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Working With a Funeral Home or Crematorium

What’s the Difference?

For most people, shopping for a funeral is a purchase that we don’t have to deal with on a daily basis.  And when circumstances arise requiring a decision regarding final arrangements, it’s easy to be caught off guard. 

When faced with having to choose what type of funeral arrangements to make, understanding the difference between a funeral home and a crematorium is fairly straightforward.  A funeral home will provide a full range of services, including cremation. In most cases the function of a crematorium is primarily to handle only one aspect of a funeral – the cremation of the body. 

Choosing a crematorium may have advantages in terms of cost. The downside is that you may be left to attend to of the other details and costs involved in planning for this event.

To get a better understanding of the differences between a funeral home and a crematorium, a comparison between services and costs will help in determining the available options.

What Will A Funeral Home Do?

A funeral home will coordinate all of the arrangements necessary for a funeral, burial and/or cremation. Generally they will:

  • pick up the body from place of death
  • provide the professional services of a funeral director and staff
  • transport the body to a crematorium if requested
  • perform professional services such as embalming, restorative art, washing, hairdressing, cosmetology, and dressing
  • provide an “arrangements meeting” – this is when you determine the type of service you want, and arrange for the necessary paperwork such as death certificates, permits and authorizations
  • compose obituaries if requested
  • arrange for clergy, organists and soloists
  • coordinate with special interest groups such as the military, service organizations or fraternal groups
  • perform memorial services
  • perform graveside services
  • answer questions and offer guidance regarding insurance claims, pensions, social security, and veterans affairs
  • arrange for viewing or visitation
  • arrange any desired props for a service such as flowers, photos, and memorial items
  • provide memorial products such as flowers, cards, memorial DVD’s, urns, and caskets
  • arrange for disposition of remains and coordinate with a cemetery for burial or with a crematorium for cremation
  • provide a direct burial or cremation without funeral or memorial services

A funeral home can handle all of your arrangements for funeral services or only some of them. At the low end of the price scale, there’s the option for a direct burial or cremation without any services at all, known as a “simple disposition.”

Also, many funeral homes now have a crematory on site. Other funeral homes subcontract the cremation process to an outside third party, with the funeral director making the necessary arrangements, taking care of paperwork and liaising with the crematorium.

What Will a Crematorium Do?

A crematorium provides basic cremation services:

  • storage of the body,
  • an alternative container if you don’t want to purchase a casket,[1]
  • cremation itself,
  • an inexpensive plastic or cardboard container for the ashes if an urn isn’t provided by the family, and
  • return of the cremated remains to the family or designated person.

When dealing directly with a crematorium, some additional requirements that may need to be addressed (and may have additional fees) are:

  • completion and filing of the death certificate, and obtaining all necessary copies
  • obtaining a permit to transport the body (if it’s not included in the cremation costs)
  • removal of materials such as a pacemaker or prosthetics
  • purchase of a combustible container for the cremation
  • picking up of the cremated ashes
  • planning of any funeral or memorial services (most crematoriums don’t allow for services)
  • permanent resting place for the ashes

Some crematoriums have the option to witness the cremation for an additional fee, but many crematoriums don’t deal with the general public. A sampling of cremation witnessing fees in California ranges from $250 - $325, depending on the facilities used.[2][3]

All cremation providers need to be licensed and regulated to ensure adherence to industry regulations and practices, which also means that any “customization” of the cremation is very limited. Regulations regarding handling of cremated remains and the code of standards for disposition ensure that tagged identification checks are carried out at each step of the process.[4]

When a Funeral Home Provides Cremation Services

A direct cremation handled by a funeral home requires minimal professional services of a funeral director. The fee usually includes the following:

  • collection and transportation of the deceased to the crematorium
  • filing of paperwork, such as the death certificate, authorization form, and cremation permit
  • an alternative cremation container
  • the cremation itself
  • the cremation fee
  • a temporary container for the ashes[1]

Approximate Costs for a Funeral

A “traditional” or a full-menu funeral service with burial, cremation, or a memorial will have many or all of the elements outlined in the list under “What Will A Funeral Home Do.” When choosing your options, be specific in exactly what services you want. Almost every service is priced individually, and prices can vary greatly.

To get an idea of what to expect in terms of average costs, here’s a breakdown of funeral home prices for funeral services, cremation and burial.[5]

  • funeral service - $500
  • embalming - $500
  • casket - $1,500 - $5,000
  • viewing or visitation - $500 
  • cemetery plot - $1,000
  • headstone - $1,500
  • opening and closing of gravesite - $750
  • cremation - $1,000 - $3,000 (according to CANA 2011 Annual Statistics Report)[6]
  • flowers - $250 - $500
  • newspaper announcements - $200
  • hearse for transportation - $200
  • clergy, organists, and soloists - $250 - $750
  • outer burial container - $1,000

Approximate Costs For a Cremation

According to a price survey the Cremation Research Council conducted in 2011, the average cost for direct cremation is $1,100.[7] And the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) mandates that the following services be included in the price for direct cremation:

  • basic services of funeral director
  • an appropriate percentage for overhead costs
  • transportation of the body to the crematorium
  • necessary authorizations
  • crematory fee

The basic price for direct cremation does not include visitation, memorial service, inurnment, or the cost of products and services such as urns, obituaries, death certificates, or scattering services.

The Cremation Association of North America has a short list of guidelines[8]  to help in choosing a reputable crematorium.

The Funeral Rule

The Funeral Rule[9] was written to protect consumers who may be overly vulnerable during times of grief. It’s written around the legal requirement (and enforced by the FTC) that funeral homes must, in a timely manner, provide consumers with a written price list that allows people to pick and choose only the services they desire; much like an a la carte menu.

If you have any complaints about your funeral service contract, and they can’t be resolved by talking with your funeral director, consider contacting the non-profit Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program for help with information, mediation and/or arbitration. The toll free number is 1-800-662-7666 (currently, no website available).

Hopefully the above information provides you with a starting place for making your decisions regarding funeral services. If you choose cremation services, the Cremation Association of North America has a reference page[8] of questions to ask. Available for download is a helpful printable checklist[10] for comparing funeral costs.

Whatever choices you make regarding funeral services, remember they are your choices. If necessary, enlist the aid of friends or family to help in gathering information before making your final choice. A funeral shouldn’t be determined by cost alone, but the costs can have a huge impact on the funeral experience, so be informed to make the best possible choice available to you.


[1] Cremation Caskets

[2] O'Connor Mortuary Prices

[3] Colma Cremations 

[4] Cremation Laws and Cremation Arrangements

[5] Cost considerations when choosing direct cremation

[6] CANA 2011 Annual Statistics Report

[7] NCRC: Average Cost of a Cremation

[8] CANA: What Customers Should Ask

[9] Bureau of Consumer Protection

[10] Printable Checklist for Funeral Costs

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