Planning a celebration book

How to Buy a Funeral or Cremation Urn

By Mary Hickey

Buying an urn is something most people hope they never have to do. Unfortunately, at some point in our lives we will probably have to purchase an urn or a casket for a loved one. Here are a few things you will want to know.

First, what happens if you go to a funeral home or cremation society and decide not to purchase an urn from the selection that is offered? In that case, you will receive your loved one in is a very unattractive plastic or cardboard box. It is estimated that 50%-70% of the time people leave a funeral home with this minimum option. It makes no difference if you spend $500 or $1,800 on the cremation, the boxes look the same. Many people are shocked when they go to pick up the ashes of a loved one and get a plastic or cardboard box back.

The ideal combination for selecting an urn is one that can be personalized or in some way is reflective of the person’s life inside, as well as being practical for what you plan to do with the ashes of the deceased. Keep in mind that the size of urn needed is approximately 1 cubic inch for each 1 pound of weight of the deceased.

What you need to think about is: what do you plan to do with the remains? Here are a few of your options:

1. Bury the ashes.
2. Scatter the ashes.
3. Leave them in your home until you make a decision or until you die and someone else will have to decide what to do with them.
4. Put them in a niche in a mausoleum.
5. Divide the ashes up among family members.
6. Travel with the urn to a memorial service and then do one of the above.

Biodegradable heart paper urn
Biodegradable Paper Heart Urn

If you plan on burying the ashes you will want to check with the cemetery and see if they have a requirement. There are a few “Green Cemeteries” in the country that only allow biodegradable urns. Many cemeteries will have guidelines for you to follow.

Scattering ashes can be a delicate art. There are plenty of stories of people placing the ashes off of boats only to have the wind blow the ashes back into the person’s face. This can also happen in aircraft. While the urn will not do much to prevent that, you may want to consider a biodegradable bag if you plan to place the ashes in a lake, stream or ocean. This way you will not have a problem with wind or waves and the same time you won’t be harming the ecosystem. When selecting an urn for scattering, you may want to consider a memory chest or an urn that can hold photos and other mementos. Again, if you use a biodegradable bag, you can keep the urn to hold keepsakes. There are some urns on the market that are designed to be used in water. You can do an internet search or ask your funeral director for assistance. If you are scattering on someone else’s property you will want to get permission if you would like to do it the legal way. You may also need a permit. Personally, I’ve spoken to many people that do their own thing with remains and it’s basically don’t ask and don’t tell.

If you plan to take the remains home, you will obviously want to choose a safe place out of reach of young children or pets. You may also consider the weight of the urn. Some bronze urns can be very heavy, and if you need to dust around the urn or move it consider the weight. Another thing to consider, what would you like done with the ashes after you are gone? You may want to mention this in your will or put a note on the bottom of the urn.

If you have chosen a mausoleum, you will want to place a call to get their guidelines. Many mausoleums will not accept wooden urns or anything besides plastic, ceramic or metal. You will also want to play close attention to size. Each niche has a specific size and you will want to make sure the urn you select fits inside the urn. You may also consider having the urn engraved or somehow personalized. If a natural disaster were to occur it is more likely that the remains will be identified if the urn is personalized.

Should you plan to share the ashes with loved ones, you will want to choose smaller urns or boxes for the remains. The ashes should be placed in a small zip lock bag and then into the smaller urn. Usually you will have one larger urn and a few smaller urns depending on how many people have expressed interest in receiving part of the ashes. Options like pieces of blown glass and even diamond rings are available that have the ashes put into the piece.

If you plan to travel on a commercial airplane with an urn, you will want to make sure the urn is Transportation Security Administration (TSA) compliant for travel.
Urns should not be made of metal due to the Transportation Security Administration's new procedure on the transport of crematory containers as carry-on baggage on airplanes. Passengers may still carry-on crematory containers, but they must pass through an X-ray machine. If an urn is made of metal or is metal-lined, it will show up as opaque on X-ray machines, preventing the security screener from being able to see what is inside - an obvious security risk. Please review this site for more detailed information TSA: Transporting the Deceased.
There are fabric urns which are specifically designed for travel. You can also review this overview of transportation guidelines.

Also consider who will see the urn. Will the design look dignified and respectable at a life celebration or memorial service? You may want to consider materials that are soft to the touch and colors that are soothing and up-to-date.

Raku round urn with diagonal black stript
Raku Round Urn with Diagonal Stripe

Finally, think about price. How much would you like to spend? You may want to ask theFuneral Director if they have a variety of catalogs that you could look through and you will want to check on the internet where you will find urns in many materials, designs and prices.

In summary, while it is never an easy decision choosing the right urn, by following these guidelines hopefully the process will be a bit easier.

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