What Is Cremation? Process, Costs, What to Know

Cremation is rising in popularity as an alternative to traditional burial.
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What is cremation?

Cremation is the process of using heat or other methods to reduce human remains into small fragments. The remains can be placed in an urn and given to loved ones as a final resting place. Cremation can be more affordable than traditional funeral costs.

“Cremation is becoming the most popular thing out there,” says Ziyad Zakaria, owner of Lighthouse Family Mortuary in Greeley, Colorado. In 2023, 60.5% of deaths in the U.S. included cremation; this rate is projected to reach 81.4% by 2045

National Funeral Directors Association. U.S. Cremation Rate Expected to Top 80% by 2045. Accessed Nov 20, 2023.
.

How cremation works

Cremation is usually done through a flame-based process in a special furnace called a cremator. You can also be cremated through a water-based process called alkaline hydrolysis, though it’s less common and not yet legal in all U.S. states.

The body is typically cremated in a simple wood or cardboard container, though you can purchase or rent a display casket for a memorial service or viewing beforehand.

The entire process might take three to 15 days, depending on state laws. Some states require specific waiting periods before cremation. The cremation itself takes about three hours, with an additional one to four hours to process the remains.

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Cremation costs

Cremation can be a simple process or part of a more extensive memorial service, depending on your loved one’s wishes. “Direct cremation” — just the basic process without all the funeral bells and whistles — can cost as little as $750, but the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation was $6,280 in 2023. For comparison, the median price of a traditional funeral with burial was $8,300 in 2023.

Prices can vary widely depending on the provider and services. Here are some of the most recent median prices for cremation-related services

National Funeral Directors Association. 2023 NFDA General Price List Study. Accessed Jan 25, 2024.
:

Mandatory services:

  • $2,459 for basic services through a funeral home.

  • $400 cremation fee when working with a third-party provider.

  • $395 for transfer of remains to the funeral home.

Optional services:

  • $845 for embalming, or $295 for other preparation of the body.

  • $475 for facilities and staff for a viewing, or $550 for a funeral ceremony.

  • $160 for alternative cremation containers.

  • $295 for an urn.

How to plan for cremation

  1. Check if the deceased pre-arranged their burial or cremation. “The biggest thing I talk to families about is to really consider pre-arrangements for themselves,” says 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.

  2. Reach out to a licensed cremation company in your state, as some states have different rules for cremation. In New York, for example, “it’s required that people use a licensed funeral director to transport the deceased for cremation,” says Patti Martin, office manager at The Cedar Hill Cemetery Association in Newburgh, New York.

  3. Compare pricing across several providers. Services vary drastically, and laws are different in every state. The FTC’s Funeral Rule gives you the right to get a general price list from funeral providers

    . Ask if there are extra fees or additional services not listed that you might be interested in. 

  4. Consult the deceased’s burial insurance policy (if they have one) to see if it covers cremation. Some life insurance policies may also help cover the costs of burial or cremation.

  5. Authorize the cremation. Typically, a cremation must be authorized by a legal next of kin, other family member or person authorized to act on behalf of the deceased. You’ll need to fill out and sign a form with your cremation company or funeral home.

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