Whether you’re doing your own end-of-life planning or want to memorialize a loved one, you don’t have to have a formal ceremony or an open casket. You also don’t have to hold it at a traditional funeral home or host a reception afterward. You can even choose to have no funeral at all. Today there are more end-of-life options than ever — and funeral alternatives are becoming increasingly popular.
Yet many people wonder: Is it wrong not to have a funeral? Will it prevent me or my loved ones from finding closure? If I choose affordable funeral alternatives, what will others think? The truth is that whether or not to have a funeral is a deeply personal choice and often takes into consideration many factors, including finances, the deceased’s wishes, and the wishes of the family. It isn’t wrong to consider alternative funerals — and if you have questions, we’re here to help answer them.
Is it legal to not have a funeral?
Yes, it is legal not to have a funeral. The law only requires burial or cremation, not that you hold a service of any kind. If the next of kin can’t afford burial or cremation, or no next of kin can be identified, the appropriate state department will take care of the burial. In short, as long as you opt for burial or cremation, the specifics of how you memorialize your loved one are up to you.
What is the cheapest way to have a funeral?
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, funerals cost about $9,135 per person for the viewing, vault, and burial — and that doesn’t include the headstone, plot, and other miscellaneous fees. It’s no surprise many people are searching for affordable funeral alternatives. If you’d still like a traditional burial, you can opt for a direct burial, which means the deceased is buried with no embalming, viewing, or memorial ceremony. You can also opt for a natural burial plot, which is more affordable because it doesn’t require a casket or a burial vault.
Cremation is another well-known funeral alternative. You can still hold a memorial service, but you won’t need to pay for a burial plot. When you forego visitation or a funeral home service, cremation becomes even more affordable.
What can I do instead of a funeral?
With various types of cremation, memorial services, and burials available, there are many ways to personalize you or your loved one’s end-of-life celebration. Here are a few ideas.
1. Direct cremation
Direct cremation is a simple and affordable alternative to a funeral. The crematorium will collect the deceased and conduct a cremation immediately, with no service (note there are waiting periods in some states). Then they’ll return the ashes to you, and you can choose how you’d like to memorialize them. This is a good option for those who can’t travel to a funeral on short notice.
2. Cremation with service
Many crematoriums offer cremations with services, where the deceased’s loved ones can watch the cremation through a viewing window or while standing in the room. This service allows loved ones to gain closure and share grief with their loved ones. Like direct cremation, the crematorium then returns the ashes to the next of kin.
3. Ash scattering ceremony
After cremation, holding a small service in a place your loved one enjoyed visiting and scattering their ashes is a popular funeral alternative. If you'd like to invite only close friends and family and make the memorial ceremony more personal, this is a good option. Check local regulations for ash scattering before choosing this option.
4. Memorial forest ceremony
If you’re interested in ash scattering, but still want to have a place to visit — or allow your loved ones to visit you — consider a memorial forest. At Better Place Forests, the ashes are mixed with soil and returned to the earth at the base of a private and protected memorial tree. A personalized memorial service is held, and a nameplate is placed on the tree for future generations to visit.
5. Natural burial
A natural burial means the deceased is buried without embalming. A natural coffin or shroud is often used and the body is buried in a green burial site. Most of the time, a funeral director isn’t necessary, but some states do require it. There is no visitation, but that does not necessarily mean there is no memorial service — you can always choose to hold a memorial service if you wish.
6. Celebration of life
As funeral alternatives gain in popularity, celebrations of life are becoming more common. They’re like memorial services, but take on a different tone. You might hold it in a nontraditional location, put together a playlist of music that the deceased person loved, create a theme around one of their favorite things, or release paper lanterns in their honor. Many families choose to hold both a funeral and a celebration of life to honor their loved one.
There are a variety of reasons that holding a traditional funeral may not feel right. Your loved one may not have wanted one or you may not be able to afford a lavish memorial ceremony. Whatever your reasons and desires, there’s a funeral alternative out there for you.