Urns for Ashes - Choosing The Right Option

This is part of Cake’s collection of articles on funeral planning. Create your free Cake profile today to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

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If you’re making final arrangements for an ill or recently deceased loved one, we extend our sincere condolences. Planning can be stressful on top all the other emotions you are experiencing right now. We’ll try to explain this process with actionable next steps so you can cross this off your list. If you’re still working through the cremation process, you may also want to read How Does Cremation Work, too.

If you are pre-planning your own final arrangements, you may want to consider identifying or pre-purchasing an urn that reflects your personal style. This is one less emotional decision your family will need to make. There are more options than ever, making it easier to find something that expresses your unique personality.

We’ll assume you’re planning for a loved one, but all of these steps can be followed if you’re figuring this out in advance for yourself.

Step 1: Decide What to Do With the Cremains

The kind of urn you buy should depend on what you plan to do with the cremated remains, or cremains, as they are often called. Remember, urns or containers don’t need to be expensive to honor the deceased. It’s better to think “does this urn or method of spreading ashes reflect the unique values of the deceased?” If the deceased didn’t make specific requests for what should be done with their ashes, consider “what would have deep meaning for loved ones involved?” as you consider the options below.

Things to do with cremated ashes:

  • Bury ashes or inter ashes in a cemetery
    Interment of ashes can either be done by burying the contained ashes in a family plot or storing the contained ashes in a stone or metal vault (often called a columbarium). Columbarium niches are usually covered by a plaque that marks the spot where the family can visit the final resting place. If you want to store ashes in a columbarium, the container or urn appearance may not be as important to you, as it won’t be visible. Wooden or metal burial urns are a common go-to in either scenario. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of burial, you may opt for a biodegradable urn.

  • Display ashes in the family home
    If you prefer to keep ashes indoors on display, you may want to think about a regular-sized decorative urn that reflects the style and unique flair of the deceased. In terms of materials, the options are many: wooden urns, ceramic urns, glass urns, and urns of various metals like copper, bronze, stainless steel, and silver. These can also be engraved with an image, or adorned with a small plaque. If the urn will be displayed out in the open, it’s a good idea to seal the urn for safekeeping. Urn lids can be sealed with a bead of silicone or super glue. This can prevent an unfortunate and embarrassing incident. 

  • Divide ashes among family or friends
    If you think the family will want to divide the ashes to keep in their own homes, you may want to purchase several small or keepsake urns. There’s no need to use regular-sized urns, which can also help keep costs down.

  • Scatter ashes in nature or at sea
    If you have a special place in mind to scatter the ashes, you don’t need to worry about an urn at all. Crematories can place ashes in a simple, disposable container. Once ashes have been spread, the container can be disposed of normally—cremated remains do not pose any health risks. Just make sure the ashes can legally be dispersed in the place you have in mind. If you prefer to bury ashes in nature or a backyard, an inexpensive cardboard or biodegradable urn is a great option.

  • Do something unique with the ashes
    Those who buck the norm in life may want to do so in death. There are very few rules to follow here. For example, a portion of remains could be stored in an urn, a portion could be scattered somewhere special, and the remaining portion could be made into cremation jewelry for loved ones to wear. Here are some other truly unique ideas of what to do with cremated remains.

Step 2: Choose an Urn Size

If you’re not scattering ashes, you’ll want to choose the right-sized urn, based on your preference.

  • Standard, full-size urns
    These are ideal if you plan to keep all of the ashes in one container. The standard is 200 cubic inches for an adult urn. These can take various shapes, like lidded vases or sealable boxes.

  • Mini or keepsake urns
    There are various smaller sizes that may be more appropriate if you plan to divide the ashes among family members. Options span the range of traditional shapes to creative shapes that reflect the individual’s passions and hobbies.

  • Urn necklace for ashes & other jewelry urns
    These are wearable, micro-urns that store a sprinkle of ashes. Loved ones can wear contained ashes as a necklace, bracelet, or ring. If you don’t plan to scatter or bury the remainder of the ashes, you’ll still need a full-size urn.

Step 3: Buy an Urn

If you’re ready to buy an urn or pre-purchase one for the future, there are many places to find one.  

Where to buy urns online

There are many options for finding urns online, providing the widest selection of styles and price points.

  • Amazon
    What can’t you buy on Amazon? The selection is large, and shipping is fast. Just search for "urns" then use the filters in the left-hand sidebar to start narrowing down your options.

  • Etsy
    Looking for something more unique? Etsy is a site where artisans sell their wares, often customizing their products to fit your unique vision. There are hundreds of thousands of unique products unrelated to urns to look through, so be sure to do a search for "urns" to find what you're looking for quickly.

  • BiosUrn
    If you’d prefer to bury cremated remains, consider planting a tree at the same time.  These biodegradable urns will sprout a tree! There’s also an option that allows you to plant a tree indoors within a planter.

Buy an urn through a funeral home

If you’re working with a funeral home, you may opt to rely on their expertise to choose something appropriate. This can be really helpful if you’re already overwhelmed by all of the other arrangements.

It should be noted that while many people get into the funeral business for the right reasons, not everyone has the best of intentions. This is an emotional decision, and some unscrupulous salesmen may try to take advantage of that, convincing you to spend more money than you are comfortable parting with. If you feel pressured with any funeral decisions, think twice about who you are working with! You are under no obligation to buy an urn from a funeral home. You can supply your own to the crematory, or transfer the cremains from a temporary container to a permanent urn later on. You shouldn’t feel rushed to buy or provide an urn, especially if you’re pursuing something customized.

Buy an urn from a local artist

Know an artist? You may want to have your urn crafted by a talented friend or relative with woodworking or ceramic making skills. This can be a great way to involve a talented loved one in a meaningful tribute to the deceased.

Repurpose a beloved item as an urn

You don’t have to buy anything! Is there a unique item of sentimental value that could be creatively repurposed into a unique urn or container? If you think outside the urn, you might come up with some very clever and beautiful ideas to commemorate your loved one. Just make sure you can close and seal your container.

Step 4: Personalize the Urn (If You Want to)

The final choice in selecting an urn for cremated remains is deciding if and how you would like to personalize it. This can be accomplished with custom artwork, imprinted images, engraved words, or nameplates. You may decide to have it feature aspects of a favorite pastime or hobby. It could include acknowledgment of education, military service or career choices and achievements.

Step 5: Share Your Own Burial or Cremation Preferences with Cake

If you’re taking care of final affairs for a loved one, consider doing some proactive planning for yourself once life calms down again. Make sure your loved ones know your burial or cremation preferences to make things easier on them someday. This provides you and your family with real peace of mind.

Create your free Cake account to share all of your final wishes with them. Cake is designed to help people plan ahead for a better end-of-life experience and share 24/7 access to their plans with loved ones. Planning is a final gift that helps reduce guilt and conflict among the loved ones we leave behind.  

Likewise, if you’re pre-planning for yourself, make sure your family knows what you want! After all, you’re likely making these decisions in advance to unburden them from making these choices when they are grieving.