Mortuaries and Cremation Facilities

From an economic standpoint, choosing the institution to handle your burial or cremation is one of the most important decisions you can make. If you consider this issue now, you'll have to think about your options, shop around if necessary—and then make recommendations to your survivors. That said, you may also want to give your loved ones some leeway. Circumstances may change significantly by the time of your death—for example, you may move or an institution may go out of business. Your survivors may need some flexibility when it comes time to carry out your plans.

A good mortuary is equipped to handle many of the details related to disposing of a person's remains. These include:

  • collecting the body from the place of death
  • storing it until burial or cremation
  • making arrangements for burial or cremation
  • conducting funeral ceremonies
  • preparing the body for burial or cremation, and
  • arranging to have the body transported for burial or cremation.

The mortuary can also help with administrative details, such as preparing an obituary and ordering copies of the death certificate.

If you wish to be cremated, the cremation facility may also be able to provide these services for you.

When you make your final arrangements document, you can suggest the mortuary or cremation facility you'd like your survivors to use. If you want your family to handle the disposition of your remains without involving a mortuary or cremation facility (this is rare, but it can be done), you may say so.

Below, you'll find more information on choosing the right facility— or taking a more independent approach.

Choosing a Facility

It is important that you find the mortuary or cremation facility that best meets your needs in terms of style, proximity, and cost. Comparison shopping is fairly easy because mortuaries and cremation facilities must by law give price lists to consumers who visit their facilities—and must disclose prices and other information to those who ask for it over the phone.

You can compare prices and services at local facilities before you make your choice. You may also consider joining a funeral consumer group, or memorial society, to make the task easier. These nonprofit groups can help you locate a mortuary and make other decisions and plans. For a small membership fee, you will receive information about local service providers, including costs. You can also take advantage of the society's discounted rates for funeral products and services.

To locate a group in your area, contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) at or 802-865-8300. For help locating and evaluating cremation facilities, you may want to contact the Cremation Association of North America at or 312-245-1077.

Making Independent Plans

There is a trend in America for people to care for their own dead, minimizing or even eliminating the involvement of funeral industry personnel. This could mean everything from preparing the body to burying it or transporting it to the cremation facility.

Most states do allow individuals to act completely on their own. But there are rules about how people may proceed. For example, most states have laws that regulate the depth of a site for a body burial. A few states throw up roadblocks to acting independently, requiring that a funeral director handle the disposition of a deceased person.

If you are considering directing that a family member or friend handle your disposition independently, the following resources can help you make your plans:

  • The Funeral Consumers Alliance offers extensive resources to help you make your own plans.
  • Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson (Upper Access, Inc.), is a guide to funeral planning that helps family and friends choose (and spend) wisely. The authors are leading consumer advocates in the funeral industry and provide a wealth of information, examples, and state-by-state law.
  • National Home Funeral Alliance provides information, insights, tips, and resources for home funerals.
  • Read information about state-specific home funeral laws on
  • You can also research your state's laws and common practices 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."


When making your final arrangements document, you will be asked whether or not you want your body to be embalmed. Embalming is a process in which the blood is drained and replacement fluids are pumped into the body to temporarily retard its disintegration. While it has now become a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.

Originally considered a barbaric and pagan ritual, embalming first gained popularity during the Civil War, when bodies of the war dead were transported over long distances. When the war ended, embalming was promoted (mostly by those who performed the service) as a hygienic means of briefly preserving a body.