When it comes to funeral and end-of-life expenses, more and more people are looking for cost-friendly alternatives to traditional burial. Cremation is often seen as a better alternative to the expenses that accompany a full burial and funeral. However, cremation may not be as inexpensive as many assume, depending on where the cremation takes place.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Average Cost of Cremation in California
- Popular Crematories in California
- Charities, Nonprofits or Government Programs That Help With Cremation Costs in California
As with any funeral service, the location of cremation factors into the overall cost. States and cities where cremation is widely available might have more reasonably priced services. You might find, however, that prices are higher in areas where cremation is scarce or demand is especially high. Here is what you can expect to budget if you need cremation in California.
Average Cost of Cremation in California
The cost of cremation changes considerably depending on where in California you are, how many crematories are in the area, and whether cremation is in high demand. The price range also changes depending on whether you choose traditional cremation, direct cremation, aqua cremation, or a combination of services. Prepaid cremation can save you some money since this option allows you to lock in current prices for a service that might occur years to decades later.
Below, you’ll find typical costs of cremation for the three main types of cremation services available. Every crematory and mortuary service is different, so it’s important to ask for their general pricing guide for an accurate estimate of pricing for services.
Traditional cremation can be thought of as a package deal where the family chooses a memorial or funeral service with the person’s body present prior to cremation. These packages typically include casket rental and embalming (for funeral services), use of a chapel, use of a reception hall prior to the ceremony, a guest book for signing, and audio-visual presentation equipment.
If families are having a hard time deciding between cremation or burial, traditional cremation can provide a happy compromise.
Pricing for a traditional funeral service with cremation averages around $3,000. You can find these services ranging from under $2,000 to over $4,000, so be sure to shop around if you can!
Direct cremation is going to be the most budget-friendly of all cremation options. This service generally includes transportation from the hospital or nursing home to the crematory, death certificates, a temporary (plastic) urn for your loved one’s ashes, and service fees for the crematory or mortuary. It does not include a memorial or funeral service.
If you’re planning to budget for a direct cremation, expect to save somewhere in the realm of $850. Prices generally range from under $600 to over $1,000 depending on the mortuary or crematory you choose, along with location and included services.
Pro tip: Always ask for a general pricelist for detailed information on what is included in direct cremation pricing.
Aqua cremation is a new cremation option that is quickly gaining popularity in California and states across the nation. Aqua cremation, or flameless cremation, provides a water-based cremation experience for your loved one. Aqua cremation can be paired with funeral or memorial services, or direct cremation services.
Because aqua cremation is a newer alternative, prices are generally higher than flame-based cremation but you’ll still save money when compared to traditional burial options.
In general, plan to budget around $3,000 for an aqua cremation service. The expense should go down with time, but due to its newness and startup costs for crematories, the price tag is higher than flame-based cremation. This price typically reflects direct aqua cremation which includes crematory services, transportation of your loved one’s body, and the return of ashes in a temporary urn.
Popular Crematories in California
There are dozens of crematories in California, with many concentrated in highly populated areas such as Southern California. With so many to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down the top few. However, here are several we found with excellent ratings.
Legacy Funeral and Cremation Care (Southern California)
Legacy serves San Diego and the surrounding areas with funeral and cremation services. They have a 5 out of 5 on Google and are rated highly for their professionalism, compassion, and reasonable prices.
Clarity Funerals and Cremation (Southern California)
Clarity Funerals and Cremation consistently rates a 5 out of 5 stars on Google reviews. Reviews mention their professionalism and friendliness. Perhaps most notable, the co-owner is no other than Caitlin Doughty, a nationally recognized expert on family-led death care and green funerals. She’s also the author of numerous books and a popular website called The Order of the Good Death.
Whitehurst Sullivan Burns & Blair Funeral Home (Central California)
Located in the middle of California, this Dignity Memorial funeral home provides a wide range of cremation, funeral, and memorial service options. They consistently receive 5-star reviews for their accommodations, professionalism, and friendliness.
San Francisco Columbarium and Funeral Home (Northern California)
Part of the Dignity Memorial network of funeral homes, this highly-rated crematory has continuously served area residents since 1898. Their history is as interesting as the personalized service options they provide.
