Considerations in choosing burial vs. cremation

  • Burial is the traditional choice for many families, who may find it comforting to have a place to visit or where their family can be buried together.

  • Burials are expensive, generally starting at $7,000. A funeral home will generally take care of all of the details and arrangements.

  • Cremation is increasingly popular, as it offers more flexible timing, can usually cost less, and has a smaller environmental impact.

  • People sometimes find the irreversibility of cremation to feel very final. There can be closure and comfort in the disposition of the urn or the ashes.

  • Cremations can cost as little as $700, though if you hold a ceremony or go through a mortuary, prices increase considerably from there.

In the days after a death in the family, you’ll face difficult conversations and tough calls that need to be made quickly, while you are likely still experiencing a lot of grief. What to do with your loved one’s physical remains can be one of the hardest of these immediate decisions, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one.

For many people, this choice is dictated by a final wishes document or a religious tradition. But when neither of those apply, it is possible to get caught up in the heaviness of such an important and personal decision. Some also find the physical body of the departed an uncomfortable topic to think about, which can add to the stress.

If you need to make this difficult choice for your loved one, you’ll want to consider and honor any expression of their wishes they might have made, however unofficial. Chances are you’ll have some insight into what they wanted based on your relationship with them. Trust your instincts. 

Emotions sometimes run high around this topic, so disagreements among close family members are not uncommon. Understanding the facts, the pros and cons, and the costs of both of the major options may help you reach a consensus. 


Traditional burials are handled by funeral homes or mortuaries and are the expected choice for several religious traditions. The final resting place and funeral proceedings are designed to provide the closure your loved one’s family and friends may need. If the person is buried near other members of the family, a plot can provide a place for you all to visit. 

Most funeral homes and directors will handle the planning, scheduling, and specifics of the process, which can be a relief for you as you grieve. This does, however, not leave much room for flexibility in structure or cost. In general, burials happen quickly as well, which means you might have little time to prepare for final goodbyes. 

A typical burial costs over $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. This estimate is based on basic services; costs can increase depending on where you live, add-ons like flowers or plot markers, and whether or not there’s a viewing.

You may also want to consider the environmental impact of burial in your decision. Burials require space and usually involve chemical treatment of the remains, but they can be made more environmentally friendly with options like biodegradable caskets and forgoing embalming. 

There are many factors to consider, but the most important elements in the decision should be the wishes of your loved one and the emotional needs of those involved. 


The popularity of cremation is on the rise, possibly because people appreciate the flexibility around timing, space, memorial services, and costs. 

There are a lot of options within cremation, ranging from direct cremation to holding a traditional funeral service with cremation to follow later. If you want to personalize your final goodbyes and give friends and family more time to plan a memorial service and travel, this may be the option for you.

In direct cremation, the remains are taken to a mortuary and not embalmed for a viewing. This is often the most cost-effective choice, with charges ranging from $700 to $2,000, depending on where the process is taking place. If you decide to work with a funeral home and plan a traditional funeral, wake, and/or viewing before the cremation, this will add to the cost.

Direct cremation is often the most cost-effective choice, with charges ranging from $700 to $2,000, depending on where the process is taking place.

One thing to consider with cremation is that it’s irreversible, and grappling with the finality of that decision can bring up surprising emotions. Many people find comfort in how they choose to honor the remains post-cremation. Memorialization helps with closure, whether you scatter the ashes, bury the urn and mark the site for loved ones to visit, place it in a niche in a mausoleum, or choose to keep them close to you in a special place in your home or even in cremation art or jewelry.

Making final arrangements is never easy, no matter how we prepare for it. It’s an important part of our grieving and mourning process, and ultimately about putting our loved one to rest. Regardless of the outcome of your decision, the ways you will find to honor and memorialize the person will grow and extend far beyond the immediate moments after they’ve gone ●