Burial caskets can be taxed, Missouri Supreme Court says

Wednesday, July 30, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

There’s an old saying that there are only two sure things in life — death and taxes. On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled on both.

The state’s highest court ruled unanimously that burial caskets are subject to state sales tax but that the containers they are placed in are not.

The state historically has collected sales taxes on caskets just as it does on retail items like appliances, furniture or clothing. The assumption is that a casket is a form of personal property owned when a contract is signed to buy it from a funeral home — or at the very least when a body is placed in it, such as for visitation.

“Because both the ownership and the title pass to the customer prior to burial, caskets are personal property, subject to sales tax,” Judge Duane Benton wrote for the majority. But the seven-member court also ruled that burial containers — also known as vaults — are not “tangible personal property” and therefore not subject to sales tax.

A St. Louis funeral home, Buchholz Mortuaries, had contended in the case that customers don’t own a casket until it is buried in the ground with the body and therefore should not be subject to sales tax.

Paul Puricelli, the attorney who represented the mortuary, said in a telephone interview from his St. Louis office that the decision was not all bad.

“We’re pleased that the court had recognized that no sales is tax due on containers,” Puricelli said. “That will provide, down the line, a substantial benefit to families who are purchasing funeral services in the future.”

If its position is upheld by the state Supreme Court, Buchholz Mortuaries could legally keep the refunded sales taxes it originally collected from customers.

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