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6 minute read

Your 6-Step Cremation Planning Guide

Making end of life decisions, like deciding to be cremated, can feel overwhelming. Follow our 6-step cremation planning guide to get things started the right way.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

More people are choosing to be cremated as a part of their end-of-life plan than ever before. However, the decision to get cremated is merely the first step in a long process. Once you are confident you know you want to be cremated, several subsequent steps need to be taken. 

Instead of leaving one of the most important steps in your end-of-life plan up for debate, you should start cremation planning as soon as possible. Not surprisingly, preparation begins with educating yourself on planning a cremation. This guide was designed to teach you everything you need to know and do once you make the decision to get cremated, including: 

Step 1: bring friends and family into the discussion

The decision to get cremated is ultimately up to you, but it’s important to remember that it impacts your friends and family as well. If for nothing else, the matter by which your end-of-life plans are carried out will affect how your loved ones grieve for the rest of their lives. Therefore, feel free to exercise complete discretion and discuss your decision to be cremated with those who are closest to you.

Discussions can range from whether or not you are making the right decision to who will take care of the cremated remains. Regardless of the direction of the talks, it’s never a bad idea to solicit the advice of those who know you the best. Their answers may simultaneously help you with the rest of the cremation planning process and provide reassurance for any difficult decisions.

Step 2: review the different types of cremation options

Knowing that you want to be cremated isn’t enough; you need to know the type of cremation you would prefer. Remember, there’s more than one way to be cremated. While all roads end in cremation, there are several means to the same end — all with varying degrees of accompanying services. 

If you have decided to be cremated, review the different types of cremation options made available to everyone: 

  • Traditional cremation: True to its name, a traditional cremation combines the act of cremation with a typical funeral service. Not unlike a traditional burial, for that matter, a traditional cremation will award the departed’s friends and family a chance to pay their respects and say their goodbyes at a traditional funeral service with the body present. Once the funeral, wake, and memorial have been completed, the body will be cremated and dealt with accordingly: the ashes can be buried, entombed, scattered, or displayed. It is important to note that since the body is present at the funeral, traditional cremations often occur just a few days after death.   

  • Memorial cremation: As its name suggests, memorial cremation coincides with a memorial service, but the body of the deceased is not present. Instead, the body is cremated immediately after death. The cremated remains may be displayed at the memorial service in place of a casket. With no risk of decomposition, memorial cremations may take place as many as several weeks after death. Following the memorial, friends and family may then proceed to take the ashes to their final resting place.

  • Direct cremation: As the simplest and most affordable type of cremation, direct cremation neglects to include any memorial or funeral services. Instead, the body is cremated immediately after death and given back to the family, who is expected to deal with the ashes per the decedent’s final wishes. 

  • Cremation in the name of science: If you so choose, you may donate your body to science. In return for donating your body to the scientific community and facilitating important research opportunities, this type of cremation is typically free of cost. That said, the cremation itself will take place after the research is completed and after the body has made a lasting contribution to science.

Step 3: consult a funeral professional

Once you have talked to loved ones and educated yourself on the types of cremation available, start searching for a funeral home you would feel comfortable with. A local search should suffice, as the further you get from friends and family, the more complicated the logistics of the cremation planning get. 

Be sure to vet at least a few options, prioritizing transparent pricing, affordability, and — most importantly — whether or not you like the place. This is the time to mind due diligence and leave everything on the table. Determine precisely what you are looking for and who may be able to provide it at an affordable price.

While shopping around, proceed to ask any questions you may have regarding everything from pricing to the services provided. Above all else, don’t let the process intimidate you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules in place to protect your cremation planning interests. The FTC Funeral Rule, in particular, “makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select,” according to the FTC website. As a result, there’s no reason to believe you can’t plan the exact funeral you want at a fair price.  

Step 4: make a decision and document your intentions

Once you have made the rounds and determined which funeral home meets your specific needs the best, it’s time to finalize your decision. Make arrangements to have the type of cremation you desire at the location of your choosing. That means choosing from the types of cremation listed above (or some variation of each), scheduling how soon you want the funeral to take place after passing, and everything else you wish to take place. There are a lot of details to cover in this step, so it may be a good idea to have family and friends help with tough decisions. 

