You go through life choosing clothes, cars, furniture and home decor that makes a statement. Why should it be any different when it comes to your final journey?
This all in one guide on how to choose the right coffin or casket. We review the differences in design, materials, and their suitability for cremation, burial and greener funerals.
Who is this guide for?
What is the difference between a coffin and a casket?
Have you ever imagined your own funeral?
Are mourners lining the streets, and TV newscasters celebrating your example of humanity at its finest? Or maybe no-one’s there. Well whatever you’ve imagined, there’s one major detail missing from your fantasy funeral. No, not the dying part.
Picture this… you are planning ahead and you are standing in the funeral director's showroom being shown the latest models. The funeral director lifts a lid to show you the plush white velvet button-backed interior and asks you whether you prefer the look of a coffin or a casket. Before you realise that you don't know the difference - except that one is hugely more expensive than the other in this scenario.
So, what is the difference and how do you choose the right coffin or casket?
Let's start with the basics.
A coffin has six sides and is tapered at the foot end. The sides can be plain or panelled. The lid can be flat, or go up to three tiers in height.
Coffins tend to be cheaper.
A casket has four sides and is rectangular in shape. The lid can be split, which means the top half can be left open during a viewing or funeral service.
Caskets tend to be more expensive.
(The term 'casket' can also refer to the box-shaped container that houses someone's ashes, following a cremation, but those are obviously a lot smaller!)
Both coffin and caskets come in a huge range of different materials and finishes.
So how to choose the right coffin or casket can be difficult but this also leaves room for personalising your coffin or casket to you.
Additionally, the interior materials, colours and prints used for the linings and pillows are also varied. You can pretty much have anything you want. Usually casket interiors tend to be more luxurious - typically being upholstered in a soft brushed velvet or crepe material, including the inside of the lid.
Where as the coffin is more frequently chosen for funerals in the UK. Perhaps this is owing to the British reserve - caskets are more 'showy', or down to the fact that coffins are typically cheaper.
Lastly, it is worth noting that the average cost of a basic funeral in 2021 is £4,184. (rising to £9,263 when you factor in the funeral extras and legal bill for estate administration). There are plenty of people who won't have the money for this unexpected expense shown as (1 in 7 go into debt).
How to choose the right coffin or casket type
Coffins and caskets come in a variety of materials and designs.
- Wood effect (made from MDF or similar, and wrapped in paper that looks like wood)
- Wood veneer
Caskets are also available in metal, which makes them more durable and suitable for vault burials. They come in a variety of finishes too, including gold, bronze and copper.
How much do coffins and caskets cost in 2021?
As you might expect, prices vary massively - from cheap as chips to steeper than Everest! Some examples of typical costs:
A basic wood effect or cardboard coffin starting from £320
Or you can get a simple wicker coffin from £475.
Lastly the American steel casket for around £975 rising to as much as £25,000, depending on the material and interior.
Sources for average pricing: About the Funeral, London Coffin Company, The Coffin Company, Comparethecoffin
What type of coffins and caskets are included in a prepaid funeral plan?
Each set prepaid funeral plan includes one of three types of coffin. The types can be broadly categorised as: 'Basic', 'Standard' and 'High quality'. The funeral plan details will generally include the coffin material, e.g. wood veneer, solid wood, wicker.
The reason the descriptions are so vague is because no-one knows when the funeral will take place and the type of coffins and caskets available today, quite possibly won't be available when the time comes.
Typically the coffin type matches the level of service benefits provided in the plan. For example, the 'Basic' lowest cost wood effect or natural eco coffin will be included in the lowest cost and simplest in the range of funeral plans on offer.
Caskets are not usually included in a set plan. See our Top tips below if a casket is what you want.
Top tips for getting the coffin or casket you want when buying a prepaid funeral plan
If the coffin included in your set funeral plan doesn't match what you had in mind, here are a few things you can do:
- 1Make a request
Have a chat with the funeral plan provider. If it's possible to personalise the plan, ask them to update your funeral plan notes with the details of the coffin or casket you would like, if it is available at the time of the funeral. This doesn't incur an additional charge for your family. Or if your budget allows, you might even like to think about purchasing a coffin in advance, may be even personalising it. As long as the plan provider agrees it's fit for purpose at the time it's needed, ask them to use that instead.
