What Are Cremation Costs?

Both Americans and Canadians are choosing cremation more and more. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) projects that in 2021, 56.4% of Americans will choose cremation, compared to 37.5% burial. These numbers are up from just 10 years ago, when approximately 40.4% chose cremation.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 72.1% of Canadians chose cremation in 2018. Cremation rates vary by region, from less than 30% in the Deep South of the United States to greater than 70% in Western Canada.

People make the choice for several reasons, and many factors go into cremation costs.

In this article you will learn:

Cremations during COVID-19

Crematories in many areas are overwhelmed with COVID-19 victims, and many cremations are taking longer than cremations did previously. You may want to check with your funeral home or cremation provider to make sure a cremation takes place in accordance with the timeline you expect.

What is cremation?

Despite the fact that cremation has been around for more than 5,000 years, it can still seem somewhat mysterious. Most people never see behind the scenes, and some feel anxious about the process. But it's not hard to understand at all.

Put simply, cremation reduces the body to its most basic elements by exposing it to open flames, heat and evaporation in a specially designed furnace called a cremation chamber.

Cremation consists of the following steps:

  • The loved one is identified, typically by a family member, who provides authorization for cremation. This can vary by state, but usually includes paperwork with information such as who will receive the cremated remains and what type of container to use.
  • The loved one is usually bathed and dressed before identification. If the family wants a public viewing before cremation, the loved one can be embalmed. Most states require that the loved one be placed in a container before cremation, usually a wooden casket or rigid cardboard box.
  • The container with the body is moved to the cremation chamber, a specially designed furnace fueled by natural gas. Crematories follow strict environmental and air quality standards.
  • Only one individual is cremated at a time. There are multiple checkpoints that ensure the chain of custody, and a stainless steel ID token accompanies the body into the crematory and confirms identity of the cremated remains when they are removed. 
  • What remains after cremation, commonly referred to as ashes, are bits of bone. Once they cool, metal (from dental fillings, plates or implants, jewelry or casket nails) is removed and the remaining solid materials are ground to a coarse sand.
  • Then the loved one's cremated remains are returned to the family in a container of the family's choosing.

George Washington Cremation Niches at Wisconsin Memorial Park

Why do people choose cremation?

There are many reasons people choose cremation either for themselves or their loved ones. These reasons might range from religious considerations to personal preferences.

Here are some of the most common reasons families choose cremation:

Flexible memorial options: Cremation allows for a flexibility that traditional burial does not. When you choose cremation, you have as much time as you need to plan a funeral, memorial or celebration of life. You can hold a viewing for nearby family and friends before the cremation and then host a larger memorial or scattering service weeks or months later for friends and family who need to make travel plans and take off work. That's especially beneficial for those who live in different parts of the country or world. Cremation also enables families to focus on the immediacy of their grief and decide on the details of a service when they feel ready.

Customization: Cremation allows for nearly endless customization and creativity. Families have many special options for memorializing a loved one. Cremated remains can be placed in an ocean reef or incorporated into jewelry or art. They can be pressed into vinyl records, made into fireworks, placed in a mausoleum niche, scattered from a mountaintop and even launched into space. The options are endless and can be as unique as the life being honored.

Lower cost: Cremation can cost less than traditional burial. A simple cremation is the least expensive type of cremation and can cost thousands less than a traditional burial with a funeral. A cremation with a service of some kind can cost a few hundred less, as you can opt out of a casket or cemetery plot, for instance.

Environmental concerns: Many people see cremation as a more eco-friendly option than burial because it preserves land that would otherwise be used for burial.

No religious affiliation: More Americans than ever claim to have no affiliation with a particular religion. Since many funeral and burial traditions are rooted in religious beliefs, many people are choosing cremation as a way to create a new tradition.

How much does cremation cost in 2021?

Though cremation is relatively straightforward, a number of factors contribute to the cost. You can elect to hold a viewing before the cremation, which will usually involve embalming and a viewing casket. Or you can skip the viewing but host a celebration of life after cremation. Or you can have both.

Some families have cremated remains interred at a cemetery. Others scatter them in a personally meaningful place or opt to keep them at home in an urn. Each choice impacts the cost. Read about prepaid cremation options.

In the United States, the average cremation cost in 2021 is around $6,645, including cremation casket and urn.

What are cremation cost components and fees?

Many factors determine the price of a cremation, including:

  • Attention to detail, such as chain of custody and level of personal care that goes into the cremation
  • Whether the crematory is owned by the cremation provider
  • Location of the cremation provider
  • Distance traveled to pick up and transport your loved one
  • Local regulatory requirements
  • Planning time for a visitation or memorial service
  • Facilities for a visitation or memorial service
  • Containers used for the visitation and service (if desired)

A funeral home with its own crematory may charge more for cremation services, but knowing who is caring for your loved one at all times can be be worth it.

The cost breakdown for cremation in 2019 was as follows:

Prices reflect the national median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and burial in 2019 according to the NFDA.

Basic services of the funeral director and staff $2,195
Removal/transfer of loved one to funeral home $350
Embalming $750
Other preparation of the loved one $255
Use of facilities/staff for viewing $425
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony $500
Service car/van $150
Printed materials (basic memorial package) $175
Cremation fee (if the funeral home uses a third party) $350
Cremation casket $1,200
Urn $295


What Affects Funeral and Cremation Costs?

There are hundreds of decisions that must be made when planning a funeral, cremation or memorial service, and making funeral arrangements can often seem confusing or overwhelming. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a funeral or memorial service, there are different costs and expenses to consider. Learn what to expect and get your free Guide to Understanding Funeral and Cremation Costs today.

