Frequent Questions & Answers

Burial

Burial is placement of human remains underground. Sometimes in industry terms we use it interchangeably with “entombment,” which is putting the body in a crypt or a mausoleum. Even though this process is traditionally associated with embalming, visitation, and a funeral service, burial does not require any of these events.

Burials involve two parts:

Funeral – This general term refers to all the products and services that occur between the point of death and the gates of the cemetery. It can be a confusing term, because in common usage it usually refers to a specific service for the deceased with the body present.

Cemetery – This term refers to all the products and services required at the place of burial.

Cemetery and funeral service are always done by separate companies, even if the parent company is the same. This means that you will plan final arrangements with both a funeral director and a cemetery representative.

The most basic of all the services for burial are called “immediate” or “direct” burial. As you shop funeral homes, it is helpful to know that these terms mean no services. The funeral home will pick up the body, get permits, take the body to the cemetery, and the cemetery will bury them.

When a person calls a funeral home and asks, “How much is it for a burial?” it’s very like calling an auto dealer and asking the person on the other end of the line, “How much is it for a vehicle?”

Much like a vehicle that has many options affecting the price, burials are not “one size fits all.” Many factors determine the final cost for a burial. Some clients believe not receiving an immediate answer means the funeral director is trying to upsell or tack things on, when they are likely trying to figure out what the family wants for their loved one.

Unlike cremation, there are so many variables to burial that it is difficult to provide simple pricing. Our pricing page can provide an estimate for what you can expect to pay, but some of the things that will impact your costs with a funeral home, in order of potential increased cost:

  • Casket selection
  • Services required (funeral, visitation, etc.)
  • Preparation & Transportation (to/from cemetery, to/from church, embalming etc.)

In the case of Elemental, our side of the costs are almost always lower than that of the cemetery. At the cemetery, you can expect to have, at a minimum, the following charges.

  • Space (grave, crypt, niche, etc.)
  • Open & Close – the overhead of the cemetery, in the form of digging the grave (i.e., “opening the crypt”)
  • Outer Burial Container (vault or liner)
  • Headstone or marker
  • Setting fees – fees to place the outer burial container and marker

Some cemeteries have records fees or service fees for tent and chairs as well.

Before you call funeral homes and cemeteries, brace yourself. You are not going to be able to accomplish a burial in the immediate Seattle area for less than $6,000, no matter how austere you make it or which cemetery you select. This is the reality of cemetery pricing and products in our costly urban area.

Before you contact a funeral home, knowing the following answers can help you narrow down the numbers to a clear quote:

  • What is your casket budget? A reasonable expectation is between $1,500 and $3,000 for a nice middle of the road casket.
  • Do you want to have a church service?
  • Do you want a visitation?
  • Do you want a graveside service?

Having answers to these questions will go a long way towards helping a funeral home provide the most accurate information possible.

Burial pricing tends to be a little more complicated, due to the number of variables involved. We can tell you that the cost is more than cremation.

Burials involve two parts – the “funeral” and the “cemetery.” “Funeral” refers to all the things between the place of death and the gates of the cemetery. “Cemetery” is everything inside those gates that relates to the placement of the body.

In the Seattle area, you are unlikely to do a burial all in (funeral and cemetery) for less than $6,000. This cost does not include any type of service. Elemental’s charges are the smaller part of the equation – if you want burial without any services, often we can do that for less than $1,500. The cemetery, however, is going to be a significant cost if you don’t already have a gravesite purchased.

If you are willing to leave the urban center of Seattle, you can find less expensive cemetery property to keep your costs down. If you are hoping for a burial option, please give us a call and we can run the numbers for the funeral and location of interest.

We do have a few biodegradable urns in stock but most of the urns that we sell are sent directly from our distributor. There are so many options out there that there would be no place for us to store all the possibilities. This also allows us to keep prices low because we don’t have to carry large amounts of inventory.

Caskets are large and expensive, so most funeral homes now have digital images or catalogs for you to select from. We simply don’t have any place to store them. If you pay a visit to the office, it will be clear that there’s nowhere to put a casket showroom!

Our urn and casket pages are available for you to browse. These feature some of the most commonly chosen options by our clients.

Cremation

Cremation is a process that uses fossil fuels to create temperatures between 1700°F and 2000°F to reduce the body to calcium deposits.  In the basest of terms – cremation burns away everything but the bones.  The process takes between 2 and 2.5 hours and what is left are skeletal remains. These bones are swept out of the cremation chamber (also called a retort) and processed to a fine particulate mixture referred to as “ash.” The consistency and color of this mixture is variable from very fine to coarse and pale to dark grey.

