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The Definitive Guide to Cremation

It’s hard to think about death, let alone plan services for a loved one after they pass. While it’s a subject we often avoid, death is an inevitable part of life, and fully understanding your own or a loved one’s options help reduce some emotional and financial burden.

For the first time, the majority of Americans that are faced with a death choose cremation. However, it’s important to understand the basic cremation process, terms, price points, common questions and more before making your decision.

So whether you’re considering cremation as a final disposition or simply want to know more about the process, we’ve outlined everything you need to know in this definitive guide.

The Basics of Cremation

Cremation is the process of applying intense heat to a deceased body in a crematorium. During this time, the body is reduced to its basic elements, resulting in ashes (also known as “cremains” or “cremated remains”) for loved ones to bury, inter, urn or scatter. The process takes anywhere from two to three hours depending on the size of the individual and the type of container selected. 

Following the cremation, the calcified bone remaining is retrieved from the crematory, placed into a stainless steel collection pan and processed. Once cooled, the ashes are placed in the selected container. The final disposition is then completed following the survivors direction.

The Rise in Cremation

Cremation is on the rise in the U.S., surpassing traditional burial for the second year in a row, according to the National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) 2017 Cremation and Burial Report. While more than half of all Americans opted for cremation in 2016, the NFDA projects that nearly 80% of people will choose cremation by 2035.

Price is one reason more people are choosing cremation. The total cost of cremation is often less than burial, because of the products (e.g. casket, burial vault) and services (e.g. embalming) burial requires.

Beyond financial reasons, many people are switching to cremation for environmental purposes. Cremation uses far fewer resources than a traditional burial, and does not always require harmful chemicals like those used in the embalming process. New, eco-friendly caskets and urns made of biodegradable materials are available to purchase, which reduces environmental impact. 

While cremation grows in popularity nationwide, certain religious groups have not always accepted this practice. The Catholic Church, for example, rejected and officially condemned cremation in 1886, but has since evolved its position to permit cremation. In 2016, the Vatican issued guidelines, approved by Pope Francis, acknowledging the continuous rise in cremation and offering standards to follow. 

This growing religious acceptance has caused more people of various faiths to opt for cremation. 

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The Differences Between Cremation and Burial

Burial is the process in which a deceased body is placed in a grave and buried in the ground. Before burial takes place, friends and family of the deceased typically hold a visitation, funeral, gathering or memorial. These special services can take place anywhere—from a funeral home to a church to a place of special significance.

Cremation is not a substitute for these services. However, these services may occur before or after the cremation takes place and may or may not have the body or cremains present. Cremation also produces cremains, allowing the individual to be interred in a much smaller container, or scattered.

Cremation Costs

While generally lower cost than burial, cremation pricing varies greatly depending on the products and services selected. 

Cremation costs can include:

  • Transfer of the deceased.
  • Services of licensed professional and staff.
  • Dignified care of the deceased (embalming, refrigeration).
  • Selected services (visitation, wake, funeral, gathering, memorial).
  • Cremation container (urn, cremation casket, cremation vault).
  • Final Resting Place (plot, columbarium, mausoleum). 

Additional fees may include:

  • Remembrance items (decorative keepsakes, jewelry, thumbprints, necklaces, memorial candles, flowers, personalized portrait, etc.).
  • Stationary products (register books, memorial folders, service bulletin).
  • Catered event.

Unlike burial, some items might be rented rather than purchased. In the following sections, we outline options in more detail. 

Based on the products and services chosen, the final cost can range from $2,000 for a simple cremation to $10,000 for a full service cremation. Families that choose to plan a cremation without the help of a funeral home may find that they underestimate the final expense. And while it may seem like handling all of these details alone saves money, the fact is that fees can add up.

On top of common cremation costs, families are also faced with the added stress of managing final arrangement details. This includes deciding where the body will be cremated, ensuring the right cremains are returned and planning a remembrance service. As a result, the cremation could cost more than planning with out the help of a funeral home. 

Note that some individuals choose to preplan their own cremation to avoid added emotional stress and financial burden to surviving family members. 

Cremation Services

Cremation offers the same service options as burial, from a simple gathering to a full viewing and formal service. The difference is that families can choose whether services occur before or after the cremation takes place, and whether the body (or cremains) is present for services.