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Do you need a casket for cremation?

Though you don’t need a casket for a cremation, most state laws require an “alternative container” for the cremation process. This is commonly a rigid cardboard or plywood/laminate container, and many families choose to honor their loved ones with a solid wood cremation casket.

There are three types of containers that can be involved in a cremation. You can purchase any of them from a funeral home or other retailer.

  • A casket for a viewing. If you choose to have a service before cremation, you can choose from a variety of caskets to rent or buy for this purpose.
  • A container for cremation. This can be a simple cardboard box, though many families choose something nicer for their loved ones.
  • A container for cremated remains. Your plans for your loved one's ashes dictate this choice. To give Grandmother a permanent resting place in a mausoleum niche, you may want to purchase a pretty urn. To host a scattering service for Dad at his favorite fishing hole, you may want to receive his ashes in a special scattering urn or a simple container. Urns and containers range from biodegradable urns to hand-carved wooden boxes to decorative ceramic, porcelain or metal urns.

In addition, you might also choose cremation jewelry or small urns that can hold ashes and be given to multiple family members to cherish as special keepsakes.

photo gallery of cremation keepsakes

What's the cheapest way to be cremated?

The least expensive cremation option is simple cremation, sometimes known as direct cremation. People choose this option for themselves or their loved ones to keep costs at a bare minimum. And though it's sometimes called cremation without a ceremony, that doesn't have to be the case. If you choose simple cremation, you can still host an informal gathering at home or at a scattering site without adding to the cost. What matters is being with friends and family to remember, reflect and heal.

A simple cremation typically costs $700 to $5,000. It does not include a viewing or a memorial service.

What's the difference between cremation and simple cremation?

When you opt for simple cremation you skip the ceremonial services, such as a viewing or memorial. Rather, the loved one is cremated shortly after death, without embalming. Though less expensive, this option can leave family and friends feeling like they didn't have a chance to say a final goodbye, which can be an important part of grieving and healing after a loss. Because of this, more and more families are choosing to have some kind of service in conjunction with cremation to commemorate the end of life, honor their loved one and provide closure for the people left behind.

If you're interested in learning more about cremation for yourself or your loved one, one of our compassionate planners can walk you through every step of the process, including the care and preparation of a loved one (which can depend on religious requirements and the type of service chosen), creating a unique funeral or memorial that reflects your or your loved one's special life, choosing an option for permanent placement, and selecting family keepsakes.

Get your free Guide to Understanding Cremation.

No matter how you want to memorialize your loved one, we're here for you. We offer cremation packages to fit your family traditions, personal wishes and budget.

How long does a cremation take?

The cremation process can take as little as a few days or several weeks, depending on the options you choose, but here is a general timeline.

Step 1: a medical professional fills out a death certificate

After someone dies, local and state laws require that a death certificate be filed with the health department before a funeral home or cremation provider proceeds with any kind of service. A doctor typically has three days to sign the death certificate. In some states, a medical examiner needs to approve the cremation, which can take two days. Death certificates can sometimes be a low priority for the medical establishment, but the funeral home will take care of this important task for you. Time needed: 1-5 days

Step 2: the family identifies their loved one and the funeral home or crematory obtains permission from the family to cremate

Once a death certificate is issued, the funeral home will typically bathe and dress the loved one for family to identify. The family also has to give permission for cremation, and depending on the location, as few as one next of kin and potentially all living children have to agree. Time needed: 1-2 days

Step 3: the family signs a contract that specifies their wishes

Unless prearrangements have been made, at least one person must sign a contract for cremation and other services that have been chosen. Time needed: 1-2 days

Step 4: embalming takes place and a visitation service with the loved one present is held

This is optional, though more traditional families might choose this opportunity to gather with friends and honor their loved one before the cremation takes place. Time needed: 1-3 days

Step 5: cremation takes place

In some areas, there aren't many crematories, and a few days may pass while a loved one waits in line. When you choose a funeral home with its own crematory, this process can take less time than with a funeral home that uses a third-party provider accepting cremations from a number of providers. Many facilities allow for a witness cremation; coordinating family members' schedules may push out the cremation date if a number of people want to attend. The cremation itself takes two to three hours, plus time for the cremated remains to cool. Time needed: 1-5 days

Step 6: the loved one's remains are returned to the family

After cremation, the remains are ground and placed in a container of the family's choice. This may take place the same day as the cremation or it could take more than a week. Similarly to the waiting time before cremation, choosing a funeral home that uses a third-party provider will typically take longer than choosing a funeral home that operates its own crematory. Transportation of the ashes is another factor, and that depends on the delivery option you choose. Some funeral homes will take the loved one's ashes to the family at home or send them by mail if requested. A loved one might pick them up at the funeral home, but sometimes a family opts to gather for a small reception at the time of pickup. Time needed: 0-10 days

Total amount of time for a cremation, from death until the family receives cremated remains: 5-27 days

Step 7: a memorial or celebration of life takes place

Though a cremation may not include a service of any kind, many individuals and families opt for some kind of ceremony after the cremation. Whether small or large, formal or casual, a memorial or celebration of life brings people together to remember their loved one, connect over the good times, comfort one another and begin the healing process. End-of-life ceremonies are an important part of being human, and the significance of joining with others in grief shouldn't be overlooked. A cremation provides flexibility in this area that traditional burial does not, and a cremation funeral can take place weeks to months after a person's death. Time needed: that's entirely up to you

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For every family we serve, regardless of disposition or service choice, Dignity Memorial offers the following and much more:

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