Absolutely. We have extensive procedures to ensure the identification and chain of custody of remains. It is of paramount importance in any funeral home, ours included. Here are the key points of those procedures that we use:

At the time of transferring remains into our care, we put an ankle band with the person’s name and information on the body. The person releasing the body into our care – family, nurse, hospital – signs off that they are releasing the specific person to us.

At the care center (crematory), a case number is created and another ankle band matching the first and adding that case number is put on the ankle with the first one.

Prior to cremation, all the documentation and ID bands are reviewed.

A metal disk with a discrete ID matching the paperwork is placed in the cremation chamber with the body. The only thing that survives the cremation process are the bones (ashes) and that metal disk. The bones are processed and placed into a bag that is closed with a tie and that metal disk.

If necessary, you could trace this disk back through the paperwork to see all the details of the process – who transferred the body, at what time, who the cremationist was, even the wind speed at the time of cremation.

The process has been designed to have multiple checks at each stage of the process to maintain the integrity and security of the deceased, ensuring that you receive the exact remains of the person entrusted to our care.

And here is where things sound strange, but I can’t think of a way to put it that doesn’t sound a little bit detached: We have absolutely zero motivation to give you remains that aren’t your loved one, never mind the fact that it is unconscionable. We absolutely care and for that reason, we put every safeguard in place.

The process from you notifying us to the time you get the remains and death certificates can range from a few days to a week.

Many factors dictate how quickly this process moves forward. We have ordered these in terms of which factors are most likely to cause a delay:

  1. Day of death. If the death occurs on a Friday and Elemental is notified after noon, the odds are that nothing other than picking up the body will happen before Monday. Doctors need to sign forms, counties need to issue permits, schedules at the crematory need to be coordinated – these factors require the right people to be available to do the work. Unfortunately, doctors and bureaucrats are just as eager to get out of the office Friday afternoon as the rest of society.
  2. Doctor’s signature. A doctor must sign the death certificate before it is filed for permits and they have 48 hours from when it lands on their desk to get it done. There are times where a signature takes even longer. The sad truth is, if a doctor doesn’t sign, nothing proceeds.
  3. Your paperwork. With all the best intentions, some families get overwhelmed with the number of balls they are juggling after a death. It can take days (even weeks) for some families to get their part of the paperwork back to us. Without that important information and authorization, we can’t do anything but wait.
  4. Funeral homes, ours included, don’t perform services until the invoice is paid-in-full. Even if everything is in order, sometimes families miss the payment part of the equation. It’s uncommon, but it does happen occasionally.
  5. Busy cremation schedule. Under most circumstances, our schedule is open enough that once we have all the permits, authorizations, and payment in order, it is only a couple of days before we have the remains and death certificates back to you. There are times however (cold and flu seasons) when cremation waits are a little bit longer.

It is possible for us to perform rush cremations (under 72 hours), but an additional fee is involved. These situations take all hands-on-deck to get these permits and paperwork in place. Moving to the top of the list can require herculean efforts when it comes to doctors, permits, and crematory schedules, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Check with us to see if rushing the cremation is something that can be done in your case.

We would prefer not to use this style of urn. A very large percentage of families that we serve, however, either want their loved one’s remains mailed or they need to take them on a plane to get them home. While the plastic urn isn’t an ideal container from an environmental perspective, we made the decision to keep it because it is secure, travels well, works as a scattering urn, and most importantly – it is familiar to TSA and customs agents.

Practically speaking – no.  The fillings, crowns, etc. will be returned in the remains, but they will be unrecognizable and unrecoverable. The heat destroys almost everything.  If this is something that you are bent on having, you will need to hire a dentist to extract the teeth prior to the cremation process. We have yet to have anyone do this, but stay tuned… there’s always a first.

We get requests all the time for different things to be returned after the cremation. These items are the most commonly requested:

Gold crown/fillings – Most people don’t realize that a gold crown is a gold veneer over a tooth, not a full piece of gold replacing a tooth. While the crown may look like a lot of gold, the reality is that very little metal is used. The dental gold is “destroyed” in the process of cremation, meaning that it is melted and combines with the remains in the process and is unrecoverable. The only way to retain the gold is to extract the teeth prior to cremation. We have yet to have a family hire a dentist to do this, but we will update this page if someone…bites on the opportunity.

Medical implants/metal – The implants that are done surgically are technically the property of the family. We automatically send them off to a medical metal recycling program so that they are not wasted and can see another life, in whatever form that might be. Occasionally, we get a request to have a hip implant or knee returned, and we can certainly accommodate that.

Whole bones – some people want entire bones (skull, femur, tibia etc.) returned. Usually this request is couched in some disclosure of “I’m an artist and want to….” We would love to accommodate this, but unfortunately the process of the cremation renders the bones so brittle that they don’t come back whole. A point of fact though – beyond the medical metal and the ID tag we use in the cremation, bone is the only thing that is returned to you. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that “getting ashes back” sounded a lot better than “getting bones back.”

