Frequently Asked Questions About Funeral, Cremation & Cemetery Planning

Funeral planning presents many questions, things to consider and decisions to make. Making funeral plans often takes place shortly after a loved one dies, when family members can be overwhelmed with feelings of shock, sadness, even anger. Familiarity with how to plan a funeral, cremation or burial can ease worry, allay fears and empower you to make the best choices for yourself, your loved one and your family.

Funeral planning

What should I consider when choosing a funeral provider?

There are many decisions to make when planning a funeral, and finding the right provider is an essential first step. Service, quality and value can vary widely among funeral providers, and it's important to choose a provider that's not just knowledgeable about end-of-life ceremonies but one that is also committed to your family’s emotional, spiritual, cultural and financial needs. If you’ve rarely or never shopped for a funeral or cremation provider, you may find the process daunting. Start with a list of questions and take notes along the way, so you can make an informed decision.

When you're looking for a provider, you may want to meet in person with a manager or director at the funeral home. You should tour the location to see how you feel in the space. Does it feel too traditional or too modern for your family? Is the atmosphere dreary or uplifting? Is the technology up to date? How's the parking and accessibility?

Consider if someone from the funeral home is available to your family day and night, regardless of the time. Look at the provider's Google rating and reviews. Other customers are a great source of unbiased information. Friends and family are always a great source of referrals. Ask if the funeral home offers grief support and what that looks like.

Ask about pricing, inquire about hidden fees or charges for services that might not be part of a standard package, and keep in mind the old adage "You get what you pay for." Find out how the funeral home handles customer service and what recourse you have if something goes wrong.

As North America's most trusted funeral provider, it’s our privilege and our promise to treat your family—and your loved one—with true compassion, respect and devotion. Uncompromised quality and dedication are the hallmarks of a Dignity Memorial provider. It’s why hundreds of thousands of families choose us each year, and it’s backed by our 100% Service Guarantee.

Can a funeral be personalized?

Absolutely. From a simple service to a more elaborate celebration of life, today's funerals are often personalized to reflect the little details of a special life lived. A final tribute should be as unique as the life it represents. Using favorite music, cherished photos, symbolic mementos, beautiful flowers and more help reflect the personality, passions, accomplishments or hobbies of a loved one and tell a story that honors the person being celebrated. We have lots of inspiring funeral ideas and are experts at planning personalized tributes.

Do I have to have my funeral in a church?

No. Though many funerals are held in a place of worship, many are not. A funeral may be held at a funeral home, cemetery or any other venue, such as a community center or theater. A funeral for a nature lover may be held at a park or beach. Some families host funerals at pubs, wineries, restaurants and even their own homes. Where a funeral is held is a choice that can reflect the life it honors.

Does a funeral service have to be performed by a minister?

A funeral service does not have to be performed by a minister or other clergy member. If you do wish to have a clergy member perform the service and don't have one, however, the funeral home can arrange for one. Another option is a funeral celebrant. Funeral celebrants are professionals who specialize in creating personal, meaningful services and are not necessarily clergy members. A funeral director may also perform a service, and sometimes a close friend or family member will officiate. There are no rules or regulations with regard to performing a funeral or celebration of life, and anyone is allowed to lead a service.

Do I have to prepay for my pre-planned funeral?

No. Planning your funeral or cremation ahead of time protects your family from difficult decisions during an emotional time and gives them the opportunity to say goodbye with peace of mind. You can plan without prepaying. Families tell us that a funeral planning can be incredibly overwhelming when grieving, and having a plan to follow helps.

However, having a plan that's already paid for means no one needs to find the funds at the time of service. When you make your own arrangements, you can also save money, because you can specify which type of service you want and lock in today's prices on many items.

Get our guide to learn more about planning ahead.

If I plan and pay for my funeral service now, what happens if I move?

When you have a prepaid plan with a Dignity Memorial provider and wish to transfer the plan to another location more than 75 miles away, every detail of your plan moves with you. All of our prepaid plans are transferable and will be honored by any of the qualifying Dignity Memorial providers in North America. That's part of The Dignity Difference.

If there's no Dignity Memorial provider in your new location, we'll attempt to find another provider to honor the guaranteed price. If a firm other than a Dignity Memorial funeral home is used, a transfer arrangement is usually available. However, there's no guarantee that those firms will honor all costs as laid out on your contract.

Relocation Protection is subject to certain terms and conditions.

Burial planning

What are my casket options?

Casket options are many. There are standard caskets, custom caskets and cremation caskets, for starters.

Standard options include classic wood and contemporary metal caskets in many styles to fit your unique personality and budget. In the former category: a stained mahogany casket with a beige velvet interior. In the latter: an 18-gauge steel casket painted dark gray with a silver crepe interior. Standard caskets come in many colors and sizes. Some are very simple; others have elaborate accents. Wooden caskets may be solid wood or veneer. Steel caskets come in a range of thicknesses.

Elements of standard caskets, whether wood or steel, can often be personalized. For example, some families choose custom corners for their loved one's casket. The corners look lovely during a service, but the real reason families choose this option is that they can be easily removed from the casket prior to burial or entombment and kept as keepsakes.

