Cremation vs Burial – Which Is Right for You?

Deciding whether you prefer a cremation or burial may be one of life’s most personal choices. There are many influencing factors including cost, style of service, religious beliefs, and family preferences.

Understanding the basics of each service ahead of time can help you make an informed decision now, preventing your loved ones from experiencing unnecessary stress and confusion when you pass.


Understanding the cremation process

Cremation has become an increasingly popular choice for many Americans. Last year, the rate of cremation surpassed that of burial according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).  Cremation laws vary from state to state; however, there are some regulations concerning preparation and transportation that are consistent across the country.


Cost of cremation

The average cost of cremation is typically a fraction of the costs associated with a traditional funeral or burial because fewer services are involved in cremations. As mentioned, cremation costs vary from state to state, but the type of cremation performed (direct cremation, cremation with a viewing, cremation with a memorial, etc.) can also affect the cost.

As a result, services can range from $1,000 – $3,000 on the low end of the spectrum but can cost as much as $6,000 – $8,000 depending on what options you select.


Before cremation takes place

Depending on the state where the service is performed, there may be a waiting period of up to 48 hours between the time of death and the time when the cremation is performed, during which any authorization forms and permits are completed and collected.

Before the actual cremation begins, family members are given the opportunity to say goodbye, perform rites of passage, or conduct a funeral service. If a funeral or visitation service is performed, the family can collect any personal possessions or valuable materials – such as jewelry – after the service.


The cremation process

All cremations are performed individually. The process begins by placing the casket/container in the cremation chamber. This chamber can reach temperatures between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, ensuring all remains are completely processed. This usually takes 1-3 hours depending on the size and weight of the body.

Following the service, a cooling period is required before the remains can be handled. The remains will weigh between 3-9 lbs. and are usually white in color.


After the cremation

Unless specified otherwise, the urn or container chosen to house the remains will be returned to the family or the designated cemetery/funeral home. There are several options when deciding the final resting place of the remains. These include:

  • Placing the urn in an indoor or outdoor mausoleum
  • Burying the urn in a family burial plot or cemetery urn garden
  • Scattering the remains in accordance with the deceased’s wishes
  • Keeping the urn in the home of a loved one


Benefits of cremation

People choose cremation for different reasons. For many, it’s a simple, but practical process – in part because of the lower costs associated with the procedure.

This type of service also gives surviving loved ones more flexibility in memorializing their loved one. Remains can be laid to rest in a traditional cemetery or they can be scattered at a location that holds special meaning.

In addition, cremation services can be timed to accommodate the schedules of your loved ones, especially if they’re traveling from out of town.


Understanding the funeral process

Like cremations, consumers have many options to choose from should they prefer a funeral service and many factors can influence their decision.

Most expenses associated with traditional burials are higher than the costs of cremations and it’s not uncommon for families to overspend on a loved one’s final arrangements.

The best way to keep costs in check is to research your options ahead of time. Knowing what’s available in your area can help you avoid overspending on funeral costs.


Cost of a funeral

Like cremation, funeral expenses vary from state to state and can be affected by the services selected. In most cases, a funeral costs about $9,000, but expenses can quickly escalate from there.


The funeral process

Regardless of the service selected, the first step of the funeral process is bathing and disinfecting the body. This helps protect the funeral staff, visiting friends and family, and provides a measure of dignity and respect for the deceased.

The next steps are determined by the family or friends in charge of the funeral arrangements. The body can be embalmed for a traditional funeral service or placed in refrigeration to be transported to another state.

Transportation is not uncommon. Deaths can occur while the decedent is out-of-town for any number of reasons. As a result, arrangements must be made to transport the body to its final resting place. Typically, a funeral provider will make transportation arrangements because of their expertise in understanding the specific requirements for transporting bodies.

If embalming is required or chosen by the family, a licensed embalmer is used to perform the service. In most cases, the funeral director is the licensed embalmer, which makes organizing these arrangements easier. Embalming is done by replacing the body’s blood with chemical preservatives through the circulatory system.

There is no state law requiring embalming, although some states may require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried within a certain period of time. Refrigeration is often an acceptable alternative to embalming. Some services – such as immediate burial – don’t require embalming.

If a viewing will be part of the service, the family will need to select clothing and mementos (such as jewelry and glasses) for the decedent. Anything worn by the decedent during the viewing can be returned to the family before the burial takes place (or left with the deceased). Cosmetics are applied and the hair is styled according to the family’s wishes.


After the funeral

What happens next depends on the type of funeral performed. Traditional funerals typically include transporting the body to a cemetery or other grave site where the body will be buried. In some cases, a graveside service is performed.


Benefits of a funeral

Though funeral services are typically more expensive than cremation services, some families find them more personal because they’re able to choose a headstone, casket, and the location of the service. Most families hold a funeral service to give friends and family an opportunity to say goodbye and pay their respects.


Choosing your final arrangements

No matter which final arrangement you choose, it’s important to discuss the various options with those who will be in charge of your final wishes. Ninety percent of people believe discussing these matters with their loved ones is important, yet only twenty-seven percent of people actually do it according to The Conversation Project.

By discussing your wishes in advance, you can spare your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions during a highly emotional time. And by planning in advance, you can help save them hundreds – even thousands – of dollars on final arrangements.

To help prevent overspending, it’s important to compare several service providers ahead of time. Request multiple quotes and talk through the options with your family members. When dealing with multiple providers, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to cremation and burial costs. Document your decisions and keep them in a safe place where family members can easily access them.


Next steps

Cremation vs burial: which should you choose? No matter your decision, the right final arrangements can be difficult. Whether you choose a cremation or burial, your family will be the ones left to carry out your final wishes. The rising cost of funerals and cremations means your family could be left with a financial burden when you pass.

Learn 6 facts you need to know about protecting your family from high funeral costs.