Cremation: How It Works, What to Know

Cremation is rising in popularity as an alternative to traditional burial.
Cheryl Lock
By Cheryl Lock 
Edited by Tina Orem

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What is cremation?

Cremation is the process of using heat or other processes 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.

Cremation can be done by either burning remains in a special furnace or through a water-based process called alkaline hydrolysis, which is only available in some places. 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.

Cremation costs

Cremation can be a simple process or part of a larger 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 average total cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation was almost $7,000 in 2021. The median cost of a traditional funeral with burial, for comparison, is nearly $8,000


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

Mandatory services:

  • $2,300 for basic services through a funeral home.

  • $368 cremation fee when working with a third-party provider.

  • $350 for transfer of remains to the funeral home.

Optional services:

  • $775 for embalming, or $275 for other preparation of the body.

  • $450 for facilities and staff for a viewing, or $515 for a funeral ceremony.

  • $1,310 for a cremation casket. Alternative cremation containers can be much less expensive, closer to $150 on average.

  • $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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