Cremation Explained, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

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What is Cremation?

It’s the process of reducing the body to ashes and bone fragments through the use of intense heat. The process usually takes two to four hours. Depending on the size of the body, the cremated remains will weigh three to nine pounds. The bone fragments are pulverized to about aquarium gravel texture. Depending on the fuel and temperature used, they are some-where between a light grey and white color.

The percentage of cremations in the US is rapidly rising each year. In 12 states the cre-mation rate is over 50%. In England and Japan the cremation rate is close to 90%. In 2005, 46% of Americans said they will choose cre-mation for themselves. Primary reasons for choosing cremation are to save money, be-cause it is simpler, less emotional and more convenient, and to save land.

Is a casket required for cremation?

No, a casket is never required for cremation.
However, most crematories do require that the body be enclosed in a rigid, combustible con-tainer. Under federal regulations, all mortuar-ies must make available an inexpensive cre-mation container often referred to as an alter-native container. Customers may make or fur-nish their own suitable container.

How much does cremation cost?

If an undertaker is used to transport the body, obtain permits, and file the death certificate, the average fee is $1,200 (in 2008). However, prices can vary from about $500 to well over $3,000, often in the same market. If a visitation or a funeral service is held before cremation, the charges will be higher.

Many funeral consumer alliances offer mem-bers cremation services provided by funeral or cremation businesses for considerably less than the national average. Families who care for their own dead can use crematories directly at charges from $200 to $400 (2008).

Do I have to hire an undertaker?

Most states permit private citizens to obtain the necessary death certificate and permits for transit and disposition. You should check first to make sure the crematory will accept the body directly from the family, as some cre-matories will only work through funeral homes.

Is a funeral service necessary?

Visitation and a funeral service with a body present may be held before cremation or you may choose to have a memorial service with-out the body present. Cremation makes it pos-sible to take more time to plan a service at a convenient time.

Can a casket be rented?

Most funeral homes will rent a casket to a family that wants to have the body present for visitation or for a funeral service preceding cremation. After the service, the body is trans-ferred to an inexpensive cremation container. Rental caskets often cost around $700, how-ever, so you might consider using the simple alternative container and draping it with an attractive cloth, a quilt, or a flag.

What can be done with cremated remains?

They can be placed in a niche in a columbarium, buried, scattered, or kept by the family. Cremated remains are sterile and pose no health hazard. Their disposition is, for the most part, not controlled, provided the landowner grants permission.

A columbarium is an assembly of niches de-signed to hold containers of cremated remains. It is most often located in a mausoleum with a cemetery and at some churches.

Earth burial can be done in a cemetery or on private property. Most cemeteries will permit two or three containers in one adult-size plot. Some (unnecessarily) require that you pur-chase an urn vault. For home burial, keep in mind that unless you have a family cemetery on your property, eventually the land is likely to be sold and the land used for other purposes.

Scattering cremains over an area that had significance to the deceased is legal in most jurisdictions. Although there are commercial firms which will handle the cremated remains for a fee, most families prefer to do this themselves. Remains that are being scattered should be processed by the crematory to reduce all frag-ments to fine particles.

Scattering at sea is available to all veterans and dependents and is provided by the Navy or Coast Guard. Because sea burials are done at the convenience of the military, the family may not witness sea burial.

While federal regulations technically require cremated remains to be scattered three miles out from shore, the Environmental Protection Agency says they are not concerned about families scattering ashes at the beach and never enforce this regulation with private families.

Keep the cremated remains in an urn or nice box. You can buy an urn from a funeral home or on line, or you can use something else. When cremains are being saved to provide memories, it's nice to put them in a container related to the de-ceased's life, such as a favorite vase, a special wine bottle, a terrarium, etc.

Some funeral homes will suggest that you need to purchase a “temporary container”, but you have a legal right to refuse and use the con-tainer that comes from the crematory.

Cremains can also be divided among family members to keep or to be sprinkled or buried in several different places (i.e. with a first and second spouse).

