What You Need to Know About Burials

Burial: Your Guide to Traditional (& Non-Traditional) Burials

Last Updated on October 22, 2021

Every culture and society has a fitting way to say goodbye to a departed loved one. This is what their community deems the proper and appropriate way to lay their loved one’s remains to rest while honoring their life and memory.

What is a traditional burial? What makes up a non-traditional burial? Is it wrong to choose the non-traditional burial? How do you decide which is best for your needs?

When planning end-of-life events, you must consider a wide range of factors. You’ll want to incorporate your family’s beliefs or religious practices, work within your financial circumstances, and honor your loved one’s last wishes.

The best way to do this is to learn what burial practices are available to you. We’ve gathered all the options for burial below, from the traditional to the extremely creative. With the aid of our helpful summary, you can make an informed decision on planning a burial.

We’re going to talk about all of this in more detail below:

Tap any of the links to jump to that section.

Burial Planning

There’s more to burial planning than just showing up at the funeral home. There are decisions to make.

Let’s use the example of someone who has not pre-planned for their death. Hopefully, you will know your loved one’s wishes; if they didn’t make their wishes known, then the decisions will need to be made by the legal next of kin. This can be extremely difficult!

So our advice to you is: Plan ahead.

If it’s too late for your loved one, by all means, read on and we will try to guide you as best at we can. At the same time, we hope you will take these things into consideration for your own final arrangements. Write down what you would choose for yourself, and make it known to your family.

This will save them a lot of stress down the road!

More info; bookmark these for later:

Outside of the specific burial choices, the biggest factors in this process will be 1) choosing a funeral home, and 2) selecting a cemetery. Let’s take a quick look at those before exploring burial options.

Choose a Funeral Home

Call for pricing and to discuss options. Funeral homes will discuss pricing over the phone. They will even email you a general price list upon request. If you have specific requests, you can easily ask over the phone whether that is something they can do or not. This is an easy way to eliminate unsuitable mortuaries.

Compare online reviews and get recommendations from friends. Just bear in mind that many people don’t want to review a funeral home, or they will only do so if they have a bad experience. And remember, every funeral home customer is already having a bad experience – their loved one just died! So expect to find a few negative reviews or comments. But definitely watch out for places that have many, many negative reviews.

Choose a funeral home that honors your preferences and beliefs. Most funeral directors will work with you to create a memorial that honors your loved one’s culture, faith tradition, and personal preferences. Some will be better than others.

Get a feel for the place, and for your funeral director. After calling for prices and general availability of options, meet up with the funeral director at the funeral home. If you don’t like the look or feel of the funeral home, keep looking until you find the right one.

Do they offer financing or a payment plan? Most funeral homes do not offer a payment plan, but they do offer financing through lending companies. However, you have to be approved by the credit company.

More: How to Choose a (Great!) Funeral Home

Pick a Cemetery

Make a list of the questions you want to ask. Do this before your initial call. Sometimes when you get into the conversation, you may forget what you wanted to ask, so write down your questions. Yes, they will ask you lots of questions and might even cover everything you wanted to know. However, it doesn’t hurt to be as prepared as possible.

Call for pricing. You will need the grave cost plus the fee for the opening and closing of the grave. Be sure to ask, “Is this the full, final price? Are there any other fees or taxes?”

Ask about a vault or grave liner. Some cemeteries don’t require a vault or liner. However, if they do require either one of these, it is another expense that will range from $1000 and up.

There are several plot sizes and burial/entombment options. Do you want to purchase a single plot, double plot, or family plot? Can you choose the location of the plot? What about burial in a mausoleum or crypt? Most cemeteries offer these choices, but not all. Or perhaps the specific options for each type are limited. Be sure to ask for what you want.

Consider green or natural options. Does this cemetery allow natural burials? If you want a green burial, you MUST find a cemetery that allows this type of burial. Learn more here.

Consider the marker you want. What type of headstones do they allow? Some cemeteries only allow flat markers. Did you want an upright headstone, or a sculpted monument?

More: 13 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cemetery

Burial Options

There are many burial options and accessories. The type of burial you select is a keenly personal decision. There isn’t a right or wrong choice, only the best choice for you and your loved one.

Like all major decisions, you should weigh your options thoroughly. The list below is sure to help you make an informed decision.

1. Ground Burial

When people say “traditional burial”, they usually mean ground burial. This is where the body is placed into a casket which is then buried in the earth.