Charities, Nonprofits or Government Programs That Help With Cremation Costs in California
Even though cremation is significantly less expensive than traditional burial and funerals, it’s still an expense many families struggle with when the time comes. If you’re struggling with the price tag for cremation in California, several charities help with funeral costs. Here are several of the best charities, non-profits, and government programs that might be able to provide you with assistance.
California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP)
The California Victim Compensation Program is a special program set up to help victims of violent crimes along with their families. Those who have suffered physical injury as a direct result of a violent crime can apply to the program to help with items such as medical bills and funeral expenses.
If your loved one died as a result of a violent crime, you can apply as a family member to request help with medical and funeral expenses. This funding includes expenses such as cremation costs.
FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as is the government department responsible for providing assistance to families who suffer loss due to natural disasters. While this is nationwide, if you experience a natural disaster in California, you could apply to FEMA for monetary aid.
FEMA will provide assistance for items like funeral expenses and cremation to families who have loved ones that died as a result of a natural disaster. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic qualifies, and FEMA is providing thousands to help with end-of-life expenses to families who need to bury or cremate a loved one that died of Covid.
If your loved one is a member of the military who was honorably discharged from their time of service, the VA will help provide funding to offset the costs related to funeral expenses. This funding is known as a burial allowance, and the amount depends on whether the veteran died because of a “service-connected death” or not.
Service-connected deaths that have occurred since September 11, 2001, receive a maximum allowance of $2,000.
Non-service-connected deaths receive a maximum allowance of $300 and $807 for a plot. If the person was under the care of a VA hospital at the time of their death, the allowance increases to $807 allowance and $807 for a plot.
In some regions, the $807 allowance might cover the cost of creation completely.
Because of the number of restrictions and regulations regarding allowances provided, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the VA Funeral Fund before making end-of-life decisions for your loved one. Regardless of the allowance amount, families are required to pay for most expenses up-front before requesting VA reimbursement.
Local religious organizations
While this option certainly won’t apply to many churches, some churches and religious organizations have a relief fund set up to help community members with needs such as funeral expenses. If you already belong to a church or other organization, ask whether they have such a fund. You could also ask whether your organization has any ties to community funds or other non-profit organizations that might be able to help out.
Many medical schools offer a whole-body donation program that accepts body donations to be used for science, medical advancements, and training purposes. The schools take on costs related to caring for the body once they receive it at the donation center, and many donation centers cover costs related to transportation.
Once the medical school has used the body for its intended purpose, many will provide a free cremation and return your loved one’s cremains free of charge.
This is one of the few ways to obtain a completely free cremation in California.
Local memorial societies
Memorial societies are available from coast to coast. In California, 10 memorial society chapters span the state. While most of these have a minimal membership fee, they won’t turn anyone away if you can’t afford the fee.
What comes with the membership is access to low-cost cremation and burial options, along with resources for minimizing the costs associated with funeral expenses. For example, the San Diego Memorial Society contracts with numerous mortuaries and funeral homes within a 50-mile radius of San Diego.
Cremation plans offered within their network of mortuaries range from $675 for a direct cremation to $1,895 for cremation with a memorial service or $3,915 for a traditional funeral with embalming prior to cremation.
Choosing Affordable End-of-Life Options
Remembering your loved one shouldn’t have to bankrupt you or cause you to go into debt. With low-cost options like cremation, you can still celebrate their life and honor their legacy, all while ensuring you and your family remain financially stable.
If you're a California resident and ready to start preparing your own end-of-life planning documents, Cake has Advance Care Planning forms you can download. To help ease your planning, we have all the documents you need in one place.
- “COVID-19 Funeral Assistance.” Coronavirus, FEMA, 16 July 2021. Fema.gov
- “How it Works.” Whole Body Donation, UTN, 2021. Unitedtissue.org
- “How to Apply for a Veterans Burial Allowance.” Burials and Memorials, VA Benefits, 1 July 2021. Va.gov
- “The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP).” California Defense, Shouse California Law Group, 18 May 2021. shouselaw.com