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Frequently Asked Questions About Cremation

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QUESTIONS

1. What is cremation?

2. What is direct cremation?

3. Is a casket required for a cremation service?

4. Is a casket required for a direct cremation service?

5. Is embalming required for a direct cremation service?

6. I've heard that a traditional funeral is the third most expensive purchase (after a home and car) that a person will make. Is this true?

7. Do I have to buy an urn for the ashes?

8. Can I buy an urn or a casket online?

9. What is embalming? Will an embalmed body remain preserved for thousands of years like the mummies of Egypt?

10. I live in New York and my brother lives in Los Angeles. I want to ship my mother's urn and ashes overnight via FedEx. Is this okay? How much should I insure them for?

11. How much should I pay for a direct cremation service?

12. Can I have a viewing and a cremation?

13. Who can authorize a cremation?

14. I heard I can save lots of money by joining a memorial society. Is this true and where can I find a directory of memorial societies?

15. Will a funeral home quote prices over the telephone?

16. Do flames actually touch the body during the cremation process?

17. I want to donate my body to science. Is this the least expensive option to dispose of my body after death?

18. Can I scatter the cremated remains of my brother on a public beach?

19. Do all funeral homes offer cremation?

20. What is the number one reason people choose cremation over burial?

ANSWERS

1. What is cremation? Cremation is the process that reduces dead human remains to 3-7 pounds of organic and inorganic compounds and it accomplishes this by exposing the body to intense heat and flame for a 1.5 - 2 hour duration, at temperatures of approximately 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. After the cremation, the cremated remains are mechanically processed until they have the consistency of very course sand or gravel.

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2. What is direct cremation? A direct cremation is just that...a direct cremation. There are no services with the body present prior to the cremation, the body is not prepared in any way, and an alternative container is used instead of a casket.

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3. Is a casket required for a cremation service? If you arrange a direct cremation service, no, a casket is not required. However, if you are arranging a traditional service with public visiting and perhaps a religious service in a church, then you generally must purchase a casket that is constructed of combustible materials. Some funeral establishments also offer a rental casket for funeral purposes and afterwards the body is transferred to an alternative container.

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4. Is a casket required for a direct cremation service? No. If a cremation provider offers direct cremation, the cremation provider is obligated to offer an alternative container to the families they serve. Alternative containers can be constructed of cardboard, plywood, composite wood materials, or pouches made of plastic or cardboard. All alternative containers must be the construction requirements of the crematory.

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5. Is embalming required for a direct cremation service? No, embalming is not required for direct cremation.

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6. I've heard that a traditional funeral is the third most expensive purchase (after a home and car) that a person will make. Is this true? False. This is a myth that has been perpetuated by critics of American funeral service and irresponsible journalists who lack basic investigative skills. In 2007, the price of an average home in the United States is approximately $220,000.00. A new car averages about $28,000.00 although you can easily spend $45,000.00 or more on an SUV or luxury automobile. A traditional funeral costs about $10,000.00. Anyone who has ever remodeled their home, arranged a wedding, paid for college, been treated in a hospital (for a week or more), undergone cosmetic or restorative surgery, replaced a roof, or purchased quality furniture will tell you that there are plenty of purchases that easily exceed the price of a funeral.

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7. Do I have to buy an urn for the ashes? Generally speaking, no. However, if the cremated remains are being placed in a glass-front niche in a cemetery columbarium, the cemetery may have specific guidelines about the type of urn that must be used. Also, some cemeteries require that cremated remains be placed in an engraved urn before they will permit them to be buried on their grounds.

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8. Can I buy an urn or a casket online? Yes you can. However be very cautious as inferior merchandise is working its way into the merchandise stream that is manufactured in China and Mexico. Does quality matter when discussing items that will be used for the dead? I believe so and I'm sure you feel the same way. Also, computer monitors and web pages have a way of distorting colors. For example, "rosetan" is a color frequently used by casket manufacturers to describe particular casket interiors. Is that rose-colored, tan-colored, or a combination of the two? When you buy merchandise from a funeral home, what you see is what you get and the funeral director will guarantee the quality of the item he/she is selling.