Most cemeteries also require that you also purchase a burial vault or grave liner. Made of concrete or fiberglass, vaults and grave liners keep the ground from collapsing on top of the casket. 

What you need for ground burial:

  • Choose a cemetery
  • Purchase a plot
  • Casket, protective vault, and marker

A ground burial can include a full body and a cremation urn in one plot. Be sure to discuss this with your funeral director, but with the rising popularity of cremation it is very common for an urn to be buried in the same plot as a previous full-body ground burial. (We’ll talk more about cremation and burial below.)

You can purchase a single plot, where only one casket can be buried. You will also have the option of a double plot; this could mean burying family members side by side or, in some instances, one casket on top of the other.

You might even decide to purchase a family plot. A family plot is a space that is large enough for multiple family members.

2. Above-Ground Burial

Perhaps you don’t like the idea of interring your loved one underground. There is another alternative for you, and there is more than one type of above-ground burial option. There are indoor and outdoor mausoleums, as well as lawn crypts.

Mausoleum

A mausoleum is a building made to house a casket. There are different types of mausoleums in which to place your loved one.

  • Private Mausoleum. This is a standalone building that is reserved for you and your family. There are benefits to having a family-owned mausoleum. It should be comforting to know that your final resting place will be near your family members. A private mausoleum can hold from two to multiple decedents.
  • Community Mausoleum. This building is larger than a private mausoleum. It houses the remains of those who purchase space to be interred in it. An indoor community mausoleum is a climate-controlled building. You can choose the location and level of the burial chamber you’d like to purchase.
  • Outdoor Mausoleum. Also called a garden mausoleum, this is a structure with the vaults visible on the outside of the structure. Sometimes this is the exterior wall of a building or mausoleum, other times it is a standalone structure with the interior or covered part exposed as well (like a gazebo). Each vault is still completely secured with the casket protected inside; but the cover to the vault is visible out of doors.

For photos, examples and more information, take a look at some mausoleums here.

Lawn Crypts

A lawn crypt is basically an underground mausoleum. It is also called a garden crypt.

A lawn crypt is a pre-installed concrete burial chamber used to hold a casket. The intention is to protect the casket from the elements so that it remains dry and clean. The crypt acts as a vault and ensures the protection of the casket. It protects the cemetery grounds as well.

In both traditional burial and a lawn crypt burial, the casket is placed below ground level. With traditional burial, the casket is placed in a vault that is slightly larger than the casket. On the other hand, a lawn crypt is much larger and allows for numerous burials in the underground structure.

 Installing crypts maximizes the number of burial spaces available.

3. Cremation Burial

Cremation burial is less expensive than a traditional burial. Cremated remains are typically buried in a plot, an urn garden, or placed in a columbarium.

  • Burial in a cemetery plot. Cremated remains are smaller than a body. Cemeteries will often allow for more than one set of cremated to be buried in the same plot. In addition, most cemeteries will allow cremated remains to be buried in a grave that already contains a casket.
  • Interment in a columbarium. Placing cremains in a columbarium niche is called inurnment. A columbarium can be a free-standing wall located in a cemetery or church. The niches are the spaces in the columbarium. They are for containing the cremated remains of your loved one.
  • Buried in an urn garden. The cemetery or other memorial location usually dedicates a specific area for the garden. The urn can be either below or above ground. Urn gardens have beautiful landscaping. The landscaping might have statues, boulders, benches, and even fountains, all designed to hold cremains.

4. Burial at Sea

A funeral director isn’t required for the scattering of cremated remains at sea. However, full-body burials require specific preparation, ensuring the body or coffin sinks quickly. In most states, a licensed funeral director is needed for a full-body burial at sea.

For all rules regarding burial at sea, click here.

Traditional vs Non-Traditional Burials

Most of us consider a “traditional burial” the burial of an embalmed body. The body is placed in a casket and vault in a public cemetery. But there is a new alternative, and that is the “non-traditional burial.”

With a traditional burial, you will usually stick to one formula. The advantage of this is the comfort it provides; in keeping with familiar tradition, there can be a lot of peace and security even as your world seems to turn upside down.

With non-traditional burials, there are plenty of creative options. Families are exploring these options more and more as they try to honor their loved one’s unique, one-of-a-kind life. That’s why we hear less about “funerals” and more about “life celebrations.”

We will discuss some non-traditional burial methods below.

Non-Traditional Burial Options

Most people opting for a non-traditional burial will choose a green burial, also called a natural burial.