Are "cremation societies" the same as "memorial societies"?

No. The most important difference is that me-morial societies (now called funeral consumer alliances) are not-for- profit consumer groups which are democratically controlled, whereas direct cremation “societies” operate for profit. Many full-service mortuaries cooperate with funeral consumer alliances to provide society members with a range of funeral options. However, if there is no funeral consumer alli-ance in your area, you may find some of the direct cremation firms considerably less ex-pensive than their competition.

How do religious groups view cremation?

Most religions permit cremation. Since Vati-can II Council in 1964, the Code of Canon Law allows Roman Catholics a choice between burial and cremation. The Greek and Jewish Orthodox faiths oppose cremation, as do orthodox Jews and Muslims.


All funeral homes are required to list a price for a simple cremation package, called an "Immediate Cremation." This is cremation without any services such as a viewing or funeral at the funeral home. You can plan a memorial service at another time and location without inviting the funeral director. This also gives you the option of hiring an out-of-town funeral home that might be significantly less expensive than your local homes. There can be a huge difference between funeral homes on the cost of a direct cremation. Therefore, it pays to shop around. All funeral homes are required to give prices over the telephone.

First, ask for the price of "a direct cremation with a minimum alternative container." Then ask, "Does that include the crematory fee?" Then ask if there are any additional charges (such as for permits).


Ashes may mailed by USPS (couriers such as FedEx and UPS will not ship them)or be carried by hand to another destination. If you are taking them on a plane you are best off leaving them in the box just as it comes from the crematory with the official documents attached. Security requires that they be able to be x-rayed so they need to be in a non-metal container.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 January 2012 19:41 )  
Comments (9)
1 Wednesday, 21 May 2008 13:09
I haven't seen this addressed. I was informed that #1, person to be buried must be eligible, so eliigibility has been ascertained. Now, upon death, after EMT determines death has occurred, 2)is body transported to a hospital for examining? If so, 3) can the family go directly to a crematorium for cremation after the hospital, then receive the ashes and send to Arlington or other cemetery? Or, does everyone have to use a funeral home. I read either above or on another site, the answer to this question is NO. 4) In talking with the Arlington Cemetery staff that the funeral home will handle everything, but this is if we use a funeral home, I guess.
5) If an EMT has detrmined death has occurred, can't we just call a crematorium for transportation of body to be cremated?
It does seem that in addition to the cremation cost, a funeral home will handlle for a fee some of the incidentals of obtaining the death certificate, "packaging the body" for the cremation, getting the body there, receiving the remains and giving to famiily. Is this all there is to it?
If we wanted to handle all services ourselves, how do we get the body to the cremaatory site. And, does our counties have information sheets or booklets of things they require family to do before issuing a death certificate.
I've asked a lot of questions, but I don't see the answers in anything of the sites I've visited on line.
Any help you can provide is most appreciated.
2 Thursday, 22 May 2008 14:41
Josh Slocum
Hi Jo Anne,

Let me try to answer your questions one by one. Since I'm not sure what state the person lives in, I can't tell you what paperwork is required for a family-directed funeral. In most states, you need a death certificate signed by the attending physician, you need to file it with the health dept., and you need to get a burial/transit/cremation permit from the health dept. If you tell me the state, I can be more specific.

You wrote:
"Now, upon death, after EMT determines death has occurred, 2)is body transported to a hospital for examining?"

REPLY: You really shouldn't be calling 911 and the EMTs unless it's an emergency (which death is not - EMTs are expensive and they shouldn't be tied up with death calls). If the death is expected (old age, long illness), you don't need to call the police or the medical examiner. If the person was under a doctor's care, alert the doctor and arrange to have the doctor fill out the death certificate. If the person is in hospice or a hospital, there is also no need to call the police or ambulance.

If the death is unexpected or in any way unusual, then yes, you should call the police. But don't call 911 for a routine death, or the EMTs may try to resuscitate the person and bring him to the hospital. Unpleasant an unnecessary.

