While cremation has been around for thousands of years, it’s only recently become a common choice in the U.S. In 2021 alone, an estimated 57.5% of end-of-life celebrations were cremations while only 36.6% of people had traditional funerals. 
By 2040, that number could be 87%  , according to one estimate. Compared to the 40.4% of people opting for cremation in 2010, it’s evident that more people are commemorating their loved ones with cremations.
The cost of cremations alone are very affordable, but adding on additional services costs more — memorial services and end-of-life medical costs can add up well into the thousands. Setting up a life insurance policy to cover these bills while formally spelling out your final wishes in a will can save your loved ones the burden of sorting out your end-of-life expenses.
A direct cremation with no memorial service is the most affordable option
Green burials and sustainable alternatives are available to people who want an eco-friendly funeral
Life insurance coverage is the best way to cover your final expenses, cremation costs, and protect your loved ones from financial duress
Why is cremation gaining momentum in the U.S.? Two reasons: cost and growing concerns for our ecological footprint. Not only are cremations a cheaper way to have an end-of-life service, but they also have less of an impact on the environment than a traditional burial.
How much does cremation cost?
Over the last 30 years, burials have gotten costlier — they now cost 227.1% more than they did in 1990. The $7,000 to $10,000 expense often leaves family members left behind strapped for cash and isn’t feasible for many Americans.
Meanwhile cremations, which don’t always require embalming and expensive caskets,  are a fraction of the cost of a traditional burial. Depending on the type of cremation you choose, they are usually around 40% less costly, according to the 2021 Cremation and Burial Report by The National Funeral Directors Association.
The average cost of a cremation is $1,400, but depending on where you live it may be even cheaper. In New York, for example, cremations can cost as little as $550. 
Types of cremation
There are two types of cremations to choose from:
Cremation followed by a funeral or memorial service
Direct cremation, or a cremation that does not include a memorial or funeral service afterwards
Cremation with a funeral or memorial service
Some people choose to have a traditional funeral service, after which the body is cremated rather than buried — though the cremated remains may be buried as a part of the ceremony. Cremations and a funeral service together aren’t quite as expensive as a funeral with a burial, but can still end up costing thousands.
Memorial services allow your family the opportunity to gather together and celebrate your life after you’re gone. Commemorating those who have passed is an important process for many people, but the expenses can add up: from food, beverages, floral arrangements, and anything else.
Here are the average costs of a funeral service followed by cremation:
|Casket viewing with ceremony before cremation||$6,645|
|Direct cremation, with container supplied by family||$2,395|
|Direct cremation, with container supplied by funeral home or crematorium||$2,495|
|Alternative cremation container||$150|
As you can see, the cost of cremation can end up being comparable to that of a burial service — or even more. And these costs don’t include a reception following a casket viewing for loved ones.
The services included in these costs are:
Basic services charge
Removal and transfer of remains to the funeral home
Preparing the body (such as embalming)
Facility use and staff pay for viewing
Facility use and staff pay for ceremony
Ceremonial cremation casket
Fee for cremation
If cost is the main factor, you will want to consider a direct cremation.
Direct cremations do not include a memorial or funeral service, which ultimately makes them the cheapest option for cremation services. After the body is cremated, the ashes are returned to the family, at which point they can choose to disperse them how (or where) they wish or keep them in an urn.
The costs of direct cremations usually include:
Cremation and crematory costs
Direct cremations tend to be more affordable than a traditional burial or cremation followed by a gathering and are estimated to cost about $1,400 on average. But as we mentioned, how much you will actually pay depends on where you live and the funeral services offered in your area. For example, the cost of a direct cremation in Detroit, Michigan might cost $925, while a cremation in Los Angeles could be as low as $595. Comparing the costs at multiple crematoriums is the best way to find the most affordable price.
Planning a cremation
The deceased’s family must make funeral arrangements almost immediately — usually within days.
Planning ahead for your cremation may be an uncomfortable undertaking, but it can ease the financial and emotional burden on your loved ones. By pre-paying and pre-planning, your family isn’t left to figure out all the plans. It also means all of your final wishes can be carried out. And if you’d prefer an environmentally friendly commemoration, a little forethought into your final plans can go a long way.
There are a few main factors to take into account when creating an end-of-life plan.
Making arrangements in advance
Laying out your wishes
Similar to the rest of your end-of-life plans, you should lay out any wishes for a sustainable cremation or green burial beforehand. The more written information you provide, the better, though the best thing you can do for your loved ones if you want a sustainable option is to plan your green burial ahead of time.
Pre-arranging your ceremony
How you plan your cremation is a deeply personal choice. As it’s a final celebration of life, you will want to consider not just the cost, but also the people who are mourning the loss of someone they love. What experience will allow them to honor your legacy?
Planning your end of life ceremony in advance may also help your loved ones receive benefits that they otherwise might not have known were available. End-of-life planning requires accounting for all the resources your loved ones might have at their disposal, and doing so requires research and having some big conversations.
