2021 Guide to Cremation: Terms, Process, Costs, Options, and Coverage

Use this Cremation Guide to learn a few points about the cremation process. Also, see what options are available and have some clear choices so you can make your plans.  We also show you how to fund your plan. We can find the best value in cremation insurance and help you qualify. Below are some common terms you’ll hear when researching cremation. Toward the bottom of the page, you’ll find ways to fund your burial choice. 

Guide to Cremation: Common Terms 

  • Crematorium / crematory (used almost interchangeably) – a funeral establishment where cremation is done. An establishment for the incineration of corpses. A furnace or establishment for the incineration of corpses.
  • Cremation – To incinerate a corpse. A method of final disposition wherein extreme heat is used to turn cadavers to ashes. Mineral fragments retain the appearance of dry bone. Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite as an alternative to the interment of an intact dead body in a coffin or casket.
  • Direct Cremation – a “no service” cremation where the crematorium or funeral home arranges the cremation procedure without a viewing and no funeral or memorial service before the cremation is performed.
  • Cremation insurance – A whole life insurance policy specifically used to pay for the cost of cremation and any related expenses.
  • Cremains – the “ash-like” substance remaining after a corpse is cremated; cremated remains
  • Cremulator – after the body cools from the cremation oven, a cremulator machine is used to grind the remaining bone fragments into fine powder.
  • Urn – A vessel that is used for preserving the cremains of the dead after cremation.  An urn can be an ornamental vase, wooden box, or any other sealed container of your choosing.

Guide to Cremation: Statistics

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) states in their 2019 Annual Report that cremation rates continue to grow.  In the Unites States from 1998 to 2003 CANA shows that an average of 29.6% of deaths resulted in cremation.  From 2013 to 2018 however, 53.1% of deaths resulted in cremation rather than the traditional interment.

Several reasons are given for this increase in popularity (as a nation we’re more transient and less traditional). One of the main reasons they don’t mention is price.  It can cost as little as $600 to have a cremation performed.  In the next section we’ll look into various cremation services that are available. We also show you the approximate costs associated. Before that, look at some advantages and disadvantages to cremation.

Advantages of Cremation

As a result of talking to clients about this subject, there are several advantages as well as disadvantages to consider that we wanted to include for you in this cremation guide:

  • Price – many of the options for cremation cost significantly less than traditional burial.  No casket needed, no burial plot, no digging of the grave, no grave marker, etc.
  • Time – since the body is quickly taken care of and the remains returned to the family, this allows for a more meaningful memorial service to be planned at a better time and date so more family and friends can have the chance to attend.
  • Process – The cremation process is much easier and quicker to arrange.
  • Environmental impact – cremation is considered to be more environmentally friendly than burial given the remains take up less space in addition to the many different memorial disposition options available for cremated remains.
  • Portability – If you somehow store or even display your loved one’s cremated remains you can take them with you should you move somewhere different.
  • Sharing:  Some family members may want a portion of the cremated remains to have as a keepsake.  You can share and send the cremated remains with family members.
  • Keepsakes – There’s a long list of creative and sometimes exciting ideas people are doing with cremated remains.  Family and friends are using them to create jewelry, memorial tattoos, and a host of other memorial objects made with the ashes in order to have a visual reminder of your loved one rather than just keeping the ashes stored in an urn.

Disadvantages Of Cremation

  • It’s permanent – As if death itself isn’t permanent enough?  What I’m referring to here is that once cremation takes place, the remains can’t be exhumed as is possible with a burial.  Why would remains need to be exhumed?  There are an infinite number of reasons why but keep this in mind if there’s the slightest chance it might be necessary.
  • Accidents – The possibility the ashes could get lost, stolen, or spilled.
  • Family Concerns – Family members may be opposed to it and therefore cause unnecessary tension during a very emotional time.
  • Closure – When there’s not a body to mourn some people tend to struggle with closure.