Truly custom caskets are special orders. They may be decorated to reflect a passion or the profession of the loved one being honored. We've seen caskets painted like a school bus, covered in camo or airbrushed with a likeness of the loved one. They can be monogrammed with initials or emblazoned with someone's name, favorite sports team, superhero or religious iconā .

Caskets are typically used for in-ground or aboveground burial, but cremation requires a container of some sort, and some families opt to have their loved one cremated in a simple wooden cremation casket or even something more substantial.

We can help you choose the right casket for your needs.

What’s a burial vault?

Some cemeteries require a burial vault, also called an outer burial container, in order for a casket to be buried in the ground. Before the casket is buried, it's sealed in a concrete or metal structure that helps protect the casket from damage from the weight of the earth above it, water or heavy machinery that may pass over it to reach other nearby burial spaces. The burial vault also protects the beauty of the cemetery by preventing the earth from settling over the burial location. Burial vaults come in several colors and lids can be personalized.

What’s the difference in a funeral, a wake and a viewing?

A funeral is a time when family and friends gather to remember, reflect and offer condolences after a loved one dies. It's a chance for them to say goodbye to their loved one and begin the healing process.

A family may hold a viewing prior to the funeral or cremation, knowing that many people feel a sense of comfort and closure when they are able to see the deceased one last time. At a viewing, the loved one is present in an open casket. Viewings are sometimes called visitations; the distinction is that a visitation can also mean the loved one is present in a closed casket and no one sees them.

Sometimes a viewing or visitation takes place the same day as the funeral, maybe even just before it. Sometimes it takes place a day or two before. Historically, a wake referred to a watch kept over a deceased loved one at that person's home. The vigil sometimes lasted the entire night before the funeral. Today, however, a family might call a visitation or viewing a wake, and it would typically take place at the funeral home.

Is embalming always required for a funeral or a viewing?

Not always. Embalming may be required by state law, and a funeral home may require embalming for certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with a viewing. Certain religions and cultures, however, prohibit embalming. If required or chosen, embalming can impact overall funeral cost.

Can I have a viewing or service if I’m an organ donor?

Yes. According to Donor Alliance, if organs and/or tissues are eligible to be donated, a team of specialist surgeons removes them and then closes the body in a way that allows for a viewing or open casket funeral.

Cremation planning

Do I need a casket to be cremated?

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; many families choose to honor their loved ones with a solid wood cremation casket or a lovely, woven basket-style casket.

Do I have to have an urn if I am cremated?

You don't need an urn for ashes. Families who don't choose an urn get a loved one's ashes back from the funeral home or crematory in a simple container.

Is it possible to watch a loved one’s cremation?

Sometimes. Many crematories allow a small group of family members to gather and watch their loved one be placed into the cremation chamber. Some will even allow a family member to press the button that starts the cremation. A cremation can take an hour or three, so it's unlikely you'll be able to stay for the whole process. Families who do watch or participate in a loved one's funeral often find that it creates a sense of peace and closure.

Can I have a funeral service or viewing if I choose cremation?

Absolutely. A funeral or memorial service offers family and friends the opportunity to pay tribute to their loved one while reflecting and remembering together. This can take place before or after cremation.

A funeral service can be held prior to cremation with or without the loved one present. A family might also choose to have a viewing prior to the funeral or cremation. In this case, a family may opt for a rental casket with a removable interior container. After the viewing or funeral, the loved one can be cremated in the container. Another option is a wooden casket built without nails or other metal parts.

Some families choose to cremate a loved one and then hold a cremation memorial with the urn present. The memorial can take place soon after cremation or months later. This flexibility allows friends and family time to coordinate schedules and make travel plans.

Can ashes be buried in a cemetery?

It depends on the cemetery, but, in general, yes. Permanent placement of ashes in a cemetery gives loved ones a physical place for visitation and reflection. Additionally, the ceremony accompanying the placement of ashes in a cemetery—whether buried in the ground, scattered in a garden or placed in a mausoleum niche or columbaria—gives family and friends a sense of closure.

A family may wish for their loved one's ashes to be buried in the same plot as another loved one's urn or casket. Cemeteries have different policies around this. State laws also vary. You may be able to have your own urn buried on top of your spouse's or partner's casket, or you may be required to use the adjacent space. Some cemeteries allow for multiple urns to be buried in a single space, though they will charge opening and closing fees.

Can ashes be divided?

A loved one's ashes can be divided among locations. Portions can be scattered somewhere special, buried in a cemetery, placed in a niche, kept at home in an urn, made into art, sent into space, memorialized at sea and much more. Ashes can also be divided among family members; some families purchase small keepsake urns or cremation jewelry, so that each person has a reminder to hold onto. Your funeral director can help you with ideas for ashes.

Where can I legally scatter ashes?

All U.S. states allow for the scattering of ashes. However, state laws prohibit scattering on private property without the consent of the property owner. Many national and state parks have permit requirements for scattering and limit scattering options, so you should get permission before you simply hike into a forest and scatter your loved one's ashes.

The U.S. government grants general permission to scatter ashes in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean, but you must be at least 3 miles offshore. If you plan to spread your loved one's ashes someplace besides your own property or a cemetery scattering garden, ask your funeral director for help, do your research and get permission if needed. Your Dignity Memorial provider can offer guidance and assistance with scattering ashes.