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How Long Does It Take to Cremate a Body?

Cremation is an increasingly popular choice for those who wish to be cremated after they die. While cremation is a relatively straightforward process, there are some factors that can affect how long it takes to cremate a body. In this article, we’ll explore some of those factors and give you an estimated range for how long it takes to cremate a body.

The Process of Cremation

Cremation is an ancient and respected form of funeral service that can trace its roots to various cultures across the world. The process involves exposing a body to extremely high temperatures for an extended period of time, allowing the remains to be pulverized into ash. Cremation allows families to honor their beloved in a unique way and is still performed with all the same reverence and respect given to burials, just in a different form.

How Long Does It Take to Cremate a Body?

The process of cremation not only provides an alternate method for honoring the deceased, but it is also typically convenient and affordable. Depending on the size of the body and if a viewing is desired prior to the cremation being performed, it generally takes about three to four hours for the entire physical cremation process. It’s important to keep in mind though, that doesn’t mean that it only takes several hours for you to receive your loved one’s cremains. It generally takes anywhere from four to fifteen days after someone dies until the cremation is completed, with the average time frame being around ten business days. 

Factors That Affect the Time it Takes to Cremate a Body

You may be wondering why it takes so long to receive a loved one’s cremains if the cremation process is so short. Some of the factors that impact the time frame of the cremation process are:

Funeral Homes vs. Crematoriums: Many people work with a funeral home rather than working directly with a crematorium. Funeral homes receive and store your loved one’s body and assist you in completing the steps necessary for cremation. They also typically have urns or other containers for storing your loved one’s cremains and can hold memorials and funerals for you. While working with a funeral home may add some extra layers of support, it can also add anywhere from a few hours to a few days to the cremation process. This is generally due to issues with scheduling and transportation.

Holidays and Weekends: Crematoriums and funeral homes are typically closed on weekends and holidays, though some crematoriums do offer weekend cremation services. Those that do, however, tend to charge premiums for using their facilities and staff. So, if you’re loved one passes away near a holiday or weekend, the process can take a bit longer.

Death certificates: Before cremation can take place, the proper paperwork has to be filed by the facility that’s doing the cremating. One of the most crucial pieces of paperwork they need to file is the death certificate. For a death certificate to be completed, the crematorium or funeral home must contact the deceased’s physician. The physician then files the death certificate with the state’s health department, typically within a 72-hour time frame. After being filed with the state, the death certificate may take at least a few days before it’s fully processed. The medical examiner must also be notified of the intent to cremate after the doctor signs the death certificate. Once the medical examiner is notified, it can take up to an additional 48 business hours before they approve the cremation request.

Cremation Authorization: While your loved one’s death certificate is being processed, the crematorium can assist you in getting cremation authorization. How this process is structured varies by state. In many states, the right to make cremation arrangements belongs to the deceased’s Healthcare Power of Attorney. If no one has been appointed to be Power of Attorney, the authorization goes to the spouse, and then to the majority of surviving children if there is no living spouse. As such, the paperwork listing you or someone else as the authorized agent will need to be presented to have your loved one cremated. Time can be saved by keeping those important documents on hand, but if you don’t have them readily available or need to obtain authorization through another process, it can add days or even weeks to the cremation process.

Legal Waiting Periods: Even if you’re very organized and get all of the necessary paperwork completed right away, your state’s laws may dictate how long the process can take. Each state creates its own cremation laws, and some of them require that a standard waiting period takes place prior to cremation. Indiana, for example, requires a 48-hour wait period prior to cremation. Other states actually require that the cremation process takes place within a certain time frame, such as Minnesota, which mandates that cremation needs to take place within 72 hours or six days if the body has been refrigerated.

The Cremation Process: Once the appropriate paperwork has been filed and you’ve waited the necessary amount of time according to your state’s laws, the physical process of cremation can take place. One of the main factors that affects how long a body takes to cremate is the size and condition of the body. Larger or obese bodies tend to take longer to cremate than average-sized bodies. In addition, closely intertwined metal items like a belt buckle or metal plates as well as other body implants can cause increased time consumption while cremating as these items are more difficult to break down. The type of casket in which the remains were placed also has an impact on the duration of cremation since if it’s made from hard plastic instead of wood then it will take much longer to burn than its wooden equivalent. Whether you choose traditional or alkaline hydrolysis (flameless) cremation can also impact the time it takes. 

The actual cremation process typically lasts between an hour and a half and three hours. Following this main process, the cremains are left to cool, and the remaining bone fragments are processed. This adds another hour or two to the total cremation process. It is important to remember that while there are certain factors that can delay the process, a well-maintained crematory will do everything they can to ensure safe procedures and optimal timing for your loved one’s final farewell.

What Happens to the Ashes After Cremation?

After a cremation, the ashes will be put into an urn or other container which the funeral home generally has available for purchase ahead of cremation. You may also choose to make or purchase the urn elsewhere and then bring it to the crematory or funeral home for use after cremation. If a container hasn’t been selected prior to the cremation process, the ashes will typically be returned in a plastic bag enclosed in a cardboard box. This plastic bag can then be transferred into another container later. 

In some cases, the ashes may also be scattered in a place that is meaningful to the deceased. It’s important to check with local regulations before scattering ashes. Depending on location and preference, they may also be taken out on the water, dispersed in a cemetery, buried in a special memorial garden, or even used to create mementos such as jewelry or artwork. The options are limitless, and ceremony options abound – everything from traditional religious services to modern celebrations of life – so you can send your loved one off just as they would have wanted it.

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