How to preplan a cremation with a funeral service

Contrary to some misconceptions, you can have a funeral service with a cremation — and you can preplan it, too

In the last few years, the number of cremations has risen sharply. But even with its growing popularity, cremation is surrounded by misunderstandings, like it can’t be paired with a funeral service or be preplanned. The best way to dispel these misconceptions is to walk through what cremation is, memorial options, and how you can preplan your cremation services.

Preplanning after a loss: How do you want to be remembered?

What cremation is

Cremation is a form of disposition, which is the manner that human remains are handled. Instead of a standard burial, where the deceased is placed in a casket and buried in the ground, cremation reduces remains to ashes that are then buried, stored, or scattered.
“If someone is preplanning and is considering cremation, I recommend that they visit a crematory and see how the process takes place, so that there is a better understanding of how it works,” said Christopher Robinson, National Funeral Directors Association at-large representative.

Types of cremation

Before starting the preplanning process, you’ll need to decide which method of cremation you prefer.

Traditional cremation

This cremation process is the most commonly known and occurs after a funeral service is held. It involves placing the deceased inside a casket before incinerating both in an industrial furnace at a crematorium. The remains, also called cremains, are then collected and passed onto loved ones.

Direct cremation

A direct cremation is similar to a traditional cremation, except no funeral service is held beforehand and a shroud may be used in place of a casket. It’s the least expensive cremation option.

Water cremation

Water cremation, or bio-cremation, occurs through a process known formally as alkaline hydrolysis. The deceased is placed into a container with a mixture of 95% water and 5% alkali and heated to a temperature that causes it to break down over time. The remains are returned to the loved ones for handling and memorializing on their own.
“When families choose alkaline hydrolysis, they can still plan a gathering of friends, as well as a meaningful funeral service,” Robinson said.
Water cremation, also known as green cremation, is considered a more environmentally friendly option because it requires less energy and cuts down on fossil fuels emitted through the process.
Robinson says it’s important to research whether water cremation is accessible in your region because “this technology is newer and is not approved by some states.”

Preplan a green funeral in 4 steps

Cremation services options

It’s a common misconception that if you choose cremation, you can’t have a funeral service, but the truth is, you have a few cremation services options that can be preplanned.

Traditional funeral service

The deceased is placed in a casket so a standard visitation for public viewing and a traditional funeral service may be held with the body present. Following the service, the cremation occurs and loved ones are given the ashes.

Memorial service

A memorial service is held without the body present and typically occurs after the cremation.

Celebration of life

A celebration of life is a less-structured version of a traditional funeral service and focuses on honoring the person’s life vs. mourning his or her death. It can occur before or after the cremation. If it occurs beforehand, it follows the same process as a traditional funeral service, and if it occurs afterward, the ashes are present inside an urn.

How to start planning a celebration of life

Options for cremains

After choosing a type of service, you’ll need to preplan where you want the ashes to be placed. Options range from inside a traditional urn to trends that may surprise you.

Placing in an urn

An urn is a large vase used to hold the ashes. It can be kept on a mantle, buried in a cemetery like a casket, or stored in a niche space, which is a recessed compartment in a wall above ground.

“If someone does choose scattering their loved one, I highly recommend they keep a portion of their cremated loved one and place that portion in a niche,” Robinson advised. “Some place where future generations can visit and see the name of their ancestor.”

Keep in mind, a niche can be a more expensive option than the average cost of cremation. While costs vary by location and cemetery, the average cost for a 9-inch cube cremation niche is between $750 and $2,800.

Casting or scattering ashes

Casting involves throwing the ashes into the wind and can be done in nearly any location. Scattering can mean a variety of locations and methods, including trenching and raking. Trenching ashes involves digging a hole and placing the ashes inside, either directly or via a biodegradable urn. Raking ashes involves scattering ashes on the ground and raking them into the soil.

“An individual should make sure that wherever they are considering scattering their loved one, that they make sure it’s permitted and lawful,” Robinson says.

For example, permits are required to toss ashes in a national park, and some states forbid scattering ashes in freshwater, while doing so in the ocean is legal as long as specific regulations are followed in the process.

Choosing alternative methods

Creativity and technology have spurred new ways to honor the deceased with their cremains. Some include:

  • Memorial reefs: Cremains are affixed to or mixed into a man-made reef at the bottom of the ocean to become a natural habitat for marine life.
  • Ashes in the atmosphere: The company Mesoloft, uses a balloon to launch cremains to the edge of space, where they’re released into the atmosphere.
  • Pressing remains into a vinyl record: The recording supports 12 minutes of customizable audio per side.
  • Gun ammunition: The ashes are mixed in gun powder and placed inside bullets. Usually, the bullets are then shot in a final salute.

How to pay for cremation services

Even though the average cost of cremation can be more cost effective than burial, its expenses still add up when it’s paired with a funeral service. To avoid passing the financial burden to your family, you’ll need to choose a payment option while you’re preplanning.

Preneed Funeral insurance

Also referred to as “burial insurance,” Preneed insurance covers all the pre-determined expenses of your cremation and service. This option will require you to enter into a contract with the funeral home. Before making any decisions or signing any contracts, make sure the funeral home you’re working with has access to a crematory or is able to coordinate the cremation. The Preneed plan typically holds the funeral expenses at present-day costs, regardless of inflation by the time of death, and the total can be paid up front in one payment or in installments over time.

Find a Preneed funeral home partner in your state

Final Expense Whole Life insurance

Final Expense insurance not only covers the costs of your cremation and service, but it also covers any expenses your loved ones may face following your passing. These can include outstanding medical or credit card bills, estate taxes, legal fees, and living expenses. However, it doesn’t retain preplanned funeral costs at present-day amounts.

Get a FREE Final Expense Insurance Quote

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Photo credit: iStock


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