Below we define common cremation services: 

  • Wake. A wake, also known as a visitation or gathering, typically occurs before the funeral takes place. The body is present at this time for people to pay their respects and offer condolences to loved ones of the deceased. A wake takes place at either a funeral home or church, and normally lasts a few hours.
  • Funeral. A funeral is a ceremony honoring the deceased, with a burial or cremation to follow. The ceremony typically takes place within a week of the death occurring. The casket is carried to the front of the church, funeral home or other gathering place for attendees to view. Although the body is present during this time, it’s up to the family whether to keep the casket open or closed.
  • Memorial Service. A memorial service is similar to a funeral. However, the body is not present at this time. The cremation takes place within a day or two following the death, with a memorial service to follow. The cremains are typically displayed in an urn with friends and family present. A memorial service takes place at a funeral home, church or other place of significance.
  • Offsite Gatherings. Families may also choose to hold an offsite gathering following a funeral or memorial service. Typically, these may be held at the deceased loved one’s favorite park or restaurant, or at a location like a country club or event center.

Services will differ depending on whether you choose to have a simple, direct or complete cremation. Speak to a funeral home about the services offered, or click here to receive a personal service recommendation.

No matter what service(s) you choose, a reputable cremation provider should have a clear chain of custody throughout the cremation process. This refers to the “chronological documentation of the custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of remains and personal property.” Some funeral homes use a third-party provider or standalone crematory, where the body temporarily leaves the care of the funeral home. Others have an on-site crematory to ensure the body remains under the care of one facility throughout the entire process, and maintain a more controlled chain of custody. 

Cremation Products

Cremation products vary in style and price, and are often dictated by the type of service your family wants to have. 

For example, if you’re planning to have a formal funeral followed by cremation, you will need to purchase a cremation casket or rent a ceremonial casket. 

Regardless of the service type chosen, a fully combustible container is required for the cremation process. This allows your loved one to be placed into the cremation chamber. 

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Some funeral homes keep sample products on-site, which allow family and friends of the deceased to browse available cremation products. This includes decorative urns and cremation caskets, as well as keepsake jewelry such as glass, thumbprints and necklaces that hold cremains. By shopping for these items at a funeral home, you can actually see, touch and feel each item to ensure the products are of high quality and value. This gives you the benefit of one, itemized bill. 

Funeral and Cremation Legal Requirements

Cremation is regulated at the state level, and state laws dictate cremation practices, licensing and documentation. In Ohio, three basic legal requirements must be met before a cremation can occur. These include:

  • A minimum of 24 hours must elapse between the time of death and the cremation, unless legal authorities grant a waiver.
  • A legally authorized individual must give written permission for the cremation.
  • Identification of decedent must take place prior to cremation and can be done by a family member, trusted friend or neighbor, or via photograph
  • A burial transit permit for cremation must be secured from the county registrar where the death occurred.

Law-abiding funeral homes will provide you with a form that authorizes your loved one’s cremation. To determine if you’re authorized, take a look at this list of priority qualifications

After you’ve determined you’re authorized, you’ll need to gather personal information about your loved one and details about their wishes. From there, you’ll select the type of container you would like your loved one to be placed in and the final disposition method. 

Evaluate vendors before finalizing services. Speak with a funeral director and ask questions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Funeral Rule, which “makes it possible for you to choose only the goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select.” 

Common Cremation Questions

When it’s time to select a provider, consider these common cremation questions

  • Can two cremations be performed at once?
  • What happens during and after the cremation process?
  • What will the cremated remains look like?
  • Are all the cremated remains returned?
  • Do I have to select an urn?
  • What guidelines exist to ensure the cremated remains I receive belong to my loved one?
  • Is embalming required before cremation?
  • Can there be a viewing without embalming?
  • Can families be present at the cremation?
  • Does the Veteran’s Administration (VA) ever pay for cremation?

Busch’s 10-Step Cremation with Confidence Guarantee 

When choosing cremation, one of the most important considerations is who owns and operates the crematory and where it is the cremation facility. At Busch, we aim to serve every family with professionalism, integrity and care. That’s why we offer a 10-step cremation process backed by our exclusive Cremation with Confidence Guarantee. You can rest assured knowing your loved one never leaves our care. 

Beyond that, we believe everyone deserves the very best services at a cost they can afford. We offer several cremation options to ensure your family’s needs are met while staying within your defined budget. Contact us to speak with a professional member about your cremation needs or download our ebook Cremation Costs Explained for more information

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