but my mother thought a wooden one was more suited to Dad's personality, and we soon narrowed it down to a solid cedar casket in a natural wood grain finish. The casket, with express shipping, would cost us $1500. Then we went to the funeral parlor. They showed us their caskets, and the least expensive wooden casket they had started at $4000, and the one most similar to the one we liked online was $6000. Needless to say, we decided to go with the online option.

The funeral director did his best to dissuade us, but, legally, at least in North Carolina, you are free to purchase a casket from whoever you wish and they have to use it. We ordered from bestpricecaskets.com. I made the order on a Saturday night, and the casket was at the funeral home by 9am on Monday morning. The customer service department was excellent; I called back Sunday for tracking information and they had the information in seconds. The following morning, when the driver left the airport to deliver the casket, he called me on my cell phone so I could meet him at the funeral parlor to inspect it on arrival.

I was more than a little paranoid Sunday. I was worried because I was buying something online without actually having seen anything but a small photo. I worried it might arrive scuffed or damaged, or show shoddy workmanship that you wouldn't be able to spot in an online image. Instead, the coffin was lovely. The attention to detail was exceptional, and, as advertised, it was solid cedar. It had a wonderful cedar odor, and polished finish that practically glowed. All during the visitation people commented on how nice the casket was. This matched my experience with purchasing Laura's casket online: a bit of anxiety while it was in transit, but an excellent product once delivered.

I'm writing this in hopes of soothing the nerves of anyone out there who has had a loved one pass away and is thinking of buying a casket online, but is worried it might not work out. Several of the casket websites have personal testimonials, but, of course, you assume they are only going to post their positive comments and not their negative ones. I'm an objective third party who will testify that, in my two times as a casket shopper, I've gotten a good product for a fraction of the price the funeral parlors were going to charge. The only downside has been the completely self-inflicted anxiety in the hours between making the purchase and seeing the product. I can see how some people might buy a coffin at a funeral parlor just because they can actually see it, touch the bedding, etc., and skip the worry that the little photo you saw online won't match the product that arrives at the funeral home. Still, paying $2500 to $4000 extra to avoid that anxiety is a pretty steep price. Hopefully this will be a useful data point in making your decision.

8 comments:

Michael said...

Dear Sir, I am glad that you left this post. People need to be more informed of their rights and options when it comes to purchasing caskets and other things asociated with a funeral. Also, to help you with your anxiety, we have recently opened a casket store in the state of North Carolina hopefully you will not need us anytime soon, if you should our website is burialsavers.com email is burialsavers@att.net and our phone number is 919.773.3577. Feel free to pass along this info. Thank you and keep up your good works.

Brian said...

Great article. I believe a lot of people will be going through so much anxiety that they will need reassurance that their coffin will arrive and be of sufficient quality. I recommend starlegacynetwork.com
They have a variety of caskets with that great, more affordable, online price!

acewarner said...

Thanks for the informative post. I have been considering this for my mother when she passes but have been apprehensive about it. You candor about your experiences helps allay my fears. Thanks again!

James Maxey said...

At this point, I've actually purchased three caskets online.The third experience was also good. This was for a funeral out of state and it again went off without a hitch.

Cineloh said...

It's not just NC. It is against Federal Law for a funeral home to refuse a casket purchased elsewhere. Any funeral home that refuses to accept a casket from a family is subject to a fine of $10,000 per incident from the Federal Trade Commission.

The funeral home may NOT add a "handling fee" if you purchase a casket on your own.

Renea Luong said...

Losing a loved one is one of the saddest moments in our lives. That's why I'm happy to hear that you found little joys with the liberty of picking the most appropriate casket for your father. And though purchasing a casket online is a little unusual for me, it's good to hear that you are pleased with the price, the product, and on its on-time shipping. At least the casket has been relieved from the other things and preparations you attended to. Renea Luong

River Walker said...

I bought a casket for my deceased mother from a company in AR by the name of www.regencycasket.com. You are right! The funeral home did all they could do to dissuade my purchase. They know you are emotionally drained and take advantage of our state. A similar casket to the one I bought was priced $3200 more than the one I bought. These online companies really do save us money and they go over and beyond what the funeral homes do to provide a much needed and overdue service.
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Paulette said...

I first learned of this option when taking a college class "Death and Dying", very informative. We are all going or will be planning for someone we love. The last presssure of last minute arrangements is the biggest concern, but then the anxiety of dealing with funeral directors who have an obligation to the funeral home to make a profit is just as large. So many individuals spend more than they can afford out of feelings or remorse. I am pre-planning mom's funeral and am getting ready to pre-plan mine. This will allow me to concentrate at that time on her and to grieve when mom passes, hopefully, a long time from now. By planning my own no one will feel the pressure and responsility and this will save my family anxiety. Thanks for your thoughts.