No, routine deaths don't go to the hospital for "examination." If the death is suspicious, the medical examiner would have control of the body for investigation.

You wrote:
"can the family go directly to a crematorium for cremation after the hospital, then receive the ashes and send to Arlington or other cemetery?"

REPLY: In most states, it's perfectly legal to transport the body yourself, as long as the death cert. and burial transit permit are completed. In some states, crematories are separate from funeral homes and they do business directly with the public. In other states, funeral homes own the crematories. In still other situations, crematories do business only for funeral directors. I can't advise you unless I know what state you're in.

You wrote:
"4) In talking with the Arlington Cemetery staff that the funeral home will handle everything, but this is if we use a funeral home, I guess. "

REPLY: Yes. In this case, "funeral home" would also refer to any cremation business that you've contracted with. I see nothing to stop you from bringing the ashes to Arlington yourself, however, unless they've got picky rules about working directly with families. Best to ask the Arlington staff.

You wrote:
"And, does our counties have information sheets or booklets of things they require family to do before issuing a death certificate."

Unfortunately, most states and counties don't have this helpful information in an easy format. We can tell you what you need though, once we know what state you're in.


Josh Slocum
FCA Executive Director
3 Tuesday, 10 June 2008 07:41
please tell me what is the term first call?
4 Wednesday, 11 June 2008 15:45
The term just means the initial call to the funeral home notifying them of a death so they can pick up the body.

5 Friday, 13 June 2008 08:19
I'm over 50, in poor health and would like to make funeral arrangements while I still can. I live in Jax. Fl. and I think I would choose cremation. I would like to keep things as inexpensive as possible. I don't choose to have my body present at the memorial service, or have my ashes placed at a cemetery. How do I go about making these arrangements. I'm totally clueless about cremations.
Thank you, Carol
6 Friday, 27 June 2008 15:42
who can go to the funeral home and pay the remainder of the bill once the ashes are shipped there. and who gets to receive the ashes when there are more then one family member that wants the ashes
7 Saturday, 28 June 2008 17:40
Lisa - generally, the ashes belong to the next of kin (or the legally designated agent of the deceased). However, this gets complicated if someone *other* than the NOK or agent has paid the bill for the cremation because the family wouldn't do so. If the family is fighting over the ashes (and it's really, really best to try to rise above this and settle it like adults), they may have to go to probate court. This is highly unpleasant, and I urge families to make every effort to avoid it.

Funeral Consumers Alliance staff
8 Saturday, 05 July 2008 18:31
I was looking into cremation for myself in the future after a close relative had died. Thinking this was a less expensive alternative to a traditional burial. The funeral home prices were almost identical for both traditional burial and cremation. They told me the reason was that state law required the body be embalmed before cremation and that this was a major expense. This makes no sense to me. Why should a person be embalmed before cremation?
9 Saturday, 05 July 2008 19:48
Josh Slocum
Hi Brian,

Based on what you told me, it sounds like there's some misinformation, but I can't quite tease out where it came from. Here are my guesses:

1. There's no state law that says a body must be embalmed before cremation. It's a bit more complicated. Some states require that a body be buried, cremated, embalmed, OR refrigerated within a certain amount of time. So, it could have been the case that the body couldn't be cremated quickly enough to meet the state's embalming or refrig. requirement, and the funeral home didn't have refrigeration. If so, that's unfortunate, and a good argument for why all funeral homes should be required to offer refrigeration.

2. It's also possible the funeral home lied to you about a nonexistent state law. If so, you should file a complaint with your state's funeral board, with the Federal Trade Commission, and a copy to Funeral Consumers Alliance. If you give me more details and a location, I can help you with that.

Also, were you given a printed, itemized price list to choose from before you finalized the arrangements? Did you get an itemized receipt? If so, were there services on that receipt that you didn't ask for, and that you wouldn't have chosen?

Certainly a simple cremation should be much less expensive than a full-service burial, but I'd need to know exactly what you chose - or what services you might have been forced to buy - before I could give an opinion on what happened.

Josh Slocum
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance

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