What Are Temporary Urns & How Do They Work?


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As burial practices have evolved, cremation has become an increasingly popular option for people. After cremation, what happens with the ashes? People choose different methods and many of them involve temporary urns:

  • Some scatter the ashes of their loved ones at a special place. 
  • Others bury the ashes or inter them in a columbarium. 
  • Some keep the ashes and display them in burial urns

Even with the growing popularity of cremation, many people don’t know that ashes will usually be given to them in a temporary urn. Here we’ll talk more about temporary urns and why they are used.

Tip: If you're looking for something very unique to hold a loved one's ashes later on, you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.

Jump ahead to these sections:

What’s a Temporary Urn?

A temporary urn is a container (usually made of cardboard or plastic) that holds ashes immediately after cremation. The cremains are often placed in a sealable plastic bag before getting placed in the temporary urn.

These vessels are typically meant to be disposed of once the cremated remains have been transferred to more permanent urns for ashes.

The standard size of a temporary urn for an adult is approximately 8.5” wide by 6.5” tall by 4.5” deep.

» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

Why Do People Use Temporary Urns?

Temporary urns are most frequently used during the transfer of ashes from the funeral home to the next-of-kin.

Many funeral homes offer you the option to purchase an urn from them. If you opt to do that, then you may never see a temporary urn. Instead, the cremains will likely get returned to you in the urn you picked out. 

You may not want to get the urn from the funeral home for various reasons: 

  • It may cost more money through a funeral home. 
  • You might not like the choices the funeral home has for sale. 
  • You may have a custom urn in mind. 

If you opt not to purchase an urn from a funeral home for whatever reason, you will likely get the cremains returned to you in a temporary urn.

As a side note, you should be able to get help from the funeral home transferring the ashes into a permanent urn, even if you buy it elsewhere. The funeral home cannot require you to buy an urn from that particular funeral home.

People may also use temporary urns if they don’t plan to keep cremation ashes on display in their home. If the ashes will be buried or scattered, a temporary urn is perfectly appropriate to store them until that time comes. 

Finally, you may have to travel with cremains. This may happen if the deceased lived far away and you must bring the deceased’s ashes back home with you. You also may want to take portions of ashes from your deceased family member and distribute them to other family members. Traveling with ashes can be tricky, and you might be afraid of damaging a delicate and expensive cremation urn.

Many TSA-approved travel urns fall into the temporary urn category, so a temporary urn might be the best choice for transporting ashes.  

What Are the Different Types of Temporary Urns?

Temporary urns come in lots of materials — they aren’t built like permanent urns. They don’t have the same level of sealing that a permanent urn might have. Because they’re not meant to be long-lasting, they can be made out of anything.

Here are some different kinds of temporary urns you might see: 

  • Metal temporary urn: These urns are typically made of a less-expensive metal like tin. They are often gold or silver in color.
  • Plastic temporary urn: These urns are made out of polypropylene, acrylic, or any other kind of engineered plastic material.
  • Cardboard temporary urn: These urns are really just small cardboard boxes.

Most funeral homes will place the ashes in a resealable plastic bag before putting the ashes into a temporary urn. This provides an extra layer of support and protection for the ashes. It also makes it easier to transfer the ashes from a temporary urn to a permanent one. 

How Much Do Temporary Urns Cost?

Because temporary urns are not meant to be long-term solutions, they tend to be very inexpensive. A metal temporary urn might cost as much as $10. Plastic temporary urns are frequently in the $3 range. And a cardboard urn can be as low as 50 cents.

Many funeral homes will order their temporary urn of choice in bulk and will just build the cost into the cremation process. Or they might include a small surcharge for a temporary urn as a line item cost in your final bill.

Ultimately, when you’re trying to ascertain how much an urn costs, you can rest easy knowing that temporary urns are very affordable.   

» MORE: Are you expecting a loss soon? Become a member for personalized support.

How Do You Open or Close a Temporary Urn?

If you’ve ever seen a permanent urn, you know that they can be somewhat complex depending on the design.

A wooden or metal box style urn is often fastened shut with screws to keep ashes secured inside. Vase-style ceramic urns often screw shut with a tight seal, also for the sake of protecting the ashes.

Many temporary urns are just shaped like a box with a lid. All you have to do is open the box or remove a lid to retrieve the ashes inside. Those cremains will likely also be encased in a sealable plastic bag inside the temporary urn. 

Where Can You Buy Temporary Cremation Urns?

Temporary urns are very much like permanent urns, in that you can typically get them from the same places. Let’s discuss where you might purchase a temporary urn.

Funeral home

Pretty much any funeral home that offers cremation services will have temporary urns in use on-site. They may have a few different selections or they might just keep their single preferred style in stock.

They will also usually stock permanent urns or have a catalog that you can use to order them. If you opt not to purchase a permanent urn from the funeral home, you will usually get the ashes returned to you in a temporary urn.

Remember that if you use a funeral home, they should help you put ashes into a permanent urn, even if you don’t purchase it from them.  

» MORE: Don't have the privledge of time? Get your affairs in order in minutes.

Online retailer

Many websites sell temporary urns. A variety of websites deal with selling funeral supplies directly to consumers.

As with all services, be sure to do your research before placing an order. Look online for reviews and visit the websites’ social media pages. 

Brick and mortar stores

Because temporary urns won’t be used for long, you can use basically any vessel to store cremated remains.

Any store that sells boxes or containers probably have something that can work for you. For permanent urns, it’s best to use something specifically designed to hold ashes. But for a stopgap measure, any sturdy box will suffice. 

Temporary Urns Provide an Important Service 

Temporary cremation urns can be very helpful for people. When a loved one dies, you have a lot to deal with. Planning a funeral is time-consuming and day-to-day living can be difficult to manage when you’re in a state of grief. It might be too overwhelming to commit to a permanent cremation urn right away. Getting your loved one’s ashes in a temporary urn gives you the chance to really pick out something special for their more permanent resting place. 

If you get one specially made or that features engraving, a temporary urn will give you time to get all of that done. While a temporary urn won’t be around forever, it does play a very important role for a short time. 

If you're looking for more on urns, read our guides on what to write on an urn plaque and the best urn necklaces.

Another beautiful option for keeping a loved one's memory alive is a memorial diamond created from ashes. Some companies, like Eterneva, create lab-grown diamonds and allow you to pick from several cuts and colors for your gemstone.


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