Glossary of Funeral-Related Terms

Beneficiary

As defined by financial policies, the individual entitled to receive excess or proceeds from accounts and insurance policies.

Bequest

Receiving something from a will.

Bereaved

Those who have lost a loved-one due to the death of that person.

Casket

A container for a dead human body, usually rectangular in shape. A "coffin" is similar but is typically narrow at head and feet, and wide at shoulders.

Cemetery

A dedicated property where human remains are buried and/or entombed.

Columbarium

A building or structure in whose walls urns containing cremains are housed in niches.

Cremation

Reducing dead human remains to ashes using fire and heat.

Crematory

A chamber that uses flame and heat to reduce dead human remains to ash.

Crypt

An enclosed tomb or stone vault, usually beneath a building but can also be found in a mausoleum.

Death Certificate

A state or federal form that gives legal documented proof of death.

Display Room

The room where caskets, urns, etc. are displayed for purchase.

Disposition

The final placement of a person’s remains. This could include burial of the body or ashes, scattering of the ashes, or donation to science.

Embalming

Chemical treatment of human remains for preservation, disinfection, and cosmetic restoration.

Eulogy

The person’s "Life story". Usually what they were best known for. This is typically different from the sermon.

Executor/Executrix

The person (male/female) named by a will that is in charge of estate liquidation and disbursement.

Exhume

To remove dead human remains from a grave or crypt – often for some sort of investigation.

Funeral Director

A person licensed by the state who handles the disposition of human remains and assists next-of-kin in planning and performing funeral-related services. (Same as "Mortician")

Funeral Insurance

Essentially life insurance earmarked for funeral, memorial and cemetery costs.

Funeral Home

The location where a body is prepared for disposition, viewings take place, and funeral/memorial services are often held. (Same as Mortuary.)

Funeral Service

A ritual or rite that commemorates and celebrates the deceased with the casketed remains present.

Grave Liner

Also called a vault. An encasement for the casket or urn. Liners and vaults are not a federal or state (usually) requirement, but may be required by the cemetery for maintenance reasons.

Green Burial

A "environmentally friendly" burial, usually without the remains having been embalmed. A true "green burial" would require very little carbon output, such as with a tractor for the grave digging. Also, usually the vault and casket (if used) must be fully biodegradable.

Hearse

The vehicle used to transfer the casket from one location to another. For example from the church to the cemetery.

In State

A viewing of the deceased with the casket open.

Interment

The act of burying casketed human remains.

Inurnment

Burying the urn in a grave or placing in a columbarium niche.

Mausoleum

An above-ground burial chamber, usually of stone, that can house one or many caskets.

Memorial Service

A ritual or rite that commemorates and celebrates the deceased, without the casketed remains present – though cremated remains may be present.

Monument

A marker or headstone used to identify the location of the buried remains.

Morgue

A medical/legal related office that houses dead human remains for examination, autopsy and pending the release of those remains to the funeral home.

Mortuary

Same as Funeral Home.

Niche

An opening in a columbarium where an urn containing cremains are placed.

Obituary

A written description if the deceased’s life, family, accomplishments, and death. Usually published in a newspaper and/or online.

Open Casket

The casket is displayed with the lid open so the body is visible at a viewing or funeral service.

Opening and Closing Fees

For earthen graves, the cost for digging the grave, fee for a mechanism for lowering the casket (if for casketed burial), the labor for lowering the casket or urn, and the fee for covering the grave with earth. For columbarium/mausoleums, the fees for opening of the niche or crypt, for the insertion of casketed or cremated remains, and for closing and securing the niche or crypt.

Pallbearers

Men or women designated by the next-of-kin to carry the casket (when needed) at the funeral services or cemetery.

Pre-need or Pre-planning

Discussing and recording directions for the disposition and funeral/memorial service, recording information for the death certificate, writing the obituary, and commonly paying for the funeral home and cemetery charges in advance of death by the individual or by next-of-kin. Any one of these acts done in advance is considered pre-arranging, though pre-need usually denotes some sort of pre-payment.

Remains

A dead body or corpse. (Although “corpse” is usually a medical term.)

Removal

See Transfer

Rigor Mortis

The phenomenon that begins following cellular death where the muscles of the dead body begin to firm due to the release of lactic acid. This is one of the first stages of decomposition in the human body. Rigor mortis begins in the muscles of the face and head, through the neck and trunk and slowly works down the muscles of the extremities. It takes about 12 hours (at common room temperature) for rigor mortis to "set in". It slowly passes away, in the same order in about another 12 hours.

Transfer

Removing the body from the place of death and transporting it to the funeral home.

Urn

A container for cremated remains.

Vault

Same as Grave Liner, though vaults are usually sealed and made of concrete, metal, or a combination of the two materials.

Viewing

The act of physically seeing a dead human body. Can be formal or informal, in a casket or on a table.

Vigil

A prayer service or gathering that is usually religious in nature. The remains need not be present but may be.

Visitation

A formal time at a funeral home, church, home, etc. to view the body of the deceased. Usually the remains are casketed and dressed. This does not have to be a publicly announced event. Some visitations are closed casket, though not customarily.

Wake

Sometimes synonymous with visitation, though normally very well attended by the public and guests. The term originates from a tradition of watching the remains for about 3 days to make sure they don’t wake up.

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