If you are planning a final remembrance, either for yourself, for your loved ones to follow, or for a beloved member of your family, you know that there are many things to consider. As funeral, burial, and cremation proceedings are the last thing we have to be remembered by, the decision must be made with the utmost care.
Final remembrances are extremely personal, and the options are as vast as people are complex. When considering the best choice for yourself or a loved one you may need to weigh the options between caskets, burial versus cremation, urns, plots, headstones and more while considering personal preference, religious guidelines, cost, tradition and the emotional toll each scenario will have on the family.
How you choose to proceed with a final remembrance will have a lasting effect on those who are left behind in the physical world. It is important to consider the religious aspects and take into account any family traditions when deciding between cremation versus burial. Both religious factors and familial tradition can help families to navigate what is the best option for their circumstances.
In order to make the most well-informed decision, you must know the traditions behind each religion (1).
The Catholic Church denotes that a member who has passed must be lain in a cemetery with their remains in a burial plot or mausoleum.
Protestants have all options available to them. They may choose a burial plot or mausoleum, or cremation leading to an urn, columbarium, burial vault or the scattering of ashes.
The Greek Orthodox Church does not allow cremations as it sees it as desecration of the body. A member of the Church must be lain in a burial plot.
It is important to the Jewish faith that the body of the deceased returns to the earth as quickly as possible. In traditional Jewish tradition, a body is laid to rest in a simple wooden casket with no varnish or padding.
Muslims do not allow cremation, and Islamic law lays out directions for burial that must be closely followed. Members of the Islamic faith must be buried in a cemetery for Muslims or, if in a community cemetery, in a section that has been reserved for members of the Islamic faith.
Buddhists may decide their final remembrances for themselves. Many choose cremation though some families may choose a traditional burial
Hindus opt for cremation as they believe that it frees the soul of who has passed. The sooner they cremate the body, the sooner the soul may begin its next journey.
If you and your family are not of religious persuasion, your decision for either burial or cremation will be decided by personal preference of the planner or deceased, or family tradition.
Some may have laid out all of their expectations and directions in a Final Wishes (14) document (or perhaps that’s why you’re reading this) while others will simply follow what is natural to them per family tradition.
Even so, there is the burden of cost and emotional toll to consider. Planning a final remembrance is possibly the heaviest and hardest thing families have to do and as each family is unique, so are their circumstances surrounding finances and emotional capacity.
A recent survey from the National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) shows that the estimated average cost of a funeral with a burial to be $9,135 while the estimated average cost of a funeral viewing and a cremation is $6,000 (2)(3).
These prices will vary across different funeral homes and will further vary by the choices that are made to personalize each remembrance. For example, if you and your family decide to go with cremation, you incur the fees for the cremation itself but then you will choose a cremation urn, or a vault or crypt (4).
When you and your family opt for burial, you incur the fees for embalming, the choice of casket, and opening and closing of the grave. Furthermore, you may have to consider the fees for a memorial service and family transportation.
In both instances, you may also be paying for fees related to transportation of the deceased, official paperwork and family gatherings.
After everything is considered, the average cost of a burial is about $10,000. Of course, this will depend on the breakdown of prices for each element of a burial. If you or your family member has life insurance, you may be able to pay for part, if not all, of the funeral costs with the life insurance policy. Most life insurance policies have the option to include what is called a Final Expense Insurance (5) in order to pay for final medical bills or remembrance service.
Cemeteries are completely separate entities from funeral homes so there will be fees paid to the cemetery for a burial plot. The price of the plot will vary across cemeteries, states and areas (metropolitan areas are usually more expensive) but the average plot cost is between $1,000-$4,000 (2).
On top of the grave plot fee, which may be purchased well before the funeral, cemeteries charge around $1,000 to open and close the grave and an annual fee for maintenance as the cemetery will spruce things up every now and again, take care of landscaping and snow removal (where applicable)(3).
In traditional funeral proceedings, the casket is usually the most expensive part. There are endless options when it comes to material, color, style, design and price. On the lower end of the spectrum, caskets cost between $2,000-$5,000 while they can reach up to $10,000 or more on the higher end (3). While funeral homes do provide casket options you might be able to save if you purchase your own.
The cost of a viewing and service will be a compilation of many fees from the funeral home. The fees include the cost of the funeral home’s basic services (death certificate, cost of housing the body, permits, etc.), transporting the body, embalming and styling, casket, facility and staff. When all is said and done, a viewing and service will come to be around $7,000 - the reported median according to the NFDA (2).