Guide to Cremation: Cremation Services and Costs

Having a body cremated used to be a subject people wouldn’t really talk much about. More than that, people didn’t really know a lot about cremation. But since it’s steady rise in popularity as an inexpensive (and easy) option for burial, information for this cremation guide abounds.  Many people still don’t know you can have performed what’s called a “direct cremation” and work directly with a crematory.  With that being the cheapest option, let’s look at this and other cremation options available.

Direct Cremation with a Crematory

Cost: $600 to $1,200

This option is quickly becoming a favorite not only for the price but also for the peace of mind. Family members not being under pressure to make quick decisions and arrange a dignified ceremony or burial for the deceased.  Once the cremated remains are returned to the family, they are free to plan and coordinate a meaningful memorial service. They may decide to bury the remains, or choose one of the many options available for memorializing loved ones with cremated remains. 

Direct Cremation Through A Funeral Home

Cost: $1,700 to $3,700

This option contains all the services mentioned above but adds a step. Here, the funeral home handles and coordinates the body disposition with the crematory.  There are fees added for their services and that may be money well spent if family members are too distraught to handle details.

Cremation Memorial Service

Cost: $2,200 to $4,300

Choosing this option, the cremation is coordinated and conducted through the funeral home. The memorial service is held with the urn present.  This type of service usually costs less than a cremation funeral (see next) since there are no preparations to be made with the body (embalming, makeup, etc.).

Cremation Funeral Service

Cost: $3,100 to $5,600

A cremation funeral is similar to a traditional funeral in many ways.  There is a casket (usually rented) present and the body of the deceased is in the casket.  The body can be made up and presented for viewing. The family can also opt for a closed casket service and save that cost.  The traditional funeral takes place and the body is then cremated after the service.

Water Cremation

At the time of publication for this cremation guide, Water Cremation has limited availability nationwide but is a viable alternative to some when some are concerned about the carbon footprint of traditional cremation using extreme heat.  If environmental effects are a concern, keep in mind that strong chemicals are used in this process which may be just as harmful.  Read what’s available and make your best decision.

Guide to Cremation: The Cremation Process

Once a person is deceased and their body is taken to the crematorium there are a few steps that need to happen before cremation can take place.

  • Paperwork: There’s always paperwork, right?  What’s needed in this situation is a death certificate, cremation authorization, and a medical examiner’s report is needed as well in some cases but not all.  In most cases this all happens within 24 hours but sometimes can take up to 48 hours.  The crematorium or funeral home you’re working with has all the forms and know about the filing and notifications process.
  • Body preparation:  While the paperwork is being taken care of, staff removes anything that can’t be cremated such as jewelry, pacemakers, implants, etc.  The body is then wrapped in a shroud and placed in a cremation container which is usually made of wood or sturdy cardboard.  Refrigeration may be required depending on the time it takes to get all the necessary paperwork in order.
  • Cremation: Once preparations are complete and paperwork in order, the body is placed in the cremation chamber (called a retort) and heated to 1,800 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  After about 2 hours in the retort, the body is reduced to very brittle bones and fragments.  The “ashes” are allowed to cool and a magnet is used to remove any other fragments that may have been missed or not accessible during the initial preparation.  The remains are then put into a cremulator which further reduces the large fragments down to an ash-like substance called “cremains” that are put in a temporary urn and presented to the family.  Some crematory’s do allow a limited number of family members to witness the cremation process.  If you’re interested in that, just ask, but know there may be an additional fee for that service.
  • Ashes: Another frequent question concerns the ashes.  First let’s dispel with the term “ashes” because what you get back is not really that at all.  What you are left with does have the look and consistency of ashes you’d see in a campfire or your fireplace. Actually, the course, sand-like matter is human skeleton remains.  The composition of our bones giving them their strength also makes them not easily broken down. Even by the intense heat of the chamber.  Organic body tissue and fluids are vaporized in the chamber, some bone fragments are still present.  That’s when the remains are put through the last step of the cremulator.

Guide to Cremation: How To Choose An Urn

If the ashes are going to be scattered, I don’t know if I’d worry about this section of the cremation guide too much. The crematorium will provide a temporary container when the ashes are presented to the family.  However, if the ashes are going to be stored or displayed in some fashion, this will help you decide what you need to include as part of the cremation plan.

