Decide on burial or cremation

Ideally, the deceased has shared his or her wishes as to whether they prefer to have their body buried or cremated, with either their cremated remains buried, kept in an urn in a loved one’s home, or scattered in a special place. However, in some cases, the executor might be left to make this decision. A good first step if this is the case is to talk with loved ones. They might recall the deceased sharing their thoughts on the matter and be able to suggest the best course of action. Of course, since cremation can sometimes be a divisive issue, there is the possibility for disagreement among surviving family and friends.

Factors to consider

It is important to consider all sides and allow all involved to share their thoughts. Unfortunately, since death is often something we avoid discussing, no one might know what the deceased would prefer. If that is the case, there are several things to consider.

Consider spiritual/religious aspects

A good first step is considering the deceased’s spiritual leanings, if any. Traditional Judaism, Eastern Orthodox and the Islamic faiths are among those religions that oppose cremation. Most Christian faiths believe that either choosing to bury a body in a traditional way or cremating it is acceptable. Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism not only support cremation, but in some cases mandate it. So a good first step is considering the person’s spiritual beliefs and/or religious affiliations to see what is recommended.

Consider environmental preferences

The deceased environmental philosophy also might guide you. Traditional burial typically calls for a body to be embalmed with chemicals and then preserved in a tightly sealed container or casket. Between the embalming chemicals and the slow breakdown of some casket and urn materials, environmentalists are concerned toxins are being released into the air, soil, and ultimately our water sources. If the person shared these beliefs, you might want to consider looking into options for not embalming the body or for less toxic chemicals to be used to do so. You also can ask for easily biodegradable caskets or urns that are made of cardboard, wicker or wood that has not been treated with a water-resistant lacquer.

Cremation is not without environment impacts due to air emissions during the process. But some environmentalists say that since embalming isn’t necessary, there is less of an impact on nature. Also, choosing to spread cremated remains versus burying them in a biodegradable container can reduce environmental effects. Keep in mind if you will be scattering cremated remains that there are rules and laws governing this and you should understand these. A funeral director likely can help you find the information you need.

Consider the cost

Finally, the person’s economic philosophy can provide insight. You might find it useful to consider the person’s beliefs about spending. Were they thrifty or were they comfortable spending more to get exactly what they wanted? Did they buy a small, fuel-efficient car rather than a larger SUV even though they could afford either? Did they prefer to buy the store brand can of green beans rather than the name brand? It might sound like a silly consideration, but some people, regardless of finances, hate to see more money spent on something than needed. These people, if given the chance to plan their own funeral, probably would have selected the least expensive option. For them, cremation – which is typically less expensive than a traditional burial – might be the best choice.