Many cemeteries will require that you purchase a burial vault or concrete grave box for the casket to lie in so that the ground does not buckle. The vault reinforces the grave and protects it from weather, groundwater and insects. According to the NFDA, the median price for a vault is $1,400 (2).
On top of the grave, you may choose to place either a headstone or a grave marker. A headstone sits upright and costs $2,000-$5,000 while a grave marker lays flat on the ground and costs about $1,000 (3). Essentially, they serve the same purpose and will contain all the same information (name, dates, title, message) and they will only have a different appearance, so it really comes down to personal preference and cost.
If you choose to arrange an elegant display of flowers with the funeral home, it typically costs between $500-$700. You may be able to save money by purchasing a funeral package with a local florist or just leaving the flowers to guests who come and pay their respects.
Depending on the size of wreath and the flowers that are used, they would cost anywhere between $100 for a single wreath draped over the casket, and $700 for a larger display (3).
If you choose to have a funeral service before the deceased is cremated, you may be looking at roughly the same price that you would be as if you went with a funeral. Typically, the most expensive park of a remembrance procession is the memorial service.
If you or your family member chooses to have a viewing before the cremation, all of the fees for the funeral home services, embalming and styling, casket (though you may be able to rent one) and flowers are still applicable. Without a viewing, a cremation fee alone will be a few hundred dollars, depending on the state. (3)
Caskets and boxes that are designed specifically for cremation purposes to do not contain any metal at all. Cremation boxes are made out combustible wood and have a very simple design so they can be purchased for as low as $100. Cremation caskets, on the other hand, are usually on the fancier side and are the chosen option for when a viewing or other funeral services will be held prior to the cremation (6).
If you do not wish to have a service or purchase a cremation box or casket, the crematorium is likely to provide you with a cardboard box that will be used for the cremation process. In any event, the deceased can be wearing clothes or not, that will come down to Last Wishes or preference from the family. The clothes will be incinerated with the body and turn to ash for the family to hold onto.
After the cremation takes place, an urn will have to be purchased in order to transport the ashes. Cremation urns can be purchased directly from the crematorium or a third-party like Everlasting Memories.
Third-party sellers that specialize in memorial tokens usually have a much wider selection for cremation urns than the crematorium will have. Everlasting Memories has very affordable urns for ashes that range in design from traditional to decorative, engraved or simple wooden boxes (7).
Essentially, a columbarium is a mausoleum with one main difference: mausoleums are for entire bodies while a columbarium is just for the ashes.
Within a columbarium there are niches which are spots that have been designed specifically to hold an urn. Niches can be designed and purchased for one person, a couple or an entire family. Depending on the option that you and/or your family has chosen the prices for displaying an urn in a niche can run from $700 for a simple space to upwards of $3,000 for multiple spaces.
If you or your loved one wants to be buried after they are cremated, that option is available to them. Just as with traditional burials, you will have to purchase a vault to reinforce the ground around the cremation urn. Smaller vaults that were designed for burying urns cost between $30-$200 (4).
To make the most informed decision, you need to consider all the angles of cremation processes and burial processes. For some, it will just come down to a matter of preference but for others, the decision will be carefully calculated before it is finally made.
If you are weighing the options of cremation v burial to put into your Final Wishes document, it’s important to consider your family in these matters as well. While you have done the planning for them, they will ultimately have to carry out the decision.
Although it absolutely isn’t required or necessary, consulting with your family might be something you would like to do.
Cremation is more cost effective than burials are. You can save thousands of dollars if you don’t have to purchase a burial plot, have a funeral service or buy a casket (8)(9). Also, if you want to have a service but aren’t ready for one because of familial or financial reasons, you can always plan a remembrance service for a later date.
It is much timelier to have a cremation performed over a burial. Burials can take a lot of planning and there are so many decisions that have to be made in a short timeframe. Cremation takes much of that planning out of the picture which can bring a sense of relief in a time of grief (8)(9).
Cremation allows you and your family more time to decide what to do with your loved one’s remains. It might be too much to process to make big decisions in a short amount of time after a loved one passes. With cremation, you can have as much time as you need to decide on a permanent urn, where to scatter the ashes, where to keep the urn (columbarium or bury) or if you’d like to purchase cremation jewelry/art.
Cremation is more environmentally friendly than burial is. When you opt for cremation, you’re saving land space as well as saving the land from absorbing unnatural materials.
When you choose cremation, you are able to carry your loved one with you wherever you go because urns are very portable. This especially comes in handy if your family needs to move away. You won’t ever have to worry about not getting to visit a gravesite because you can visit your loved one whenever you want.