Lay out your final wishes
If you aren’t able to pre-arrange your end-of-life plans, you should spell out your final wishes. Doing so protects your family from the string of decisions they’d need to make if you died unexpectedly. And if you’re leaving behind any assets or a life insurance death benefit, it’ll help them to take on these new financial responsibilities without having to do the guesswork.
“When someone is planning their afterlife care, they need to understand what their wishes are or make sure they make their wishes known. Pre-planning … takes the burden off the family at the time of death and that actually fulfills the wishes of the deceased. Financially, it usually helps because… all of a sudden the family is stuck with a pretty good-sized bill. If it's pre-planned and funded properly, it's such a burden taken away from that family,” says Bob Jenkins, President and Co-founder of Let Your Love Grow.
Ideally, you’ll leave your plans somewhere where they can be easily accessed after your death — with an estate planner, financial adviser, or funeral service. Using a professional service ensures your wishes are reviewed and taken into account, but sharing them with a trusted friend or relative can work too.
Not only will this help make your final arrangements, but it could also ease any newfound financial responsibilities they have. If you’re responsible for mortgage payments, bills, or any other expenses, it’s best to spell out how to allocate and budget the death benefit or any savings you left behind.
Cremations can be significantly cheaper than funerals, but if a celebration of life is a part of your plan, a memorial service can still put the cost of your final expenses into the thousands. You don’t want your loved ones taking out loans or dipping into their savings.
The best way to allow your family to properly grieve without suffering financial hardship is to set up some protection with a life insurance policy. Even if you choose to have a direct cremation with no additional services, your savings might not cover all of your end-of-life expenses, like medical bills. Medical debt is a way of life in the U.S., equaling about $140 billion.  This figure doesn’t include medical bills that have not gone to collections. One study found that over 60% of debt in the U.S. can be attributed to medical bills. 
Not having a life insurance policy to cover final expenses, including final medical bills, can leave your family under severe financial strain.
You also want to think about the lasting financial consequences of your death. Do you provide vital income that affords your family’s everyday expenses? Are you responsible for a mortgage on the home where your family would continue to live? Would your contributions to the household need to be replaced if you died? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should consider purchasing life insurance coverage.
Transportation of the deceased
Two death certificates
Interment or cremation
Estate planning is another vital part of ensuring that your loved ones will be financially protected after your death. Drawing up a will and testament delegates not only how you’d like your final arrangements carried out, but also how your estate is dispersed. Your will ensures that any personal property, like your house, car, or other valuables go into the right hands after your death.
But your estate isn’t always enough to protect your family after you’re gone. If you owe debts, creditors can seize what you own before your family gets to access it. Alternatively, if you used government programs such as Medicaid, they may use your assets for repayment. If you own enough in assets, there are also estate taxes to consider.
Life insurance, on the other hand, isn’t taxed, cannot be taken by creditors, and will only be paid out to your beneficiaries. Adequate coverage ensures you’re not taking any chances or risking your family’s financial health.
Types of life insurance
The type of life insurance policy you should get largely depends on your age and your coverage needs.
Term life insurance: Policies last for a set period of time of your choosing, usually anywhere from 10 to 30 years. This is the most affordable type of life insurance.
Whole life insurance: A type of permanent life insurance that lasts your entire life. It is five to 15 times more expensive than term life insurance which can make it unaffordable for many people.
Final expense life insurance: A type of life insurance that is very costly and only offers a low amount of coverage. Final expense is only meant to cover final expenses, such as medical bills and the costs of a funeral.
Work with a licensed agent at Policygenius to determine what type of life insurance coverage you need.
“The thing you need to remember is, depending on your age, when you take out a term insurance policy, that isn't going to cut it. Let's say you're 40 years old, and you take out a 30-year term policy — it's going to be gone when you're 70. If you're trying to plan for final arrangement expenses, you probably need to focus on a policy that is going to last as long as you're on the planet. It's got to be a product that's going to be available when your loved ones need it, not one that expired 10 years ago,” says Founder & President of Omega Wealth Management, Lisa Kirchenbauer.
Preparing your family
Planning for and talking about death isn’t easy. But it’s an important conversation to have so that when you die, your loved ones aren’t struggling financially and can instead focus on celebrating your life. Having a plan in place means their grief won’t be amplified by financial duress or making tough decisions. A trusted professional can help you with your arrangements and in setting up a robust plan to protect your loved ones financially.
“The key to getting started is you have to talk about it. If you don’t talk about it, nothing's going to happen. And by talking about it, you give your family one of the greatest gifts because the day you pass away is not the day that they should have to make all these decisions,” says George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs.
Frequently asked questions
What is the average cost of a cremation?
The average cost of a cremation is $1,400 in the U.S, however this drastically varies depending on where you live and the service.
What is the cheapest way to be cremated?
A direct cremation with no memorial service is the cheapest way to be cremated.
Is it better to be buried or cremated?
Choosing between a burial and a cremation is a deeply personal choice. While a burial is a suitable option for some, individuals who want an eco-friendly or lower-priced option may prefer a cremation.