Thinking and talking about your death is a difficult and frequently unnatural thing to do, but more and more medical and financial experts are encouraging people to think through their final disposition wishes and make their wishes known to family members.
This article is for the growing number of people who have decided that they want to be cremated. While surely not all-encompassing, the below can serve as a starting point to get both you and your family prepared ahead of time.
Personal preference should ultimately be your guiding force, however there are several factors that will influence the decision-making surrounding your cremation process.
- Religious background – If you’ve already decided to be cremated, then you likely aren’t Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, or Mormon. While many religions in the past few decades have softened their stance on cremation, several (Catholic included) have preferences for how ashes are handled. If you’re unsure, we recommend that you reach out to your local religious leader.
- Funeral service preference – Cremation provides flexibility since there is no need to hold a funeral service immediately following a death. The exception to this is if you prefer to hold a funeral service with the body present prior to being cremated. Otherwise, your choice is between direct cremation or cremation followed by a memorial service at a later (more convenient) date.
- State regulations – Cremation laws vary at the US state and local level. Certain states ban funeral homes from running crematoriums, while other states mandate that a funeral home oversee the cremation process (i.e. consumers cannot go directly to a crematorium). Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the $20 billion funeral industry has it’s fair share of convoluted regulation. To understand what laws may impact you, we recommend you check out Nolo’s state by state glance at funeral laws and disposition laws.
- Cost considerations – While cremation is generally less expensive than traditional burial, your funeral bill can quickly increase depending on your desires for funeral services and memorial products. It is encouraged to shop around on price, as similar services can cost thousands of dollars more (or less) at different locations. The 2015 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report was kind enough to share data on 2014 median funeral homes costs.
*It’s worth noting that the 2014 NFDA report highlighted (in the states that allow it) that direct cremation was significantly less expensive ($1,300 instead of $2,200) at direct cremation providers compared to NFDA full-service funeral homes. For those hoping to become a savvy consumer in the funeral industry, we encourage you to read the ten tips given by the Funeral Consumers Alliance. And for those who need help financing the costs of a funeral, check out this helpful article on cost considerations for widowed spouses.
Choosing a Final Resting Place
Many who are cremated will end up in a cemetery – either buried in a grave with a cremation casket or entombed in a columbarium with an urn. However, the popularity of cemeteries seems to be decreasing while the rate of cremation increases. One study by FAMIC, the Funeral and Management Information Council, found that the percentage of US adults who owned cemetery property decreased from 50% in 2010 to 34% in 2015. Cremation gives people the ability to be unique with their final resting place – with growing popularity in scattering remains, creating keepsake items out of cremated remains, or simply keeping the ashes at home.
FYI: Mapalife is here to fill an unmet need in the funeral industry. The majority of family members want to know the final resting place of their relatives. In the very near future, people will be able to add long-lasting visibility to a loved one’s unique final resting place by creating a Scattersite page and sharing the GPS coordinates with family and friends.
Making Your Plan Known
You know you want to be cremated, you understand the (main) regulations that govern the cremation process, and you have an idea of where you want to be laid to rest. The next step is telling your family. Communicating wishes with regards to disposition method, memorial service, and finances can reduce the pressure during an already difficult time for your family.
While it doesn’t hurt to include your funeral wishes in your will, it likely won’t help much either. Wills are meant to communicate who inherits your property (land and otherwise) and may not be reviewed soon enough to help guide the funeral process. A better alternative is to create a formal document (separate from your will) that details your funeral wishes. A simple document that communicates your preference on the below items is a good start, however Funeral Inspirations makes an exhaustive (and free) funeral planner:
- Disposition method (cremation or burial)
- Preferred cremation location
- Funeral service (with your body present) or memorial service (without your body)
- Final resting place (buried or entombed in a cemetery, scattered in a personally significant location, kept at home, or something more adventurous)
Creating a funeral planning document is a great start to making your wishes known, but to minimize potential confusion it is best to review the document with your family. You’re likely a great person and thus your passing will be an emotional and stressful time for your family. Deciding on how you want to leave this earth, and then communicating those wishes, will make it a little bit easier for your family during an already hard time.