Choose a final disposition
Most often, a deceased person is either buried or cremated.
If the deceased had already made this decision, and it's written into their last will and testament or another end-of-life document, as previously described in the "Review the deceased's wishes" task, then the surviving family is legally bound to follow their wishes to the extent that they can.
However, if the deceased did not leave explicit instructions, then the decision will need to be made by the surviving family.
This choice may be affected by price, or by religious affiliation, as outlined in the previous "Funeral traditions" task, but the decision is not limited to only traditional burial and cremation. There are many new alternatives to explore.
Read more about them, and find service providers for hire, in the modules below.
How to choose between a burial and cremation
If the deceased did not pay for or specifically request a burial or cremation, the surviving family must make this decision for their final disposition. Each option has benefits and disadvantages.
Cremation is more affordable than burial, allows for more choices for final disposition of the remains, and loved ones can continue to keep the deceased’s remains near them for as long as they choose.
Cremated remains can be delivered directly to the deceased's survivors who can then choose to handle them as they wish: keep them in an urn or vessel at home, divide them among loved ones, or scatter them.
Cemeteries may accept cremated remains for burial or to be placed in a specially designated area called a columbarium. This means that choices regarding the urn, headstone, and burial location may still need to be made and there will be additional costs.
Some family members and cultures, however, might not be comfortable with cremation, and not every location or funeral home offers cremation.
A burial is usually more costly than cremation but it provides a physical location where people may visit and commemorate the deceased. With a burial, loved ones will have a physical location to visit the remains.
Burial is the more familiar and popular method of final disposition, which means that more family members might be comfortable with this method of disposition.
Burials are personalized through the family's choice of headstone, burial location, and casket. Treasured items associated with the deceased can be placed in the casket to be buried with the deceased.
Cemeteries have their own rules and restrictions for certain burial-related choices, such as the size, shape and type of stone used for a headstone.
Why choose an alternative approach to traditional burial and cremation?
Traditional burial and cremation may be the leading forms of final disposition in the United States, but there are more options available than ever before.
Many people are interested in alternative approaches because they benefit the health of the planet.
Traditional burial can be seen as wasteful and harmful to the environment because of the non-biodegradable metals used to build caskets and the chemicals use in embalming.
Similarly, traditional cremation techniques can release toxic chemicals into the air and must be powered by a large amount of fossil fuel.
There are multiple types of traditional burial, each with their own costs and considerations. The prices below can vary substantially based on location and your needs. Unless you are purchasing a direct burial, you will need to also purchase a casket (or urn, in the case of burying cremated remains) and headstone separately. You will also have to cover the costs of the memorial and/or burial ceremony.
- In-ground burial is the most common type of burial. A casket with the remains or urn for cremated remains can be buried in the ground
- Plot types vary: single, family, double-depth (for a single plot with space for two remains)
- $500 to $5,000 for the plot alone
- The cost of digging, back-filling, and restoring the lawn will also need to be paid
- Can include a below-ground vault or crypt to protect the casket or to provide double-depth
Above-ground burial (private vault)
- More expensive type of burial
- Can range in size for 1 to 8 entombments (i.e., for an individual, couple, or family)
- Prices start at around $6,000 and are limited to your desired budget
- Cost increases based on location, size, capacity, features, and materials
- Entombment is charged separately
Above-ground burial (community mausoleum)
- Comparable to in-ground burial costs
- Can cost $1,000 to $10,000 - price varies by location, size, and additional purchased features
- Single or double crypts can be purchased
- Required costs of entombment and plaque are additional
- Most affordable option
- $1,200 to $3,000, but price varies based on location and service provider
- Cost usually covers transportation, a simple casket, and basic funeral director services (such as body preparation and filing death certificates)
- Does not include other burial-related formalities such as a viewing, memorial service, or graveside ceremony
The costs of cremation are less than the costs for burial. Cremation costs increase when they are part of a memorial service. The lowest-cost option for cremation is a direct cremation, which includes no memorial ceremony
- Cremation with a memorial service
- Around $3,000 is the average price for a cremation and memorial package
- A funeral home will be able to provide or coordinate this process
- Urn can be provided by the family or purchased from the funeral home or a third-party provider
- Lowest cost option, but includes no ceremony
- As low as $150 and up to $3,000
- Price usually includes transportation of the remains and a simple vessel
- Additional services can be purchased at an additional cost, i.e., a memorial service, scattering in a desired location
- Costs of cremation are covered when remains are donated to science
- Ashes are returned to the deceased's family a few weeks or months after donation
- Includes transportation of remains and shipping of ashes
- Family is informed of how the donation has helped advance science and learning
Providers Solace Solace - a flat rate, low cost cremation service Find a [direct cremation service] near you(https://www.google.com/search?q=direct+cremation+near+me) Find an organization to donate a body to science
Natural "green" burial
Green burials are burials that reduce their environmental impact by using natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials. There are 150 "green" cemeteries in the United States, but many other cemeteries and funeral homes provide green burial options as well.
