Thinking about the loss of a loved one or our own mortality raises many emotional issues. This MontGuide focuses on the option of cremation and explores personal and family concerns, state and federal regulations, and costs.Last Updated: 11/18
by by Marsha Goetting, Ph.D., CFP®, CFCS, Professor and Extension Family Economics Specialist; and Keri D. Hayes, MSU Extension Publications Assistant
How many people chose cremation?
Cremation has continued to increase in acceptance in the United States since 1876, when the first crematory was built in Pennsylvania. During 2016, Montana had a cremation rate of 74 percent compared to Nevada (77 percent), Washington (77 percent), Oregon (76 percent), Maine (74 percent), and Hawaii (73 percent). In 2018, the national cremation rate is predicted to be over 53 percent.
Why do people choose cremation?
In a national survey cited by the Cremation Association of North America, respondents who preferred to be cremated listed the following reasons: to save money (30 percent); to save land (13 percent); because it is simpler and more convenient (8 percent); body not in earth (6 percent); and personal preference (6 percent). Other reasons that were given included concerns for the environment, cold-weather constraints, and ease of transportation to distant burial sites.
What questions do people ask about cremation?
Montana funeral directors indicate that people considering cremation often ask the following questions: Does my body have to be embalmed? Is a casket required? Should a cremation be followed by a memorial service? Would it be best for the family to have a traditional funeral and have the cremation afterwards? What is the cost for a cremation compared to other alternatives? If I have in writing my wish to be cremated, can my family disregard my request? Should I have my cremated remains scattered, buried or entombed? If so, where?
Similar questions are often asked by family members or friends who are faced with decisions about cremation when the deceased had not expressed a preference prior to his or her death.
The answers to some of these questions are determined by regulations established under the authority of state and federal statutes. The answers to other questions are influenced by the personal preferences of individuals who wish to be cremated or by the people authorized to make decisions for the deceased. Finally, the services and options available from local crematories and funeral directors may be the deciding factors.
Who regulates cremations?
The Montana Board of Funeral Service has established administrative rules and standards for cremation based on Montana statutes. The Board is under the auspices of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. The Board licenses and governs crematories, crematory operators and technicians, as well as mortuaries, morticians, and privately owned, for-profit cemeteries. For more information, go to the Montana Board of Funeral Service website: http:// boards.bsd.dli.mt.gov/fnr.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established trade regulation rules requiring that consumers be provided with itemized price information and other disclosures about funeral goods and services, including cremations. For more information go to Federal Trade Commission website: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ complying-funeral-rule.
After I die, who can authorize the removal of my body to the crematory?
After a death occurs in Montana, the Vital Statistics Bureau of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) requires the submission of a form, Authorization for Removal, Transportation and Final Disposition of a Dead Body. The form requires the signature of one of the following: the coroner having jurisdiction; a mortician; the physician in attendance at death or the physician's designee; or a certified advanced practice registered nurse. Typically, the mortician submits the form with the appropriate signature to DPHHS. The form must be submitted regardless of the method chosen for disposition of the deceased’s body.
Where are crematories located in Montana?
In Montana, human remains may not be cremated except in a licensed crematory. As of September 2018 there are 35 licensed crematories in the state. Crematories are located in the following communities (the number within each city is provided in parentheses)1:
Anaconda (1) Great Falls (3) Malta (1) Big Timber (1) Hamilton (2) Miles City (1) Billings (5) Havre (1) Missoula (2) Bozeman (2) Helena (1) Plains (1) Butte (2) Kalispell (3) Polson (2) Dillon (1) Lewistown (1) Whitehall (1) Glendive (1)
1: Cremation Association of North America: www.cremationassociation.org
What are the costs of cremation?
The charge for cremation is somewhat less than a traditional burial. However, total cost depends on the services desired by the family and products requested from the crematory. The cost of cremation typically ranges from $2,800 to $4,000.
State and federal rules require funeral homes to provide a disclosure form or a contract itemizing the expenses for professional funeral services, facilities, and equipment. Most crematories in Montana also provide similar information for cremation products and services.
People who are considering cremation can request price disclosures for services and products from the crematories in their area or from a local funeral director.
Does my body have to be embalmed?