Washington State has very specific laws as to who is required to authorize the cremation process. There is no way for us to waver on this one, and we aren’t making it up to make your life more difficult. If you would like to enjoy the text of the law, you can read it in RCW 68.50.160

Absolutely! In fact, it is encouraged. While we would love to sell you something, it is so much more meaningful to have something that your family has made or is an heirloom piece. If you have found that perfect urn, let us know and we will use it to place the remains. If you have questions as to the suitability of the vessel, please let us know – we are happy to help.

Most people do one of three things with their loved one’s cremated remains (in order of frequency): Keep them at home, scatter them in a special location, or place in a cemetery.  The human cremation renders somewhere between 6 – 9 pounds of cremated remains.  This is about 200 cubic inches of remains.  To give you a visual, human remains fill a box that is 4”x10”x6” which is basically the equivalent of a bread box. There are many creative ways of disposing of cremated remains use far less than the total of remains. In other words, you’re going to need to find some other place to put the rest of them. It must also be said that many of them aren’t strictly eco-friendly.  Unique options for the use of cremated remains include making a diamond, shot-gun shells or a glass vase.  It is even possible to send your loved one into orbit.  None of these options are necessarily environmentally friendly.  Check with us on pricing and options.

We’ve never understood this one, but it gets asked more often than not, so take comfort in the fact that you are definitely not the first person to ask.  The answer is that it isn’t very practical.  The human remains are more sizable than you may think, and are not fluffy ash.  If you choose to flush them, it’s likely that it will be tedious and you may incur a plumber’s bill larger than the crematory bill.  From the environmental perspective, keep in mind that you are going to be flushing the toilet quite a few times.

We do have a few biodegradable urns in stock but most of the urns that we sell are sent directly from our distributor. There are so many options out there that there would be no place for us to store all the possibilities. This also allows us to keep prices low because we don’t have to carry large amounts of inventory.

Caskets are large and expensive, so most funeral homes now have digital images or catalogs for you to select from. We simply don’t have any place to store them. If you pay a visit to the office, it will be clear that there’s nowhere to put a casket showroom!

Our urn and casket pages are available for you to browse. These feature some of the most commonly chosen options by our clients.

Embalming

Embalming is never required by law – it’s only required by funeral home policy. Elemental’s policy is that we will do everything within reason to avoid it, however there are some rare instances that it makes more sense than the alternatives. An example of this is shipping the body across country for services elsewhere. Another example is when a family tradition includes it, or a family is wanting a multi-day visitation in a public space, such as a church. These are examples where ice packs may not be the most practical or desirable solution.

Embalming is the replacement of bodily fluids with a preservative solution, disinfecting the body, and preparing it for visitation by setting the features of the deceased to be more visually appealing.   Historically, embalming is done with formalin (formaldehyde) solutions.  Today, we have equally-effective alternatives that are not formaldehyde based.

We embalm for many reasons.  The part of the law that many people will refer to when they say that embalming is necessary is a regulation.  WAC 246-500-030 says “Funeral directors, embalmers, and others assisting in the preparation of human remains for final disposition must refrigerate or embalm the remains upon receipt.”  The reason for this is simple: refrigeration and embalming serve to slow the decomposition process. It is unsanitary to leave the deceased around at room temperature for long periods of time.

Many traditional funeral homes will tell you company policy requires embalming for visitation.  We don’t require it for visitation because we want to provide our clients with more options.

In addition to disinfecting and slowing decomposition, embalming contains pigments that enhance the appearance of the deceased by returning color to their face and hands.  Even with embalming, however, the deceased may not look like they did in life.  Washed out color and sunken features can be upsetting to some people, which is why embalming is always an option. For others, however, the body in its natural state after death can be validation of a closing chapter. The choice whether to embalm is a personal one, but we are glad to discuss the differences with you and help you decide what is right for your family.

If your loved one has experienced an autopsy or a traumatic accident, we highly recommended that some form repair, and possibly embalming, take place. While we would never forbid you from seeing them or require that repair work be done on your loved one, we can tell you that viewing a body after these scenarios can be exceedingly difficult. If you want to see your loved one after such an occurrence, we are here to discuss their condition and help you decide what the best course of action is for the peace of mind of everyone involved.

If you are planning on placing your loved one in a crypt, embalming may be a requirement of the mausoleum.  Again, that’s not a law.  That’s a company policy established by the cemetery, and it is within their rights as the property owners. It is also within your rights to find a cemetery that meets your needs – if one cemetery isn’t the right fit, we can help you find one that works with your choices.