If two life partners want to spend the afterlife together too, they (or their families) can choose to have their ashes mixed together in a single urn. This is like having side-by-side burial plots only more intimate.
The product of cremation is something that can be shared amongst families. You may choose to get several smaller urns, have cremation jewelry made for each family member, or go on a family trip to scatter the ashes together.
It’s possible that cremation is vehemently against the deceased’s religion, as it is in certain faiths like Judaism(1). In this case, you will have to completely take cremation off the table as it is not an option.
Cremation is permanent which may seem obvious but that has certain implications. If a body is no longer able to be accessed, there is no possibility for exhumation if the body needs to be inspected for any reason at a later date.
For many people, it’s more difficult for them to mourn when a loved one is cremated. They don’t have a place to visit and thinking about the process can be upsetting
When a traditional funeral is chosen, you know that there will always be a grave site to go visit. If a family has planned for it, it may be possible to visit more than one family member at a time.
Many families like to have a grave and headstone as something to tend to. They feel it as a continuation of their relationship with the deceased.
Some religions see cremation as desecration of the body. Traditional burials might be the only option for many people, especially those of the Jewish faith (1).
Some see burial as a more natural process in the cycle of life. After the soul leaves the body (death) the physical remains are laid to rest to become one with the earth once again (1).
The entire process of memorial service to funeral to burial and the closing of the grave can be a great way for families to have closure. The final goodbye after burial is sort of symbolic.
If there are already family members in a particular cemetery, the deceased has the option to be buried in the same one. If the plots were bought ahead of time, family members will be buried right next to one another.
When all is said and done funerals end up costing a lot more money and time. It’s not unheard of for traditional funerals to span over a period of a day or two, depending on the chosen memorial services. While that is costly and time-consuming it also might be too much for certain people to handle.
If your family doesn’t all live in one place, some people may not be able to visit the deceased loved one.
Some cemeteries put restrictions on what can be left on a headstone or grave plate. In addition to those restrictions, some may also have specific times when people are allowed to visit.
As time goes on, the risk of cemeteries becoming overcrowded grows every day.
When choosing a service some might say that there are even more things to consider than when deciding between cremation v burial. This is because there are so many more factors in play that will impact the memorial services of your loved one.
Families need to decide on a funeral home, have an idea what they want for a memorial service and know what or where they want th
The first step in choosing a service will be to choose a funeral home. Family tradition might come into play here as some families all use the same funeral home for every member. This is more common in larger families or smaller towns. It really comes down to preference and convenience.
Here are some things that you’ll want to consider when shopping for a funeral home (10)(11):
You’ll want to seek out the funeral home in your area that has the best reputation. It’s true, even some funeral homes have poor customer service. The best way to find out a funeral home’s reputation is to read plenty of online reviews and ask friends and family members for personal recommendations.
Just as any business you go to, you want the staff of a funeral home to be kind, compassionate and patient. This is especially true in the funeral home business as the staff should be more than understanding that this is one of the most difficult times for anyone to endure. The best way to find out if as staff is appropriate is to see what a funeral home’s community involvement is like or give them a phone call. You will be able to tell a lot about them from a simple conversation.
You should be able to fully trust that this funeral home has your best interests at heart. Read a few funeral home’s mission statements and be sure that their values are in line with yours, your family’s and the deceased’s.
Will a funeral home be able to create an experience that is unique and meaningful for your loved ones? You want to make sure that whatever the experience is, it honors the life and memory of who has passed.
If you are shopping for a non-specific funeral home (to any one religion) it’s important to ask if they will accommodate your personal traditions. Most religions consider the funeral process to be sacred and therefore has to be handled carefully and specifically.
Ask to see the funeral home’s price list and explain each price that they have listed. It’s important to ensure that they don’t refuse or charge for caskets that were bought at another location or have hidden fees that will surprise you later down the line.
This is another way to see how compassionate a funeral home is. What do they offer by way of services for the family of the deceased? Some may offer therapy dogs, support meetings, “check-in” phone calls or visits, or holiday acknowledges. Grief doesn’t end when the funeral services do so it’s important for a funeral home to offer services that show they care.
Does the funeral home have up-to-date technology so that they can accommodate all of your wishes (microphones, video displays, music)? You may find it important that a funeral home has a strong social media presence in order to make them more transparent and trustworthy.
While a funeral home can be compassionate and kind, they are also still a business. If you know what you want ahead of time, it’s less likely that you will be convinced to pay for services that you don’t actually want or need.
