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Keeping it Simple? Skip Embalming and These 4 Funeral Extras

Discover how to simplify your end-of-life arrangements by skipping embalming and four other funeral extras. Reduce costs and environmental impact. Choose whats right for you and your family.

Four Decisions When Planning a Funeral

When making choices about end-of-life care, you may find yourself trying to decide about what services you need — or conversely, don’t want — from a funeral home or cremation company. 

Each choice may add cost as well as having an impact on the environment, so knowing more about what’s involved will help you have the best information for an informed decision.

1. Embalming 

While some ancient civilizations practiced embalming, in the United States, it was the Civil War that made the practice more common. But embalming carries both environmental concerns and extra cost, so it is helpful to know what it is and when it is needed. 

What is Embalming? 

Embalming is a process used to preserve a body after death. It lasts about two weeks and is often used when families want to see a loved one’s body in a viewing or traditional funeral arranged by a funeral home. 

According to the Funeral Consumer Alliance, a consumer advocacy group, embalming is a cosmetic, temporary measure to preserve a body. It is not a legal requirement and is never routinely required by law, though many people mistakenly believe it is. The group explains that no state laws require embalming as a condition of viewing the body, but almost all funeral homes require it for public viewing. When a cremation or burial happens within two days, it may not be necessary, the FCA says, and refrigeration may be an alternative.

With direct cremation, no embalming is necessary since the cremation takes place “directly” (soon) after death and bodies are held safely in refrigerated storage while paperwork is completed. There are other arrangements that also take place quickly where embalming is unnecessary, such as immediate burial. 

Knowing about your choices can help reduce your environmental footprint and your cost. 

In addition to embalming, the following four items can be skipped if you find them unnecessary and/or outside of your budget. Funeral homes are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule.  

Under the Funeral Rule, you cannot be forced or pressured to buy these additional items or services. 

1. Cremation Caskets

A cremation “casket” is used during the process of cremation itself. The Funeral Rule gives you the right to choose an “alternative container” for direct cremation. No state law requires a cremation casket. The alternative container may be made of a wood product or cardboard and is burned with the body during cremation. A funeral home has to tell you that alternative containers are available.

For those who are planning to have a funeral or viewing before cremation or burial takes place, there are also rental options for traditional caskets you use and return. A traditional casket is usually one of the most expensive items in funeral costs, so this can be a good option for some. Additionally, you also have the legal right to buy your own casket and are not required to get it from the funeral home. 

2. Funeral or Memorial Service Planning 

You do not have to buy a funeral arrangement package that includes funeral or memorial service planning by your chosen funeral home. Instead, you can select from a la carte “choose-what-you-want” options and do your own event planning. 

Frequently, families choose to hold a “Celebration of Life” event in a church, park, club, community center, golf course or other location that was special to their loved one. Scattering ashes with a smaller group or a simple, brief ceremony are other popular options. 

Funeral Directors are also always happy to help plan a service outside of their facilities. 

3. Burial Vaults and Grave Liners 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, funeral homes may suggest a burial vault or grave liner. Their stated purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner only covers the top and sides of the casket, while a burial vault is more substantial. However, the FTC warns consumers that neither will prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. 

4. Gasketed, Protective or Sealer Caskets 

No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. The FTC says these caskets have a rubber gasket or other features to delay the penetration of water and prevent rust, but the Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features will preserve the body indefinitely — because they don’t. 

Whatever choices you make, knowing what’s optional and what’s required is a good place to start. At Afterall, we encourage you to choose what’s right for you and your family. 

Deciding What You Want

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, knowing the answers to these questions will help you be able to know what to ask for — and what to skip — when making arrangements.

  • Cremation or burial
  • Embalming 
  • Viewing 
  • A memorial service to be held after the body is buried or cremated

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you and your chosen provider get the services you want. Find a nearby Afterall provider to assist you in making the right decisions for your family.

The FCA says that funeral directors are business people who “deserve to be paid for what they do” but that the funeral consumer’s job is to be well-educated about options and find an “honest, flexible funeral director who will honor your choices with caring and dignity.

The group offers these 10 tips to save money on your funeral arrangements.

The FTC has a checklist to determine the cost of your funeral plans.

If you're interested in a unique way to celebrate your loved one's life, take a look at our article Bring More Meaning to the Memorial with Celebrant Services.