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How long does it take for ashes to come back?

When a loved one passes away and is cremated, it can be an emotional time for family and friends as they await the return of the ashes. Many factors go into the cremation process and timeline for receiving ashes, so it’s normal to have questions about how long it takes. Generally, the entire cremation process can take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks or more. However, this depends on several variables, including whether it was a direct cremation versus a full funeral service. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the cremation timeline and key factors that impact how quickly ashes are returned.

What is Cremation?

Cremation is the process of reducing a deceased person’s body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. The cremation process takes place within a cremation chamber, also known as a retort, that can reach temperatures of 1400-1800°F. At these extreme temperatures, the body is quickly reduced to its basic elements and dried bone fragments. The remaining bone pieces, known as “cremated remains” or simply “ashes”, are then processed into a finer consistency and placed into an urn selected by the family. Cremation is an increasingly popular alternative to traditional burial, chosen by over 50% of American families today.

Key Steps in the Cremation Process

The cremation process involves several key steps:

Planning and Administrative Tasks

– The family meets with the funeral home to begin making cremation arrangements. Details are discussed such as service plans, selecting an urn, and filing necessary paperwork.

– Doctors must sign off on a death certificate indicating the cause of death. The funeral home files for a cremation permit.

– Pacemakers, prostheses, or other devices need to be removed prior to cremation.

Preparation of the Body

– The body is transported to the crematory. The family may request a brief viewing beforehand.

– The body is placed into a sturdy combustible container or cremation casket.

– ID tags are attached to ensure proper tracking.

The Cremation Process

– The cremation chamber is preheated to extreme temperatures of 1400-1800°F.

– All cremations are performed individually. The body is placed into the cremation chamber.

– The intense heat reduces the body to basic elements within 1.5-2.5 hours. This leaves only bone fragments behind.

– After cooling, the cremated remains are swept from the chamber. marrow and soft tissue still remain. This is pulverized to a consistency similar to coarse sand.

Placement into the Urn

– The processed cremated remains are placed into the selected urn container. The average weight is 4-8 pounds.

– Some bone fragments may remain larger than others. Larger bones like the hips and femurs are more difficult to break down.

– The urn is temporarily stored until the remains are ready to be released to the family.

How Long Does the Cremation Process Take?

The cremation process takes anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours to fully reduce the body to cremated remains within the chamber. However, the complete timeline from death to receiving ashes depends on additional factors:

Type of Cremation Service

Direct cremation with no service is the fastest option. Remains can potentially be returned in 2-5 days.

– A full funeral service followed by cremation requires more time for planning. Ashes are typically returned within 7-14 days.

– A memorial service without the body present falls between the two. Remains are usually ready within 5-7 days.

Cause of Death

– If the death was unexpected or autopsy is required, cremation may be delayed by the medical examiner (ME). This can add days or weeks to the process.

– If ME approval is needed, expect at least 2-4 additional days.

Obtaining the Death Certificate

– Doctors must verify cause of death and file proper paperwork before the cremation permit can be approved.

– Expect it to take 2-5 days to get certified copies of the death certificate.

Scheduling Demand at the Crematory

– Most crematories schedule cremations several days in advance to meet demand.

– Holidays, weekends, and high volume seasons lead to longer cremation wait times.

– Opt for off-peak days like Tuesday-Thursday for faster scheduling.

Type of Service Timeline
Direct Cremation 2-5 days
Full Funeral + Cremation 7-14 days
Memorial Service 5-7 days

Factors That May Delay Receiving Ashes

While most families receive ashes within 1-2 weeks, some circumstances can cause significant delays. Common reasons include:

– The medical examiner holds the body for autopsy or further tests.

– There is uncertainty around the cause of death requiring investigation.

– The crematory’s retort or processor is undergoing maintenance and unavailable.

– Special handling is needed if death was caused by infectious disease.

– The deceased will be transported internationally for the funeral and cremation.

– Families are traveling from long distances and need to coordinate schedules.

– There are disputes among family members regarding cremation plans.

– The cremation permit is not approved in a timely manner.

Delays are understandable but can further prolong grieving for families. Communicating frequently with the funeral home and staying flexible with arrangements can help ease the difficult waiting period.

Receiving and Storing the Ashes

Once the cremated remains are prepared, the funeral home or crematory will call the family to schedule a time for pickup. The ashes are packaged within the selected urn container chosen by the family. Typical urns are composed of wood, marble, metal, ceramic, or glass. Upon receiving the urn, be sure to store it in a safe location, protected from damage. Ashes should be handled carefully and never be scattered or separated without consent from the surviving family members. Some choose to keep a loved one’s ashes in a reserved space at home, while others opt to scatter or bury them at a meaningful location. Whatever your plans, consult state and local laws, as scattering ashes may be prohibited in certain public places.


The cremation timeline is dependent on several variables, but most families receive ashes within 1-2 weeks. Direct cremation provides the fastest turnaround of 2-5 days, while a full funeral and cremation service extends the timeline to 7-14 days on average. Delays may happen due to circumstances such as a medical examination, crematory scheduling, or legal issues around the death. Communicating frequently with funeral home staff and coordinating details in advance can help expedite the process. Although the waiting period can be difficult, take comfort in knowing your loved one is being handled with care as they make their final journey.