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How to Choose Cremation Urns and Keepsakes

by John Maxwell

The right urn will reflect a loved one’s life (and suit the type of memorial service or scattering event you have in mind).

Cremation is an increasingly popular method of final disposition. It’s often more affordable than a traditional burial, and it also offers flexibility for the placement of cremains. So many options exist, however, that choosing an urn can feel overwhelming.

“When families are making their choice of the urn,” says Sherri Hauer, the vice president of products & services at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries in Southern California, “it’s important that they have a sense of the loved ones they are celebrating.” 


One thing to keep in mind when selecting an urn is the functional purpose. Some urns are beautifully crafted and well-suited for permanent display in a home or glass-front cemetery niche. Others are less decorative and more suitable for a traditional granite-front niche in which they will not be visible. Still others are intended only for temporary storage before the ashes are scattered.

“Some people just immediately gravitate toward” very specific urns, Hauer says, because it gives them a strong feeling that “That’s exactly how Mom was.”

There are nearly as many different types of urns as there are different kinds of people. Use our guide to find the one that suits your needs.

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Material: Ceramic or Stone

These materials have been used for urns since ancient times. Urns are available in practically every style of pottery, from rough earthenware to delicate porcelain. Urns carved from stone, such as granite and marble, can give a sense of weight and permanence to the memorialization.

Material: Glass or Crystal

Glass urns come in all the colors of the rainbow. The smooth, reflective surface makes them excellent for permanent display. Many glass urns are handblown by artisans, giving them an individual quality.

Material: Metal

A wide range of metals, from brass to pewter to stainless steel, make beautiful urns. Metal can convey a sense of strength and permanence. Painted surfaces can help them withstand weather, and some are suitable for outdoor display.

Material: Resin or Plastic

Usually referred to as resin, plastic urns can be appropriate containers for multiple reasons. They can be molded into practically any shape and finished to look like other materials, such as metal or stone, while being substantially lighter. More durable than ceramic or glass, they may be a good option if the urn is to be displayed in a place with rambunctious children or pets.

Material: Wood

A wooden urn can convey warmth and closeness with nature. Practically any wood can make a suitable urn, from pine to oak to cherry to more exotic woods like bamboo. They range from simple rough-hewed boxes to intricately carved containers finished with delicate inlays. In addition, some wooden urns are designed with space for photos to be laser etched into the surface for the ultimate level of personalization.

Companion Style

Although most urns are designed to contain the remains of only one person, some are made to hold more. A companion-style urn is often a popular option for spouses who would like to be cremated, but would still like to spend eternity side by side.


For dispersing ashes at sea, there are biodegradable urns designed to disintegrate in water. The remains are usually contained in a gelatin bag that dissolves in water like a gel cap. The exterior urn can be made of paper or sand stuck together using a water-soluble glue. Another type of urn, suitable for in-ground burial, is made of natural materials that will degrade over time. Some of those may even contain plant seeds to continue the circle of life.

Temporary Transport

Cardboard scattering tubes can be used to transport cremains to a site where they will be dispersed. Although they are not intended for permanent display, they often feature decorations of peaceful landscapes or symbols such as doves. These tubes can also pass through Transportation Security Administration screening so that the ashes can be transported on airplanes.


Humor is a vital part of how many of us live day to day, and for some people, serious and respectable urns don’t suit their personalities. From leopard print handbags to classic bedsheet ghosts, urns can be made to look like anything. In addition, many licensed urns may be used to express a lifetime of devotion to a favorite baseball team, rock band or motorcycle manufacturer.


Most urns come with matching keepsakes. The keepsake is usually a smaller version of the urn that can house a portion of the ashes and be kept at home while the larger urn is interred at a cemetery. Jewelry with special compartments to carry some cremains can also be used to keep a part of your loved one close throughout the day. There are even teddy bears that can hold small urns inside their huggable bodies.





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