Of the research I did regarding this question, nearly all the answers were close to a formula of 1 pound of body weight would equal 1 cubic inch of ash.  So, if someone weighs 125 pounds at the time of death then expect the volume of ashes to be 125 cubic inches. It’s difficult to visualize how big that is isn’t it? 

When shopping for urns, they are usually listed by size in cubic inches and most websites will give dimensions in inches in the item descriptions.  That’s the best way to visualize expected volume of ashes.  Be on the safe side, add a little bit to the volume allowing for the container the loved one was cremated in as well as for the shroud they were wrapped in.  Check the return policies with your chosen vendor so you’ll be able to make exchanges if something isn’t right.

I always thought an urn had to be a certain shape, size, and material to officially qualify as a cremation urn.  Not true.  As this cremation guide will show you, a cremation urn can be whatever you decide it’s going to be.  Sure, you can stick with that picture we all have in our minds of what the traditional urn is but is there something else you would rather have?  If your loved one’s ashes are going to on your mantle forever, what do you want to look at?

Since I got into woodworking, I’ve seen pictures of many different handmade wooden cremation urns.  They’re beautifully and tastefully made.  They sometimes have the name of the deceased hand carved into the front along with the dates of birth and death.  Exotic woods are sometimes used which can get expensive and you can go pretty basic as well.  Either way, an urn is what you want it to be so don’t think you have to stick with the traditional cremation urn.

Guide to Cremation: How to Pay for A Cremation

A section we felt really important for the cremation guide was a discussion on how to pay for this choice that is certainly rising in popularity.  As we see it, there are three choices which are discussed below.  Are there ones I missed?  Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see about getting it into the next cremation guide update.

  • Cremation insurance – This is the method many people today are using because it guarantees the funds will be available to pay your expenses when the need presents itself. Cremation insurance is, in reality, a whole life insurance policy where the death benefit to the beneficiary is understood to be used to pay for the cremation.  Be sure these wishes are spelled out in your Will as well because the life insurance contract doesn’t designate how benefits are to be spent.   Given the low cost of cremation services the policy face amounts don’t need to be very high.  Depending on your wishes an amount anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 is sufficient.  If you want to leave a little extra as a legacy gift, you might think about bumping up the face amount to $10,000.  At Final Expense Resource we specialize in this type of coverage.  Click the link to get a quote for cremation insurance.
  • Self-funding –Can you set aside a sum of money each pay period to eventually cover the anticipated expenses?  Are there any assets you have you can sell to generate what you need? If one of these two is possible that’s what I’d do.  Consider this though; what happens if you pass away before you’ve saved enough?  If you’re “young” enough and in relatively good health the chances of premature death are small but still a possibility.
  • Prepaid plan – you can contract with a funeral home or crematory to prepay your cremation in today’s dollars with the stipulation that the services will be performed at time of death for today’s contracted price.  That’s a good inflation hedge, right?  Among the points to consider is if the plan is portable just in case you move.  Be sure to read the contract thoroughly and ask questions.  Also, are cremation expenses going to rise or fall or stay about the same level as today?  That’s a toss-up in my book.  More than likely, they’ll rise so paying in advance in today’s dollars makes sense.  But, if increased competition for cremations creates price reductions for the consumer, then it’s possible, you’ll overpay.

Guide to Scattering Cremated Remains

Now this is the fun part!  In researching this cremation guide, I ran across all kinds of things people are doing with loved one’s cremated remains.  Some are truly out of this world.  While the cremation process might come across as barbaric to some, the final result of what you can do with the cremated remains may give you a more meaningful experience. And you’ll end up with a creative final resting place for your loved one.  Would you want to visit your loved one at the beach? Look up at the moon? Or go to the cemetery?  Once again, we’ve covered a number of the most popular options but if there are more you want to see mentioned please let us know in the comments below and we’ll see about getting them in the next cremation guide update.

