Cremation Timeline: How Long Is There Between Death and Cremation?

The cremation timeline can vary from state to state, and even between funeral homes down the road from each other.

Still, you want to know: How long will the cremation take? When can you pick up the cremated remains? What will you do with the cremated remains once you have them back?

Death can be a confusing time. You have so many decisions to make, and you are working on a timeline.

Read on to find out the answer to these questions and more.

Cremation Timeline

The cremation timeline will depend upon the state laws.

1. Day of death (Day 1)

The time of day has an effect on how much can happen that day. But it will be a rough, busy day.

2. The funeral home picks up the body (Days 1-3)

For a home death, this can be from 30 minutes to an hour, or once the body has been released.

If the death happened in a hospital or other medical center, the funeral home will come when the doctor releases the body. That could be an hour or a few days. Now with COVID-19, sometimes the hospital will hold a body longer than usual.

3. The family makes funeral arrangements (Days 1-7)

Most families take at least a full day to plan the funeral, if the death was expected. Other times it can take up to a week to schedule and arrange. See here for more info on when to schedule the funeral.

4. The funeral (around Day 7)

Funerals are held every day of the week. The most popular day is Saturday, as most attendees won’t be scheduled to work on that day.

5. Cremation (varies; Days 1-9)

Most often the cremation takes place immediately following funeral service, up to a few days afterwards.

However, some families choose to have the cremation take place before the funeral. One common way is with direct cremation, a budget-friendly option where the body is taken ‘directly’ to the crematorium after death, rather than to a funeral home for a casket, viewing, and funeral.

Or the family knows that they would like the funeral to take place in two weeks, three weeks, or longer, so they opt for cremation to happen within a few days. At that point, the time that cremation occurs will depend on the family’s decision-making process and also the crematorium’s schedule.

But on the day of cremation, here is the timeline you can expect:

5.a – Cremation begins (2-3 hours)

When the cremation chamber is turned on, it will remain on for about 2-3 hours while the body is incinerated.

5.b – Cooling (1-2 hours)

With temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, you can imagine that it will take some time to cool.

5.c – Processing the remains (1-2 hours)

You can read more about the cremation process, but suffice it to say the remains need to be processed once they come out of the cremation chamber.

The actual processing time is around 1-2 hours, but the crematorium operators usually do this in between other tasks so it will take some time before the remains are ready for pickup.

6. Remains ready for family (Days 8-20)

Again, this timeline can shift depending on when the cremation is done in relation to the funeral. Assuming the funeral is on Day 7, the remains will be ready for pickup by the family sometime between Days 8 and 20. This will vary depending on how busy the funeral home and/or crematorium is. They will contact you.

If you purchased an urn from the funeral home, they will have the remains ready for you in the urn of your choice. If you purchased an urn elsewhere (for instance, our retail shop at Urns Northwest), you can have the urn shipped directly to the funeral home, drop it off sometime, or bring it with you when you pick up the remains. The funeral home staff will transfer the remains for you upon request.

Read more: Do I have to buy an urn from the funeral home?

All Your “How Long…” Questions Answered

Here’s everything you might have wondered about the cremation timeline, from time of death to receiving the remains back.

How long after death does the funeral home pick up the body?

The time it takes the funeral home to pick up the body depends upon a few factors.

  • Pronouncement of Death – A doctor or a hospice nurse must pronounce the body dead.
  • Paperwork – The body will be released, and the family can call the funeral home. Once the body is released, you will be able to call the funeral home to take your loved one into their care.
  • The Funeral Home – The funeral director or staff will usually be to the place of death within an hour.

The funeral home wants to give you time to say your good-byes. If you have a home death and want to wait for family to come in from out of town, let the funeral home know. They will pick up your loved when later in the day if that works best for you.

Hospitals may want your loved one picked up immediately or have the body taken to the morgue. Hospitals need the bed space and don’t always have the luxury of waiting.

How long can a dead body be kept at home?

Before you make any decisions, you must inform the proper authorities of your loved one’s death.

It is legal to keep your loved one’s body at home after they die in all states. Most states will allow you to keep the body at home until the burial or cremation. The actual length of time varies from state to state. Make sure you are aware of your state and local laws.

You will need to keep the body cool. It is recommended to use dry ice. Learn more here.

How long is there between death and cremation?

There are many variables to the question of how long it can take between death and cremation. Most states have a waiting period before a cremation can take place.

When you are dealing with a national cremation society, it could take 10 to 15 days. When you are using a smaller facility, it can take 2 to 3 days.

In every state, the funeral home/crematorium needs a signed death certificate. Once the funeral home has filled out its portion of the death certificate, the next step is for the doctor to fill out their portion. The doctors don’t always get to this promptly. When the doctor signs off on the death certificate, the cremation can be scheduled.

Assuming these factors are addressed, the cremation can take place as quickly as the same day, or as long as a week or more after death. See our cremation timeline at the top of the article for more details.

How long is there between death and the funeral service?

In some religions, funerals must take place as soon as a day or two after death.

You might have family coming in from all over the country, and you need to wait longer. With appropriate embalming methods, the funeral can occur up to two weeks after death.

How long after a funeral is the body cremated?

After the funeral, the cremation can take place immediately or up to two weeks later. It all depends on the funeral home’s intake and whether you choose to have your loved one embalmed.

If the funeral home has its own crematory, sometimes the cremation will take place right away. If the funeral home works with a crematory, they will have to coordinate times according to each other’s schedule.

How long does cremation take?

The cremation itself typically takes about 3 hours. The processing of the cremated remains takes an additional 2 to 3 hours.

How long does it take to get ashes after cremation?

If the cremation takes place early enough in the day, you can get the cremated remains back the same day.

Typically, you will get the cremated remains back 1 to 3 days after the cremation has taken place. Sometimes, if the crematorium is extremely busy, it may take longer, even up to a week or more. Talk to your funeral director or to the crematorium for a more personalized timeline.

What do you do with ashes after cremation?

One of the best things about cremation is the options you have once you get the cremains back in your care.

And the list goes on. Check with local laws before burying or scattering your loved one’s ashes. As with everything, there are rules to follow.

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Karen Roldan

Karen Roldan has been in the funeral industry since 2006, and a licensed funeral director and embalmer since 2008. She is currently licensed in the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania. She attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, IL,...

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