A green burial highlights simplicity and environmental friendliness. The body isn’t cremated or embalmed. Instead, the body will be placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, which is placed directly into the ground without a concrete vault. The body will then – naturally – return to the earth.

Here are some other interesting non-traditional burial methods. These are popular on the internet but in reality are quite rare:

  • Burial tree pods. These are egg-shaped, organic caskets which are also suitable for cremated remains. When the pod is buried, the biodegradable plastic shell breaks down. Once this happens, the remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted above it.
  • Mushroom suit. This is also called the infinity burial suit. The mushroom suit is made from organic cotton implanted with matter from specially cultivated mushrooms. The suit delivers nutrients from the decomposing body to surrounding plant roots.
  • Cryonics. This is the process of the body being frozen for preservation.
  • Human composting. Also known as natural organic reduction. Composting is able to decompose the human body until only bones are left, creating nutrient-rich soil rather than being buried in an environmentally-costly casket and vault.
  • Aquamation. This is the procedure of being ‘bathed’ in water, which speeds up the deterioration process. 
  • Resomation. A newer disposition method that decomposes the body using alkali and water-based solutions under high pressure. Also sometimes called “water cremation.”
  • Promession. Still in the theoretical stages, this is what its advocates hope will be an eco-friendly method where the body is transformed into fertilizer by using, in part, a freeze drying process.

Read more: Here’s the complete list of everything you can do with your body after you die

Again, most of these ideas are not very practical at the moment. While they are interesting to talk about and get plenty of “likes” on the interwebs, the truth is that these new, creative methods are either hugely expensive or only available in very limited locations.

Ultimately, supporters of green burials value simplicity, sustainability, and inexpensiveness. I don’t think anything can meet that criteria better than a simple burial, wrapped in a shroud, directly into the earth.

Related: Natural Burial: How to Celebrate Life with a Green Funeral

Graveside Services

Typical graveside services tend to be rather brief and simple.

First, the officiant/clergy will likely repeat a few prayers or readings. After this, someone might deliver a eulogy. Mourners will pay their final respects, and perhaps sing a hymn.

Upon completing this short service, the body will be lowered into the ground or placed in the crypt.

That’s the simple version. You can always choose to add a little flair to the graveside service.

  • Ask children to participate. Have them can sing or say a prayer.
  • Release doves or butterflies.
  • Give out a small trinket in memory of your loved one.
  • Hand out flowers for people to throw into the grave.
  • Ask people to share memories.
  • Have everyone throw a handful of dirt into the grave.

Learn more: Committal Service: What It Is & How to Plan One

Caskets, Headstones, & Other Products

There are several products which may be needed for ground burial.

Caskets & coffins

There are essentially five types of caskets.

  • Simple casket: A plain, rectangular box with minimal features.
  • Coffin: A container for the body with six sides. It starts narrow at the head, widens for the shoulders and arms, and tapers back down for the feet. The difference between a coffin and a casket is the shape: The coffin has six “points” or corners, while a casket has four.
  • Half-couch casket: A casket with a hinged lid split in two parts. For a viewing or open-casket funeral, the top half is open to allow the decedent’s head and torso to be visible. The lower half is covered. This is the most common type of casket.
  • Full-couch casket: A casket with a hinged lid for the entire top. Less common than the half-couch or “split” casket, this option is still popular in many parts of the USA.
  • Cremation casket: This is a cardboard container used for cremation. The body is placed into the cremation casket which is then put into the cremation chamber. While you can cremate your loved one in an expensive wooden casket, the cremation casket is a much more affordable option.
  • ALSO – Rental casket: Not really its own type, but it’s helpful to know about. When your loved one will be cremated, instead of purchasing a casket for the funeral you can simply rent one of the first four types mentioned above.

Caskets and coffins are made in several different materials, most commonly:

  • Stainless steel
  • Wood veneer
  • Genuine wood
  • Copper
  • Bronze
  • Green, e.g. eco-friendly and biodegradable (often willow or bamboo)
  • Cardboard, specifically for use when cremating

Grave Markers & Headstones

Is there a difference between grave markers and headstones? Yes, yes, there is.

Grave Markers

Grave markers are flat plaques and used to identify the deceased.

