Are you considering cremation as the disposition method in your or a loved one’s final disposition? There are many options, and this isn’t a topic we think about every day.
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.
Below, we list the most 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
Let’s start with some questions to ask yourself to help determine if cremation is the right choice.
1. What options are available for final disposition of the body?
While cremation has become the most common option, traditional burial is still a close second. 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 you choose cremation, there are still many options for what to do with the remains. These options include 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.
Oh, and there are plenty of alternative things to do with ashes available too.
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 an open casket 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 mementos. 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 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.
Continue reading 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.
Related: Everyday Items You Can Use as a Cremation Urn
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, the guest book, and so on.
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 identification.
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 licensing 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.”
So 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.
Related: Cremation Timeline: How Long Is There Between Death and Cremation?
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.
Read Next: What to Say When Scattering Ashes
13 thoughts on “14 Questions to Ask When Considering Cremation”
What a list of the 14 questions to ask.
My whole family decided that instead of an actual burial service, they’d rather be cremated. Nobody prior to us has been cremated, so we have no idea what to expect. I had never even heard of a cremation society until stumbling upon your article, we will most likely ended up using one. I will come back to this for reference, thanks for the share!
Thanks for the post. My Father-in-lay wants to be cremated, and this is really good info I can discus with him. I never thought about witnessing the cremation. I don’t know exactly how I feel about that, but I do like the idea that we would know his body was handled correctly and with dignity. That is something to consider and look into.
My grandpa was telling me that he might want to be cremated, and I was curious about what benefits it has. It’s interesting that you should consider how the body will be presented at the funeral service. I know that we would want to have him there, but if he wants to be cremated it would be hard.
It was amazing how you said that the services for the cremation depend on whether or not we want to view the body first. Like you said, if we wish to have a viewing for the friends and loved ones, then we can rent a casket from the funeral home and proceed to the cremation later. I guess I’ll go for that suggestion because we’re still waiting for my mom to return home to the US. My younger sister passed away last night, and my dad has decided for her to be cremated, however, we won’t proceed to that until my mom returns from France. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to inform my dad.
A family friend of mine recently passed away, so I have been trying to help his family find a funeral home for the service. I like that you suggest asking if the funeral home has a current permit and license. Knowing this would give me some peace of mind knowing they are trained and experienced in this sort of thing. Thanks for the tips.
My grandmother just told my family that she wants to be cremated when she passes away. I liked that you pointed out that it would be smart for us to make sure that the cremation service we go to has an up to date license and permit. I wouldn’t have thought about checking something like that.
Thanks for these tips on why to consider cremation. It would make sense to find out about the different options for the disposal of the body before you make up your mind. My husband and I are considering planning our funeral, so we’ll have to consider how to dispose of our bodies once we are gone.
There are a lot of questions concerning cremation that I had not considered yet prior to reading this article. For example, deciding on what type of urn the family would like and whether it is TSA friendly for flying is an important decision to make. Thank you for giving us this information so that people can properly plan for a cremation ceremony.
I loved the tip that you gave to ask a cremation service about when you will receive the remains after you hire them. This would be important for us because we have scheduled the scattering of my dad’s ashes for this Friday at 4:00 pm, and we will need his ashes by then. I will make sure that the cremation service that we decide to hire will be able to get the remains back to us by that time.
It makes sense that witnessing a cremation can help you feel at peace knowing that the remains were taken care of respectfully. My sister is in charge of planning my late aunt’s funeral, but she is having a difficult time accepting the fact that her body needs a proper burial. Maybe witnessing her cremation will help her say her final goodbye without any feelings of hesitation.
Your advice on not prepaying is ill advice not to mention it was inaccurate: 1- prepaying locks in today’s cost so the family will not owe more money at time of death (minus differences of growth in outside expense). 2- when you prepay you don’t pay the funeral home directly, it goes into a funeral trust. Therefore, if the funeral home of choice goes out of business, your money is still safe and protected. It also allows you the ability to transfer should you move or if you change preferred funeral home.
3- having a prepaid funeral is protected from Medicaid should the owner is the policy ever go into a nursing home.
Prepaying is not only the best option on an emotional level but also on a financial level. You are removing the burden of decision making and financial stress from your loved ones.
Thanks for your comment! Those things are true if your prepaid plan is a trust and if another funeral home takes over and decides to honor the trust after the original business folded. If the prepaid plan is an insurance policy the insurance company will pay the specified amount, and you’ll be on the hook for any increased costs. There’s also Medicaid to be considered, as you mentioned, which is affected by whether you choose a revocable or irrevocable trust.
So, ultimately, the best advice is to read the terms of the contract carefully!
Read more here: https://www.usurnsonline.com/planning-ahead/prepaid-funeral-plans/
And here: https://www.bankrate.com/insurance/life-insurance/funeral-trusts/