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Burial and Cremation

One of the most important questions we will ask you is whether you want your body to be buried or cremated.

If your body will be buried, you can state your preferences for a burial site. If you choose cremation, you will be asked whether you want your ashes to be scattered, buried or interred or kept with a loved one.

Body Burial

While cremation is becoming increasingly common, most people still choose to be buried. Depending on your wishes, your body may be buried immediately after death or several days later, after a funeral or other memorial service.

The Burial Process

A body may be buried in the ground, generally in a cemetery plot, or aboveground in the chamber of a mausoleum or family crypt. Typically, burial includes placing the body in a casket. However, if you want your body to be buried immediately, a casket may not be necessary. (Although required by many individual cemeteries, a casket is not a legal requirement for burials in the United States.)

Burial Costs

Burial can be expensive. The national average cost for a traditional funeral, with burial and headstone or monument, is more than $10,000. Depending upon the products and services purchased, the pricing of individual service providers and the array of ceremonies included, burial can cost several times as much as cremation.

How Much Does Burial Cost?

Product or Service

Cost Estimate

Basic Fee Services

Funeral director services (nondeclinable)

$2,200 average

General Services

Transfer of remains

$350 average

Embalming or refrigeration, dressing and shelter of remains

$900 to $1,200

Hearse rental and flower transfer from mortuary to gravesite

$550 average

Viewing or visitation, funeral service support, guest register and funeral booklets

$1,500 average

Opening and closing grave

$1,500 average

Casket or Shroud

Wood or metal

$2,500 average

Wood or metal rental

$950 average

Fiberboard or cardboard

$600 average

Burial shroud—fabric with fabric handles for pallbearers

$600 average

Plot, Crypt or Marker

In-ground single plot

$2,000 average

In-ground plot with vault (required by some cemeteries to maintain level landscape)

$1,500 average

Aboveground mausoleum crypt

$3,500 or more

Aboveground individual or family crypt

$30,000 to

$2,000,000 or more

Monument, headstone or marker

$500 or more

Leaving Instructions

If you have decided where you wish to be buried, a record that information. If you have already purchased a burial site and any other related products or services, describe your arrangements—and attach any related documents (for example, your contract with the cemetery) to your final arrangements document when you print it out.

If you haven't bought a burial site, but you know where you'd like to be buried, you can state your preference. There is no guarantee that it will be available when you die, but your survivors will know what you had in mind.

Cremation

Almost half of the population chooses cremation rather than burial. For some, the relatively low cost makes this choice an easy one. But there are many other reasons why someone might prefer to be cremated—for example, you may want to have your ashes scattered or kept by a loved one at home.

The Cremation Process

Cremation is the burning of a body at extreme heat, resulting in a fine residue of ash and bone. The cremated remains (sometimes called "cremains," though we'll call them "ashes" here) may be buried, scattered or kept in an urn. A temporary casket is required to contain the body

during cremation. Cremation caskets are generally made of unfinished wood, cardboard, pressboard or canvas. The cremation facility supplies the temporary casket.

Complete cremation arrangements usually include local transportation of the body to the cremation facility, visitation with the body prior to cremation, a temporary container for remains, cremation, a memorial service, preparation of an obituary, ordering the death certificate and the scattering or other disposition of the ashes.

Cremation Costs

As with burial, cost may play a part in your decision. Here are some cost estimates.

How Much Does Cremation Cost?

Product or Service

Cost Estimate

Coordinated by cremation provider

Transfer of remains, cremation with temporary casket, basic urn, recording and requesting death certificate

$2,000 average

Scattering service

$250 or more

Coordinated by funeral home

Transfer of remains, cremation with temporary casket, basic urn, recording and requesting death certificate

$3,000 average

Urn or Niche

Urn

$50 or more

Niche in columbarium, including opening, closing and marker

$750 to $20,000

What to Do With Cremated Remains

If you choose to have your body cremated, we will ask what you'd like your survivors to do with your ashes. You can state that you'd like your ashes to be:

  • scattered over land or water
  • buried
  • stored aboveground, or
  • kept with family or friends.

    After you make your initial selection, we'll ask you to provide more details about your wishes. If you want to divide your ashes among two or more of these options, select the one that feels most important to you. When you provide details, you can state exactly what you'd like your survivors to do, including how you want your ashes to be divided.

    Scattering or Burying Ashes

    If you choose to have your ashes scattered or buried, you should be aware of state or local laws that may affect your wishes.

    Check state rules about scattering ashes. Some people wish to have their ashes scattered over some area that has special significance for them—such as a garden, a lookout point, or the ocean.

    Laws and restrictions on the scattering of ashes vary from state to state.

    To find out your state's laws, check with a local cremation facility or your state's health department (see "Finding your state's laws," below).

    Check state and local laws about burying ashes. Ashes can be buried in the ground. Local zoning ordinances may restrict where the burial may take place—such as that they must be buried a specified distance from a residence.

    You Can Go Green

    Burial and cremation can be hard on the environment. Embalming chemicals, metal caskets, concrete burial vaults and cremation emissions take a surprising toll.

    It's not difficult to make green arrangements that use biodegradable materials and avoid toxins. Some choices are remarkably simple—and most are significantly less expensive.

    • No embalming. Embalming fluid contains toxic chemicals— including up to three gallons of formaldehyde. Embalming is rarely required by law or to carry out final wishes.
    • Eco-coffin or biodegradable urn. You can use a simple wood casket, cardboard box or fabric shroud for burial. There are many options for biodegradable coffins and urns (for ashes that will be buried), including homemade ones.
    • Home funeral. While it's more work, your loved ones may find a home funeral to be more satisfying. Most states permit home funerals, but Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York require the involvement of a funeral director. See "Making Independent Plans," below.
    • No in-ground vault. Vaults are concrete containers that are placed in the ground to surround a casket. They aren't required by law, but many cemeteries demand them to make landscape maintenance easier. Look for a cemetery that doesn't require a vault or find out whether you can legally refuse one.
    • Green cemeteries. The Green Burial Council has developed a certification process for cemeteries that want to go green. Learn more and locate green facilities at www.greenburialcouncil.org.
    • Cremation. Traditional cremation uses fewer resources than burial, but it's not entirely clean. (If you have amalgam fillings—fillings that contain mercury—in your teeth, you can ask that they be removed before cremation. See the tip below for cashing in your metals.) Even greener is a new kind of cremation that uses a solution of water and potassium (or sodium) hydroxide to reduce a body to liquid and bone. This process is called "alkaline hydrolysis," also known as "aquamation" or "flameless cremation."

    If you wish to have a family member or friend bury your ashes, it is a good idea to first check local zoning ordinances to see whether burial is permitted on the site you have chosen. Ashes can also be buried in a cemetery, either in a special urn garden or in a plot. It is not necessary to place the ashes in an urn before burial, although some places may require a plot liner to prevent the earth from sinking over time.

    Laws about caskets, embalming, scattering ashes and other end-of-life issues vary by state. Find information about your state's laws on Nolo.com or by contacting your state's health department or related agency that governs cemetery and funeral activities. To locate this department online, do a search for the name of your state and "health department."