Cremation Best Practices for Funeral Professionals

By Ann Heinz, JD, CDEI
Mar 8, 2022
Cremation Best Practices

Successful funeral professionals know they and their employees need to have a proper understanding of cremation and cremation best practices. Cremation continues to be more common in the United States. Currently, more than half of the country chooses cremation over traditional burials.

It is important for funeral directors, morticians, cremation specialists, and other deathcare professionals to understand cremation best practices. These include the practical side of cremation, as well as how to make cremation a meaningful experience for the deceased’s family or loved ones. The deceased’s family will depend on the funeral or cremation professional’s expertise and knowledge to help them make educated decisions.

Growing Popularity of Cremation

How common is cremation in the United States? Over the past 50 years, cremation has grown from an exceptional funeral practice (less than 5% in 1960) to a common funeral practice (nearly 57.5% in 2021 and continuing to grow). The most recent National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Cremation and Burial Report forecasts that by the year 2040, more than 3 out of 4 Americans are expected to be cremated when the national cremation rate reaches more than 78%.

Because cremation has become increasingly popular, the knowledge and compassionate explanation of cremation from the funeral professional will clarify the family’s expectations and put them at ease when they choose cremation instead of traditional burial or less common burial options like water cremation.

Cremation Guidelines and Best Practices

The International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association (ICCFA) has developed best practice guidelines for cremation practitioners from a practical standpoint. Cremation practitioners should also check their specific state laws regarding cremation.

What Are Best Practices for Cremation?

The ICCFA cremation best practices and guidelines summarized below address individual matters which funeral directors and their staff may face.

  • Once the cremation authority has taken custody of the decedent, they must ensure proper identification of the body on the cremation container and that proper documentation accompanies the body. Identification should include the name, date, place, and time of death as well as the name and relationship of the authorizing agent.
  • If cremation is to be delayed for any reason, a proper holding facility with refrigeration must store the remains until cremation can take place.
  • Although repositioning will be necessary during the cremation process, this should never be interpreted as desecration of human remains. It is a necessary part of the process.
  • The crematory authority cannot cremate more than one body in the retort without written authorization and cannot be held liable for the resulting commingling of these remains.
  • Even with the use of paintbrushes to sweep the remaining powder into the cremation container, it is not possible to capture every particle.
  • The funeral director should discuss retrieval of any dental gold before the body goes to the crematorium.
  • If cremated remains are unclaimed after the first month, funeral directors should send a registered letter to the authorized agent and to the family, letting them know that if the remains are not collected within a certain time, the funeral director may dispose of them in a proper manner “and be held harmless for this action.”
  • All nonorganic materials, such as prostheses and bridgework, should be disposed of according to the written authorizations signed by the authorizing agent.
  • Cremated remains should be placed in a plastic bag with an identification tag closing the top and then placed in a hard plastic container before being given to the family.

Some families need a great deal of assurance when they choose cremation. ICCFA funeral directors report that families are most interested in information like what sort of container they will need for the cremation (casket or urn), how they will receive their loved one’s remains, and how long the cremation process will take.

Cremation practitioners need to be aware that the arrangement process may take longer than for traditional burial services because there may be more questions.

Cremation Clients and Funeral Professionals

Millennials and younger individuals are more likely to choose cremation over other burial methods. They are also more likely to be concerned about experience and less about tradition. While these clients typically still appreciate the suggestions of funeral professionals during final arrangement planning, they may be more interested in direct cremation and not interested in using all of the services the funeral facility offers.

These clients will still rely on funeral practitioners to help them with the process of making selections for the final farewell. When the subject of traditional burial versus cremation arises at the planning table, many families will want to understand more about the cremation process. This is especially so if the family is budget conscious and seeking a less expensive option over traditional casket burials or if they already have plans such as scattering the ashes of their loved one.

It is up to the funeral practitioner to provide flexible, nonjudgmental, and relevant choices for their clients. Since cremation is often requested by the deceased, funeral practitioners should make it a goal to both cater to the family’s ideal memorial service and fulfill the deceased’s final wishes.

Learn More About Cremation Best Practices

Funeral and cremation professionals can learn more about cremation and cremation best practices through WebCE’s online funeral CE course Cremation Best Practices. This course is designed to educate funeral professionals on cremation trends, options, guidelines, and best practices, including the technical and practical applications of the cremation process.

If you are a funeral practitioner, having an expert knowledge of cremation will create a more trusting bond between you and the family and provide a more positive experience. To order the course Cremation Best Practices and other online funeral and cremation courses, visit WebCE’s Funeral CE Catalog.

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