Any burial can be made green by choosing not to embalm the remains, using a biodegradable casket or shroud, and not purchasing optional features like a grave vault or by having the vault installed upside down without a cover (so the body rests on the ground).
- Interment of remains is done without embalming, in a biodegradable container or shroud, and no grave liner or vault
- Cremated remains may be accepted (a biodegradable urn will be necessary)
- $200 to $4,000, varies based on location/availability
- Can be an option offered by full-service cemeteries or you can work with a dedicated "green" or "natural" burial cemetery
- Similar to a green burial but done as part of a land conservation project
- Requires a dedicated burial ground that is partnered with a conservation organization
- $1,000 to $4,000, varies on location/availability
Tree pod burial
- Currently only available for cremated remains (a burial method is in development)
- Requires purchasing/planting a tree along with a biodegradable urn
- $130 to $370 for a biodegradable urn to plant along with a tree
- Alternative option: forestland to purchase a tree to scatter/bury cremated remains
- Only for cremated remains
- A special urn called a reef ball is placed in an artificial reef that is put in the ocean for coral to grow
- $2,000 to $7,000
- Limited to warmer climates (most commonly available in Florida)
- Additional monuments to be placed underwater can be purchased
Providers Better Place Forrest - memorialize someone with a tree instead of a headstone Capsula Mundi - biodegradable urns that grow into trees Find a conservation or green burial provider near you Neptune Memorial Reef - a memorial reef in international waters off of Miami, Florida
Burial at sea
Burial at sea is generally allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, as long as it is done at least 3 nautical miles from shore, the remains are human (burial of pets at sea is not permitted), and only readily decomposable materials are used (i.e., no plastic, metal, tombs, gravestones, artificial reefs, etc.).
Burial at Sea
- Does not require a permit
- Paid service providers are available
- Natural or cremated remains can be buried at sea
- $200 to $500 for a dedicated service, more if you are chartering a private boat
You can read the EPA's rules on burial at sea here.
Providers You can hire a company to handle burial at sea for you.
Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation, involves the use of water, alkaline chemicals, and heat to speed up the decomposition process. It requires less fuel and produces fewer toxins than ordinary cremation and so is considered to be a "green" method of final disposition
- When complete, leaves behind bone fragments and sterile water containing the natural chemicals that make up our bodies
- Bone fragments are broken down and returned to the deceased's family as cremated remains
- $1,200 to $4,000
- Providers are separate from funeral homes and may not provide the same services as a funeral director
Turn cremated remains into jewelry or objects
A new trend in memorials involves taking a small portion of cremated remains to be included in an object that can be treasured by the deceased's loved ones. Options include transforming the ashes into diamonds or gems, or creating jewelry, sculpture, or other objects that incorporate some of the ashes.
- Converts the small remaining carbon in cremated remains into a diamond
- $3,000 to $22,000, price varies based on size, color, clarity, and cut of the diamond
- May be more affordable to create multiple diamonds from the same ashes
- Hair can be also be used
- Lengthy process; can take over 24 weeks to complete
- Jewelry that can hold a small amount of ashes to be worn by the deceased's loved ones
- Pendants and rings are the most common types
- Extremely variable prices; can be as affordable or as expensive as you would like to spend
- Pre-made and custom pieces are available
- Unlike an urn, these are sculptures that contain ashes in the materials instead of holding ashes
- Glass is one of the more common material types
- Extremely variable prices, but typically start at around $100
Providers to Contact
Find a funeral home near you
A funeral home is a business that helps people plan and execute funerals. They can give you all the information you need to choose a final disposition.