This article provides a glossary of terms you will encounter when planning a funeral, and offers a list of resources for more information.
Glossary of Funeral Terms
Alternative Container: An unfinished wood box or other non-metal receptacle without ornamentation, often made of fiberboard, pressed wood, or composition materials, and generally lower in cost than caskets.
Casket/Coffin: A box or chest for burying remains.
Cemetery Property: A grave, crypt, or niche.
Cemetery Services: Opening and closing graves, crypts or niches; setting grave liners and vaults; setting markers; and long-term maintenance of cemetery grounds and facilities.
Columbarium: A structure with niches (small spaces) for placing cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. It may be outdoors or part of a mausoleum.
Cremation: Exposing remains and the container encasing them to extreme heat and flame and processing the resulting bone fragments to a uniform size and consistency.
Crypt: A space in a mausoleum or other building to hold cremated or whole remains.
Disposition: The placement of cremated or whole remains in their final resting place.
Endowment Care Fund: Money collected from cemetery property purchasers and placed in trust for the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery.
Entombment: Burial in a mausoleum.
Funeral Ceremony: A service commemorating the deceased, with the body present.
Funeral Services: Services provided by a funeral director and staff, which may include consulting with the family on funeral planning; transportation, shelter, refrigeration and embalming of remains; preparing and filing notices; obtaining authorizations and permits; and coordinating with the cemetery, crematory or other third parties.
Grave: A space in the ground in a cemetery for the burial of remains.
Grave Liner or Outer Container: A concrete cover that fits over a casket in a grave. Some liners cover tops and sides of the casket. Others, referred to as vaults, completely enclose the casket. Grave liners minimize ground settling.
Graveside Service: A service to commemorate the deceased held at the cemetery before burial.
Interment: Burial in the ground, inurnment or entombment.
Inurnment: The placing of cremated remains in an urn.
Mausoleum: A building in which remains are buried or entombed.
Memorial Service: A ceremony commemorating the deceased, without the body present.
Niche: A space in a columbarium, mausoleum or niche wall to hold an urn.
Urn: A container to hold cremated remains. It can be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum, or buried in the ground.
Vault: A grave liner that completely encloses a casket.
For More Information about Funerals, Funeral Providers, and Where to File a Complaint
Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the board in your state for information or help. If you want additional information about making funeral arrangements and the options available, you may want to contact interested business, professional and consumer groups. Some of the biggest are:
AARP is a membership organization for people 50 years of age and older. Funeral-related information also is available in the Grief & Loss section.
- 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. Their website has free pamphlets on funeral planning, plus a directory of local volunteer funeral planning groups.
- Green Burial Council
GBC, an independent, nonprofit that encourages environmentally sustainable death care practices as a means of acquiring, restoring, and stewarding natural areas, assists consumers in identifying “green” cemetery, funeral, and cremation services.
- 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. Its website provides information and advice in its Consumer Resource Guide.
- International Order of the Golden Rule
OGR is an international association of about 1,300 independent funeral homes.
- Jewish Funeral Directors of America
JFDA is an international association of funeral homes serving the Jewish community.
- National Funeral Directors Association
NFDA is an educational and professional association of funeral directors, which provides consumer information and sponsors the NFDA Help Line, which is designed to help consumers resolve complaints about NFDA members.
- National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association
NFDMA is a national association primarily of African-American funeral providers.
- Selected Independent Funeral Homes
SIFH is an international association of funeral firms that have agreed to comply with its Code of Good Funeral Practices.
If you have a problem concerning funeral matters, it’s best to try to resolve it first with the funeral director. If you are dissatisfied with the funeral services you receive, the Funeral Consumers Alliance offers advice on how best to resolve a problem. In addition, the FEO, the NFDA Help Line, and the ICCFA Cemetery Consumer Service Council may be able to provide informal mediation of a complaint. You also can contact your state Attorney General’s office or local consumer protection agencies.
In addition, you can file a complaint with the FTC online or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 1-866-653-4261. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.