June 16 — When
a loved one dies, few people want to shop around for the best
price on the casket. That’s why many people simply accept the
price quoted by their funeral director.
And that’s also why many people end
up paying too much for a casket.
To address the need to hold down funeral
costs, over 300 retail casket stores have sprung up across the
country. Consumers say they can save thousands of dollars on
the price of a casket when buying from these stores. Customers
choose the casket at the store, which then ships the casket
to the funeral home.
Federal law allows third-party casket
sales; in fact, funeral homes are required to accept delivery
of third-party caskets and not charge extra for their use. But
in several states, only licensed funeral directors are permitted
to sell caskets, and retail casket stores have been forced to
close their doors. Those who violate the law risk fines and
In Meridian, Miss., casket store owner
Ricky Dancy learned the hard way that funeral directors in his
state enjoy a monopoly on casket sales. Dancy was arrested after
a funeral director complained that Dancy sold a casket to Mary
Anderson, whose son had died. Anderson told 20/20 that
she saved $2,000 — half the price of a comparable casket she
was shown at the funeral home — by shopping at Dancy’s casket
Later this year, a federal court may
consider whether it is constitutional for Mississippi to require
that only funeral directors sell caskets at the time of death.
Dancy’s case will be considered after the constitutionality
of the state law is decided.
Casket store owners say that obtaining
a funeral director’s license is an unnecessary burden because
all they are doing is selling caskets. They are not handling
the body or conducting funerals. The funeral industry stresses
that it offers caring and compassionate service, while casket
stores are only concerned with selling caskets. John Carmon,
speaking for a funeral directors’ association, told 20/20
that funeral directors can meet or beat the prices offered by
Casket sales provide a big part of
the profit in a funeral service. John Stossel, in his “Give
Me A Break!” segment, asks why these states have created
a cozy monopoly on casket sales for funeral directors.
Instead of protecting the profits of
the funeral industry, shouldn’t the politicians be looking out
for the consumer? When it comes to money, they say you can’t
take it with you, but must funeral directors get so much of