David Morrison is an attorney and longtime activist on funeral consumer issues. He served several terms on the FCA national board. Morrison has spent more than 30 years helping various individuals and religious congregations perform funeral and burial work themselves without the involvement of a funeral home.
Some of the terms for forms and permits he discusses are specific to Pennsylvania. His analysis of the amount of work involved in immediate burials and direct cremations is generally applicable to any US state.
Why do immediate burials cost more than direct cremations?
In an immediate burial, all you do after filing the death certificate and getting a transit permit is:
1. pick up the body from the place of death.
2. call the cemetery and arrange a time to go out.
3. transfer the remains to and from the vehicle and onto the lowering apparatus (then watch the workers lower it into the grave).
4. hand the cemetery the transit permit and disposition form, then leave.
But with direct cremation, in addition to filing the death certificate, getting a permit, and picking up the body, you must:
1. pay for a coroner’s consent and finish associated paperwork.
2. wait for the paperwork to come back formally signed.
3. pay the crematory’s fee (about $320) and wait for reimbursement from the family.
4. return to the crematory to pick up the urn.
Cremation is also more paperwork intensive, and requires the signatures of all the next of kin unless the decedent designated one agent in writing to have the power to consent to cremation. This isn’t the case for burial. In the worst case scenario, a body buried in the wrong grave can be re-buried. But you can’t un-cremate a body. [Note—each state has different consent requirements. Some states require only one signature while others require consent from more than one person.]
If the family doesn’t retrieve the cremated remains, there’s the added responsibility of storing them in case the family comes later. This is not an issue with burial.
So, why do immediate burials cost more than direct cremation?