Cremation 101: Costs, Considerations, and Options to Consider
Most of us go through life not really wanting to think much about death, but eventually all of us will have to face death, and one of the biggest considerations we’ll have when it occurs is deciding what to do with the body of the deceased.
Whether you’re pre-planning your own funeral or faced with making decisions after the death of a loved one, it’s important to understand your options. In most cases, that means a choice between burial and cremation.
In recent years, cremation has become the option most commonly chosen by families in the United States. If you could use some information on how cremation works and what your options are before making a decision, here are some of the main things you should know.
Reasons to Consider Cremation
The main reason most people opt for cremation over burial is practical and relatable: cost. Cremation costs are far lower than the cost of a burial, so if you can’t afford the $8,000-$10,000 associated with burial or if you or your loved one don’t have a strong emotional attachment to the idea of being buried, it just makes sense to go with cremation.
While for most people, cost will be a deciding factor, there are a few other benefits of choosing cremation:
- Flexibility – A burial means the family has one specific place to go to visit the remains of a loved one. Cremation leaves you with ashes that can be divided or spread over a number of sites. Different loved ones who live in different places can keep or spread ashes close to where they live, divide them between a number of spots that were meaningful to the deceased, or come up with creative ways to use the ashes to memorialize their loved one (more on that below).
- Environmental concerns – While traditional cremation doesn’t provide any real environmental benefit over a burial, green cremation is a good choice for anyone wanting to make as small of an impact on the environment after death as possible. You can avoid adding embalming chemicals into the ground or wasting wood on a casket.
- It’s easier – Cremation is a simpler process for families to deal with. You don’t have to rush a funeral to make sure a loved one is buried before decomposition occurs. You don’t have to deal with the costs and process of embalming, choosing a coffin, or arranging the burial. When loved ones are experiencing grief, the simplicity of a cremation can be big benefit versus having to work out all the complicated details of a burial.
Many people still have a preference for burial for religious or sentimental reasons, but if your priority is finding something that’s affordable, easy, and flexible – while still being meaningful – then cremation is likely to be your best choice.
Typical Cremation Costs
There’s not one easy answer to the question of how much cremation costs. As with most services, the cost of cremation depends on where you live. Prices are typically higher in urban areas, and vary tremendously depending on which services and add-ons you choose.
The average cost of a cremation is around $2,000, but adding a memorial service increases the average cost by over $3,000.
Services that may increase the cost of a cremation include:
- Extras provided by the funeral home, such as hearses, visitations, or viewings
- A rental casket for a visitation or viewing
- Fees for transportation and storage
- Participating in the cremation via a witnessing service
- Getting copies of the death certificate
For a direct cremation, without any add-ons, embalming, or a memorial service, costs can be as low as $500-$1000. In this scenario, families can still host a service at home or place of worship with the remains; it just means they won’t be paying to have one provided through the funeral home.
How Much Do Cremation Urns Cost?
After cremation, families can choose how best to honor their loved one’s remains. For many, the first step is purchasing the urn they’ll be kept in. Urns range in cost from less than $20 to prices in the hundreds of dollars. Choosing an urn is obviously a very personal choice, and finding the right one for your family will depend on how you intend to use it.
For example, will the urn only hold your loved one’s remains up until you spread them in a place that’s meaningful to you, or do you intend to keep the remains in your own home to keep your loved one’s memory close? If you want somewhere to visit as you would with a burial grave, many cemeteries include columbaria where you can keep cremated remains on display in a nice looking urn (for an additional expense of around $1,000). Or you could bury the ashes in your own backyard to have a spot to visit that’s especially close to you, in which case you may be fine with using the box the ashes are returned to you in.
Investing in a beautiful decorative urn makes more sense if you’re going to be keeping it on your own mantle or in a columbarium, whereas spending less on something that suffices will make more sense if you’ll be burying or scattering the ashes soon after you receive them. Recognizing different needs, companies sell urns in a range of visual styles, urns that are biodegradable, and those that are approved for air travel. This is an area where you have a lot of control over the cost based on your personal preferences, and you should be able to find affordable options if you’re still reeling from the cost of the cremation itself.
How to Choose a Cremation Provider
Begin by calling funeral homes, crematories, and cremation societies in your area, and find out what specific services they provide. Some businesses will offer just the cremation itself, while others provide end-to-end offerings that cover everything from the cremation to your choice of service and treatment of remains. In some cases, businesses that offer different services will partner together, such as a crematory and a funeral home, in order to offer the full suite of services you need between them.