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9. What is embalming? Will an embalmed body remain preserved for thousands of years like the mummies of Egypt? Embalming is the temporary preservation of the dead for funeral purposes. Bodily fluids are drained and replaced with chemical preservatives and the face, neck and hands are restored to make the decedent appear as natural as possible. A well-embalmed body that was prepared by a licensed funeral director of high skill can remain preserved anywhere from days to many years. For the record, although we refer to the mummies of Egypt as being embalmed, the procedure used was more akin to taxidermy -- involving removal of vital organs, covering in natron and drying in the desert sun for 40 days or more -- than modern funeral embalming.

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10. I live in New York and my brother lives in Los Angeles. I want to ship my mother's urn and ashes overnight via FedEx. Is this okay? How much should I insure them for? FedEx, UPS and DHL will not knowingly transport human cremated remains because they're uninsurable. These carriers will deliver an empty urn but not an urn containing cremated remains. Only the post office will transport cremated remains via their parcel post service.

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11. How much should I pay for a direct cremation service? The professional fee a cremation provider ultimately charges you for a direct cremation service (or any service for that matter) is directly related to the firm's overhead expenses. A large firm with a large staff will generally charge more for their services than a smaller operator. When a death occurs, always inquire about prices from 2-3 providers. As with any purchase, never let price alone be the deciding factor in your decision.

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12. Can I have a viewing and a cremation? Absolutely. Remember, cremation is a process that prepares the body for final disposition. After the cremation, you will have to decide what you will do with the cremated remains. You can keep them at home, place them in a niche, bury them in a family plot, or scatter them at sea or over land. Regarding pre-cremation rituals and services, you can have calling hours (sometimes called a wake or viewing), and a service either in the funeral home or house of worship.

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13. Who can authorize a cremation? This answer to this question depends on where you live. Usually the immediate next-of-kin (a spouse for example) will make the necessary arrangements and pay for the services. If the spouse is deceased, then the children would step forward. In some jurisdictions, a cousin or even a friend can make cremation and final disposition arrangements. Check with your licensed cremation provider for the proper (and legal) answer to this question.

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14. I heard I can save lots of money by joining a memorial society. Is this true and where can I find a directory of memorial societies? The web address of the non-profit memorial society movement in the United States is the Funeral Consumers Alliance (www.funerals.org). Will you save lots of money? No. In fact, in some instances, you might pay more than if you were to investigate the prices of local funeral homes yourself.

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15. Will a funeral home quote prices over the telephone? Funeral and cremation providers MUST QUOTE their prices over the telephone and in person to fully comply with the Funeral Rule established and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, before discussing funeral/cremation products and/or services, a provider must make a printed General Price List available for your review and your retention. A laminated General Price List that is quickly handed to you and retrieved after the arrangement violates the Funeral Rule and the funeral/cremation provider is subject to a $10,000.00 penalty for non-compliance.

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16. Do flames actually touch the body during the cremation process? Yes.

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17. I want to donate my body to science. Is this the least expensive option to dispose of my body after death? Yes, donating your body to science is certainly the least expensive way to dispose of your body after death. In some cases, depending on the hospital, medical school, or other research organization, this arrangement might not cost your family a dime. Before signing any donor forms, check two things: 1) What will your body be used for? and 2) After your body has been used by the institution, will they handle the cremation and disposal of your cremated remains or will they contact your family for them to make those arrangements?

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18. Can I scatter the cremated remains of my brother on a public beach? Always check local laws or ordinances before attempting to scatter cremated remains anywhere other than your backyard.

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19. Do all funeral homes offer cremation? Not all funeral homes offer cremation. Also, those that do might not offer direct cremation.

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20. What is the number one reason people choose cremation over burial? The number one reason people choose cremation over burial or above-ground entombment is most like financial. However, the simplicity of the cremation process is also appealing to a growing number of Americans.

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Honorably discharged veterans who served in the United States Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy, or Marines may be entitled to special benefits payable by the federal, state, county, or local goverment. Please have the veteran's DD-214 available and consult with your cremation service provider for details.
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