Questions to ask before deciding on burial or cremation

3 min read

When your loved one has died, you may find yourself in a dilemma over whether to choose burial or cremation. They may not have specified what they wanted in their final wishes. Or in some cases, even if they did express a preference, family members may struggle in the midst of grieving with whether to honor those wishes because of religious concerns or budget constraints, for example.

The burial-or-cremation question can lead to conflict if some family members or friends have firm opinions about what to do, and you don’t agree, or truly believe your loved one would not agree.

While it may be unpleasant, these disagreements are understandable, since this deeply personal decision requires a delicate balance among faith, family tradition, and personal beliefs.

Ultimately, both options have their pros and cons, and thinking about what your loved one would have wanted can help you make choices you can live with. Ask yourself these questions as you weigh your options.

Do you need to honor any religious beliefs and practices?

Your loved one’s religious beliefs are a critical consideration for which option you choose. Cremation is the accepted practice in some religions, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, and increasingly common among Christians (though generally ashes are not scattered) and some sects of Judaism. Burial is required for Orthodox Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islam.

What is your budget?

When considering costs, it’s important to note that cremation generally costs 40% to 50% less than traditional ground burial, plus it does not require a grave, headstone, or, in many states, embalming. And if you choose direct cremation, where you don’t deal with a funeral home at all, it can cost as little as $800.

Typically, burial costs also include funeral director services (required in some states), the casket, and the opening and closing of the grave. But if your loved one had pre-paid for any parts of the body preparation, casket, or gravesite services, burial could incur fewer expenses.

What type of service do you want to hold?

The funeral is an important step toward healing for everyone who is affected by this loss. The most traditional services include a viewing with the body present, then interment at the cemetery.

If you choose to have your loved one cremated, you can still have the body present for viewing before the cremation, but cremation offers the flexibility for loved ones to design their own memorial service, celebration of life, or other memorialization.

Are you concerned about environmental impact?

Especially if your loved one had ecological concerns, cremation is generally considered the more “green” choice, though there are eco-friendly burial options as well.

Traditional burial takes up space in the earth, and embalming involves chemicals. Cremation does incur some carbon emissions, but as equipment and technology improves, the impact on the environment is lessening.

How do you want to honor their memory?

Burial in a traditional cemetery can mean a headstone, grave maintenance options, and locations where ceremonies can be held, such as an on-site chapel. And some families have burial plots to create space for family members to be buried together.

Cremation means you can choose to have your loved one by your side, especially if you live far from a cemetery or have mobility issues. Cremated remains also can be buried. Especially with long-established family plots, there is often not room available for additional full-sized caskets; a small urn with cremated ashes can ensure that your loved one is near other loved ones and family members.

Deciding what is right for your loved one depends on your preferences and those of the other loved ones. It can be a challenge to get a consensus in such a sensitive area. But whatever you choose, it’s important to do your best to customize each service in ways you think the person would have wanted.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.