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Urn and Casket Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

Black funeral urn

For many people, funerals are a difficult and confusing time. With a multitude of choices available in caskets, urns and keepsakes, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Use this urn and casket buying guide to help you make appropriate funeral decisions, emotional and financial, from the comfort of your own home.


  1. Casket exteriors. The materials used in making caskets are the major factor in the cost. For example, if you choose a metal casket, know that bronze will be far more expensive because it is less abundant than wood or steel. A burial casket can be made of various metals, including steel, stainless steel, copper and bronze. They are often made of wood, too, such as mahogany, oak, cherry and poplar. Some funeral caskets are also being made with "green" materials, such as bamboo, paper and tree bark. These burial casket materials are referred to as biodegradable and are ideal for a "green burial." For metal caskets, you may want to know the difference between 18-gauge steel and 20-gauge steel: 18-gauge steel takes 18 sheets of steel to equal a one-inch thickness, and 20-gauge would require 20 sheets of steel to equal one inch; therefore, the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel.

  2. Please note: Some metal caskets are identified as being "sealed" with a gasket. However, these caskets are constructed to permit the escape of gases and air; no casket is sealed air-tight.

  3. Casket interiors. Funeral caskets are very opulent, and their interiors are covered with luxurious materials. Common fabrics used are velvet, satin crepe and silk crepe. There are several color choices, but the most common for casket interiors are white, cream, light blue, pale pink, light beige, silver and gold. Other interior decorations may include embroidered head panels that feature a religious saying, a personal message and a picture or commemorate a favorite hobby. The interior of the casket should help set the mood you want for the deceased and reflect emotions shared by family and friends.

  4. Cremation caskets. If you and your family opt for a cremation, you do not necessarily need a casket. You can wait until after the cremation and hold a service with the remains in an urn. However, if you do decide to have a funeral service prior to cremation, a cremation casket is recommended. Cremation caskets are generally less expensive than regular caskets, since they will not be used in a burial. Depending on the crematorium and the size of the casket, the cremation casket may or may not be incinerated with the deceased. Speak with your funeral director or the crematorium for the exact procedures.

  5. Urns:

    1. Urn selection. If you've decided on a cremation, a funeral urn is a beautiful receptacle that preserves the deceased's remains. Urns come in several styles, colors and sizes. Selecting a burial urn is far less difficult than selecting a casket. Urns can be buried in most any cemetery, memorial garden or columbarium, a vault designed with recesses or niches for urns, also called an urn vault. Be sure to check with your state for any legal restrictions.

    2. Urn shapes. When selecting a burial urn, you might want to choose one that reflects the deceased; it may reflect the individual's hobbies with scenes of sports or other pastimes. You may want to find a decorative urn. Funeral urns are available in wood, ceramic, marble, cast bronze, granite, aluminum, mother of pearl and cloisonne. Most memorial urns come in a classic vase-like shape, but you can find many urns in a box or chest shape, including box-shaped wooden urns and metal urns.

    3. Urn materials. A non-biodegradable urn is recommended when the urn will be enclosed in a vault. Biodegradable urns will degrade within one year of burial. For scattering, a memorial urn with a wide opening and an easily accessible closure is recommended. For burial at sea, a biodegradable urn is recommended.

    4. Keepsake urns. Keepsakes are usually the miniature copy of the urn used for the deceased. If internment, burial or scattering was chosen for the deceased, keepsake urns are a beautiful way to remember the individual. Keepsake urns can also be used to hold the ashes of the deceased.

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