Understanding your Disposition Options

The word disposition refers to the manner in which human remains are finally handled. The most common methods of disposition are listed below, and your funeral director can help answer any questions and help you make the choice that is right for you.

Earth Burial

Earth burial refers to ground placement of your loved one's body, generally in a casket—some cemeteries allow bodies to be buried without caskets, often to meet the requirements of a specific religious or cultural group. This form of interment may or may not involve embalming the body of the deceased. Monuments or markers—available in a variety of materials, styles and prices—typically are placed at the grave as a memorial. Earth burial requires a cemetery plot and usually includes additional fees for opening and closing the grave and perpetual graveside care.

Above-Ground Burial (Entombment)

Entombment requires purchasing a crypt within a mausoleum specifically designed for that purpose. Your funeral director can advise you on the availability and options in your community.


Cremation is the process of reducing the body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. This procedure usually takes from two to three hours and occurs in a special type of furnace known as a cremation chamber or retort. The remains are then processed into a finer substance and placed in a temporary container. Before the remains are returned to the family, they usually are transferred to an urn for permanent containment. Family members have many options for what to do with the cremated remains. Since regulations vary between states, provinces and municipalities, you will want to consult with your funeral director about the options legally available to you where you live.

Not Always Without Ceremony

Many people believe that at the time of death, only two basic choices exist: immediate cremation of the body or a complete funeral, including viewing, followed by burial. In fact, several options are available for those who prefer cremation. Cremation and burial both are defined as methods of caring for the body, and are just one part of a funeral.

Just like burial, cremation can occur after a funeral where the casket is present at a place of worship or funeral chapel. Likewise, cremation can occur after a memorial service. The urn may be present for the memorial service, depending on the family's wishes.

And, as with burials, a cremation funeral may be preceded by a period of visitation or a reception at the funeral home or mortuary. During this time and before the service, the casket may be open or closed, according to the preferences of the survivors. Instead of a public visitation, some families opt to receive friends at their residence or other location, which is another matter of personal choice. After cremation, a public or private service may be arranged for the final placement of the cremated remains.

An accurate comparison of the cost of cremation must include the services chosen to be a part of the total funeral. Your Selected funeral home can offer current information on cremation costs and will, at the time of arrangement, provide a complete listing of charges for the services you select.

Anatomical Gifts

Before final disposition, donating organs or tissues for transplant may be a significant way to help others. Transplant procedures don't necessarily interfere with preparing a body for a funeral service. Your funeral director, physician or a local organ donation agency can provide more information about anatomical gifts. Information about organ and tissue donation and transplantation also is available at www.organdonor.gov.

Alkaline Hydrolysis

As a relatively new method of disposition, Alkaline Hydrolysis is not available in every funeral home or even in every US state. The process involves using pressure, heat and lye to break the body down into its chemical components, resulting in a liquid as well as in an ash that can be returned to loved ones. Proponents of this process say it is a more ecologically friendly option than cremation.

Additional Information

If you would like more information on your disposition options, please contact your local member firm by using our Member Locator.