Embalming is not a requirement for cremation or burial in Montana. However, embalming may be necessary under certain circumstances. If a family desires cremation after a funeral service with a private or public viewing, then the body may need to be embalmed. If the body is going to be in route more than eight hours or if the termination of common carrier transport occurs more than 36 hours after the time of death, the body must be embalmed or refrigerated. If the body is being transported privately and will not reach final destination within 48 hours after the time of death, the body must be embalmed or refrigerated.
Is a casket required?
According to the Cremation Association of North America, about 90 percent of cremations do not have a casket. The State of Montana does not require a casket for cremation but does require a durable cremation container. For health and safety considerations, however, Montana does require that a deceased person being delivered for cremation be encased in an enclosed, rigid and leak-proof container. Cremation containers are usually made of readily combustible substances such as fiberboard, pressed wood or cardboard. The casket or cremation container must be cremated with the body.
The Montana Board of Funeral Service has established standards regarding caskets and alternative containers for cremation (see definition of terms, cremation container).
Under Federal Trade Commission rules, funeral directors who offer cremations:
- may not tell you that the state or local law requires a casket for direct cremation;
- must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for direct cremation; and
- must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for cremation.
Do all my family members have to sign a form to have my body cremated?
To avoid misunderstandings, people who desire to be cremated should list their request in a prepaid funeral contract, a written disposition direction, a signed affidavit or a videotaped disposition direction. Further information is available in the MSU Extension MontGuide What Are Your Rights Over Your Remains? (MT200918HR).
If a person does not leave directions by one of the methods above, Montana statute (§37-19-904) states that the right for another person to control the disposition of the remains of the deceased, unless other directions have been provided by the deceased, is in the following order:
- a spouse
- a majority of adult children
- a parent
- a close relative of the deceased, or
- in the absence of a person listed previously, a personal representative, a public administrator or others as designated by the Montana Board of Funeral Service.
What is done with the body before cremation?
All personal possessions of value, such as jewelry or mementos, should be removed by a family member or the authorizing agent before the body is taken to the crematory.
Pacemakers must be removed by licensed morticians prior to placement of the body in the chamber because these items could damage the crematory during the process. If a crematory is not notified about the presence of pacemakers and not instructed to remove them, the authorizing agent could be held responsible for any damages caused to the crematory equipment or personnel.
Most prostheses and mechanical devices or mechanical implants are generally cremated with the body and removed before the remains are placed in an urn.
Human remains may not be cremated until 24 hours have passed after the time of death. The crematory must have a death certificate signed by the coroner and the cremation authorization form signed by the authorizing agent. Human remains delivered to a crematory may not be removed from the cremation container, as the container is cremated with the body.
What happens during cremation?
During cremation, the body is exposed to intense heat (1,400 to 2,000°F). Cremation time varies with the size and weight of the body being cremated. A typical time span is one and one-half hours to four hours.
After the cremation is complete, the remains are allowed to cool and then are removed from the cremation chamber. All human remains are separated from non-human items. The remains are then pulverized and placed in a container selected by the authorizing agent. The cremated remains appear similar to crushed seashells or egg shells and can weigh between four and ten pounds depending upon the size of the body being cremated.
To verify the identity of the deceased, many crematories recommend that a family member personally identify the deceased in the funeral home prior to cremation.
How can my family be assured that my ashes are the ones given to them?
Montana law requires that an identifying metal disc be attached by the crematory operator or technician to each receptacle containing a body. Prior to cremation, the disc is mounted to the head end of the casket or alternate container. During the cremation process, the disc is secured on the control panel outside the chamber.
Once the cremation process is completed, the disc is placed with the cremated human remains inside a receptacle, such as an urn. The number of the identifying metal disc is also written on the outside of the receptacle containing the remains.
Which survivors receive my ashes?
Cremated human remains must be turned over to the individual specified by the authorizing agent on the cremation authorization form. If the deceased did not express a preference for the disposition of the cremated remains, the authorizing agent is responsible for making the decision.
If the authorizing agent has not specified the ultimate disposition or claimed the cremated remains after 90 days, the crematory has the authority for disposition. A record of the disposition must be made and kept by the crematory operator.
A representative of the crematory and the individual designated to receive the cremated remains must sign a delivery receipt. The receipt indicates the name of the deceased and the date, time, and place the remains were delivered. The crematory retains a copy of the receipt. The original is given to the authorizing agent. After the cremated remains are delivered to the person designated on the authorization form, they may be transported in Montana without a permit.
