Mortuary vs. Funeral Home: What’s the Difference?


When it comes to end-of-life planning and the funeral industry, there’s a lot of mystery. Many people aren’t very aware of what happens to their bodies after they die from a scientific perspective. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

One of the biggest misconceptions has to do with the terminology. What’s the difference between a mortuary or morgue and a funeral home? Is there a difference at all? What are the roles of these two service providers, and when should families call upon a mortuary vs. a funeral home?

Planning a funeral for a loved one can be complicated, especially if you’re not familiar with the entire process. In this guide, we’ll explore the key differences between a mortuary and a funeral home so you understand which service is right for you. 

Mortuaries vs. Funeral Home: Definitions

Though they offer many of the same services, there are clear differences between mortuaries and funeral homes. To begin, mortuaries are focused on the mortuary sciences of caring for the dead and preparing them for either burial or cremation. 

Though mortuaries might have a small viewing space for families, they don’t typically offer full-service memorial services and funeral planning. Because mortuaries offer limited services for families, they are also more cost-effective.

On the other hand, a funeral home focuses on the comfort of the bereaved family. Coordinated by licensed funeral directors who are trained in grief counseling, funeral homes offer full-scope planning for the burial or cremation as well as the memorial or funeral service. 

It’s important to note that many funeral homes include mortuary services, and these are often located on-site. This type of hybrid mortuary and funeral service is becoming more common. When finding a good funeral home, it’s important to understand exactly which services you’re looking for and your overall budget. 

» MORE: Cake members focus on family, not confusing logistics. Sign up now.

6 Main Differences Between Mortuaries and Funeral Homes

There are important but subtle differences between mortuaries and funeral homes. While the results are the same (either burial or cremation), these providers have different routes for offering similar or more comprehensive services. 

1. Funeral planning

The biggest way that these two providers differ is in funeral planning. Funeral homes are the ones that specialize in the planning and arrangement of the funeral or memorial service. They guide you through the planning process, and many also host the services at their venue space. 

While mortuaries handle cremation, preparing the body, and transportation, they don’t typically have space or time to devote to planning. A licensed funeral director makes all the difference when arranging a service or memorial. 

2. Grief support

Because funeral homes are staffed by licensed funeral directors, these professionals are equipped to provide grief and emotional support. Losing a loved one is never easy. While there are many practical matters to handle when arranging a funeral, you also want to feel emotionally heard and supported. 

A funeral home can offer grief support, and they’re more sensitive to their clients’ needs. They can help in stressful family situations, and they know how to navigate different dynamics. On the other hand, a mortuary service is better for those who already have access to grief counseling elsewhere. 

3. Appearance and surroundings

There is a stark difference between the appearance of a funeral home and a mortuary. Funeral homes are designed with clients in mind, creating calming, quiet spaces for those who recently experienced a loss. 

Mortuaries, however, are not designed to make clients feel at ease. They’re more to the point, and the focus is on preparing the dead for their final resting places. Though they might still offer small spaces for clients, don’t expect plush, opulent surroundings. 

» MORE: Planning a funeral? Get access to discounts in minutes.

4. Viewings 

Many families wish to host a viewing either before or during the funeral. Funeral homes are equipped to handle large groups, and they can easily coordinate this with the family’s requests. 

While there might be a viewing space at a mortuary, it will be significantly smaller. Unless you’re limiting the viewing to close family and friends, you will need the space provided by a funeral home. 

5. Cost

The biggest difference between a mortuary and a funeral home is the cost. A funeral home is a comprehensive, full-service provider. They’re a part of the process every step of the way, from transporting the body to helping you plan a funeral and make arrangements. This means there is typically a higher cost associated with these services, though there’s always flexibility depending on your budget. 

Mortuary services are much less expensive. If you’d rather plan the funeral and make arrangements on your own, this can be a cost-saving option. A mortuary provides basic burial or cremation services, but they don’t offer funeral planning. 

6. Memorial products

Purchasing memorial products can bring peace to families after a loss. Things like memorial flowers, urns, caskets, and so on are all in the realm of funeral homes. While you’re always welcome to purchase these things on your own with a third-party provider, it’s often much simpler to go through a funeral home. 

On the other hand, mortuary services do not usually partner with third-party providers for memorial items. While some might have access to caskets or urns, most of the time this is the family’s responsibility. 

When Do You Need a Mortuary vs. a Funeral Home?

Now that you recognize the key differences, it’s time to talk about when you need a mortuary vs. a funeral home. While there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to planning a final resting place or funeral, this is a good place to start. 

» MORE: Save $$$ and time with our tools. Start now.

You’ll need a mortuary if…

You should consider using a mortuary if most of the following are true:

  • You’re on a tight budget
  • You have access to grief counseling and emotional support
  • You wish to plan the funeral on your own
  • You wish to purchase your own urn/casket through a third-party provider
  • You do not need to host a large viewing or funeral at the mortuary

If you’re familiar with the funeral planning process or would prefer to make arrangements yourself, you likely don’t need the additional guidance of a funeral director. 

While these professionals make the process simpler, they’re not legally required to plan a burial, cremation, or funeral. Doing these things yourself is a great way to save money. 

You’ll need a funeral home if...

You should consider using a funeral home if most of the following are true:

  • You need emotional or grief support
  • You want guidance planning the funeral or burial
  • You want guidance making cremation or burial arrangements
  • You need an event space to host the funeral or viewing

In general, if you think you need more assistance at any stage of the process, a funeral home is the right choice. These are designed to make the process as seamless for clients as possible, and they have experience working with all types of families. 

Many funeral homes are local businesses, and they have access to the top providers, cemeteries, and third-party services. Having them help you makes this stressful time so much easier. 

Choose the Right Service Provider

With a seemingly endless list of funeral terms, it’s hard to always know what to expect. Now that you understand the differences between a mortuary and a funeral home, you can determine which is the best fit for your needs.

Planning a funeral after a loved one’s death doesn’t have to be a challenge, especially if you have the right professionals helping each step of the way. 

Have you considered what type of funeral and final arrangements you want for yourself? Completing a plan is free and easy, and you can quickly share your wishes with those you trust. Not only does this simplify the process when the time does come, but it ensures your wishes are heard. 

  1. “Is there a difference between a funeral home and a mortuary?” Science Care. 17 November 2015.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.