Any decisions you make regarding your cremation plan should be documented with the funeral home. Provided you know exactly what you want, make the appropriate arrangements and finalize your decision with a contract.

Make sure you complement all of your choices at the funeral home with specific directions in your Will. Remember, your Will should inform the executor of your estate plan your intentions to be cremated, and exactly how you want the process to unfold. More specifically, the Will should tell the executor everything you set up with the funeral home in this step, and guide them through the process.

Step 5: decide what to do with the remains

This step will likely take place during the last step, but it’s important enough to cover on its own merit. You will want to have an idea of what to do with the cremated remains once the funeral and memorial services conclude. The idea is for you to decide what to do with the remains today so that the responsibility isn’t placed on anyone else in the future.

Before you decide on what to do with the ashes, however, identify who will be responsible for the remains in your Will. To be clear, include a letter of instruction — that way there is no confusion as to who will be responsible for taking care of the ashes. The Will should also identify exactly what the executor or administrator should do with the cremated remains. For those who don’t know their options, there are typically two ways to pay respects to cremated remains: scatter the ashes or store them. 

The former of the two options is also the most popular. Most people wish to have their ashes scattered in a place that holds a special meaning in their hearts. Of course, you must be cognizant of laws and regulations governing the scattering of ashes. You can’t simply have your ashes scattered anywhere you want; you must abide by the laws put in place by the applicable government authorities. In doing so, you may be required to purchase a permit or license.

The latter of the two options involves storing the remains in an urn. Once in an urn, remains can either be put on display for loved ones to pay their respects or they can be stored in many different ways that range from mausoleums and columbariums to burial plots. 

Planning cremation scatterings and burials need to be in your end-of-life plan. What you do with your remains is ultimately up to you, but make sure you specify your final wishes in your Will and with the funeral home responsible for the cremation.  

Step 6: make arrangements to pay for the expenses

While not necessary, it is a good idea to consider preplanning for cremation costs. For starters, your friends and family will be going through a hard enough time as is; you don’t want to make matters worse by surprising them with a significant financial burden. Secondly, prepaying for services can be more cost-effective. Remember, nothing is immune to inflation, not even funeral services. Paying ahead of time can lock in current prices and prevent increases from making your final wishes out of reach.   

Most people who pay for their funeral expenses opt for cash. Doing so locks in the services you requested for one lump sum and prevents your family from receiving an unexpected bill. Having said that, those who aren’t awarded the luxury of paying for cremation services upfront shouldn’t worry; there are other payment options available:

  • Cremation insurance: Cremation pre planning begins with cremation insurance policies that can pay for some or all of the costs of cremation. By paying a monthly premium while you are covered by the policy, you can ensure your beneficiaries receive a death benefit to cover the cost of cremation.

  • Pre-paid funeral plans: While cremation planning, it is possible to set up a pre-paid funeral plan with the funeral home providing your services. The payments can be in one lump sum or be spread out over many years. Either way, you are paying for the expenses you incur before the cremation process begins. That way, all expenses are covered by the time the funeral takes place.

  • Payable on Demand (POD) Accounts: A Payable on Demand Account allows you to put enough money to cover your cremation wishes into an account at any time. Therefore, it is possible to deposit enough money into the account to cover expenses. Upon your own death, the money will be distributed to named beneficiaries; just make sure you mention the account in your Will and tell any necessary beneficiaries of its existence.

  • “Final expense” insurance policies: It is common for many life insurance companies to offer plans that cover end-of-life expenses. Otherwise known as “ burial life insurance” or “senior final expense life insurance,” these policies award death benefits to beneficiaries to cover the expenses of the funeral.

Don’t forget to include cremation planning in your end-of-life plan

The decision to get cremated is deeply personal and an integral component of any end-of-life plan. However, it’s not enough to simply decide you want to be cremated; you need to take the appropriate steps to make sure your wishes are followed. Cremation planning will simultaneously take the stress out of a stressful situation for loved ones and make sure your final requests are listened to.

Here at Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our other estate planning and settlement options today! 

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