What can my family do with my ashes?
Some families may prefer a container for the ashes that reflects the personality of the deceased. Cookies jars, lunch boxes, camera cases and ammo boxes are examples of containers that have been used.
Some families prefer to retain the cremated remains at the family residence until weather permits the scattering or burial of the remains at a place significant to the deceased.
Other families prefer to place the urn in an outdoor columbarium niche that is located in a cemetery. A niche is a recessed compartment enclosed by glass to protect the engraved urn or by a metal ornamental or granite front upon which the name and birth and death dates can be engraved. The cost of a columbarium niche depends on its size, location, and quality. There may be additional charges for endowment care, a flower vase, or nameplate.
Another option is a biodegradable urn. Some biodegradable urns are designed to float in water for one- to-five minutes before descending. Others are designed to break down over time when left in the open.
Urn burial. Burial of the urn in a family cemetery plot or urn garden are other alternatives. Many cemeteries have facilities ranging from simple to elaborate. Some families prefer to hold the cremated remains for burial at a later date, so they can be placed in the casket of the spouse or mingled together with the cremated remains of a deceased spouse in a preselected urn.
Personal or keepsake memorials. When family members desire to have a remembrance, one option is jewelry, such as a pendant that holds a token amount of cremated remains. Another option is a miniature cast bronze keepsake urn that holds a small portion of the remains.
Scattering cremated human remains
The Cremation Society of North America reports that of those who prefer cremation, 59 percent said they planned to have their remains scattered. Of these, 30 percent responded that they preferred to be scattered over water, while 20 percent desired land. Regardless of the site chosen, scattering should be done in a manner that does not affect the rights of others.
Because some people may find it difficult to scatter the remains of a loved one, people who wish to have their cremated remains scattered by friends or relatives should discuss their wishes with them. In addition, those planning cremation should decide whether they want a permanent memorial for the deceased.
Where can I have my ashes scattered?
Montana's abundance of land, rivers, and lakes provides many opportunities for the scattering or burial of cremated human remains. However, any city, county, state and federal regulations should be followed.
Privately-owned lands. Scattering cremated remains on land a person owned prior to death is legal in Montana. Families should consider whether the land could be sold in the future.
Church-owned lands. Contact the church where the cremated remains are to be scattered or buried to determine specific rules for that church.
City lands, parks, and lakes. Most Montana cities do not have specific regulations against the scattering of cremated human remains. Persons considering city-owned property to scatter cremated remains should check with the city attorney or city commission to determine if permission is required and whether forms must be completed before the scattering.
County lands, parks, and lakes. Most Montana counties do not have specific regulations against the scattering of human cremated remains on county-owned lands. People who want to scatter cremated remains on county-owned property should check with the county attorney or county commission about possible regulations.
School trust lands. The spreading of cremated human remains on state school trust lands administered by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) is allowed with the permission of the Department. Typically, these lands are located in sections 16 and 36 in each township. Call the Helena office (406- 444-2074) to be directed to the appropriate DNRC unit or area office. A land use license must be obtained with a $25 minimum application fee. An additional fee will be charged by the area office that administers the land on which the cremated remains are to be scattered.
State rivers and lakes. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality does not require a permit for spreading cremated human remains in state creeks, rivers, or lakes.
State lands and parks. The Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Commission has a policy that does not allow for the spreading of cremated human remains or burials within state parks unless authorized by the commission. The commission accepts petitions for exceptions to the rule in the case of family ties to the property.
Tribal Trust Lands. While there are no regulations under the Bureau of Indian Affairs that dictate disposal of cremated human remains, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act dictates that the Tribes have ownership of reservation lands and may set code regulations. Non-tribal members should seek authority from the appropriate tribal council before attempting to scatter the ashes of human remains on tribal lands within any of the seven reservations in Montana.
Air. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the disposal of cremated human remains in the air. As long as there is no hazard to persons or property, scattering of cremated human remains is permitted in the skyways.
Bureau of Land Management lands. There are no federal permits necessary for the scattering of cremated remains on Bureau of Land Management lands unless the process becomes a commercial enterprise.
