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Important Funeral Terms to Know

When planning a funeral, you want to make sure you understand everything you are committing to and paying for. When you meet with a funeral director, they may use some unfamiliar terms.

To help, we’ve defined the most common funeral terms below:

A – F

Alternative Container: Typically used for cremation, these containers are usually made from fiberboard or an alternative material cardboard and do not have a decorative interior.

Arrangement Conference: The initial meeting with a funeral director following a death or on a preneed basis.

Ashes:  Also called cremated remains, ashes are the pulverized bone fragments that are returned after a body is cremated and resemble a gray powder which is usually similar in texture to sand.

Burial: The interment of the body of a dead person in the ground or at sea. This can be done in a green or eco-friendly manner.

Cash Advances: Cash disbursements are moneys the funeral home may have to pay to others, in advance, on your behalf.  Cash disbursement items are not included in the funeral home’s price list. 

Casketing: Placement and securing of the deceased in a casket or alternative container.

Celebrant: Specially trained individuals who can prepare and conduct personalized services for families.

Columbarium: A room or building that contain niches or small designated spaces to store urns with cremated ashes.

Cosmetizing: The application of cosmetics to the decedent.

Cremation: Cremation involves the placement of the decedent’s remains into a casket, rigid container or other alternative container. The body and container are then incinerated at a crematory and reduced to the basic components of bone and ash.

Crypt: A burial space or chamber built to hold a casket in a mausoleum.

Direct Cremation: A term used to describe a cremation that takes place absent any funeral service, memorial or celebration of life. It is typically the most affordable option of disposition.

Disposition: The burial, cremation, entombment or donation of human remains.  

Donation:  Individuals may choose to donate their whole body as a form of disposition or choose to only donate organs, tissue and/or bones before choosing another form of disposition.

Embalming: The temporary preservation of the body through the injection of chemicals.

Entombment: The placement of a casketed body into a crypt.

Eulogy: A speech designed to praise or celebrate a person after their death.

Family Car: Vehicle used to transport family of the decedent to the place of service or disposition.

Flower Car:  Vehicle used to transport flowers to the place of service or disposition.

Funeral Insurance: A type of insurance policy that pays the costs associated with a preplanned funeral.

Funeral Rule: Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, the Funeral Rule is a series of consumer price protections as they relate to the goods and services offered by funeral homes.

Funeral Service: A religious or nonreligious ceremony that takes place at the funeral home or another venue with the body present.

G – L

Gathering: Formal or informal function that individuals are invited to attend. Also commonly referred to as a “viewing” or “visitation” when the deceased’s body is present.

General Price List (GPL): This document provides full pricing and disclosures of services and merchandise offered at the funeral home.

Grave Liner: A basic concrete outer burial container that encloses the casket in the ground. Often a requirement of the cemetery to protect the casket and prevent the ground from sinking.

Grave Marker: Granite, bronze or stone plaque used to indicate the name and dates of remembrance of the person buried in a grave.

Graveside Service: Funeral service that takes place at the grave on the same day as the burial. Typically, no other services or gathering occur before meeting at the cemetery or crematory in the cases of cremation.

Green Burial: When the decedent is interred in a way that does not inhibit the natural decomposition of the human body. The term also describes practices by which the disposition of human remains have as small an environmental impact as possible while still respecting the deceased.

Ground Burial: Burial of intact remains into the ground that are first placed in a casket or alternative container. The body may or may not be embalmed before burial.

Interment: Usually a term used to describe burial or entombment.

Lowering Device: The cemetery apparatus that uses pulleys and straps to safely lower the casket into a grave.

M – S

Mausoleum: An independent above-ground building that contains crypts or chambers for the entombment of casketed dead bodies.

Memorial Service: A religious or nonreligious ceremony that takes place at the funeral home or another venue without the body present.

Obituary: A news article that details the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. It can be published in print, online and/or on social media.

Outer Burial Container: A container that is placed in the ground and surrounds a casket to keep the grave from sinking.

Prearranged Funeral: Funeral arrangements that are made before a death occurs.

Prepaid Funeral Trust: When funeral arrangements are made and paid to a funeral home in advance. One hundred percent of the funds are deposited and held in trust, earning interest until the selected goods and services have been provided by the funeral home.  

Preneed Insurance: A type of insurance policy that pays the costs associated with your preplanned funeral. It can only be sold on behalf of a funeral home by a licensed funeral director who is also a licensed insurance producer. 

Preplanning: All of the plans made ahead of time associated with funeral arrangements and disposition. Preplanned funerals are done with a funeral home but do not necessarily need to be prefunded.

Register Book: A keepsake book to commemorate the day of funeral services and the mourners who were there to celebrate the life of the deceased.

Scattering: The spreading of ashes at a location other than a cemetery.

Statement of Funeral Goods and Services: This is an itemized list of the goods and services that you select during the arrangement conference. It allows you to evaluate all of your selections and to make any desired changes.

T – Z

Urn: A container used to hold the ashes of a cremated human body.

Vault: An outer burial container that encloses the casket in the ground. Often a requirement of the cemetery to protect the casket, vaults may be made from concrete, plastic, stainless steel or precious metals like bronze and copper.

Viewing: When family and friends gather at the funeral home or another location to see the deceased after they have been casketed and cosmetized by a funeral home.

Visitation: Another term to describe a viewing.

Wake: A bygone term used to describe a viewing or visitation.