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A Guide to Urns for Ashes: Types, Cost & Tips on How to Choose an Urn

This is part of Cake's collection of Funeral planning articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

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An urn isn’t one of those things you buy every day, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one. For that reason, we’ve put together some advice about buying an urn.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Regardless of the reason for your research, keep reading to learn all there is to know about urns. 

What’s the Purpose of an Urn for Ashes?

An urn is a receptacle for keeping the cremated remains (cremains) of a person who died. 

An urn may be a permanent container for the cremains. Perhaps you intend to keep the urn with your loved one’s cremains in your family home or place it for eternity in a columbarium niche.

An urn may also be a temporary container. Perhaps you want an urn to display at your loved one’s services. Maybe you plan to scatter the remains in a private ceremony at a later date.

Regardless of whether the cremains will stay in the urn for a week, three years, or eternity, an urn’s primary purpose is to hold the remains of someone who was cremated. 

How Much Does an Urn Typically Cost?

A quick website search reveals that urns typically cost between $50 and $100, but you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on highly decorative urns.  

Don’t feel pressured into spending a lot of money on an urn. They don’t need to be expensive to honor the deceased. 

Different Types of Urns

You may assume that there’s only one type of urn, but they actually come in several sizes. Make sure you purchase the right-sized urn for your needs.

  • Standard urn: According to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry-standard urn should hold 200 cubic inches of material. This size should be large enough to hold the cremains of an adult.
  • Keepsake urn: Other urns have a smaller capacity. Keepsake urns are used for children or pets. They can also be used when family members divide ashes after cremation.
  • Companion urns: Companion urns come in two types. The first is a single urn large enough to hold the cremains of two adults. The second is two separate urns designed to sit together on the same base.
  • Jewelry urns: Some people want to carry a piece of their loved ones wherever they go. You can purchase a tiny urn that can hang from a necklace. This type of urn is also called a cremation necklace.
    • On a side note, you can also have your loved one’s cremains turned into art that can be used as a piece of jewelry or as a treasured keepsake. 

How to Choose the Best Urn for Ashes

There are many factors to consider when you choose an urn. Your primary consideration should be what you intend to do with the cremains. 

Ashes at home

You may keep them at home, so spend time choosing an urn that best represents your loved one. You can select an urn based on your loved one’s favorite color, or you can have it personalized to depict a favorite team, occupation, organization, or country.

If you plan to keep the urn at home, you may consider having the urn sealed to keep the contents from spilling out on accident.

If you plan to keep the cremains of your dearly departed at home, consider what will happen to them when you are gone. When you start your end-of-life planning, make specific arrangements on what you would like to have done with the urn and its contents.

For a columbarium

A columbarium niche or wall holds your loved one’s urn for eternity. Some columbarium niches have clear glass doors that allow you to see the urn inside. Others are sealed, often with a plaque adorning the front of the niche.

For a cemetery

Some people choose to bury urns in a cemetery. There could be a variety of reasons for this choice — including having a family plot. 

Scattering ashes

You may choose to scatter the cremains of your loved one. Perhaps you will do this privately, or you may do this in the presence of others. Maybe you will do this in silence, or you may look for appropriate words to say when scattering ashes.

If the urn is only used temporarily, as a mere receptacle before the scattering takes place, you may want to consider not buying an urn. 

You may have decided to bury the cremains, but are still concerned about the ecological ramifications of burying them in an urn. Search for biodegradable urns that will naturally break down in the soil over time.

Personalized urn

Some would only consider personalizing the urn if it’s going to be visible. Others feel the need to pick a special urn for the cremains. 

If you know that the urn is not going to be visible, you may consider choosing a simple wooden or metal receptacle. 

Urns for Ashes: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to other frequently asked questions about urns for ashes.

Q: What types of stores sell urns for ashes locally or online?

Purchasing an urn online is as easy as visiting the website of your favorite online retailer. There are also plenty of websites that specifically sell end-of-life products. If you need to have the urn before the funeral service, check the anticipated delivery date.

You can also purchase urns from most funeral homes. Keep in mind that when you buy products at a funeral home, you may be more likely to make an emotional decision. You may decide to spend more money on an item, just to “get it over with,” while in fact, you may be able to get the same product for a lower price elsewhere. 

Finally, you can also purchase urns from online or local artisans. Customized urns will take longer than ones you buy off the shelf. Your loved one’s cremains can be stored in a temporary container until your customized urn is complete.

Q: How do you transfer ashes to an urn?

Before you consider transferring your loved one’s ashes from a temporary container to an urn, decide whether you’re emotionally prepared to complete the job. If you aren’t, return the cremains to the funeral home and ask a professional to do the task for you.

If you think you are able to do the job yourself, consider waiting until a clear, still day. Spread newspaper or butcher paper on an outdoor surface. Gather the tools you will need, including a pair of scissors, plastic gloves, and a funnel.

While wearing plastic gloves, use the scissors to cut a small hole in the corner of the plastic bag. Place the funnel in the urn and pour the contents into the funnel. Tap the funnel to dislodge any of the cremains stuck inside. Seal the urn, and the process is complete. Read our guide on how to divide ashes if you're sharing them with another loved one.

Find the Best Urn for Your or a Loved One

The reality is that when you make this purchase after losing someone you love, you may make a choice based on the emotion of the moment.

Learn more about the cremation process, eco-burials, and other topics related to the industry so you can make the best decision for your family.

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