Federal waters. The scattering or burial of cremated remains at sea must take place at least three nautical miles from land. A burial/scatter at sea notification form must be filed within 30 days after the scattering with the appropriate Environmental Protection Agency Regional Office. The form is available at: www.epa.gov. The form can also be obtained by writing:
National and State Veterans cemeteries. Veterans may be eligible to be buried in a national or state cemetery. In addition, the spouses and dependent children of honorably discharged veterans may be buried in one of the 136 national cemeteries. Cremated remains may be interred in an in-ground grave site, placed in a garden niche, or placed in a columbarium. Also, the remains may be scattered in specifically designated cremation gardens.
A listing of the cemeteries maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs is available on the web at www.cem.va.gov. The list is also available from the VA office in Montana:
National Forests. There are no rules or regulations within the Forest Service authorizing the scattering or interment of cremated human remains on National Forest System lands. However, some states (California) regulate or prohibit the scattering of ashes.
National Parks. Each national park has its own conditions for granting permission to scatter cremated remains. People who want to scatter human remains in a national park should contact the superintendent of the park where the deceased requested to be scattered. A list of national parks is available on the web at: www.nps.gov. Scroll down to Find a Park. The list is also available from:
Yellowstone National Park. If you would like to scatter the remains of your loved one within the park, be aware of the following regulations:
- Call the Visitor Services Office at (307) 344-2107 and give the exact area where ashes will be scattered, as well as the date and time the activity will take place.
- Human ashes may only be distributed in undeveloped areas. Ashes may not be distributed in or near roads, buildings, parking lots, or campgrounds.
- Scattering ashes in thermal areas is prohibited.
- Installation of a monument or other commemorative tribute is prohibited.
Glacier National Park. Cremated human remains may be dispersed only in undeveloped areas in Glacier National Park. The remains cannot be scattered near any developed locations such as a road, trail, building, parking lot, boat ramp, swimming beach, campground, lake, and so on. The cremated remains must be scattered and not deposited in any type of container. No marker or memorial of any type may be placed at the site. Glacier Park provides a form letter requesting that the Special Use Permit Office (406-888-7800) be notified of the exact area where the cremated human remains were dispersed and the day and time the scattering took place.
Can I have my ashes shipped to another town, state or country?
The United States Postal Service offers the only legal method of shipping cremated remains domestically or internationally. There are specific requirements for preparing, packaging, and shipping human or animal cremated remains. If you plan to ship cremated remains, you will need to have padding and two containers – an inner container and an outer container.
While NOT a requirement, the Postal Service recommends that you put the sift-proof container in a sealed plastic bag.
The postal service recommends you use a Priority Mail Express box. The Postal Service offers the boxes free to customers who use Priority Mail Express service. Also use the Postal Service Cremated Remains label (Label 139), which is available at your local post office.
For more information on Postal Service's requirements for shipping cremated remains, Google "U.S. Postal Service Publication 139"
People who desire cremation should place their requests in writing and provide copies of the written instructions with relatives. Price disclosures for services and products for cremation can be obtained from Montana crematories and funeral directors. Contact the Montana Board of Funeral Service for mailing addresses and phone numbers.
Regardless of whether cremation is the method of final disposition chosen, one member of the Montana Funeral Directors Association suggests that:
"When planning to honor and memorialize a person who has died, the family should plan a funeral, memorial, celebration of life or gathering that best suits their religious beliefs, traditions, lifestyle and budget."
This MontGuide has been reviewed by representatives from the following agencies and professional organizations:
- Montana Board of Funeral Service
- Montana Funeral Directors Association
- Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
- Montana Department of Environmental Quality
- Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
CrematoryDirectory.com, Montana Crematories, https://www.cremationassociation.org/search/custom.asp?id=137 and click on "Montana."
Funeral Consumer Guardian Society Cremation Cost Estimate, www.funeralconsumer.org
Montana Codes Annotated 2015 37-19-907 – 37-19-909 National Funeral Directors Association Statistic Reports, http://www.nfda.org/news/statistics
You can obtain additional information about cremations and the options available from the following state and federal government agencies, businesses and professional groups:
The Montana Board of Funeral Service has produced a brochure, Consumer Information About Funerals, that can be obtained from the address below.
