One big reason cremation has steadily become more popular than traditional burial is because it’s far more affordable.
If you decide to use a cremation provider that identifies itself as “low cost,” the most important thing you can do to ensure the process goes smoothly is to educate yourself. All cremation companies are not the same. Having all the facts will help you make the best, most informed decisions, and can be key in preventing more frustration and heartache for you and your loved ones during an already stressful, difficult time.
The most inexpensive option is a direct, or simple, cremation, in which the cremation takes place shortly after death, and there are no additional services: no embalming, memorial, funeral, or viewing. The cremated remains are returned in a simple container to the family, who can then decide to keep or scatter them. This doesn’t preclude having a memorial service later, if family and friends wish.
Here is a list of considerations when choosing a cremation provider:
Know your rights.
- FTC Funeral Rule: The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule clearly states your rights as a consumer. For example, you can purchase only the goods and services you want, whether you buy in advance or at the time of need. The Rule also allows you to compare prices between providers. Read the Rule so you’re aware of your rights before talking to providers.
If a provider is using deceptive practices or violating the law, you can file a complaint with the FTC online or call 877-382-4357 (TDD: 866-653-4261).
- General Price List (GPL): The General Price List (GPL) is the foundation of the Funeral Rule. It must contain identifying information and itemized prices for the provider’s goods and services. The GPL enables consumers to comparison shop and to purchase, on an itemized basis, only the goods and services they want. The provider is required by law to give the GPL to anyone who asks, in person, about funeral goods and services, or their prices.
Research the provider.
- Does the cremation provider offer preplanning, and assist you with next steps?
It’s common for cremation providers to offer preplanning. There are many advantages to making final arrangements in advance: it allows you to pay current prices, consider what kind of memorial you want and to document your wishes, and takes the burden of at-need arrangements off of your family. If you opt to preplan final arrangements:
- Research the provider’s history; Check for any online reviews, testimonials, or complaints on Google, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and Consumer Affairs.
- Ask what kind of guarantee the provider offers that assures they will honor the contract and provide services at the time of need.
- Ask how your prepayment money will be used; many states require that it be placed in a trust account.
- Find out what areas the provider services, and whether transporting the body is included in the cost, in case you’re traveling or away from home at the time of death. If this is not part of their service, ask if they provide assistance and direction to the family in shipping the body or remains.
- What certifications does the provider have? Are they up to date?
Licensing and education requirements vary by state and by job – funeral director, crematory operator, embalmer, or transporter. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) provides information and websites for each state, many of whom allow you to search for licensing information on individual providers.
- How much money does the provider have in trust?
In some states, a portion of your payment to a provider is placed in a trust account. This is meant to ensure the funds are protected and available when the services are needed.
- How does the provider ensure availability at the time of need? How do you know that you will be taken care of when the time comes?
Before you commit to a provider, this may be the single-most important question. Research the provider’s history and reviews. Ask if they partner with other providers, how they maintain customer records, and whether they keep your payment in a trust to ensure that the money will be available when services are needed.
- Who do you contact if you have an issue? How do you contact them?
Dependable service providers will make sure you know who to contact for assistance, and how to reach them. It’s especially vital to know who you can contact at the time of need, 24/7.
Understand the process, and what services are covered.
- What happens if you pass away when traveling, or if you relocate?
If you’re preplanning funeral or cremation arrangements, talk to funeral providers you’re considering about whether their services include provisions for transportation from another state or abroad. In case of possible relocation, ask if the provider has partner providers in other areas, if they will handle the process, and if that is included in the cost, or if there is a rider you can purchase. Neptune Society provides a travel protection and relocation plan, so you will be taken care of in any situation. Make sure you understand how the process works, what the provider is responsible for, and what your survivors are responsible for.
- How will cremated remains be returned to you or your loved ones?
The provider should contact you or your family once the cremation process is completed, and will place the remains in sealed plastic within the urn you’ve purchased or provided, or in a temporary container. If family members or legal representatives are unable to pick up cremated remains, ask the provider whether returning ashes via shipment is included in the cost of services. As part of its inclusive package, Neptune Society returns the urn and all documentation to your loved ones anywhere in the continental U.S.
- How does the provider ensure the ashes you receive are those of your loved one?
Ask the provider what kind of identification system they have in place for making sure cremated remains are tracked. For instance, Neptune Society places a numbered medical identification disk with the body; the disk accompanies the body throughout the cremation process and is attached to the cremated remains when returned to the family. Other crematories attach a bracelet with the decedent’s name, dates of birth and death, and other vital information.
Make sure you understand the pricing, and what you’re paying for.
- Is the package or price all-inclusive?
Cremation providers may offer bundled services. The FTC Funeral Rule stipulates that you don’t have to buy any goods or services you don’t want or need, and also that you are able to see an itemized list of costs. However, it could be more expensive to purchase the services you want separately. Whether you buy a package or a la carte, make sure you know what services are covered, such as transporting/shipping remains in the event you’re traveling at the time of death. When comparing prices, consider the total cost of items, in addition to the costs of single items.
- Beware of hidden costs.
By law, the funeral provider is required to provide you with a pricing list. Once you have decided what you want, the provider must give you an itemized bill and the total cost. It’s important to ask questions about whether certain goods and services are covered, such as an urn or casket, staffing and other needs associated with a funeral service, securing the necessary paperwork and death certificates, or transporting/shipping remains, in the event the death occurs away from home, so your loved ones are not burdened with unexpected costs at an already-stressful time.
- Get everything in writing.
Be sure to get a written statement of exactly what goods and services you have agreed to purchase from the funeral provider before you pay. The company is required by law to list all the goods and services you’re buying, the price of each, and the total cost.
- Are you making decisions based solely on price?
Cost concerns may limit how you memorialize a loved one. It’s important to find a balance between your emotional and financial concerns, so you don’t have regrets later about doing what’s best for your family, what’s financially feasible, and fulfilling the wishes of the deceased.
The Neptune Society offers a variety of free programs and articles to help you with preplanning, including a step-by-step guide, a free, 6-week email plan to assess your goals, Thinking Ahead, and what to consider in choosing a trustworthy cremation provider. It also offers a guide on how to talk about end-of-life arrangements with loved ones.
Fore more information on researching and choosing the right cremation provider for you, download our Trustworthy Cremation Provider Guide.