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What is cremation?
Cremation is the process of reducing human remains to bone fragments and other matter that are then processed into small pieces. The remains are put in an urn and given to loved ones. In 2022, 59% of deaths in the U.S. included cremation; this rate is projected to reach 65% by 2027.
“Cremation is becoming the most popular thing out there,” said Ziyad Zakaria, owner of Lighthouse Family Mortuary in Greeley, Colorado.
Compared with traditional funeral costs, cremation can also be more affordable.
» MORE: How to plan a funeral
Cremation costs and options
Most people recognize cremation in the traditional sense — an urn with someone’s remains either kept by family or scattered in a ceremony — but there are usually several options to honor loved ones through this process.
Cost: About $370 to a few thousand dollars.
What it involves: The crematorium cremates the body, and the family or next of kin receives an urn or other specialized container with their loved one’s remains. The provider handles the necessary paperwork.
» MORE: How to get a death certificate
Cremation with a private viewing
Cost: Often it's the price of a direct/simple cremation plus an extra $200 to $2,000 or more.
What it involves: This option allows family members to see their loved ones before cremation. Price varies depending on the details of the private viewing.
Cremation with a memorial service
Cost: About $7,000, on average, but it depends on what’s included, whether the body or the urn is present and how the proceedings are customized.
What it involves: This gives families the option of a traditional memorial service, where the urn or the body is present. The service might include flowers, keepsakes, a special urn or a visitation before the service. The family may choose to have the person's body present at the memorial.
“This is a package where the family gets the full traditional casket, the full service with the body present, the pallbearers, the hearse, all of that, and then after the church, instead of heading to the cemetery, the body gets cremated,” said Zakaria. In this case, the casket is usually part of the package, where the shell is reused and the interior is new for each person. This is similar to a typical funeral but, without the fees associated with buying a new casket.
Some funeral homes, places of worship, cemeteries or mausoleums also charge separately for their services or for final resting places.
» MORE: How advance directives work
Things to remember
Know the rules in your state. Reach out to a licensed cremation company in your state to find out if there are any laws you should be aware of. In New York, for example, “it’s required that people use a licensed funeral director to transport the deceased for cremation,” said Patti Martin, office manager at The Cedar Hill Cemetery Association in Newburgh, New York. “So Cedar Hill has a crematorium on the premises, but only a licensed funeral director can bring someone in, and the director has to authorize ahead of time that the person can be cremated."
Shop around if you can. Services vary drastically and laws are different in every state. One industry watchdog found that cremation offerings sometimes vary by as much $2,000 for the same service.
Be aware of the FTC’s Funeral Rule. This gives you the right to get a general price list from funeral providers.
» MORE: The 7 steps of estate planning
Questions to ask cremation service providers
Ask these three questions when shopping around.
How much time do you typically spend with families? Make sure your family will be treated as individuals, not one of many.
What are the steps in the cremation process? Knowing how cremation works ahead of time will help you better understand how particular companies follow or vary from the way the process usually happens.
What am I paying for each step? FTC regulations require companies to provide you with a full list of options regarding pricing. Still, be sure to ask if there are extra fees or additional services not listed that you might be interested in.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough without spending thousands of dollars and tons of time on burial plans.
“The biggest thing I talk to families about is to really consider pre-arrangements for themselves,” said Zakaria. “With pre-arrangement, it tells people what you want, and it’s usually already paid for with prices that are locked in and guaranteed.”
Several apps can help with death planning as well.