Once you’ve decided on a funeral home, you’ll be able to picture exactly what you want the service to look like. Here are some things to consider:
Will you want the service to be large with extended family members, friends and acquaintances or small and intimate with family and just the closest friends? The size and capacity of your funeral home may decide this for you, or you might make your selection based upon what you think is most appropriate.
When you’re considering the size of your service, you might also want to consider what kind of accommodations you’re going to provide for the guests as that will come at an extra cost and potentially stress. Some services may have the option to provide beverages while others may be fully catered or host a type of after-service.
In planning the service, you will have to decide on the style of casket and/or urn you will have for the deceased. If you are planning an open-casket service, you might want to choose an elaborate casket that is quite attractive. If you are not doing a service at all and only having a funeral, you might opt for a simpler casket.
As far as urns go, there are endless choices on the internet from third-party sellers like Everlasting Memory (7). Cremation is a convenient option because you don’t have to decide on an urn right away. The crematorium may provide you with a temporary urn or hold on to the ashes until you are ready.
Most, if not all, funeral homes will be happy to have a personal display during the service. These might come in the form of photo collages, flower displays, memorabilia, video montages, or live performances.
Families will need to decide on the final resting place for their loved one once the services are over.
The place of rest may already be planned and paid for by the deceased. Most cemeteries allow for pre-payment of a burial plot. When going over the options for burial plots, you will find that there are many and it’s might get overwhelming. The most common types of burial plots that are available for purchase are single, double (for couples or siblings) and family (12).
Alternatively, you may choose a crypt, mausoleum, or columbarium which may be purchased from the cemetery or with a third-party seller (4).
When selecting a cemetery, it’s important to consider the services that the cemetery provides and what their charges are for those services (maintenance, landscaping, etc.) and also what their policy is in case of prolonged inactivity at the grave site.
Some cemeteries may reclaim the burial spaces if they have been neglected and the family is unable to be contacted (12).
The type of urn that you select will depend on what is best for the family and the wishes of the deceased.
If the deceased wishes for their ashes to be scattered, you may choose to buy a scattering tube. Scattering tubes are able to be re-opened and closed at will while urns usually have just a small hole that has been corked shut.
If you would like to remember the deceased in a way that will literally last forever, you can purchase a biodegradable urn that either has tree seeds ingrained into it or comes with a sapling. This is a great option if you have a family estate or of your loved one has a favorite place where you are allowed to plant a tree.
Most urns will have the option for a small engraved message or photograph of the deceased or an engraved p. Urns are typically made of high-quality materials such as different varieties of wood, metal, marble, glass, or ceramic.
There are many companies, such as Everlasting Memories (7) that can turn ashes into jewelry. Some companies offer a service that turns ashes into diamonds.
According to the IRS, funeral costs for most individuals are not going to be tax deductible (13). However, they may be certain expenses that you can deduct. If you’re interested in looking into what you might be able to claim, consult a tax professional.
Usually the processes that take place when the body of the deceased is prepared for viewing. These are things like hair styling, makeup, dressing (clothes), and more. These services all together cost a few hundred dollars and should be delineated on a price list that the funeral home can provide for you.
No. The only real difference between a baby/child funeral is the size of the casket which can still cost thousands of dollars on the higher end. Otherwise, all of the same services are offered for the family to use.
If there is a will or plant for the deceased’s estate, there will be an executioner in place. In that case, it is their responsibility that the funeral plans are carried out as well as paid for. If there is no executioner in place, the responsibility of planning and payment fall in the hands of the next of kin. If the funds are not available, the body will be turned over to the state’s coroner’s office to be disposed of by their own standards (14).
Those whose family member was enrolled in a social security program may be eligible for a single lump sum of around $225 to assist in paying for funeral expenses or any other costs (medical bills, transportation, etc.). There may be additional benefits available, depending on the social security plan (14).
No, because technically a funeral is not a medical expense (14).
If you find yourself in a position where you need to have the body of the deceased sent to another location for funeral services, you may be looking at a fee of $2,000+ dollars, depending on how far they are from where they will be buried/cremated (3).
It is not infrequent that a family cannot pay for funeral expenses. In this case, crowd funding is usually the best way to raise money. If the deceased was survived by a large family and/or many friends, it might be easy and quick to raise enough money for a decent funeral service.
Deciding whether to cremate or bury is a very delicate decision, especially if it is left to the family of the deceased. Considering all that it takes to plan a funeral service, burial, cremation and other final remembrances, it might be a good idea to lay out your Final Wishes sooner rather than later. It can take a huge burden off of the family especially if there are no religious guidelines to follow.
June 30, 2020 By Frances Kay