Once you or your loved one has decided on cremation as the best option for final disposition, the next steps are to arrange for the actual cremation to take place. Here is a step-by-step guide for you to plan or arrange a cremation with simplicity, affordability, and peace of mind.
How do I arrange a cremation?
STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR VENDOR
You typically will have two options for cremation. You can go through a funeral home, or you can deal directly with the crematorium. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look.
Option A: The Funeral Home
The funeral home is where they take care of you. They’re the experts, the ones who will handle your situation and needs with courtesy and professionalism. You’ll pay more for their services, but the cost is worth it for the peace of mind. Plus, they will have a range of options that go from all-inclusive and premium services down to budget-friendly simplicity to help you arrange a cremation suited to your needs.
Choosing to use a funeral home as your cremation provider is, in nearly all instances superior in every way except one: Price. So let’s take a look at the alternative.
Option B: Direct Cremation
Direct cremation is when the body of the deceased is cremated “directly” after death without a prior memorial service. Often this is done directly through a local crematory, without the involvement of a funeral home. However, many funeral homes are offering direct cremation at a very reasonable price, so you can check with them and compare prices and services.
STEP 2: DECIDE ON A FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL SERVICE
During or after the decision-making process of funeral home vs. direct cremation, you will need to start thinking about the details of the funeral and/or memorial service. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a slight difference.
The funeral is where the body is actually committed to the ground, vault, crypt, or niche. This can be a full-body burial or with cremated remains. There is typically a brief service at the grave site, a few words spoken and the traditional handful of dirt tossed into the grave, or roses placed on the casket or by the urn, etc.
The memorial service is typically held indoors and is a time of remembering, honoring, and celebrating the life of the decedent. This can be done with or without the body or remains present. It can be done before or after the cremation, before or after the funeral.
With these basic definitions in mind, you can see that there are many options for services. For instance, you can have a memorial service with the body present on the weekend following your loved one’s death. The cremation can follow afterwards, and then you can wait a few days, a week, or even years before having a small funeral with the burial or scattering and some close friends and family present. Or, if you chose direct cremation, you do not have the ticking clock of decomposition. This means that you can schedule the service for any date in the next several weeks or months when all the family can arrange to be in town at the same time.
STEP 3: GET THE DEATH/MEDICAL CERTIFICATE
To arrange a cremation with the crematorium or funeral home, you will need a copy of the death certificate. The funeral director will assist you in gathering the information and signatures necessary for a death certificate. Be sure to get at least ten copies, as many institutions (Social Security, life insurance, mortgage and credit companies, veteran’s benefits, etc) will require an authentic copy to resolve your loved one’s affairs.
If you are the DIY type, you will need to contact your local Vital Records office and they will direct you on how to proceed and obtain the certificates you need.
STEP 4: TRANSPORT THE BODY
The easiest way is to let the professionals handle the transportation. For a fee, they will carefully and respectfully transport the body to the funeral home and/or crematorium. If it is in town, these fees are relatively minimal. Sometimes, when transportation involves longer distances or crossing state lines, you can expect fees in the range of $1000-3000.
If you would like to save the cost of the transportation fees, or if you simply prefer to take care of things yourself, you can transport the body on your own. At a minimum, it is recommended that you get a body bag and have at least one helper with you on the drive. Depending on the people involved, you may need more than two people at the starting point and destination to safely lift and move the body. In most cases it is ideal to use a larger vehicle such as a van, minivan, mid-to-large-sized SUV, or truck. If crossing state lines, you will need to obtain a burial transit permit from the appropriate state agencies which will most likely require the body to be embalmed.
STEP 5: FILL OUT THE CREMATION PAPERWORK
The next of kin will need to fill out and sign a cremation authorization form. The paperwork required to arrange a cremation varies a bit by state, so there may be some additional forms. The funeral home or the crematorium will provide you with the proper forms. You will most likely need to provide an official copy of the death certificate for the funeral home or crematorium to keep on file.
STEP 6: CHOOSE A CASKET FOR THE CREMATION
You can rent an attractive casket for use at the funeral, if you’re planning on having the service prior to the cremation. Also, you can use a wide range of caskets for the cremation itself. Some families prefer to go with the simple cardboard container provided with the basic cremation service, others choose to purchase a very nice wood casket as a way to honor the decedent. Others go with a simple pine box coffin, like this one you can assemble yourself, and still others choose a sustainably-produced and eco-friendly bamboo or willow casket for the cremation.
STEP 7: CHOOSE A CREMATION URN
This is one step that you can fully complete in advance. We recommend getting the cremation urn ahead of time for several reasons:
- Ordering an urn online will save you money, as the prices at funeral homes are generally much higher. Buying in advance protects you against inflation and the high cost of rush shipping at the last minute.
- Choosing ahead of time allows you or your loved ones to pick out exactly the design and style you (or they) would like.
- It saves stress, removing one potentially stressful choice at a time when you are making many emotional and expensive choices.
Here are a few helpful guides and articles that will inform you of your options for a cremation urn:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Cremation Urns
- The Five-Minute Guide to Choosing a Cremation Urn
- How to Choose a Cremation Urn
For the premier selection of quality and affordable cremation urns online, shop our store here. Here are a few basic tips from the last article above, How to Choose a Cremation Urn:
- Keep in mind that you are free to use any container you like
- Determine the size of urn you need
- Decide where the urn will be kept
- Choose what type of material you would like
- Decide what design, theme, or style you would like
- Other considerations: Scattering, sharing, traveling, lasting
STEP 8: WITNESSING THE CREMATION
While some crematoriums do not permit for families to witness the cremation, many do. As the cremation industry modernizes and becomes more normalized, witnessing the cremation is an increasingly common request from loved ones. Decide if this is something you would like to do, and if so, be sure to ask the crematorium if they can accomodate you and how many witnesses they allow.
STEP 9: FINAL DISPOSITION OPTIONS
Lastly, you will want to decide what to do with the remains. We’ve discussed final disposition options extensively in this article. The most common choices include:
- Ground burial
- Above-ground burial (inurnment in a niche)
- Scattering of ashes
- Memorial urn kept at home
- Burial or scattering at sea
- Plus a variety of creative & unique options – planted as a tree, etc.
The cremation urn you choose in step 7 may vary depending on what you decide to do with the remains. You can also combine methods, keeping a portion at home in a traditional urn while scattering or burying some of the ashes. The choice is up to you.
Since this is a lot of information to process, we’ve boiled it down into a simple checklist. Please use this free printable checklist to help as you make the cremation arrangements.