Direct Cremation: Definition, Cost & Process

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The type of funeral we want for ourselves or our family members is deeply personal. Factors like religion, personal preference, and culture all play a part in that decision. Ultimately, there are several alternatives to the standard embalming and funeral process. Direct cremation is one of these options. 

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If you’re creating an end-of-life plan, or if someone close to you has passed away, it’s essential to consider and understand direct cremation. In most cases, direct cremation is the most uncomplicated and low-cost end-of-life option. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. 

What is Direct Cremation?

Direct cremation involves cremating the body almost immediately after death. It differs from standard cremation in that there’s usually no funeral service ahead of time. The body isn’t treated, embalmed, or presented for viewing. 

Family members may choose to hold a memorial service after the cremation takes place. This decision eliminates additional costs associated with the casket and funeral arrangements. 

Difference between direct cremation and traditional cremation

As mentioned, direct cremation differs from traditional or standard cremation. The main difference is that there’s no funeral service ahead of time. There are also several other key differences between the two types of cremation services. 

A standard cremation combines some of the benefits of a traditional funeral service with those of cremation. The body will usually undergo embalming. 

The family will hold a funeral service with a wake where people can view the body. Costs include casket rental, funeral service fees, vehicle rental, embalming, and cremation charges. The cost of traditional cremation, with all of the funeral services included, can add up to about $5,000. 

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Cost of a Direct Cremation

The cost of direct cremation is much more affordable than traditional cremation. With direct cremation, you don’t have to pay for a funeral service, a casket, or embalming. You only pay for the cremation service, as well as any urn or box you choose for storing the ashes. 

The cost of traditional cremation can vary dramatically based on the provider. But it usually runs between $700 and $900. In some states, the price for direct cremation can be as low as $450. 

Direct Cremation Process

As the lowest-cost option, the direct cremation process involves very few steps and services. 

First, you’ll need to choose a funeral home or crematory to perform the direct cremation. In general, funeral homes don’t conduct cremations themselves. Instead, they work with outside crematories. 

Working with a funeral home can make things like transportation and shopping for an urn or container easier, but it’s also more expensive. It’s more cost-effective to work directly with a crematory. Shop pricing, but also choose a provider that you trust. 

If you go through a funeral home, make sure you arrange for direct cremation rather than traditional cremation. Traditional cremation typically includes embalming for a wake and funeral service. 

The funeral home or crematory will make sure you’re on the same page. They should explain the process to you thoroughly and have you sign an authorization for cremation. If you feel pressured to buy additional services, don’t be afraid to find another provider. 

You’ll also have the opportunity, at this point, to choose or provide the container in which you want to store the ashes.

After the death occurs, and you’ve obtained a death certificate from a coroner or doctor, you’ll call your chosen funeral home. Let them know where they should come to pick up the body. The funeral home will then retrieve the body and deliver it to the crematorium. 

Some crematoriums allow family members to witness all or part of the cremation process. However, this isn’t always an option. If you’re interested in seeing the cremation, ask the funeral director if that’s an option they offer. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Direct Cremation

Whether you’re pre-planning your cremation or arranging direct cremation for a family member, it’s reasonable to have questions. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about direct cremation. 

How long does a family have to decide to do a direct cremation after the death?

In many states, a body can’t undergo cremation until 24-48 hours have passed. This is to ensure that a death certificate has been obtained, and all the proper paperwork filed. During this time, the funeral home will place the body in refrigeration storage. 

The amount of time a funeral home is willing to hold a body past this point varies. In some cases, bodies have waited over a month before undergoing cremation, but this is not ideal and rarely occurs. Additionally, you can expect to pay additional holding costs if the funeral home stores the body for a longer time. 

Ideally, it’s best to decide to do a direct cremation within one week. If you’re not sure whether direct cremation is the right choice, ask the funeral home how long you have to make up your mind. 

How do you mention a direct cremation in an obituary?

If you choose to write an obituary for your loved one, you don’t have to mention direct cremation at all. Many obituaries list the place of burial, but if you don’t have a burial, that might not exist. You can simply leave that part out. 

If you’re holding a memorial after the cremation, list the service information in the obituary. If you’re inviting mourners to attend an ash scattering or interment ceremony, phrase it in just that way. 

Are there any other fees on top of the direct cremation charge?

Direct cremation involves the fewest fees out of any other cremation or burial arrangement. However, it isn’t free, by any means. 

In addition to the actual cremation process, which will cost around $500-$1,000, you’ll need to pay additional fees. These costs depend on whether you work through a funeral home or directly with a crematory. 

If you work with a funeral home, you can choose to have the body cremated in a plain cardboard box, which saves you the expense of a cremation casket. You can also select this option with the crematory directly. 

Working with a funeral home may mean you’ll pay a handling fee, and you may be encouraged to purchase a costly urn or box for your ashes. 

Either way, you’ll also need to pay a transportation fee to relocate the body from the place of death to the funeral home or crematory. 

How do you plan for a direct cremation?

You can arrange a direct cremation by contacting a funeral home or a crematory. If you’re planning your own direct cremation, you can even pay for the service in advance. 

To start arranging a direct cremation, contact several funeral homes or cremation providers and go through their services and pricing. Find the one that suits you best. 

Next, you’ll go to the funeral home or cremation provider to provide information about the deceased, including their social security number. The provider will arrange transportation of the body to the facility, and will also help you secure a copy of the death certificate. You’ll need a medical certificate that has been signed by a doctor or coroner stating the cause of death. 

Then, you’ll sign the cremation authorization form and provide the container in which you want to store the ashes. 

Choosing Direct Cremation

A direct cremation is one of the most simplistic death options. Next to elaborate funerals and costly embalming services, cremation provides a quick and easy solution that can bring much-needed closure. 

Whether you’re creating your own end-of-life plan or doing it for a loved one, direct cremation is a valuable and worthwhile option. If you're looking to read more on low-cost funeral options or paying for a funeral, read our guides on how to raise money for a funeral, how to pay for a funeral with no money, and Medicaid funeral assistance.

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