When you call, ask about the costs of cremation. Start by getting quotes for a direct cremation, the least expensive option, so you know the minimum amount you’re dealing with. Then enquire about any additional add-on services or alternative packages you’re potentially interested in.
As with any service, make sure to research companies to make sure that you’re working with a reputable provider. Helpful resources include:
- The Better Business Bureau
- Local memorial societies or funeral consumer alliance programs
- Websites offering quotes and comparisons, like cremation.com and funeraldecisions.com.
The idea of comparison shopping for cremation right after a loved one’s death may feel callous, but it’s for that very reason that some companies in the industry overprice their services – they expect grieving families to more easily say “yes” to whatever’s offered. Your finances will be better for it if you take some time to review multiple options before making a decision.
Questions to Ask your Cremation Provider
When you’ve narrowed your list to a few providers, ask detailed questions about their processes and prices. Here’s a good list of questions to keep on hand during your search:
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you licensed?
- When was your last inspection?
- Can I tour and inspect the facility?
- Have you ever been involved in any litigation or received any official sanctions?
- How do you handle the deceased pre- and post-cremation?
- Can I have a written copy of your operational policies and procedures?
- Do you have a tracking system? How can we be sure that the remains we receive are those of our loved one?
- Who handles the cremation and what are their qualifications?
- Can any personal items be cremated with the deceased?
- What are your transportation procedures?
- What do your fees include? Are there any hidden costs?
- Can my family and I witness the cremation process?
- How will I receive the remains?
- Do you offer a satisfaction guarantee?
- Can you provide references for me to contact?
With research and diligence, you can rest assured that the cremation provider you choose will handle this special, important task with the reverence that it deserves.
8 Meaningful Options for Your Loved One’s Remains
For some people, the decision of what to do with a loved one’s ashes will be obvious. For others, you may be left feeling stumped trying to figure out what you can do that most honors the deceased. Here are a few different options to consider.
- Spread them somewhere meaningful.
This is a fairly common choice families make to honor the deceased. Think about places they loved – a favorite vacation spot or the place where they proposed to their spouse, for instance. You can even choose a few different spots to divide the ashes between. You can make a ceremony out of the moment by saying a few words or reading some favorite quotes, and you an always go back to that spot when you want to remember your loved one.
- Keep them in your home as a reminder of your loved one.
Whether you keep the ashes in a beautiful urn on the mantel or in a drawer in your bedroom, keeping the remains at home can be a good way to keep the memory of your loved one close.
- Bury them on your property.
If you prefer the idea of visiting a spot in your backyard when you want to honor your loved one rather than driving to a cemetery, you can bury the ashes in your own backyard and set up a marker or plant something to always remind you where your loved one’s remains are.
- Keep them in a columbarium.
If you want somewhere similar to a gravesite where you can visit your loved one’s remains, but don’t want to pay for the price of a plot, many cemeteries include columbaria where you can store an urn and pay visits in a more formal environment.
- Plant a memorial tree.
Memorial tree urns allow you to store your ashes within just the right mix of seed and soil so that a tree will grow up where you’ve buried the urn. A memorial tree will last longer than most other memorials you may choose and is a beautiful and environmentally friendly way to honor a loved one.
- Have them made into cremation jewelry.
If you want a way to keep your loved one even closer than in your own home, look into cremation jewelry. These pieces are hollowed out so that you can fill them in with your loved one’s ashes and wear a little piece of them with you at all times.
- Memorialize them as part of a coral reef.
Similar to memorial trees, memorializing your loved one as part of a coral reef is an environmentally friendly option that will last for many years. Eternal Reefs makes reef balls that help replace the necessary materials that struggling coral reefs need to thrive. Your loved one’s ashes will be mixed into the concrete used to create the life-sustaining reef balls and thus turned into an important tool in the effort to help rebuild the world’s reefs.
- Send them into space.
For loved ones that had their heads in the stars more than here on earth, Celestis offers memorial space flights on which you can send your loved one’s remains off into space. This is a more expensive option than most of the others on the list, but if your loved one always had an itch to see the skies beyond our world, it could be a meaningful way to memorialize them.
Cremation costs are far more within reach for many families than burying a loved one and in addition to the savings, cremation puts a lot of the power for creating just the right ceremony or experience to honor your loved one (or be honored by your loved ones) in the way that feels most right to you in your hands. If you think cremation is right for you, take some time to get quotes and information from the providers in your area and consider what option for storing or spreading remains feels the most meaningful for you.