The Montana Funeral Directors Association (MFDA) provides programs, services, and resources to help members care for the families they serve. The association is also available as a resource to the public.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping older Americans achieve lives of independence, dignity and purpose. There is information available free by writing the address below or at www.aarp.org and within the search engine type “Preneed Funeral and Burial Agreements and Funeral Arrangements.”
Cremation Association of North America (CANA) is an association of crematories, cemeteries and funeral homes that offer cremation.
Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) is a nonprofit, educational organization that supports increased funeral consumer protection and, is affiliated with the Funeral and Memorial Society of America (FAMSA).
Funeral Service Educational Foundation (FSEF) is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to advancing professionalism in funeral service and to enhancing public knowledge and understanding through education and research. Cremation statistics and educational brochures on making funeral arrangements are available.
International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) is a nonprofit association of cemeteries, funeral homes, crematories and monument retailers that offers informal mediation of consumer complaints through its Cemetery Consumer Service Council. There is an informative section on cremation on the website.
National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has cremation statistics on its website as well as information on funeral pricing and tips on prepaying funerals.
Selected Independent Funeral Homes (SIFH) is a national association of funeral firms that have agreed to comply with its Code of Good Funeral Practice. The website contains information about cremation under funeral options.
Definitions of Terms in the Cremation Industry
At-need arrangements – arrangements made by an authorized person on behalf of a deceased person.
Authorizing agent – the person legally entitled to order the final disposition of human remains, including burial, cremation, entombment, donation to medical science, or other means. The order of preference in Montana for an authorizing agent (unless prior directions were provided by the decedent) is:
- a spouse;
- a majority of adult children;
- a parent;
- a close relative of the deceased; or,
- in the absence of a person listed above, a personal representative, or a public administrator.
Closed container – a container in which cremated remains can be placed and enclosed in a manner that prevents leakage or spillage of cremated remains or entrance of foreign material.
Columbarium – structure with niches for placement of cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. It may be outdoors or part of a mausoleum or mortuary.
Cremains – cremated human remains.
Cremated remains – human remains recovered after the completion of the cremation, including
pulverization that leaves only bone fragments reduced to unidentifiable dimensions.
Cremation – technical process, using heat, that reduces human remains to bone fragments. The
reduction takes place through heat and evaporation.
Cremation chamber – enclosed space within which the cremation process takes place. Cremation
chambers of crematoriums licensed by the Montana Board of Funeral Service must be used exclusively
for the cremation of human remains.
Cremation container – the container in which the human remains are placed in the cremation chamber for a cremation. A cremation container must meet substantially all of the following standards:
• be able to be closed to provide a complete covering for the human remains;
• be composed of readily combustible materials suitable for cremation;
• be resistant to leakage or spillage;
• be rigid enough for handling with ease; and
• be able to provide protection for the health and safety of crematory personnel.
Cremation vault – container for an urn made of concrete, metal, fiberglass, or durable plastic.
Crematory – building or portion of a building that houses the cremation chamber and the holding
Crematory operator – person in charge of the licensed crematory facility.
Crematory technician – employee of a crematory facility who is trained to perform cremations and is
licensed by the Montana Board of Funeral Service.
Holding facility – area within or adjacent to the crematory facility designated for the retention
of human remains prior to cremation that must:
• comply with any applicable public health law;
• preserve the dignity of the human remains;
• recognize the health, safety, and integrity of the crematory operator and crematory personnel; and
• be secure from access by anyone other than authorized personnel.
Interment – lawful disposition of cremated remains or
Mausoleum – community-type room or space in a building or structure used or intended to be used for
the interment of human remains in crypts or niches.
Mausoleum-columbarium – building or structure containing both a mausoleum and a columbarium.
Niche – space in a columbarium, mausoleum, or niche wall used for interment of cremated remains or
human remains of one or more deceased persons.
Preneed authorization – arrangement made prior to the death of the person. A person can make a
preneed arrangement with a licensed funeral director or licensed
mortician. A person can also authorize another individual to make preneed arrangements on his/her
Temporary container – receptacle for cremated remains that is usually made of cardboard, plastic
film, or similar material designed to hold the remains until an urn or other
permanent container is acquired.
Urn – receptacle designed to encase human cremated
Urn garden – specially designed area in a cemetery for the burial of urns. Some gardens offer
individual urn burial plots that will accommodate a marker. Others offer unmarked areas for
interment of the urn, with adjacent walls or sculptures for memorial plaques.