- 2Tailor your funeral plan
Ask the plan provider if you can tailor your set funeral plan.
Swap the coffin type (e.g. 'Basic' for 'Standard') or let them know the specific coffin or casket type you want and would be willing to pay extra for now. Alternatively you can make a contribution towards meaning any shortfall would have to be paid for at the time of the funeral.
- 3Change your funeral plan
If you are set on using a particular funeral plan provider, it may be cheaper and better value to upgrade your plan if you want a better standard of coffin. For instance, go for the 'Gold' funeral plan with the extra services included, instead of the 'Silver' funeral plan. However, as with all major purchases, research and compare your options before you buy.
What is an eco-friendly coffin or casket?
Eco-friendly coffins and caskets are 100% biodegradable and made from sustainable sources. E.g. recycled materials constructed from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sourced timber. Also Eco coffins and caskets are completely plastic free.
Nonetheless, there are many types of coffin and casket linings including jute and unbleached organic cotton. Handles can range from wooden or be made from rope. Typically lids are fastened with closing toggles or poles.
Eco-friendly coffins are locally sourced in the UK and imported with consideration to the environment, such as Russian Doll style (one inside another, insider another, inside another …).
Pebble coffin & urn
Adult pebble coffin shown in use as a coffee table (left). Commission only.
Matching urns available from £425, and keepsake urns from £215.
Soft coffins and shrouds: The alternatives to traditional coffins and caskets
An alternative to a coffin or casket is a soft coffin or shroud. There are various choices of materials for these too, such as cotton, bamboo yarn and wool felt, with integrated handles. The shroud can be carried with the aid of a willow stretcher.
Which coffins and caskets are suitable for cremation and burial?
Any type of coffin is suitable for burial. Only eco-friendly biodegradable coffins will be accepted at natural burial grounds. And metal caskets are suitable for burial only and repatriation.
If you like the idea of making your funeral as green as possible and would like to be cremated, an untreated solid wood coffin or casket is the best option as it takes less energy to burn than wicker and cardboard.
Can you buy a coffin in advance of the funeral?
Yes, you can.
For those who want to think outside the box, so to speak, your coffin or casket could be purchased long before you need it for its intended purpose and could be used in the meantime as a bespoke piece of furniture. Which, incidentally, has been done as shown in the below example.
Shelves For Life
by William Warren
At the time of the funeral, the shelves can be taken apart and reassembled to make your coffin.
The brass plate (on the bottom shelf) is for inscription with your name and dates.
Email if you would like measurements and instructions to build your own. (Include your height and build).
How to choose the right coffin or casket? Personalise it...
Even if you decide to run with the coffin or casket's original function, you can still personalise the design if you buy it ahead of time or your family can decorate it before the funeral. It could be painted in your favourite colour, with a memorable scene, or just paint the coffin lid in blackboard paint for the mourners to write messages. Or how about covering it in decoupage using album covers, sheets of music, sentimental photos, football programmes ...
Glitter coffins from The Glitter Coffin Company
Off the shelf out-of-the-ordinary choices include sparkling glitter coffins in every hue imaginable, and for the more glamorous effect, a coffin or casket covered in Swarovski crystals.
Additionally 'Picture' coffins and caskets are popular. This is where the coffin or casket is wrapped in one of many existing printed designs of flowers, animals, transport, sport and hobbies. You can even create your own design from your favourite photos and photos of memorabilia.
All the above mentioned off the shelf options are available with matching ashes caskets.
Woollen coffins - Natural Legacy
Natural coffins - JC Atkinson
Pebble coffin – Pebblewood Urns
Woollen felt coffins and shrouds - Bellacouche
Glitter coffins - Glitter Coffin Company
Crystal coffins - Colourful Coffins
Picture coffins - JC Atkinson
Picture coffins - Colourful Coffins
Flatpack coffin - Coffin Club
Shelves for Life - William Warren