Philosophy and Process

That depends on what you’re looking for! We’ve always said that we aren’t the perfect funeral home for everyone, just most people. We provide simple, sensible services at reasonable prices. We are family owned, local and environmentally responsible, taking our stewardship of our little slice of the planet very seriously.

We opened Elemental on the premise that pricing should be affordable and accessible to everyone in our community. To strive towards our vision of, “Changing the way our society engages with death,” we had to make everything about our business approachable so that we can share our vision. Unreasonably high pricing doesn’t help us achieve our goal.

We can keep our prices low due to our lower overhead costs. We have small arrangement offices located in shared office space. That means no landscaping costs, no property upkeep, and no additional property taxes.

We also don’t own the cremation chambers. Instead, we partnered with a family-owned crematory. They own the cremation chambers and we own the funeral home, so we can both perform services at significantly lower prices. If the idea of a family-owned crematory gives you pause, we are happy to put your mind at ease. Let us schedule a time for you to come see the facilities we use for cremation and meet their staff. The facilities don’t have a lot of frills, but run some of the strictest cremation protocols in the country. We trust our cremation center and invite you to schedule a visit to learn more about them as well.

Death certificates are used to close accounts and tie up an estate. Most families think they need way more death certificates than they do, and a few families wonder why they would need one at all.

Our suggestion is that you start with two or three.

Bank accounts and investment firms will take a photocopy – you walk in with an original “certified copy” and they will take a photocopy and hand you your original back. Pensions and life insurance companies will often take the original and not return it. Additionally, if an estate needs to go to probate, you will probably have to leave an original with your attorney.

Example 1: You have four bank accounts and one investment account to close, you would need one death certificate.

Example 2: You have three bank accounts, a pension, a house, life insurance and a 401k to close, you will likely need four (4) death certificates – One for banks and 401k, one for the attorney, one for the pension and one for the life insurance. Note – it is not common that someone dies and these items haven’t been wrapped up already.

Many attorneys, friends, and family will suggest that you get 5-10. While these people have good intentions, things have changed a great deal in the past few years and most institutions aren’t requiring original death certificates.

Once the death certificate is filed with the county, we can get additional copies quickly if you need them. Therefore we suggest starting with no more than five, and then letting us know if you need additional copies down the road.

You can find the detailed answers about cremation pricing on our cremation pricing page or burial pricing page. If you have already been to these page and thought were still unsure as to what is involved in our pricing, let us explain our pricing philosophy to you in more detail.

When we started Elemental, it was with the premise that our pricing should be all-inclusive and up-front. We don’t do “hidden fees” or gotchas. You should know exactly what you’re getting and how much it will cost. Not only is it the law, it’s the right thing to do.

It is our goal to create lasting relationships with every client that walks through our door, and the only way we can do that successfully is to be 100% transparent about our pricing.

When you are looking for Simple Cremation the only costs not automatically included in the service prices are death certificates and county fees. These costs are set by the county where the death occurs, so it’s impossible for us to bundle those items into the price in a way that is fair to all our clients.

Elemental has a pricing policy focused on the most basic services needed by families, although we try to include as much as possible in that baseline price. For families who want additional services, we have those too, but there will likely be an extra cost. An example of this is our death certificate surcharge on orders of five or more death certificates. Death certificates are expensive for a funeral home to provide to families. In fact, some funeral homes won’t even provide them, families are required to order them directly from the county. We created a surcharge because of the few families who requested more death certificate copies than they need, “just in case”.  Spreading this cost to all our clients seemed unfair, so we opted to impose a surcharge for those who wanted more than five death certificates.

In many circumstances, families would like a visitation or a witness cremation and these items are added on as you need them, instead of creating confusing pricing with bundles. The result is that it may sound like “plus this, and plus that” but the reality is that we won’t make you pay for things you don’t need. In fact, to the contrary often we are educating families on what they don’t need to be spending money on!

All the charges on our price list have specific and justifiable reasons behind them. If you have questions about specifics, please ask us. We will provide a straightforward answer as to why we have opted to price our services as you see them on the website.

Planning

After any death, please call us – 24 hours a day at 206-357-1141 – to let us know so that we can help you and answer questions and assist in coordination.

If your loved one is under hospice care, or is in a care facility (hospital, nursing home, etc.) they will have likely already taken the steps necessary to process the paperwork. Let the facility know that you would like to use Elemental at the time of passing and provide our phone number: 206-357-1141.  It is also a good idea to call us yourself so that you are certain that the information has been communicated.

Call 911 to notify them of the death, and they will arrive and assess the situation.  They will contact the county medical examiner to review the death for further, if any, action that may need to be taken.