  • Scattered at Your Favorite Destination – Among the most popular ideas as to what to do with cremated remains is to scatter them in a favorite place.  Where is your favorite outdoor spot to sit and take in the scenery?  Is there a place you go to time and again that brings you peace, happiness and contentment?  That’s a potential place to have a loved one scatter your ashes.  Is it the ocean? Favorite National Park?  Favorite camping spot?  What about the nearby lake where so many weekends were spent?  Favorite sports venue?  Wherever you decide to have your ashes scattered it’s a good idea to have permission first rather than having the memorial event interrupted by authorities.  We want a a good lasting memory for family and friends you leave behind.
  • Jewelry – A portion of your remains can actually be used to make a new piece of jewelry like a locket or pendant to wear on a necklace or bracelet.  You can have earrings made or even have your ashes crafted into a diamond.  Use this link to search for cremation jewelry options.
  • Tattoo – With the popularity of tattoos still rising, many loved ones are getting memorial tattoos that incorporate a portion of their loved one’s ashes into the actual ink.  The process has been deemed safe by tattoo artists across the country and works similar to getting a regular tattoo.  A portion of the ashes are mixed in with the ink (must be very fine as to not clog the tattoo gun) and incorporated into your design.  This is a good way to have your loved one always with you.
  • Send Your Cremated Remains on A Space Orbit or Moon Landing – In my book, here’s where the fun really is.  While the cremation process itself is inexpensive compared to the traditional funeral, you can really spend some money and have a memorable sendoff with the space option.  At the time of publication and latest update of this cremation guide, there is a company by the name of Celestis that will launch your remains into space under several different options.  The options include Earth Orbit where your ashes will orbit the earth for several weeks and then reenter the earth’s atmosphere in a final flaming tribute.  Or, you can opt to have the Luna experience where your remains will be launched to the moon to spend all eternity.  Every time your loved ones look at the moon, they know you’re actually there.  Cool huh?  I’m hoping this company is still around performing this service when my time comes.
  • Become part of a man-made reef – This one is probably my second most favored option.  You can have your ashes become part of a man-made reef.  The one company I looked into has some very moving ways you can honor your loved one in an everlasting tribute to their life.  In a nutshell, the companies that specialize in this kind of tribute fashion a “cone shaped” concrete shell and mix the cremated remains in with the concrete.  The family doesn’t have to participate in the construction of the man-made reef but they’re encouraged to do so.  I saw some moving pictures of reefs that families had festooned with family memorabilia.  Check out this option and see what you think.
  • Biodegradable Urn That Becomes A Tree – What better way to be remembered than by a tree that gets planted in your name or even better, grows as a result of cremated remains assisting in the lifetime growth of the tree.  From what I read the process is quite simple in that you only have to bury the cremated remains in a biodegradable urn beneath a tree of your choice.  Over time the urn breaks down allowing the nutrients to gradually nourish the tree.

Mailing the Ashes

Yes, you can. My advice?  If you need to get the ashes to a different location, keep them in your possession and spend the extra money to self-deliver them.  Even given the advancements in tracking a piece of mail or package through the system – whether you use the US Mail, UPS, or FedEx – mistakes are made and things get damaged or lost.  If your loved one is lost in the US Mail that will forever weigh on you.

Can I Carry The Ashes With Me On A Flight?

Absolutely.  The TSA suggests using a temporary sealed container for the ashes made of wood or plastic.  This is because their screening machines can see through those materials and determine what you’re carrying is safe for the flight.  If you use a container that they’re not able to see through, it’s possible the remains will not be allowed on the plane.

Get Your Cremation Plan In Place and Properly Funded

Hopefully information in this cremation guide has helped answer some questions for you regarding the whole process of cremation.  While this is on your mind, we should visit about getting your coverage in place to cover your final wishes so you can have the peace of mind knowing things are taken care of so your passing won’t be a burden to your family.   If you have more questions, please feel free to call or text (918-203-4900), contact us through our Facebook page (facebook.com/FEResource) or email (dave.knight@knightsfinancialgroup.com) with any questions you may have.

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