  • The most common materials for grave markers are granite and bronze. But they can be made out of sandstone, limestone, iron, marble, fieldstone, and other materials.
  • They lay flat against the ground. This creates a serene “lawn” effect at the cemetery, unbroken by upright headstones.
  • Grave markers are typically more affordable than headstones. Smaller and lighter, easier to manufacture and move, these features result in a lower overall cost.

Headstones

Headstones are upright monuments to identify the deceased.

  • Headstones are the most common type of burial monument used.
  • They can be simple and elegant, or complex and ornate.
  • There are many options and designs available in multiple shapes, sizes, colors, and designs.
  • Most headstones are made of rock: marble, slate, and granite. They are extremely heavy and cost much more to produce and set in place.

Grave Liners & Vaults (“Outer Burial Containers”)

Grave liners and burial vaults are sometimes called “outer burial containers.” These are protective barriers between the casket and the earth, designed primarily to support the earth above the casket and keep the ground from caving in, while also (to some extent) protecting the casket inside.

There are differences between grave liners and vaults, although both products serve the same purpose.

Grave Liners

grave liner is a concrete box with drainage holes in the bottom. The liner doesn’t have any seals. It supports the ground above and protects the casket.

Burial Vaults

vault is also a concrete box but has additional metal liners inside. It also has seals between the lid and box. The vault protects the casket and the surrounding ground.

Read More: What Is a Burial Vault, and Do I Need One?

Other Burial Accessories

There are a few other accessories that some funeral homes offer.

  • Personalized head panel inserts
  • Engraved name plate
  • Custom end caps/corners
  • Special blankets and pillows for inside the casket
  • Fencing around the burial plot
  • Flowers and/or perpetual care

Costs, Payment Options, & Ways to Save

Funeral Costs

The cost of a funeral will vary from service to service. Each “add-on” will bump up the cost. The average funeral costs between $7,000 and $12,000. This includes viewing, basic service fees, transporting remains to the funeral home, a casket, embalming, and other preparation.

The cost of a funeral with cremation averages between $6,000 and $7,000. When cremation is chosen, the costs do not include a cemetery, monument, marker, or flowers.

Payment Options

Most funeral homes do not take payments directly. Instead, you will need to pay in cash, credit card, life insurance assignment, or a personal check. They may, however, partner with lenders for financing.

Ask the funeral home of your choice about the payment options available to you.

Ways To Save Money

  • Donate your body to science. There is no cost to the family, and the facility will have you cremated after they are finished with your body.
  • Pre-plan your funeral service. You will be locking in today’s prices for years to come.
  • Don’t buy a “gasketed” casket. A sealed casket is not necessary.
  • Comparison shop. Shop around and find the best pricing.
  • Don’t embalm. You don’t have to embalm if you don’t have a public viewing, and opting out with save you a pretty penny.

More: 50 Tips for a Funeral on a Budget

Burial FAQ

What is the cheapest form of burial?

A direct burial is the lease expensive burial that a funeral home will offer. Burying the body soon after death; there is no embalming or visitation.

What are the standard dimensions of a grave?

A standard grave is the most common size used for a plot and measures 2.5’ x 8’. While this is the typical size used, most cemeteries have alternative sizes available as well. These usually measure 3’ x 9’ and 4’ x 10’.

When a grave liner or vault is installed, the grave measurements are expanded to 3′-2″ x 9′. If you have an oversized casket, the vault and grave will have to be large enough to accommodate it.

These larger spaces accommodate caskets that surpass standard measurements. Due to the obesity epidemic in the US, larger caskets are needed more often.

Standard cemetery plots are usually 4′ to 6’ deep. 

Can you get buried without embalming?

Yes. Embalming is an option, not mandatory. With that being said, embalming is required when you are interred in an indoor mausoleum.

Can you get buried without a casket?

Yes. No state law requires you to use a casket for burial or cremation. On the other hand, the cemetery can set its own requirements. Most cemeteries will require a casket.

Can you get buried without a vault?

Yes. But, most cemeteries will require a burial vault or, at minimum, a grave liner. 

Can you get buried on your own property?

Being buried on your property is legal in most states. But, please remember, burial laws differ from state to state. You should know what permits you may need. As long as you own the land, you shouldn’t have any trouble obtaining permits.

Read more: How to (Legally) Bury a Body in Your Backyard

Planning a funeral service is stressful. The best way to accomplish this is to plan before it is needed. If you plan ahead, you will be able to think clearly and make rational decisions.

Pre-plan your funeral by reading our guide and then getting in touch with a local funeral home. You won’t regret your decision.

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