Funeral Terms You Should Know

If you find yourself in a situation where you are responsible for organizing and planning a funeral service, it certainly helps to know the terminology used. Here are some terms you may encounter when you are planning a funeral.

Affirmation or Celebration of Life Service: A type of service that is highly personalized and follows no standard set of rules. It may be religious or non-religious and can vary widely in content and format, based on the plans and wishes of the deceased and their family.

Arrangement Conference: A meeting between the funeral director and the family or representative of the deceased for the purpose of setting up funeral arrangements.

Burial Permit: A legal document used to authorize burial, cremation, scattering or disinterment services. A funeral director usually obtains the burial permit on behalf of the family.

Closed Casket: A visitation where the casket is closed, and the body is not available for viewing.

Columbarium: An indoor cemetery type building were people display cremation urns on niches hollowed into the walls of the columbarium.


Commemorative Service: A funeral service or ceremony in memory of the deceased without the presence of the body.

Cremation: The reduction of remains into small bone fragments and ash through intense heat. Ashes are normally kept in a cremation urn for the family to keep.

Cremains: A term occasionally used instead of "cremated remains" or "ashes."

Cremation Urn or Funeral Urn: A storage container normally made of brass, wood, or marble to hold the ashes of the deceased.

Crematorium: Building in which the cremation of bodies takes place.

Crypt or Recess: A space in a wall built to receive a casket, then sealed and covered normally with a white marble plaque and an inscription about the deceased.

Death Certificate: A death certificate is required by law after a person dies. Two parties must sign the death certificate – a medical professional (either a physician, coroner, or medical examiner) who will certify the death by noting the cause of death, time of death and the identity of the deceased.  A licensed funeral director will confirm that the body was properly handled.

Direct Burial: A simple burial with no viewing or visitation, which usually involves only the transportation and burial of the body.

Direct Cremation: A simple cremation with no ceremony, viewing or visitation.

Donation (In Memorium): A donation made to honor the deceased, made to a cause or an organization in particular. These donations may often be made in lieu of gifts.

Embalming: The process of preserving a body by circulating preservative and antiseptic fluid through the veins, arteries and body cavities.

Eulogy: A brief speech describing the qualities of the deceased person and celebrating his or her accomplishments.

Full Couch Casket: A casket with a cover that opens completely.

Funeral Cortege or Funeral Procession: The convoy of vehicles accompanying the hearse from the funeral service to the cemetery. May also apply to mourners following the casket as it is brought into and taken out of the church.

Funeral Monument or Funeral Marker: Commonly referred to as headstones, they are usually made of metal or stone and placed at the spot of burial.

FTC Funeral Rule: The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), makes it possible for you to choose only goods and services you want. This rule also allows you to use outside caskets or cremation urns instead of only urns and caskets offered by the funeral home.

General Price List: The General Price List (GPL) is a written, itemized price list that every funeral home is required by law to provide to consumers upon request. It lists all the items and services that the funeral home offers, along with the cost of each item or service.

Grave: An excavation in the earth for the purpose of burying the deceased.

Green Funeral: An environmentally conscious funeral that is designed to minimize its environmental impact by using biodegradable cremation urns.

Half Couch Casket: A casket in which only half of the cover opens to show the body of the deceased from the waist up.

Hearse: A vehicle designed to carry a casket from the funeral to the cemetery.

Internment of a Casket: The burial of a casket in a cemetery or the placement of it in a mausoleum.

Internment of the Ashes: Burial of an urn in a cemetery. The urn may also be kept by the loved ones, or inurned in a columbarium.

Keepsake Jewelry: Keepsake jewelry, also known as memorial, or remembrance jewelry, is a deeply personal type of jewelry that honors the deceased by containing a small compartment that can hold a small amount of the ashes of the deceased loved one.

Mausoleum: A public or private building specifically designed to preserve human remains. It is usually a permanent, above-ground final resting place.


Niche: A recessed space in a wall or in a columbarium used to place cremation urns containing cremated remains. Small objects, photographs, and even children’s drawings are also often kept in the niche.

Obituary or a Death Notice: A notice published in a newspaper or on the Internet that announces the death of a person, provides details about the funeral, lists the survivors and provides details about the person’s life.

Pall Bearer: A person who helps to carry or escort the casket during a funeral.

Partitioned Pet Cremation: A method of pet cremation in which the bodies of several pets will be placed in the cremation chamber and cremated at the same time, but the body each pet will be physically separated from another through barriers such as clay bricks.

Grave Plot: A measured piece of land in a cemetery for which a family or an individual purchases interment rights. A plot generally contains two or more graves.

Prearrangements: Contract between a person and a funeral home that determines what should be done after that person dies: viewing, cremation, funeral.

Sympathy Card: Card sent to the family of the deceased to express condolences.

Viewing or Visitation: An event that enables survivors and friends to see the body of the deceased in private, usually in a room in the funeral home.

Totten Trust: Funds from a Totten trust or Payable On Death (POD) accounts are earmarked to cover anticipated funeral costs. When the covered person dies, the money passes automatically to a designated beneficiary without having to go through probate. The funds are intended to be used to cover funeral expenses.

Wake: A watch kept over the deceased, held the night before the funeral. Vigils can sometimes last an entire night and are often accompanied by ritual observances including eating and drinking. 

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