Last Updated on May 24, 2021
When considering cremation as the disposition method in your or a loved one’s final disposition, there are many options. It’s helpful to get an idea of what options are available, what questions and issues are important to you, and what services and pitfalls you should avoid.
Here are a list of commonly asked questions about cremation for you to consider with your family and/or your loved one. Many of these questions will get you started towards forming your own opinions prior to contacting local funeral professionals. Others are questions to ask which only the specific funeral home or crematory can answer, so that you can make an informed choice about their particular services and costs.
We have these Questions to Ask When Considering Cremation available here as a pdf document, which you can print out and fill out as you discuss the final arrangements with your family and funeral director.
General Questions to Ask When Considering Cremation
1. What options are available for final disposition of the body?
While cremation has been trending and on the rise for many years, “traditional” burial is still the most common method for final disposition of the body. Traditional burial generally involves the body being buried in a casket at a cemetery burial plot. Often, embalming is included, but it is not legally required except in special circumstances.
Other options include burial above ground in a mausoleum or crypt, donation of the body to science, and innovative cutting edge methods such as alkaline hydrolysis, in which the body is chemically decomposed in a process that is claimed to be even more eco-friendly than cremation.
If cremation is chosen, there are still many options for the final disposition. Scattering on land or at sea, ground burial in a smaller cemetery plot, planted as a memorial tree, columbarium niches, eco-friendly burial, sharing in smaller urns among relatives, and of course kept in a traditional cremation urn. If you are intrigued by some of the more “alternative” options, we’ve compiled a list of 27 things to do with cremated remains.
Consider the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of each option when discussing final arrangements with your loved ones, and be sure to review your beliefs, family traditions, and memorial service ideas relative to each disposition method. While this may be the first question you ask when considering cremation, it may be one of the last answered after scrutinizing the answers to the rest of the questions.
2. How should the body be displayed at the funeral service?
Cremation can be done prior to or after the funeral / memorial service. Do you wish to have a viewing? If having the body at the service is an important factor to your family and loved ones, you can usually rent a casket from the funeral home and then have the cremation conducted after the service.
Or, if the body has already been cremated, you can display the urn along with photographs and other momentos. Some families choose to have a memorial service entirely apart from the body or remains, celebrating the memory of their life rather than focusing on their death. Decide what works best for your family and situation.
3. Do we want to use a cremation society?
Cremation societies are different from traditional funeral homes and mortuaries, in that they do not offer the “full” range of services that are standard for a funeral home, but rather specialize in the cremation only. Using a cremation society in lieu of a funeral home is often a lower-cost option, and tends to work especially well when families choose home- or church-based memorial services and alternative disposition methods.
4. Do we want to witness the cremation?
Not everyone desires to witness the actual cremation, but for some it can help with the grieving process and give additional peace of mind knowing that your loved one’s remains have been handled properly and with dignity. It can also help you to ensure than identification is properly maintained. Some funeral homes or crematoriums may not allow family members to be present at the cremation (especially when subcontracted out to other facilities), or they may have limits on how many individuals can come. See below for more information in the questions to ask at the funeral home concerning these issues.
5. Do we want a cremation urn?
After cremation, the remains are placed inside a container. This is generally a plastic or cardboard box commonly referred to as a “temporary urn”. Depending on what you decide to do with the remains (scattering, burial, sharing among relatives, etc) you may wish to purchase a more permanent urn. But don’t be mislead by the terms – a cremation urn is any container into which you put the remains, so even the “temporary urn” can be the permanent urn if you so choose.
However, most people want to honor their loved one by getting an attractive urn. This can be anything from a simple wooden box, a stately marble urn, a ceramic vessel, or a custom made container from just about any type of material you can imagine. There are biodegradable eco-friendly urns for scattering or burial, fabric covered urns which will pass through TSA security screenings for air travel, and urns with photos engraved on the front. Some of our most popular urns feature stunning woodcut art scenes carefully inlaid into a walnut, oak, or maple wood box. Once you’ve decided on where or how you want to permanently store the remains you can choose the urn which works best for you.
6. Should we prepay?
We generally do not recommend pre-paying. Pre-paying often limits your options, and there is no way to guarantee that the funeral home will be in business when the time comes. Additionally, many pre-pay plans will require “additional fees” at the time of service. For these reasons and others, we advise against pre-pay funeral plans.
But we heartily recommend pre-planning. The questions on this list are exactly the type which you should think through with your loved ones well in advance of any need. As a part of pre-planning, you can set aside funds in a high-yield savings account, make a will, write out preferences for a memorial service, and purchase other items such as a cremation urn.
If it appears that you or your loved one will be passing away soon, we doubly recommend purchasing the urn along with memorial service items such as token keepsakes, photo displays, table decorations, flower arrangements, etc. Taking care of these items early will allow you to get exactly what you want while saving much stress and additional costs such as expedited shipping.
Questions to Ask at the Funeral Home
7. Do you have your own crematorium?
Many funeral homes contract with a nearby crematorium, or are part of a chain that uses a centrally located crematory. This is a common arrangement which helps reduce your final costs. Most funeral professionals are very careful and considerate in transporting the body, and most funeral homes and separate crematoriums have very stringent and careful protocols for handling the body and subsequent remains, so there is very little need to worry in this situation. However, it is always best to be informed so this is a good point of which your family should be aware.
8. Where is the body taken once you pick it up?
Regardless of where the crematorium is, you should definitely find out where the body is taken, how long it is kept there, and what is done during each step in the process from the moment the funeral home receives the body until the final bill is handed to you.
9. How do you maintain identification?
The decedent’s identity is especially important when considering cremation. Once the cremation process is complete, proper identification is the only way you will ensure that the remains you receive are those of your loved one. Again, funeral professionals are exceptionally careful about this issue, but it will help give you peace of mind when you have an understanding of how they maintain indentification.
10. Are your licenses and permits current?
Another good question which chiefly helps with your peace of mind. Crematoriums, funeral homes, and other funeral professionals must comply with state and federal regulations governing the funeral industry. Funeral homes and crematoriums which stay up to date on their licenses and permits will be much more likely to take good care of your loved one. Here is a list of liscensing boards and requirements listed by state.
11. Do you have liability insurance?
Funeral homes and crematoriums, like any other human endeavor, are liable to the rare case of human error, negligence, or what insurance companies term “an act of God.” Make sure that the service you are purchasing is covered by liability insurance. Ask the funeral director about any instances in which they have had to file a claim, what the outcome was, and how long it took. Again, the need for a funeral-related liability claim is rare, but should the need arise you will be glad that you chose the right funeral home which will serve as an advocate for you.
12. Is a casket required for cremation?
Most states require the body to be cremated in an approved container. This can vary from a sturdy cardboard container to a full wooden casket. Each funeral home will have their own options based on state law. Usually the basic container is included in the price, but not always. You can often choose to purchase a wooden casket, rent a wood casket which holds the container, or simply use the basic cardboard container.
13. Do you allow family members to witness the cremation?
Some funeral homes have control over the crematory and allow or offer the service of witnessing the cremation. However, since many funeral homes contract out their cremation services, this option may not be available.
14. When will we receive the remains?
Remains are generally returned to you within 12 to 24 hours after the completion of the cremation process, but this can vary depending on the local arrangement. Also, funeral homes can generally hold the remains a few additional days if you are waiting for an urn you ordered online or are having made for you. This will be an important factor in planning a burial, scattering, or other memorial activity involving family members and friends. And at the very least, in lieu of other plans it is helpful to know when you will receive the remains so that you can arrange to pick them up.